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Chapter XII - Last Years. 1846-1850

More than four months elapsed after Mr. and Mrs. Judson parted from their friends in Boston before they arrived at Moulmein. The passage, though long, was pleasant. In passing the Island of St. Helena his thoughts dwelt tenderly upon her who, like Rachel of old, had died "on the way, when it was but a little way to go unto Ephrath."

On the 30th of November he arrived at Moulmein, and clasped once more in his arms his little children, Henry and Edward, from whom he had parted more than eighteen months before. But, alas, one little wan face was missing! Upon his return he found that the mission at Moulmein had flourished during his absence, and was able to send an encouraging report to the corresponding secretary. But for himself he still ardently cherished the purpose to enter Burma proper. His eye was upon his old field, Rangoon. To be sure, the new Burman king was a bigoted Buddhist, and therefore bitterly opposed to the propagation of the Christian religion. But in Moulmein there were laborers enough; while in Rangoon he would be favorably situated for completing the dictionary, as he would there have access to learned men, and also to books not to be found in Moulmein. More over, he hoped that Burman intolerance might at last yield, and he was eager to press into the interior of the empire and establish a mission in Ava, the scene of his sufferings.

Impelled by these motives, Mr. and Mrs. Judson, taking with them their two little boys, embarked at Moulmein for Rangoon, on February 15, 1847. Only two months and a half had passed since their return from America. They might have been pardoned had they remained longer in the society of their missionary associates in Moulmein. But it was not their purpose to seek their own pleasure. They willingly left the twilight of Moulmein in order to penetrate the dense darkness of Rangoon, although, as Mr. Judson wrote, "it seemed harder for him to leave Moulmein for Rangoon than to leave Boston for Moulmein."

After a voyage of five days they and their two children arrived in Rangoon. Mr. Judson had previously made a visit there alone, in order "to ascertain the state of things in Burma more definitely before making an attempt to settle there." He had on that occasion hired, for fifty rupees a month, the upper part of a large brick house, which Mrs. Judson subsequently named "Bat Castle." It was a place dreary indeed, and destitute of almost all outward comforts. Before engaging the house he wrote to Mrs. Judson: "The place looks as gloomy as a prison ... I shrink at taking you and the children into such a den, and fear you would pine and die in it." It was into this forbidding abode that he introduced the lady to whom he had been so recently married. He wrote:

"We have had a grand bat hunt to-day -- bagged two hundred and fifty, and calculate to make up a round thousand before we have done."

The Judsons were scarcely settled in these unpromising quarters when they learned that the house in Moulmein, where they had deposited their best clothing and most valuable goods -- many of them presents from dear friends whom they were to see no more -- had taken fire and had been burned to the ground with all its contents. They had brought but a few articles with them, not being willing to trust the most valuable part of their personal effects to the rapacious government at Rangoon. They had thought it best to draw their supplies from Moulmein, and now the precious consignment of articles which they had brought with them from their dear native land had been consumed in the flames. But Mr. Judson had long since mastered the science of contentment. He had been instructed both "to be full and to be hungry; both to abound and to suffer need."

Missionary operations in Rangoon were obstructed from the very outset by the intolerance of the Burmese Government. It must be remembered that the missionaries were no longer under the protection of the English flag, as they had been at Moulmein. They were exposed to the barbarities of a bigoted and unlimited despotism. The Burman monarch and his younger brother, the heir apparent, were both rigid Buddhists. And the administration of the government, though more friendly to strangers, had become more doggedly intolerant of Christianity than that of the late king. Buddhism was in full force throughout the empire, and the prospects of a missionary were never darker. The vice-governor of Rangoon, who was at that time acting governor, is described by Mr. Judson as being the most ferocious, bloodthirsty monster he had ever known in Burma. His house and courtyard resounded day and night with the screams of people under torture. It must be remembered that Mr. Judson had been received and patronized by the government, not as a missionary or propagator of religion, but as the priest of a foreign religion, ministering to the foreigners in the place.

Missionary operations, accordingly, had to be conducted with the utmost secrecy. Any known attempt at proselyting would have been instantly amenable at the criminal tribunal, and would probably have been punished by the imprisonment or death of the proselyte, and the banishment of the missionary. Nothing but a wholesome fear of the British Government kept these bloodthirsty wretches from the throat of the missionary himself. Every step was cautious, every movement slow. Mrs. Judson quietly pursued the two tasks of learning the language and writing a memorial of Mrs. Sarah Boardman Judson, which was finished during this trying period at Rangoon. Mr. Judson kept at work on the dictionary, while he gathered for secret worship the few scattered members of the native church, and the inquirers who, at the risk of imprisonment and death, visited him by night.

The condition of the missionaries in Rangoon was made still more distressing by reason of sickness. The great brick house became a hospital. One member of the family after another was prostrated by disease. Their maladies were also aggravated by the want of nourishing food. To what straits the family was reduced for food may be seen in the following sketch from Mrs. Judson's pen:

"Our milk is a mixture of buffaloes' milk, water, and something else which we cannot make out. We have changed our milk-woman several times, but it does no good. The butter we make from it is like lard with flakes of tallow. But it is useless to write about these things -- you can get no idea. I must tell you, however, of the grand dinner we had one day. 'You must contrive and get something that mamma can eat,' the doctor said to our Burmese purveyor; 'she will starve to death.'

"'What shall I get?'

"Well, we did have a capital dinner, though we tried in vain to find out by the bones what it was. Henry said it was touk-tahs, a species of lizard, and I should have thought so too, if the little animal had been of a fleshy consistence. Cook said he didn't know, but he grinned a horrible grin which made my stomach heave a little, notwithstanding the deliciousness of the meat. In the evening we called Mr. Bazaar-man.

"'What did we have for dinner to-day?'
"'Were they good?'
"'Excellent.' A tremendous explosion of laughter, in which the cook from his dish-room joined as loud as he dared.
"'What were they?'

"A common servant would not have played such a trick, but it was one of the doctor's assistants who goes to the bazaar for us. You know the Chinese consider rats a great delicacy, and he bought them at one of their shops."

But amid all the discouragements and sufferings of his life in Rangoon, Mr. Judson did not lapse into despondency. At last, however, the intolerance of the government became so fierce that there was no hope of retaining a foothold in Rangoon without going to Ava in order to secure the favor of the royal court.

Mr. Judson's heart was set upon this. He believed that it was the only way by which the gospel could be established in Burma proper; besides, in the completion of his dictionary, he desired to avail himself of the help of the scholars and the literature to be found only at the capital. And bitter indeed was his disappointment when the policy of retrenchment at home not only prevented his pushing on to Ava, but also compelled him to retreat from Rangoon. It was with an almost broken heart that this wise and intrepid leader, after his last fruitless effort to break the serried ranks of Burman intolerance, returned to Moulmein in obedience to the timid and narrow policy of his brethren in America. He wrote:

"It is my growing conviction that the Baptist churches in America are behind the age in missionary spirit. They now and then make a spasmodic effort to throw off a nightmare debt of some years' accumulation, and then sink back into unconscious repose. Then come paralyzing orders to retrench; new enterprises are checked in their very conception, and applicants for missionary employ are advised to wait, and soon become merged in the ministry at home. Several cases of that sort I encountered during my late visit to the United States. This state of things cannot last always. The Baptist missions will probably pass into the hands of other denominations, or be temporarily suspended; and those who have occupied the van will fall back into the rear. Nebuchadnezzar will be driven out from men, to eat grass like an ox, until seven times pass over him. But he will, at length, recover his senses, and be restored to the throne of his kingdom, and reign over the whole earth."

Two years afterward, only a few months before his death, he received permission from the Board to go to Ava.

But this permission came too late. The opportunity of penetrating Burma proper had passed, and the aid of an excellent Burmese scholar, once a priest at Ava, had been secured at Moulmein. Thus, after spending half a year of toil and suffering at Rangoon, he was compelled to fall back upon Moulmein. He arrived there with his family on September 5, 1847.

During this experience of repulse, occasioned by the inertness of Christians at home, it would have consoled him could he have foreseen that the very point which he so ardently desired to reach and occupy, would subsequently become the site of a vigorous native church, and that a beautiful house of worship would be erected as his monument in the heart of the Burman empire at Mandalay, to which the capital has been transferred from old Ava, only a few miles distant.

His wife, in one of her letters, thus describes his indefatigable industry:

"The good man works like a galley slave, and really it quite distresses me sometimes; but he seems to get fat on it, so I try not to worry. He walks -- or rather runs -- like a boy over the hills, a mile or two every morning; then down to his books, scratch-scratch, puzzle-puzzle, and when he gets deep in the mire, out on the veranda with your humble servant by his side, walking and talking (kan-ing we call it in the Burman) till the point is elucidated, and then down again; and so on till ten o'clock in the evening. It is this walking which is keeping him out of the grave."

At the same time he took a general oversight of the mission work in Moulmein, being, in the nature of the case, a guiding and inspiring force. He preached occasionally in the native chapel, "one sermon, at least every Lord's Day." When his beloved fellow-missionary, Mr. Haswell, was compelled to return home for a short visit on account of his ill health, the whole care of the native church devolved on him.

These literary and pastoral labors were, however, lightened by social and domestic pleasures. Though he had come to the ripe age of sixty, he had within him the fresh heart of a boy. It has been truly said of him that his spirit was intensely, unconquerably youthful. He loved to romp with his children, and early in the morning to brush

With hasty steps the dew away

In a life of self-sacrifice he had discovered the perennial fountain of joy. While he followed the narrow path of stern duty, the butterfly pleasure which the worldling chases from flower to flower had flown into his bosom. Byron, on his thirty-ninth birthday, breathed the sigh:

My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flower and fruits of life are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.

How different Judson's words uttered on his death-bed:

"I suppose they think me an old man, and imagine it is nothing for one like me to resign a life so full of trials. But I am not old -- at least in that sense; you know I am not. Oh, no man ever left the world with more inviting prospects, with brighter hopes, or warmer feelings -- warmer feelings."

We are indebted for the following description of his personal appearance at this time to Dr. Wayland's memoir:

"In person, Dr. Judson was of about the medium height, slenderly built, but compactly knitted together. His complexion was in youth fair; but residence in India had given him the sallow hue common to that climate. His hair, when in this country, was yet of a fine chestnut, with scarcely a trace of gray. The elasticity of his movement indicated a man of thirty, rather than of nearly sixty years of age. His deportment was, in a remarkable degree, quiet and self-possessed, and his manner was pointed out as perfectly well-bred by those who consider the cultivation of social accomplishments the serious business of life. A reviewer writes on this subject as follows:

"'A person overtaking Judson in one of his early morning walks, as he strode along the pagoda-capped hills of Moulmein, would have thought the pedestrian before him rather under-sized, and of a build showing no great muscular development; although the pace was good and the step firm, yet there was nothing to indicate great powers of physical endurance in the somewhat slight and spare frame tramping steadily in front of the observer. The latter would scarcely suppose that he had before him the man who, on the 25th of March, 1826, wrote: "Through the kind interposition of our Heavenly Father, our lives have been preserved in the most imminent danger from the hand of the executioner, and in repeated instances of most alarming illness, during my protracted imprisonment of one year and seven months; nine months in three pairs of fetters, two months in five, six months in one, and two months a prisoner at large." Illness nigh unto death, and three or five pairs of fetters to aid in weighing down the shattered and exhausted frame, seemed a dispensation calculated for the endurance of a far more muscular build. But meet the man, instead of overtaking him; or, better still, see him enter a room and bare his head, and the observer at once caught an eye beaming with intelligence, a countenance full of life and expression. Attention could scarcely fail of being riveted on that head and face, which told at once that the spiritual and intellectual formed the man; the physical was wholly subordinate, and must have been borne through its trials by the more essential elements of the individual, by the feu sacr?/i> which predominated in his disposition. Nor was this impression weakened by his conversation. Wisdom and piety were, as might be expected in such a man, its general tone; but there was a vivacity pervading it which indicated strong, buoyant, though well, it may be said very severely, disciplined animal spirits. Wit too was there, playful, pure, free from malice, and a certain quiet Cervantic humor, full of benignity, would often enliven and illustrate what he had to say on purely temporal affairs.'"

To his fellow-missionaries his wide experience and affectionate deposition made him an invaluable adviser and friend. When they found themselves in trouble and sorrow they were sure to receive from his lips words of comfort and counsel. The great pressure of his public cares and other labors did not make him moody or absent-minded at home. His love for his children was deep and tender, as attested by his exquisite letters to his daughter, Abby, who was living at Bradford in the old homestead of the Hasseltine family, and to his boys, Adoniram and Elnathan, who were pursuing their studies in Worcester.

The two little boys who formed a part of the family group at Moulmein, often found in their father an ardent companion in their play. One of them well remembers how his father used to come into his room in the morning and greet him upon his first awakening with a delicious piece of Burmese cake, or with the joyful tidings that a rat had been caught in the trap the night before. He wrote to Mr. Stevens in Rangoon:

"I have to hold a meeting with the rising generation every evening, and that takes time. Henry can say, 'Twinkle, twinkle,' all himself; and Edward can repeat it after his father! Giants of genius! paragons of erudition!"

On December 24, 1847, Emily Frances Judson was born at Moulmein. The happy mother addressed to her infant the following exquisite lines, which have been since treasured in so many hearts throughout the world:

My Bird

Ere last year's moon had left the sky
A birdling sought my Indian nest,
And folded, O, so lovingly!
Her tiny wings upon my breast.

From morn till evening's purple tinge
In winsome helplessness she lies;
Two rose leaves, with a silken fringe,
Shut softly on her starry eyes.

There's not in Ind a lovelier bird;
Broad earth owns not a happier nest;
O God, thou hast a fountain stirred,
Whose waters never more shall rest!

This beautiful, mysterious thing,
This seeming visitant from heaven--
This bird with the immortal wing,
To me -- to me, thy hand hath given.

The pulse first caught its tiny stroke,
The blood its crimson hue from mine;
This life, which I have dared invoke,
Henceforth is parallel with thine.

A silent awe is in my room;
I tremble with delicious fear;
The future with its light and gloom,--
Time and eternity are here.

Doubts-hopes, in eager tumult rise;
Hear, O my God! one earnest prayer:
Room for my bird in paradise,
And give her angel-plumage there!

But dark shadows began to gather around the path of the missionary. Soon after the birth of Emily, Mrs. Judson's health began perceptibly to decline and to cause him doleful forebodings. Little did he imagine that in the journey through the valley of the shadow of death, he was to precede his wife by several years. In November, 1849, he was attacked by the disease which, after a period of a little over four months, culminated in his death. One night, while sharing with Mrs. Judson the care of one of the children who had been taken suddenly ill, he caught a severe cold. This settled on his lungs and produced a terrible cough with some fever. After three or four days, he was attacked with dysentery, and before this was subdued a congestive fever set in, from which he never recovered. A trip down the coast of Mergui afforded only partial relief. He tried the sea at Amherst, but only sank the more rapidly, and then hastened back to Moulmein. The following is his last communication to the Board:

MOULMEIN, February 21, 1850.
"To the Corresponding Secretary.

"My DEAR BROTHER:--I cannot manage a pen, so please excuse pencil. I have been prostrated with fever ever since the latter part of last November, and have suffered so much that I have frequently remarked that I was never ill in India before. Through the mercy of God, I think I am convalescent for the last ten days; but the doctor and all my friends are very urgent that I should take a sea voyage of a month or two, and be absent from here a long time. May God direct in the path of duty. My hand is failing, so I will beg to remain
"Yours affectionately,
"A. Judson."

His only hope now lay in a long sea voyage. He was never so happy as when upon the ocean. The salt breezes had never failed to invigorate him. But it was a sore trial to part with his wife and children when there was but little prospect of ever seeing them again.

There was, however, no alternative. A French bark, the "Aristide Marie," was to sail from Moulmein on the 3d of April. The dying missionary was carried on board by his weeping disciples, accompanied only by Mr. Ranney, of the Moulmein mission. There were unfortunate delays in going down the river, so that several days were lost. Meantime that precious life was ebbing rapidly away. It was not until Monday the 8th, that the vessel got out to sea. Then came head winds and sultry weather, and after four days and nights of intense agony, Mr. Judson breathed his last on the 12th of April, 1850, and on the same day his body was buried in the sea, without a prayer. He died within a week from the time that he parted with his wife, and almost four months of terrible suspense elapsed before she learned of his death. The tidings were sent to her by the Rev. Dr. Mackay, a Scotch Presbyterian minister of Calcutta. Who can fathom her experience of suffering during those weary months of waiting! On the 22nd of April, within three weeks of the time when she said farewell to her husband, exactly ten days after his body, without her knowledge, had found its resting-place in the sea, she gave birth to a second child, whom she named Charles for her father. But the same day his little spirit, as though unwilling to linger amid such scenes of desolation, took its upward flight to be forever united with the parent who had entered the gates of paradise only a little in advance.

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