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Chapter VI - Life in Rangoon (Continued). 1819-1823

On December 21, 1819, Mr. Judson and Mr. Colman, leaving their wives alone in Rangoon, began their journey up the Irawadi to Ava, the capital of the empire.

The journey was made by boat. The viceroy granted them a pass to go up to the Golden Feet, and to lift up their eyes to the Golden Face. After making arrangements for their wives' residence in town during their absence, they went on board their little craft, which was six feet wide in the middle and forty feet long. A temporary deck of bamboos was laid throughout, and on the hinder part of the boat the sides were raised with thin boards, and a covering of thatch and mats, so as to form two low rooms, in which they could sit and lie.

The company consisted of sixteen besides themselves: ten rowmen, a steersman, a head man -- whose name was inserted in their passport, and who therefore derived a little authority from government -- a steward or cook for the company -- which place was filled by their trusty Moung Nau, their own cook -- a Hindu washerman, and an Englishman, who having been unfortunate all his life, wished to try the service of his Burman majesty; and this last person might have been called the gunner, he having charge of several guns and blunderbusses, which were indispensable on account of the robbers that infested the river.

They had been much perplexed in fixing on a present for the emperor, without which no person unauthorized could appear in his presence. Their funds were evidently inadequate to the purchase of articles which would be valuable to him from a pecuniary point of view; when they considered also that there ought to be a congruity between the present and their character, they selected that book which they hoped to be allowed to translate under his patronage, the BIBLE, in six volumes, covered with gold leaf, in Burman style, and each volume enclosed in a rich wrapper. For presents to other members of government, they had taken cloth and other articles.

Thus manned and furnished they pushed off from the shores of Rangoon. At night they moored by the banks of Kyee-myen-daing. It was near this place that, a few days before one of the boats belonging to a late collector of Rangoon had been attacked by robbers, and the steersman and another man killed at a single shot. They felt unwilling to remain at this village, but found it necessary.

On the 30th, they reached Kah-noung, a considerable town, about ninety miles from Rangoon. Here they met a special officer from Bassein, with a detachment of men, sent in pursuit of a band of robbers who had lately made a daring attack on a large boat, wounded and beaten off the people, and taken plunder to the amount of fifteen hundred ticals. The commander offered them an escort for the journey of the day following, which lay through a dangerous tract of country; but they declined accepting, as they would have been obliged to give the people presents, without deriving any substantial assistance in the hour of danger. They however took all needful precautions and kept a strict watch at night.

On January the 25th, about a month after leaving Rangoon, they arrived at Ava, and saw in the distance the golden dome of the palace amid the glittering pagodas. They set out early on the following morning, called on Mr. G., late collector of Rangoon, and on Mr. R., who had formerly been collector, but was now out of favor.

Thence they entered the city, passed the palace, and repaired to the house of Mya-day-men, former viceroy of Rangoon, now one of the public ministers of State (woongyee). They gave him a valuable present, and another of less value to his wife, the lady who had formerly treated Mr. G. with so much politeness. They both received them very kindly, and appeared to interest themselves in their success. They however did not disclose their precise object, but only petitioned leave to behold the Golden Face. Upon this, his highness committed their business to Moung Yo, one of his favorite officers, and directed him to introduce them to Moung Zah, one of the private ministers of State (a-twen-woon), with the necessary orders. This particular favor of Mya-day-men prevented the necessity of their petitioning and feeing all the public ministers of State, and procuring formal permission from the high court of the empire.

In the evening, Moung Yo, who lived near their boat, called on them to say that be would conduct them on the morrow. They lay down in sleepless anxiety. To-morrow's dawn would usher in the most eventful day of their lives. To-morrow's eve would close on the bloom or the blight of their fondest hopes.

The next day they left the boat, and put themselves under the conduct of Moung Yo. He carried them first to Mya-day-men, as a matter of form; and there they learned that the emperor had been privately apprised of their arrival, and said, "Let them be introduced." They therefore proceeded to the palace.

At the outer gate they were detained a long time until the various officers were satisfied that they had a right to enter, after which they deposited a present for the private minister of State, Moung Zah, and were ushered into his apartments in the palace yard. He received them very pleasantly, and ordered them to sit before several governors and petty kings, who were waiting at his levee. They here, for the first time, disclosed their character and object -- told him that they were missionaries, or "propagators of religion"; that they wished to appear before the emperor and present their sacred books, accompanied with a petition. He took the petition into his hand, looked over about half of it, and then familiarly asked some questions about their God and their religion, to which they replied. Just at this crisis, some one announced that the Golden Foot was about to advance; on which the minister hastily rose up and put on his robes of State, saying that he must seize the moment to present them to the emperor. They now found that they had unwittingly fallen on an unpropitious time, it being the day of the celebration of the late victory over the Kathays, and the very hour when his majesty was coming forth to witness the display made on the occasion. When the minister was dressed, he just said, "How can you propagate religion in this empire? But come along."

Their hearts sank at these inauspicious words. He conducted them through various splendor and parade until they ascended a flight of stairs, and entered a most magnificent hall. He directed them where to sit, and took his place on one side; the present was placed on the other; and Moung Yo and another officer of Mya-day-men sat a little behind. The scene to which they were now introduced really surpassed their expectation. The spacious extent of the hall, the number and magnitude of the pillars, the height of the dome, the whole completely covered with gold, presented a most grand and imposing spectacle. Very few were present, and those evidently great officers of State. Their situation prevented them from seeing the farther avenue of the hall; but the end where they sat opened to the parade which the emperor was about to inspect. They remained about five minutes, when every one put himself into the most respectful attitude, and Moung Yo whispered that his majesty had entered.

They looked through the hall as far as the pillars would allow, and presently caught sight of this modern Ahasuerus. He came forward unattended -- in solitary grandeur -- exhibiting the proud gait and majesty of an eastern monarch. His dress was rich, but not distinctive; and he carried in his hand the gold-sheathed sword, which seems to have taken the place of the sceptre of ancient times. But it was his high aspect and commanding eye that chiefly riveted their attention. He strided on. Every head excepting theirs was now in the dust. They remained kneeling, their hands folded, their eyes fixed on the monarch. When he drew near, they caught his attention. He stopped, partly turned toward them -- "Who are these?"

"The teachers, great king," was the reply.

"What, you speak Burman -- the priests that I heard of last night?" "When did you arrive?" "Are you teachers of religion?" "Are you like the Portuguese priest?" "Are you married?" "Why do you dress so?"

These and some other similar questions they answered, when he appeared to be pleased with them, and sat down on an elevated seat, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, and his eyes intently fixed on them. Moung Zah now began to read the petition; and it ran thus:

"The American teachers present themselves to receive the favor of the excellent king, the sovereign of land and sea. Hearing that, on account of the greatness of the royal power, the royal country was in a quiet and prosperous state, we arrived at the town of Rangoon, within the royal dominions, and having obtained leave of the governor of that town to come up and behold the Golden Face, we have ascended and reached the bottom of the Golden Feet. In the great country of America, we sustain the character of teachers and explainers of the contents of the sacred Scriptures of our religion. And since it is contained in those Scriptures that if we pass to other countries and preach and propagate religion great good will result, and both those who teach and those who receive the religion will be freed from future punishment and enjoy without decay or death the eternal felicity of heaven -- that royal permission be given, that we, taking refuge in the royal power, may preach our religion in these dominions, and that those who are pleased with our preaching and wish to listen to and be guided by it, whether foreigners or Burmans, may be exempt from government molestation, they present themselves to receive the favor of the excellent king, the sovereign of land and sea."

The emperor heard this petition, and stretched out his hand. Moung Zah crawled forward and presented it. His majesty began at the top, and deliberately read it through. In the meantime, Mr. Judson gave Moung Zah an abridged copy of a tract which had given offense, in which every offensive sentence was corrected, and the whole put into the handsomest style and dress possible. After the emperor had perused the petition, he handed it back without saying a word, and took the tract. Their hearts now rose to God for a display of his grace. "O have mercy on Burma! Have mercy on her king."

But alas! the time was not yet come. He held the tract long enough to read the first two sentences, which asserted that there is one eternal God, who is independent of the incidents of mortality, and that beside him there is no God; and then with an air of indifference, perhaps disdain, he dashed it down to the ground. Moung Zah stooped forward, picked it up, and handed it to the missionaries. Moung Yo made a slight attempt to save them by unfolding one of the volumes which composed their present and displaying its beauty; but his majesty took no notice. Their fate was decided. After a few moments, Moung Zah interpreted his royal master's will in the following terms:

"Why do you ask for such permission? Have not the Portuguese, the English, the Mussulmans, and people of all other religions, full liberty to practise and worship according to their own customs? In regard to the objects of your petition, his majesty gives no order. In regard to your sacred books, his majesty has no use for them; take them away."

Something was now said about brother Colman's skill in medicine; upon which the emperor once more opened his mouth, and said, "Let them proceed to the residence of my physician, the Portuguese priest; let him examine whether they can be useful to me in that line, and report accordingly."

He then rose from his seat, strode on to the end of the hall, and there, after having dashed to the ground the first intelligence that he had ever received of the eternal God, his Maker, his Preserver, his Judge, he threw himself down on a cushion, and lay listening to the music, and gazing at the parade moving on before him.

As for the missionaries and their present, they were huddled up and hurried away without much ceremony. They passed out of the palace gates with much more facility than they had entered, and were conducted first to the house of Mya-day-men. There his officer reported their reception, but in as favorable terms as possible; and as his highness was not apprised of their precise object, their repulse appeared probably to him not so decisive as they knew it to be.

They were next conducted two miles through the heat of the sun and dust of the streets of Ava to the residence of the Portuguese priest. He very speedily ascertained that they were in possession of no wonderful secret which would secure the emperor from all disease and make him live forever; and they were accordingly allowed to take leave of the reverend inquisitor, and retreat to their boat.

At this stage of the business, notwithstanding the decided repulse they had received, they still cherished some hope of ultimately gaining their point. They regretted that a sudden interruption had prevented their explaining their objects to Moung Zah in that familiar and confidential manner which they had intended; and they determined therefore to make another attempt upon him in private.

The following day, early in the morning, they had the pleasure of seeing their friend Mr. G. coming to their boat. It may not be amiss to mention that he was the collector who had been chiefly instrumental in relieving them from an exorbitant demand which, a few months before, had been made upon them in Rangoon. He now told them that he had heard of their repulse, but would not have them give up all hope; that he was particularly acquainted with Moung Zah, and would accompany them to his house a little before sunset, at an hour when he was accessible. This precisely accorded with their intentions.

In the afternoon, therefore, they called on Mr. G., and he went with them into the city. On the way they paid a visit to the wife of the then viceroy of Rangoon, whose eldest son had married the daughter of the emperor. They carried a present, and were of course kindly received.

Thence they went to the house of Moung Zah, some way beyond the palace. He received them with great coldness and reserve. The conversation, which they carried on chiefly through Mr. G., it is unnecessary to detail. Suffice it to say, that they ascertained beyond a doubt, that the policy of the Burman Government in regard to the toleration of any foreign religion, was precisely the same as that of the Chinese; that it was quite out of the question whether any of the subjects of the emperor who embraced a religion different from his own, would be exempt from punishment; and that Mr. Judson and his companion, in presenting a petition to that effect, had been guilty of a most egregious blunder, an unpardonable offense.

Mr. G. urged every argument they suggested, and some others. He finally stated that if they obtained the royal favor other foreigners would come and settle in the empire, and trade would be greatly benefited. This argument alone seemed to have any effect on the mind of the minister, and looking out from the cloud which covered his face he vouchsafed to say that if we would wait some time he would endeavor to speak to his majesty about them. From this remark it was impossible to derive any encouragement; and having nothing further to urge, they left Mr. G., and bowing down to the ground, took leave of this great minister of State who, under the emperor, guided the movements of the whole empire.

It was now evening. They had four miles to walk by moonlight. Arrived at the boat, they threw themselves down, completely exhausted in body and mind. For three days they had walked eight miles a day, the most of the way in the heat of the sun, which even at that season, in the interior of those countries, is exceedingly oppressive, and the result had been an apparent failure.

After making several more ineffectual attempts to reach the emperor, they began their return journey on February 6th, having spent two weeks in Ava without success. Sad at heart they descended the Irawadi, and after an uneventful journey of a fortnight, arrived in Rangoon, February 18th. They were utterly disheartened, for their journey had been a complete failure. The emperor had refused to give them permission to propagate the Christian religion among his subjects; and any Burman who should renounce Buddhism and become a Christian, would incur the displeasure of his sovereign.

Mr. Judson at once decided to remove the mission to Chittagong, where under the protection of the British flag he could preach Christ to a Burmese-speaking population. He gathered his converts and inquirers together, and made no concealment of the failure at Ava. He pictured the sufferings to which the Burman would be exposed who should espouse Christianity, while he declared his intention, reluctantly formed, of leaving the country. But to his great surprise his converts stood firm. They expressed their willingness to suffer persecution, and even death, rather than renounce Christ. They entreated him not to leave them. "Stay at least," they said, "until a little church of ten is collected, and a native teacher is set over it, and then, if you must go, we will not say nay. In that case we shall not be concerned. This religion will spread of itself. The emperor can not stop it." The heroism of the disciples prevailed to keep the teacher in Rangoon.

It was thought best, however, that Mr. Colman and his wife should go to Chittagong to gather together the few converts left there by the English Baptists, and to preach the gospel to the Arracanese. Thus Chittagong might prove an asylum for the Judsons and their Burman converts if they should be hunted out of Rangoon. On March 27, 1820, Mr. Colman embarked for Arracan, where after a short but heroic missionary career, he died at Cox's Bazaar, on the 4th of July, 1822.

Thus Mr. and Mrs. Judson again found themselves alone at Rangoon. The Houghs, the Wheelocks, the Colmans had gone. They were left with their group of three converts to continue the conflict with heathenism. But strange to say in this darkest hour of all the Spirit began to work mightily in the hearts of the Burmans. Within five months, in the very face of impending persecution, seven heathen, one after another, were converted and baptized, among them the learned, skeptical Moung Shwa-gnong, and the first woman, Mah-men-la. The church of three native converts rapidly grew into a church of ten. But at this point Mrs. Judson's health became so completely shattered that in order to save her life, Mr. Judson had to take her to Calcutta.

Mr. and Mrs. Judson embarked at Rangoon July 19, 1820, and arrived at Calcutta on the 18th of August. What a pang it must have cost them to leave their little mission just at this time when, after long years of waiting, they saw the Burmans eagerly and rapidly embracing the gospel!

The three months spent at Serampore, near Calcutta, caused a great improvement in Mrs. Judson's health. The two weary missionaries had sweet and restful intercourse with the English Baptists stationed there, and with "the affectionate family of Mr. Hough." Mr. Judson's enjoyment was only marred by his extreme anxiety about "those few sheep that I have left in the Burman wilderness." "Oh, may the great Shepherd," he prayed, "feed the little flock, and gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom."

On November 23d, Mr. and Mrs. Judson embarked again for Rangoon, where they arrived January 5, 1821. Their voyage was tedious and distressing above any that they had ever taken. The brig was so small and so filled with native passengers that they were unable to obtain the least exercise by walking on deck, and it was so full of scorpions and centipedes that they never dared close their eyes to sleep without completely enfolding themselves with curtains. In addition to these inconveniences, they had a strong contrary wind, and frequently violent squalls, with the most terrific thunder and lightning they had ever witnessed. They were six weeks in making a passage which was generally made in ten or fifteen days. After their joyous arrival in Rangoon they plunged once more into their missionary work.

It now became Mr. Judson's painful duty to send his wife to America. This would occasion a separation of at least two years, but unless it was done the life so dear to him, and of such incalculable value to the Burman mission, would soon be brought to a close. In accord with this resolve, Mrs. Judson embarked for Calcutta, on her way to America, August 21, 1821. His letters written to his wife during her absence betray here and there a sinking of his buoyant spirits. Even while on her journey to her dear native land, Mrs. Judson cast "a longing, lingering look behind." It was hard to leave Rangoon, even to go to America.

She was heartily welcomed by the Christians of England, and was entertained at the house of Mr. Butterworth, a member of Parliament, who afterward referring to her in a public address said that her visit at his house reminded him of the words of Scripture: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. She arrived in America September 25, 1822, and remained until the 22d of June, 1823. Her visit in this country awakened great missionary enthusiasn, and on her return she was accompanied by two newly appointed missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Wade. She reached Rangoon on the 5th of December, 1823, after an absence of about two years and three months, finding her husband having made appreciable advance in his work, and with still larger plans for the future.

After Mrs. Judson's departure, Mr. Judson had been left alone in Rangoon for nearly four months, and continued his labors in complete solitude. On December 31, 1821, the Rev. Jonathan Price, M. D., a medical missionary, arrived with his family and joined the mission. About a month later Mr. Hough and his family returned from Calcutta. On the 2d of May, 1822, Mrs. Price died, after having been in the country only five months, and was buried by the side of Mr. Judson's little Roger. Dr. Price's medical skill, especially shown in performing operations for cataracts, attracted the attention of the Burman emperor at Ava. He was summoned to appear at the royal court, and Mr. Judson thought it best to accompany him, hoping that now the king's favor might be secured in behalf of the new religion, and that he might even be permitted to plant a mission in the capital city. So on August 28, 1822, Mr. Judson set out on his second journey to Ava, this time in the company of Dr. Price, and at the expense of the government. In the meantime the number of the native church-membership in Rangoon had grown from ten to eighteen.

Mr. Judson and Dr. Price spent five months in Ava, returning to Rangoon in February, 1823. They were kindly received by the emperor, who being impressed by the medical knowledge of Dr. Price, invited them to make their residence at the capital. The way now seemed open to establish a mission in Ava. Mr. Judson always longed to go into the "region beyond." The Houghs and Wades could sufficiently care for the infant church at Rangoon. Why not plant a church in the heart of the empire, under the shelter of the throne?

But before going to Ava to execute his daring purpose to plant a mission in the capital of Burma, he must await Mrs. Judson's arrival. Ten months intervened between his return from Ava and her arrival at Rangoon. During this time he completed the translation of the New Testament into Burmese, and prepared an epitome of the Old Testament, which might serve as an introduction to the study of the New. On the 13th of December, 1823, eight days after Mrs. Judson's arrival, he set out in company with her for Ava, where they arrived on January 23, 1824. This marked an epoch in Mr. Judson's life. His ardent, active temperament was to be subjected to the crucible of passive endurance; and we now pass from the record of his activities to the story of his sufferings.

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