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William Carey

by John Frost

William CareyCarey was born at [Paulerspury, Northamponshire, England] on the 17th of August, 1761. The circumstances of his parents were extremely narrow, and he had few advantages of education, except those which his own active and inquiring mind obtained for him. He was brought up as a journeyman shoemaker; and a boot made by him is still preserved by one of his friends.

It was about the year 1779, when he was in his eighteenth year, that young Carey became the subject of a decided religious change. Up to that time, he had discovered no piety, and had even ridiculed religious people. The conversation of a fellow- apprentice, the occasional ministry of the Rev. Thomas Scott, the Expositor, and the perusal of the "Help to Zion's Travellers," by Robert Hall, the elder, are stated to have been the means of his conversion. Mr. Scott was not aware of having been instrumental in producing this happy change in Carey's mind, until he learned it from a message conveyed to him from the venerable missionary himself, through Dr. Ryland, more than forty years after. "He heard me preach only a few times," Mr. Scott wrote in reply, "and that, so far as I know, in my rather irregular excursions; though I often conversed and prayed in his presence, and endeavoured to answer his sensible and pertinent inquiries, at Hackleton. But to have conveyed a single useful hint to such a mind as his, may be considered as a high privilege and matter of gratitude."

The change in young Carey's sentiments and feelings soon became visible to his family, in his altered conduct and conversation, and was the subject of wonder. "For some time he stood alone in his father's house." At length he asked and obtained leave to introduce family prayer. "When in his nineteenth year," says his sister, "my dear brother used to speak (on religious topics) at a friend's house in the village, when he came to see us. I recollect a neighbour of ours, a good woman, the first Monday morning after he had spoken before a few friends, came in to congratulate my mother on the occasion; when with some surprise my mother said: 'What! do you think he will be a preacher?' 'Yes,' our friend replied, 'and a great one too if he lives.' My father felt a great desire to hear him, if he could go undiscovered. In this, he was afterwards gratified, though unknown to my brother or any one at the time. We could tell he was gratified, although he never discovered any thing to us like praise. In a few years, I hope, God gave him the desire of his heart, in bringing his two sisters to see a beauty in religion. Then we were dear indeed to each other."

In 1783, Mr. Carey united himself to the Baptist church at Olney, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Sutcliff. By this church, agreeably to the practice which then obtained among that denomination, he was, in 1785, called to the work of the ministry. In the following year, he removed to Moulton, a village four miles from Northampton; and he was ordained pastor over the infant Baptist society in that village in 1787. Even there, his whole income being much below £20 a year, he taught a village school for his support.

In July, 1789, he removed to Leicester, and in May, 1791, was ordained to the pastoral charge of the Baptist church meeting in Harvey Lane, over which the late Robert Hall afterwards presided for so many years. Here his ministry was so successful, that the number of members in the church was doubled during the short time he was their pastor. He introduced among them the practice, first adopted by some ministers at Nottingham, upon Mr. Sutcliff's suggestion, in 1784, of spending an hour on the evening of the first Monday in every month, in social prayer for the revival of religion and the success of the gospel, which has since become so general; and these meetings powerfully contributed to cherish the fine spirit which they discovered, when he announced his resolution to dedicate himself to the work of evangelizing the heathen. "No," said they, "you shall not go, we will send you: we have long been calling upon God, and he now calls upon us to make the first sacrifice."

The circumstances which decided him upon going out to India are thus stated by the Rev. Christopher Anderson:

"About the year 1793, a gentleman of the name of Thomas, who had visited Bengal, and there seen the wretched superstition and ignorance of the Hindoos, and the destructive influence of their sanguinary, sensual, and monstrous superstitions on their religious feelings, morals, and happiness, being himself strongly impressed with the vast importance of introducing the religion of Britain into the extensive and populous regions subjugated by her arms and ruled by her governors, greatly strengthened by his conversation the desire which had been for some time growing in Dr. Carey's mind to see a strenuous effort made for the religious improvement of the heathen world. In consequence, Dr. Carey and Mr. Thomas communicated with Andrew Fuller, Dr. Ryland, and other leading members of the Baptist denomination, on the subject; and after much discussion a society was established for that purpose, which commenced its labours with between £13 and £14, as the whole amount of its disposable funds! With no better pecuniary prospects than these, but with a firm and unbending faith, and a determination not to be deterred by difficulties, Dr. Carey agreed to go out to India, and there to support himself as far as possible by his own exertions, while he qualified himself for his missionary duties.

"The circumstances under which he quitted England were singular and interesting. From the first, his wife had refused to embark in what appeared so hopeless an undertaking; and, after every entreaty had failed to change her determination, Dr. Carey and Mr. Thomas (who went out with him) were compelled to sail without her. After they had proceeded a short distance on their voyage, the captain of the East Indiaman by which they had taken their passage, came to Mr. Thomas, and told him that he had received an anonymous letter, informing him that there was a person on board who was proceeding to India, without a license from the company. As the regulations of the East India Company, in reference to persons going out to India, were at that time singularly rigid, and it is well known that the directors were peculiarly averse to any attempts of a missionary character, the captain added, that he was satisfied this letter must refer to Mr. Thomas. This surmise afterwards proved to have been unfounded; but as the captain seemed to be greatly alarmed by the apprehension of the consequences to himself, if Mr. Thomas insisted on the engagement into which he and the captain had mutually entered, he was, at length, induced to yield to the entreaties of the captain, and he and Mr. Carey were put on shore, the vessel immediately proceeding on its voyage. This event was, at the moment, a severe disappointment: but having learned that a Danish vessel was to leave Deal for Calcutta in two days, they took courage, determining to avail themselves of that interval, short as it was, to revisit Mrs. Carey, and urge their plea in favour of her accompanying them.

"A difficulty occurred in the want of funds for the increased charge of a passage by the ship in question, and of the expenses of travelling, which they were thus unexpectedly exposed to. This difficulty, however, was surmounted by Dr. Rippon, who still survives, having promptly lent them £100 which he had on hand; and by the late Mr. Abraham Booth borrowing for their use a like sum from his friends. Thus furnished, they hasted down to Mrs. Carey, having barely time to accomplish this object. To their great grief, however, she again turned a deaf ear to all their entreaties, and they, with heavy hearts, took, as they thought, a last farewell, and left her. When they had proceeded two miles from the house, Mr. Thomas insisted that they should turn back and make one more attempt. Mr. Carey objected, entreating his companion to spare his feelings, and not to allow them to be further harrowed by perseverance in a hopeless effort. Mr. Thomas seemed, however, so resolutely bent on his renewed effort, that at length they did turn back; again used every argument that could suggest itself, but apparently with as little success as before, till at length, moved by her husband's tears and entreaties, Mrs. Carey, turning to her sister, who stood by, said that if her sister would accompany her, but not else, she would consent to go. The sister was then appealed to, and at length, though apparently with great reluctance, they both yielded. Not a moment was now to be lost. The wife, the sister, four children, and as much of their clothes and furniture as was indispensable for the voyage, were hurried off to Deal. On their arrival there, the vessel was descried under sail, with scarcely the possibility of their overtaking her. The attempt however was made, and, by dint of persevering labour, they approached the ship, on which the captain backed his sails, and received them all safe on board, conveying them, at length, to their destination.

"On their arrival in India, Dr. Carey and Mr. Thomas immediately proceeded to act upon the intention they had avowed on quitting their own shores, of receiving no further pecuniary aid from the friends of the mission than might be necessary for their existence. In pursuance of this determination, therefore, they both engaged themselves in a secular employment, which enabled them, by constant intercourse with the natives, to become familiar with their vernacular language. Although Mr. Carey, who had obtained the superintendence of an indigo factory, at a considerable distance in the interior, was thus far removed from the observation of the ruling authorities in Calcutta, his frequent conversations with the natives on the subject of religion were soon reported there: he was immediately called to account, and, on his admitting that his design was to evangelize the heathen, he was told that the residence of missionaries in India, of any denomination, would not be tolerated; and that he must forthwith re-embark for England. This cruel and impolitic proceeding drove Mr. Carey to seek refuge in the Danish settlement of Serampore, about thirteen miles from Calcutta, where he was joined, in January, 1800, by Ward, Marshman, and others; all of whom, except Dr. Marshman and his son, who joined his exertions to theirs some years afterwards, have entered into their rest."

Upon his arrival in India, the first language to which Mr. Carey turned his attention was the vernacular tongue of the people among whom he lived and died. But he soon perceived that the Sanscrit was the grand root of oriental literature, the key to all its treasures; and by the year 1796, he had begun to study both that language and the Hindoostanee.

In January, 1800, he removed to Serampore, and in the following year was appointed professor in the new Government College of Fort William. Early in the same year, the Bengalee New Testament was finished at the mission press. This translation of the sacred Scriptures into the vernacular tongue of at least twenty-five millions, had been commenced by Mr. Carey as early as the spring of 1794; Mr. Thomas having, however, previously accomplished a translation of part of the New Testament. By the close of 1796, the translation of the New Testament was completed for revision. In July, 1800, the Gospel by Matthew began to be distributed among the natives. At length, after being nine months in the press, the first edition of the Bengalee New Testament, (octavo, 900 pages,) consisting of two thousand copies, was issued on the 7th of February, 1801. This was followed, in 1802, by the Pentateuch in the some language, and in 1803, by the Psalms and other portions of the Old Testament. A small impression of the Gospel of Matthew in Mahratta, was issued in 1805; and a second edition of the Bengalee New Testament in 1806. In 1809, the New Testament in Orissa, and in Sanscrit, were completed at press; and some portions of the Old Testament in Orissa had been issued, besides an edition of the Mahratta New Testament, of the Hindostanee New Testament, and the four gospels in Persian, when, on the 11th of March, 1812, the printing office was destroyed by fire!

The assembling of so many learned pundits from all parts of India in the College of Fort William, threw into the hands of Dr. Carey a living polyglot apparatus such as he could not otherwise have obtained: and the overruling hand of Divine Providence was strikingly manifested in the whole business. But how extraordinary must have been the energy of the mind which could grasp so vast a plan, and direct the movements of the subordinate instruments employed in this great work, upon which his soul was bent!

Aptitude for acquiring languages was Dr. Carey's most wonderful natural endowment. Before he left England for India, he had contrived, amid the pressure of poverty and the constant engagements of his school and pastoral office, to make himself sufficiently master of six languages, besides his native tongue, to read the Bible in each; viz. Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Dutch. His knowledge of the last language was acquired, without the intervention of one elementary book, through some Dutch quarto obtained from an old woman.

For a complete list of Dr. Carey's literary labours, and of the publications issued from the Scrampore press, we must refer the reader to the highly interesting "Tenth Memoir of the Serampore Brethren." The entire Scriptures have been printed in six of the languages of India, besides that stupendous work of Carey's beloved and inseparable companion in labour, Dr. Marshman, the Chinese Bible; the New Testament has been printed in twenty-three languages, and portions of the Scriptures in ten others. In few words, "God most graciously prolonged the years of his servant, until he lived to see more than two hundred and thirteen thousand volumes of the Divine word, in forty different languages, issue from the Serampore press."

There are some other traits in the character of this admirable man, mentioned by Mr. Anderson, which must not be passed over. Speaking of his "enlarged humanity," Mr. Anderson remarks, that "long familiarity with the miseries of Hindooism has hardened by degrees the heart of many a European in his day; they never could the heart of Carey."

"His exertions unquestionably first led to the prevention of infanticide, and that of persons devoting themselves to death at Saugur island in the mouth of the Hooghly; and though the immolation of widows on the funeral pile went on; it was through his influence that the Marquis of Wellesley left a minute, on his retiring from the Indian government, declaring his conviction that suttees might, and ought to be abolished. The truth I believe to be this, that previously to the return of the marquis in 1805, or thirty years ago, Dr. Carey submitted three memorials to government, the first relating to the exposure of infants in the northern parts of Bengal, the others to Saugur island and the inhuman practice of suttee. The two first evils were soon and very easily abolished, but of the latter, Carey and his brethren never lost sight. In 1817, the valuable document, drawn up on examination of the Shastras of highest authority, to prove that it was decidedly contrary to the law of Munoo; and which after being laid before Mr. Harrington, the first judge of the chief native court of justice, was deposited for preservation in the library of Serampore College, may be adduced in proof. In 1822, also a powerful article against this dreadful custom was inserted in the quarterly 'Friend of India,' which, after abundant proofs and many arguments, closed in these expressive words of Scripture, 'If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou say, Behold we knew it not, doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his works?' After this the Sumachar Durpun, or Serampore Bengalee and English newspaper, lent all its powerful aid, till on the 4th of December, 1829, 'the burning or burying alive of the Hindoo widow,' was declared by the governor-general in council to be illegal, a day never to be forgotten in India. There have been other individuals who lent their aid; but surely if the blessing of them that are ready to perish come upon the heads of any, then Carey and his companions must come in for their share.

"I only add, that in the attempt to establish a leper hospital in Calcutta, Dr. Carey, it is well known, took an active part. The Benevolent Institution, in the same city, for the education of the indigent and neglected Portuguese children, was established by the senior Serampore brethren in 1809, and has continued under their management to the present day. They were the first who commenced the education of the Hindoo female, and schools for boys have long been formed at their stations scattered over India."

Disinterestedness and Christian generosity were prominent features in the character of Carey and his brethren. The total amount of the sums raised by their exertions, and consecrated by them to their great enterprise, it would not be easy to estimate; but Mr. Anderson states, that since the year 1827, between £7000 and £8000 sterling have been devoted by the Serampore brethren to those great undertakings in which, through life, they have been employed. But we hasten to notice the concluding scene of the life of the venerable father of the mission, which was extended until within two months and a week of his seventy-third year. God gave him to see, in that foreign land, the climate of which is so trying to a British constitution, not only his children's children, but even the third generation; for it is now some years since Dr. Carey became a great-grandfather.

For rather more than a month before his decease, Dr. Carey had been confined to his couch, reduced to a state of extreme weakness, but with no disease but a gradual decay of nature. He suffered no pain, continued to sleep at night, and, being laid on his couch, remained comparatively at ease all the day,—understanding what he heard, but unable to speak;—his mind in the most placid and tranquil state;—having not a doubt, and, as he often told his venerable colleague, Dr. Marshman, not a wish left unsatisfied. His weakness, however, gradually increased, until he became, at last, almost unconscious of what was passing around him.

"The last Sabbath of his life," writes Dr. Marshman to Mr. Anderson, June 8th, 1834, I visited him about noon, eighteen hours before his decease, and found him lying on his couch by the side of the table, in his dining-room above stairs, placed there for the sake of the air. He was scarcely able to articulate, and, after a little conversation, I knelt down by the side of his couch and prayed with him. Finding my mind unexpectedly drawn out to bless God for his goodness, in having preserved him and blessed him in India for above forty years, and made him such an instrument of good to his church; and to entreat that on his being taken home, a double portion of his spirit might rest upon those who remained behind: though unable to speak, he testified sufficiently by his countenance how cordially he joined in this prayer. I then asked Mrs. Carey whether she thought he could now see me. She said, Yes, and to convince me, said, 'Mr. Marshman wishes to know whether you now see him?' He answered so loud that I could hear him, 'Yes, I do,' and shook me most cordially by the hand. I then left him, and my other duties did not permit me to reach him again that day.

The next morning, as I was returning home before sunrise, I met our brethren, Mack and Leechman, out on their morning ride, when Mack told me, that our beloved brother had been rather worse all the night, and that he had just left him very ill. I immediately hastened home through the college, in which he has lived these ten years, and when I reached his room, found that he had just entered into the joy of his Lord—Mrs. Carey, his second son, Jabez, my son John, and Mrs. Mack, being present."

"It is an interesting fact," says another of the Serampore brethren, "that the very last thing in which our dear doctor appeared to take any interest, was the mission; and it must gratify our friends at home not a little to know, that his last thoughts respecting it were thoughts of gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise."


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Cyclopedia of Eminent Christians... by John Frost. New York: World Publishing House, 1875.

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