The Heart of England–The Weaver Carey who became a Peer, and the weaver who was father of William Carey–Early training in Paulerspury–Impressions made by him on his sister–On his companions and the villagers–His experience as son of the parish clerk–Apprenticed to a shoemaker of Hackleton–Poverty–Famous shoemakers from Annianus and Crispin to Hans Sachs and Whittier–From Pharisaism to Christ–The last shall be first–The dissenting preacher in the parish clerk’s home–He studies Latin, Greek and Hebrew, Dutch and French–The cobbler’s shed is Carey’s College.
WILLIAM CAREY, the first of her own children of the Reformation whom England sent forth as a missionary to India, where he became the most extensive translator of the Bible and civiliser, was the son of a weaver, and was himself a village shoemaker till he was twenty-eight years of age. He was born on the 17th August 1761, in the very midland of England, in the heart of the district which had produced Shakspere, had fostered Wyclif and Hooker, had bred Fox and Bunyan, and had for a time been the scene of the lesser lights of John Mason and Doddridge, of John Newton and Thomas Scott. William Cowper, the poet of missions, made the land his chosen home, writing Hope and The Task in Olney, while the shoemaker was studying theology under Sutcliff on the opposite side of the market-place. Thomas Clarkson, born a year before Carey, was beginning his assaults on the slave-trade by translating into English his Latin essay on the day-star of African liberty when the shoemaker, whom no university knew, was writing his Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathens.
William Carey bore a name which had slowly fallen into forgetfulness after services to the Stewarts, with whose cause it had been identified. Professor Stephens, of Copenhagen, traces it to the Scando-Anglian Car, CAER or CARE, which became a place-name as CAR-EY. Among scores of neighbours called William, William of Car-ey would soon sink into Carey, and this would again become the family name. In Denmark the name Caròe is common. The oldest English instance is the Cariet who coined money in London for Æthelred II. in 1016. Certainly the name, through its forms of Crew, Carew, Carey, and Cary, still prevails on the Irish coast–from which depression of trade drove the family first to Yorkshire, then to the Northamptonshire village of Yelvertoft, and finally to Paulerspury, farther south–as well as over the whole Danegelt from Lincolnshire to Devonshire. If thus there was Norse blood in William Carey it came out in his persistent missionary daring, and it is pleasant even to speculate on the possibility of such an origin in one who was all his Indian life indebted to Denmark for the protection which alone made his career possible.
The Careys who became famous in English history sprang from Devon. For two and a half centuries, from the second Richard to the second Charles, they gave statesmen and soldiers, scholars and bishops, to the service of their country. Henry Carey, first cousin of Queen Elizabeth, was the common ancestor of two ennobled houses long since extinct–the Earls of Dover and the Earls of Monmouth. A third peerage won by the Careys has been made historic by the patriotic counsels and self-sacrificing fate of Viscount Falkland, whose representative was Governor of Bombay for a time. Two of the heroic Falkland’s descendants, aged ladies, addressed a pathetic letter to Parliament about the time that the great missionary died, praying that they might not be doomed to starvation by being deprived of a crown pension of £80 a year. The older branch of the Careys also had fallen on evil times, and it became extinct while the future missionary was yet four years old. The seventh lord was a weaver when he succeeded to the title, and he died childless. The eighth was a Dutchman who had to be naturalised, and he was the last. The Careys fell lower still. One of them bore to the brilliant and reckless Marquis of Halifax, Henry Carey, who wrote one of the few English ballads that live. Another, the poet’s granddaughter, was the mother of Edmund Kean, and he at first was known by her name on the stage.
At that time when the weaver became the lord the grandfather of the missionary was parish clerk and first schoolmaster of the village of Paulerspury, eleven miles south of Northampton, and near the ancient posting town of Towcester, on the old Roman road from London to Chester. The free school was at the east or “church end” of the village, which, after crossing the old Watling Street, straggles for a mile over a sluggish burn to the “Pury end.” One son, Thomas, had enlisted and was in Canada. Edmund Carey, the second, set up the loom on which he wove the woollen cloth known as “tammy,” in a two-storied cottage. There his eldest child, WILLIAM, was born, and lived for six years till his father was appointed schoolmaster, when the family removed to the free schoolhouse. The cottage was demolished in 1854 by one Richard Linnell, who placed on the still meaner structure now occupying the site the memorial slab that guides many visitors to the spot. The schoolhouse, in which William Carey spent the eight most important years of his childhood till he was fourteen, and the school made way for the present pretty buildings.
The village surroundings and the country scenery coloured the whole of the boy’s after life, and did much to make him the first agricultural improver and naturalist of Bengal, which he became. The lordship of Pirie, as it was called by Gitda, its Saxon owner, was given by the Conqueror, with much else, to his natural son, William Peverel, as we see from the Domesday survey. His descendants passed it on to Robert de Paveli, whence its present name, but in Carey’s time it was held by the second Earl Bathurst, who was Lord Chancellor. Up to the very schoolhouse came the royal forest of Whittlebury, its walks leading north to the woods of Salcey, of Yardley Chase and Rockingham, from the beeches which give Buckingham its name. Carey must have often sat under the Queen’s Oak, still venerable in its riven form, where Edward IV., when hunting, first saw Elizabeth, unhappy mother of the two princes murdered in the Tower. The silent robbery of the people’s rights called “inclosures” has done much, before and since Carey’s time, to sweep away or shut up the woodlands. The country may be less beautiful, while the population has grown so that Paulerspury has now nearly double the eight hundred inhabitants of a century ago. But its oolitic hills, gently swelling to above 700 feet, and the valleys of the many rivers which flow from this central watershed, west and east, are covered with fat vegetation almost equally divided between grass and corn, with green crops. The many large estates are rich in gardens and orchards. The farmers, chiefly on small holdings, are famous for their shorthorns and Leicester sheep. Except for the rapidly-developing production of iron from the Lias, begun by the Romans, there is but one manufacture–that of shoes. It is now centred by modern machinery and labour arrangements in Northampton itself, which has 24,000 shoemakers, and in the other towns, but a century ago the craft was common to every hamlet. For botany and agriculture, however, Northamptonshire was the finest county in England, and young Carey had trodden many a mile of it, as boy and man, before he left home for ever for Bengal.
Two unfinished autobiographical sketches, written from India at the request of Fuller and of Ryland, and letters of his youngest sister Mary, his favourite “Polly” who survived him, have preserved for us in still vivid characters the details of the early training of William Carey. He was the eldest of five children. He was the special care of their grandmother, a woman of a delicate nature and devout habits, who closed her sad widowhood in the weaver-son’s cottage. Encompassed by such a living influence the grandson spent his first six years. Already the child unconsciously showed the eager thirst for knowledge, and perseverance in attaining his object, which made him chiefly what he became. His mother would often be awoke in the night by the pleasant lisping of a voice “casting accompts; so intent was he from childhood in the pursuit of knowledge. Whatever he began he finished; difficulties never seemed to discourage his mind.” On removal to the ancestral schoolhouse the boy had a room to himself. His sister describes it as full of insects stuck in every corner that he might observe their progress. His many birds he entrusted to her care when he was from home. In this picture we see the exact foreshadowing of the man. “Though I often used to kill his birds by kindness, yet when he saw my grief for it he always indulged me with the pleasure of serving them again; and often took me over the dirtiest roads to get at a plant or an insect. He never walked out, I think, when quite a boy, without observation on the hedges as he passed; and when he took up a plant of any kind he always observed it with care. Though I was but a child I well remember his pursuits. He always seemed in earnest in his recreations as well as in school. He was generally one of the most active in all the amusements and recreations that boys in general pursue. He was always beloved by the boys about his own age.” To climb a certain tree was the object of their ambition; he fell often in the attempt, but did not rest till he had succeeded. His Uncle Peter was a gardener in the same village, and gave him his first lessons in botany and horticulture. He soon became responsible for his father’s official garden, till it was the best kept in the neighbourhood. Wherever after that he lived, as boy or man, poor or in comfort, William Carey made and perfected his garden, and always for others, until he created at Serampore the botanical park which for more than half a century was unique in Southern Asia.
We have in a letter from the Manse, Paulerspury, a tradition of the impression made on the dull rustics by the dawning genius of the youth whom they but dimly comprehended. He went amongst them under the nickname of Columbus, and they would say, “Well, if you won’t play, preach us a sermon,” which he would do. Mounting on an old dwarf witch-elm about seven feet high, where several could sit, he would hold forth. This seems to have been a resort of his for reading, his favourite occupation. The same authority tells how, when suffering toothache, he allowed his companions to drag the tooth from his head with a violent jerk, by tying around it a string attached to a wheel used to grind malt, to which they gave a sharp turn.
The boy’s own peculiar room was a little library as well as museum of natural history. He possessed a few books, which indeed were many for those days, but he borrowed more from the whole country-side. Recalling the eight years of his intellectual apprenticeship till he was fourteen, from the serene height of his missionary standard, he wrote long after:–“I chose to read books of science, history, voyages, etc., more than any others. Novels and plays always disgusted me, and I avoided them as much as I did books of religion, and perhaps from the same motive. I was better pleased with romances, and this circumstance made me read the Pilgrim’s Progress with eagerness, though to no purpose.” The new era, of which he was to be the aggressive spiritual representative from Christendom, had not dawned. Walter Scott was ten years his junior. Captain Cook had not discovered the Sandwich Islands, and was only returning from the second of his three voyages while Carey was still at school. The church services and the watchfulness of his father supplied the directly moral training which his grandmother had begun.
The Paulerspury living of St. James is a valuable rectory in the gift of New College, Oxford. Originally built in Early English, and rebuilt in 1844, the church must have presented a still more venerable appearance a century ago than it does now, with its noble tower in the Perpendicular, and chancel in the Decorated style, dominating all the county. Then, as still, effigies of a Paveli and his wife, and of Sir Arthur Throckmorton and his wife recumbent head to head, covered a large altar-tomb in the chancel, and with the Bathurst and other monuments called forth first the fear and then the pride of the parish clerk’s eldest son. In those days the clerk had just below the pulpit the desk from which his sonorous “Amen” sounded forth, while his family occupied a low gallery rising from the same level up behind the pulpit. There the boys of the free school also could be under the master’s eye, and with instruments of music like those of King David, but now banished from even village churches, would accompany him in the doggerel strains of Sternhold and Hopkins, immortalised by Cowper. To the far right the boys could see and long for the ropes under the tower, in which the bell-ringers of his day, as of Bunyan’s not long before, delighted. The preaching of the time did nothing more for young Carey than for the rest of England and Scotland, whom the parish church had not driven into dissent or secession. But he could not help knowing the Prayer-Book, and especially its psalms and lessons, and he was duly confirmed. The family training, too, was exceptionally scriptural, though not evangelical. “I had many stirrings of mind occasioned by being often obliged to read books of a religious character; and, having been accustomed from my infancy to read the Scriptures, I had a considerable acquaintance therewith, especially with the historical parts.” The first result was to make him despise dissenters. But, undoubtedly, this eldest son of the schoolmaster and the clerk of the parish had at fourteen received an education from parents, nature, and books which, with his habits of observation, love of reading, and perseverance, made him better instructed than most boys of fourteen far above the peasant class to which he belonged.
Buried in this obscure village in the dullest period of the dullest of all centuries, the boy had no better prospect before him than that of a weaver or labourer, or possibly a schoolmaster like one of his uncles in the neighbouring town of Towcester. When twelve years of age, with his uncle there, he might have formed one of the crowd which listened to John Wesley, who, in 1773 and then aged seventy, visited the prosperous posting town. Paulerspury could indeed boast of one son, Edward Bernard, D.D., who, two centuries before, had made for himself a name in Oxford, where he was Savilian Professor of Astronomy. But Carey was not a Scotsman, and therefore the university was not for such as he. Like his school-fellows, he seemed born to the English labourer’s fate of five shillings a week, and the poorhouse in sickness and old age. From this, in the first instance, he was saved by a disease which affected his face and hands most painfully whenever he was long exposed to the sun. For seven years he had failed to find relief. His attempt at work in the field were for two years followed by distressing agony at night. He was now sixteen, and his father sought out a good man who would receive him as apprentice to the shoemaking trade. The man was not difficult to find, in the hamlet of Hackleton, nine miles off, in the person of one Clarke Nichols. The lad afterwards described him as “a strict churchman and, what I thought, a very moral man. It is true he sometimes drank rather too freely, and generally employed me in carrying out goods on the Lord’s Day morning; but he was an inveterate enemy to lying, a vice to which I was awfully addicted.” The senior apprentice was a dissenter, and the master and his boys gave much of the talk over their work to disputes upon religious subjects. Carey “had always looked upon dissenters with contempt. I had, moreover, a share of pride sufficient for a thousand times my knowledge; I therefore always scorned to have the worst in an argument, and the last word was assuredly mine. I also made up in positive assertion what was wanting in argument, and generally came off with triumph. But I was often convinced afterwards that although I had the last word my antagonist had the better of the argument, and on that account felt a growing uneasiness and stings of conscience gradually increasing.” The dissenting apprentice was soon to be the first to lead him to Christ.
William Carey was a shoemaker during the twelve years of his life from sixteen to twenty-eight, till he went to Leicester. Poverty, which the grace of God used to make him a preacher also from his eighteenth year, compelled him to work with his hands in leather all the week, and to tramp many a weary mile to Northampton and Kettering carrying the product of his labour. At one time, when minister of Moulton, he kept a school by day, made or cobbled shoes by night, and preached on Sunday. So Paul had made tents of his native Cilician goatskin in the days when infant Christianity was chased from city to city, and the cross was a reproach only less bitter, however, than evangelical dissent in Christian England in the eighteenth century. The providence which made and kept young Carey so long a shoemaker, put him in the very position in which he could most fruitfully receive and nurse the sacred fire that made him the most learned scholar and Bible translator of his day in the East. The same providence thus linked him to the earliest Latin missionaries of Alexandria, of Asia Minor, and of Gaul, who were shoemakers, and to a succession of scholars and divines, poets and critics, reformers and philanthropists, who have used the shoemaker’s life to become illustrious.1 St. Mark chose for his successor, as first bishop of Alexandria, that Annianus whom he had been the means of converting to Christ when he found him at the cobbler’s stall. The Talmud commemorates the courage and the wisdom of “Rabbi Jochanan, the shoemaker,” whose learning soon after found a parallel in Carey’s. Like Annianus, “a poor shoemaker named Alexander, despised in the world but great in the sight of God, who did honour to so exalted a station in the Church,” became famous as Bishop of Comana in Cappadocia, as saint, preacher, and missionary-martyr. Soon after there perished in the persecutions of Diocletian, at Soissons, the two missionary brothers whose name of Crispin has ever since been gloried in by the trade, which they chose at once as a means of livelihood and of helping their poor converts. The Hackleton apprentice was still a child when the great Goethe was again adding to the then artificial literature of his country his own true predecessor, Hans Sachs, the shoemaker of Nürnberg, the friend of Luther, the meistersinger of the Reformation. And it was another German shoemaker, Boehme, whose exalted theosophy as expounded by William Law became one link in the chain that drew Carey to Christ, as it influenced Wesley and Whitefield, Samuel Johnson and Coleridge. George Fox was only nineteen when, after eight years’ service with a shoemaker in Drayton, Leicestershire, not far from Carey’s county, he heard the voice from heaven which sent him forth in 1643 to preach righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, till Cromwell sought converse with him, and the Friends became a power among men.
Carlyle has, in characteristic style, seized on the true meaning that was in the man when he made to himself a suit of leather and became the modern hero of Sartor Resartus. The words fit William Carey’s case even better than that of George Fox:–“Sitting in his stall, working on tanned hides, amid pincers, paste-horns, rosin, swine-bristles, and a nameless flood of rubbish, this youth had nevertheless a Living Spirit belonging to him; also an antique Inspired Volume, through which, as through a window, it could look upwards and discern its celestial Home.” That “shoe-shop, had men known it, was a holier place than any Vatican or Loretto-shrine…Stitch away, every prick of that little instrument is pricking into the heart of slavery.” Thirty-six years after Fox had begun to wear his leathern doublet he directed all Friends everywhere that had Indians or blacks to preach the Gospel to them.
But it would be too long to tell the list of workers in what has been called the gentle craft, whom the cobbler’s stall, with its peculiar opportunities for rhythmic meditation, hard thinking, and oft harder debating, has prepared for the honours of literature and scholarship, of philanthropy and reform. To mention only Carey’s contemporaries, the career of these men ran parallel at home with his abroad–Thomas Shillitoe, who stood before magistrates, bishops, and such sovereigns as George III. and IV. and the Czar Alexander I. in the interests of social reform; and John Pounds, the picture of whom as the founder of ragged schools led Thomas Guthrie, when he stumbled on it in an inn in Anstruther, to do the same Christlike work in Scotland. Coleridge, who when at Christ’s Hospital was ambitious to be a shoemaker’s apprentice, was right when he declared that shoemakers had given to the world a larger number of eminent men than any other handicraft. Whittier’s own early experience in Massachusetts fitted him to be the poet-laureate of the craft which for some years he adorned. His Songs of Labour, published in 1850, contain the best English lines on shoemakers since Shakspere put into the mouth of King Henry V. the address on the eve of Agincourt, which begins: “This day is called the feast of Crispin.” But Whittier, Quaker, philanthropist, and countryman of Judson though he was, might have found a place for Carey when he sang so well of others:–
“Thy songs, Hans Sachs, are living yet,
In strong and hearty German;
And Bloomfield’s lay and Gifford’s wit
And patriot fame of Sherman;
“Still from his book, a mystic seer,
The soul of Behmen teaches,
And England’s priestcraft shakes to hear
Of Fox’s leathern breeches.”
The confessions of Carey, made in the spiritual humility and self-examination of his later life, form a parallel to the Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, the little classic of John Bunyan second only to his Pilgrim’s Progress. The young Pharisee, who entered Hackleton with such hate in his heart to dissenters that he would have destroyed their meeting-place, who practised “lying, swearing, and other sins,” gradually yielded so far to his brother apprentice’s importunity as to leave these off, to try to pray sometimes when alone, to attend church three times a day, and to visit the dissenting prayer-meeting. Like the zealot who thought to do God service by keeping the whole law, Carey lived thus for a time, “not doubting but this would produce ease of mind and make me acceptable to God.” What revealed him to himself was an incident which he tells in language recalling at once Augustine and one of the subtlest sketches of George Eliot, in which the latter uses her half-knowledge of evangelical faith to stab the very truth that delivered Paul and Augustine, Bunyan and Carey, from the antinomianism of the Pharisee:–
“A circumstance which I always reflect on with a mixture of horror and gratitude occurred about this time, which, though greatly to my dishonour, I must relate. It being customary in that part of the country for apprentices to collect Christmas boxes [donations] from the tradesmen with whom their masters have dealings, I was permitted to collect these little sums. When I applied to an ironmonger, he gave me the choice of a shilling or a sixpence; I of course chose the shilling, and putting it in my pocket, went away. When I had got a few shillings my next care was to purchase some little articles for myself, I have forgotten what. But then, to my sorrow, I found that my shilling was a brass one. I paid for the things which I bought by using a shilling of my master’s. I now found that I had exceeded my stock by a few pence. I expected severe reproaches from my master, and therefore came to the resolution to declare strenuously that the bad money was his. I well remember the struggles of mind which I had on this occasion, and that I made this deliberate sin a matter of prayer to God as I passed over the fields towards home! I there promised that, if God would but get me clearly over this, or, in other words, help me through with the theft, I would certainly for the future leave off all evil practices; but this theft and consequent lying appeared to me so necessary, that they could not be dispensed with.
“A gracious God did not get me safe through. My master sent the other apprentice to investigate the matter. The ironmonger acknowledged the giving me the shilling, and I was therefore exposed to shame, reproach, and inward remorse, which preyed upon my mind for a considerable time. I at this time sought the Lord, perhaps much more earnestly than ever, but with shame and fear. I was quite ashamed to go out, and never, till I was assured that my conduct was not spread over the town, did I attend a place of worship.
“I trust that, under these circumstances, I was led to see much more of myself than I had ever done before, and to seek for mercy with greater earnestness. I attended prayer-meetings only, however, till February 10, 1779, which being appointed a day of fasting and prayer, I attended worship on that day. Mr. Chater [congregationalist] of Olney preached, but from what text I have forgotten. He insisted much on following Christ entirely, and enforced his exhortation with that passage, ‘Let us therefore go out unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.’–Heb. xiii. 13. I think I had a desire to follow Christ; but one idea occurred to my mind on hearing those words which broke me off from the Church of England. The idea was certainly very crude, but useful in bringing me from attending a lifeless, carnal ministry to one more evangelical. I concluded that the Church of England, as established by law, was the camp in which all were protected from the scandal of the cross, and that I ought to bear the reproach of Christ among the dissenters; and accordingly I always afterwards attended divine worship among them.”
At eighteen Carey was thus emptied of self and there was room for Christ. In a neighbouring village he consorted much for a time with some followers of William Law, who had not long before passed away in a village in the neighbourhood, and select passages from whose writings the Moravian minister, Francis Okely, of Northampton, had versified. These completed the negative process. “I felt ruined and helpless.” Then to his spiritual eyes, purged of self, there appeared the Crucified One; and to his spiritual intelligence there was given the Word of God. The change was that wrought on Paul by a Living Person. It converted the hypocritical Pharisee into the evangelical preacher; it turned the vicious peasant into the most self-denying saint; it sent the village shoemaker far off to the Hindoos.
But the process was slow; it had been so even in Paul’s case. Carey found encouragement in intercourse with some old Christians in Hackleton, and he united with a few of them, including his fellow-apprentice, in forming a congregational church. The state of the parish may be imagined from its recent history. Hackleton is part of Piddington, and the squire had long appropriated the living of £300 a year, the parsonage, the glebe, and all tithes, sending his house minister “at times” to do duty. A Certificate from Northamptonshire, against the pluralities and other such scandals, published in 1641, declared that not a child or servant in Hackleton or Piddington could say the Lord’s Prayer. Carey sought the preaching of Doddridge’s successor at Northampton, of a Baptist minister at Road, and of Scott the commentator, then at Ravenstone. He had found peace, but was theologically “inquisitive and unsatisfied.” Fortunately, like Luther, he “was obliged to draw all from the Bible alone.”
When, at twenty years of age, Carey was slowly piecing together “the doctrines in the Word of God” into something like a system which would at once satisfy his own spiritual and intellectual needs, and help him to preach to others, a little volume was published, of which he wrote:–“I do not remember ever to have read any book with such raptures.” It was Help to Zion’s Travellers; being an attempt to remove various Stumbling-Blocks out of the Way, relating to Doctrinal, Experimental, and Practical Religion, by Robert Hall. The writer was the father of the greater Robert Hall, a venerable man, who, in his village church of Arnsby, near Leicester, had already taught Carey how to preach. The book is described as an “attempt to relieve discouraged Christians” in a day of gloominess and perplexity, that they might devote themselves to Christ through life as well as be found in Him in death. Carey made a careful synopsis of it in an exquisitely neat hand on the margin of each page. The worm-eaten copy, which he treasured even in India, is now deposited in Bristol College.
A Calvinist of the broad missionary type of Paul, Carey somewhat suddenly, according to his own account, became a Baptist. “I do not recollect having read anything on the subject till I applied to Mr. Ryland, senior, to baptise me. He lent me a pamphlet, and turned me over to his son,” who thus told the story when the Baptist Missionary Society held its first public meeting in London:–“October 5th, 1783: I baptised in the river Nen, a little beyond Dr. Doddridge’s meeting-house at Northampton, a poor journeyman shoemaker, little thinking that before nine years had elapsed, he would prove the first instrument of forming a society for sending missionaries from England to preach the gospel to the heathen. Such, however, as the event has proved, was the purpose of the Most High, who selected for this work not the son of one of our most learned ministers, nor of one of the most opulent of our dissenting gentlemen, but the son of a parish clerk.”
The spot may still be visited at the foot of the hill, where the Nen fed the moat of the old castle, in which many a Parliament sat from the days of King John. The text of that morning’s sermon happened to be the Lord’s saying, “Many first shall be last, and the last first,” which asserts His absolute sovereignty in choosing and in rewarding His missionaries, and introduces the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. As Carey wrote in the fulness of his fame, that the evangelical doctrines continued to be the choice of his heart, so he never wavered in his preference for the Baptist division of the Christian host. But from the first he enjoyed the friendship of Scott and Newton, and of his neighbour Mr. Robinson of St. Mary’s, Leicester, and we shall see him in India the centre of the Episcopal and Presbyterian chaplains and missionaries from Martyn Wilson to Lacroix and Duff. His controversial spirit died with the youthful conceit and self-righteousness of which it is so often the birth. When at eighteen he learned to know himself, he became for ever humble. A zeal like that of his new-found Master took its place, and all the energy of his nature, every moment of his time, was directed to setting Him forth.
In his monthly visits to the father-house at Paulerspury the new man in him could not be hid. His sister gives us a vivid sketch of the lad, whose going over to the dissenters was resented by the formal and stern clerk, and whose evangelicalism was a reproach to the others.
“At this time he was increasingly thoughtful, and very was jealous for the Lord of Hosts. Like Gideon, he seemed for throwing down all the altars of Baal in one night. When he came home we used to wonder at the change. We knew that before he was rather inclined to persecute the faith he now seemed to wish to propagate. At first, perhaps, his zeal exceeded the bounds of prudence; but he felt the importance of things we were strangers to, and his natural disposition was to pursue earnestly what he undertook, so that it was not to be wondered at, though we wondered at the change. He stood alone in his father’s house for some years. After a time he asked permission to have family prayer when he came home to see us, a favour which he very readily had granted. Often have I felt my pride rise while he was engaged in prayer, at the mention of those words in Isaiah, ‘that all our righteousness was like filthy rags.’ I did not think he thought his so, but looked on me and the family as filthy, not himself and his party. Oh, what pride is in the human heart! Nothing but my love to my brother would have kept me from showing my resentment.”
“A few of the friends of religion wished our brother to exercise his gifts by speaking to a few friends in a house licensed at Pury; which he did with great acceptance. The next morning a neighbour of ours, a very pious woman, came in to congratulate my mother on the occasion, and to speak of the Lord’s goodness in calling her son, and my brother, two such near neighbours, to the same noble calling. My mother replied, ‘What, do you think he will be a preacher?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘and a great one, I think, if spared.’ From that time till he was settled at Moulton he regularly preached once a month at Pury with much acceptance. He was at that time in his twentieth year, and married. Our parents were always friendly to religion; yet, on some accounts, we should rather have wished him to go from home than come home to preach. I do not think I ever heard him, though my younger brother and my sister, I think, generally did. Our father much wished to hear his son, if he could do it unseen by him or any one. It was not long before an opportunity offered, and he embraced it. Though he was a man that never discovered any partiality for the abilities of his children, but rather sometimes went too far on the other hand, that often tended a little to discourage them, yet we were convinced that he approved of what he heard, and was highly gratified by it.”
In Hackleton itself his expositions of Scripture were so valued that the people, he writes, “being ignorant, sometimes applauded to my great injury.” When in poverty, so deep that he fasted all that day because he had not a penny to buy a dinner, he attended a meeting of the Association of Baptist Churches at Olney, not far off. There he first met with his lifelong colleague, the future secretary of the mission, Andrew Fuller, the young minister of Soham, who preached on being men in understanding, and there it was arranged that he should preach regularly to a small congregation at Earls Barton, six miles from Hackleton. His new-born humility made him unable to refuse the duty, which he discharged for more than three years while filling his cobbler’s stall at Hackleton all the week, and frequently preaching elsewhere also. The secret of his power which drew the Northamptonshire peasants and craftsmen to the feet of their fellow was this, that he studied the portion of Scripture, which he read every morning at his private devotions, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
This was Carey’s “college.” On the death of his first master, when he was eighteen, he had transferred his apprenticeship to a Mr. T. Old. Hackleton stands on the high road from Bedford and Olney to Northampton, and Thomas Scott was in the habit of resting at Mr. Old’s on his not infrequent walks from Olney, where he had succeeded John Newton. There he had no more attentive listener or intelligent talker than the new journeyman, who had been more influenced by his preaching at Ravenstone than by that of any other man. Forty years after, just before Scott’s death, Dr. Ryland gave him this message from Carey:–“If there be anything of the work of God in my soul, I owe much of it to his preaching when I first set out in the ways of the Lord;” to which this reply was sent: “I am surprised as well as gratified at your message from Dr. Carey. He heard me preach only a few times, and that as 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 when at Hackleton. But to have suggested even a single useful hint to such a mind as his must be considered as a high privilege and matter of gratitude.” Scott had previously written this more detailed account of his intercourse with the preaching shoemaker, whom he first saw when he called on Mr. Old to tell him of the welfare of his mother:
“When I went into the cottage I was soon recognised, and Mr. Old came in, with a sensible-looking lad in his working-dress. I at first rather wondered to see him enter, as he seemed young, being, I believe, little of his age. We, however, entered into very interesting conversation, especially respecting my parishioner, their relative, and the excellent state of her mind, and the wonder of divine grace in the conversion of one who had been so very many years considered as a self-righteous Pharisee. I believe I endeavoured to show that the term was often improperly applied to conscientious but ignorant inquirers, who are far from self-satisfied, and who, when the Gospel is set before them, find the thing which they had long been groping after. However that may be, I observed the lad who entered with Mr. Old riveted in attention with every mark and symptom of intelligence and feeling; saying little, but modestly asking now and then an appropriate question. I took occasion, before I went forward, to inquire after him, and found that, young as he was, he was a member of the church at Hackleton, and looked upon as a very consistent and promising character. I lived at Olney till the end of 1785; and in the course of that time I called perhaps two or three times each year at Mr. Old’s, and was each time more and more struck with the youth’s conduct, though I said little; but, before I left Olney, Mr. Carey was out of his engagement with Mr. Old. I found also that he was sent out as a probationary preacher, and preached at Moulton; and I said to all to whom I had access, that he would, if I could judge, prove no ordinary man. Yet, though I often met both old Mr. Ryland, the present Dr. Ryland, Mr. Hall, Mr. Fuller, and knew almost every step taken in forming your Missionary Society, and though I sometimes preached very near Moulton, it so happened that I do not recollect having met with him any more, till he came to my house in London with Mr. Thomas, to desire me to use what little influence I had with Charles Grant, Esq., to procure them licence to go in the Company’s ships as missionaries to the British settlements in India, perhaps in 1792. My little influence was of no avail. What I said of Mr. Carey so far satisfied Mr. Grant that he said, if Mr. Carey was going alone, or with one equally to be depended on along with him, he would not oppose him; but his strong disapprobation of Mr. T., on what ground I knew not, induced his negative. I believe Mr. Old died soon after I left Olney, if not just before; and his shop, which was a little building apart from the house, was suffered to go to decay. While in this state I several times passed it, and said to my sons and others with me, that is Mr. Carey’s college.”
This cobbler’s shed which was Carey’s college has been since restored, but two of the original walls still stand, forming the corner in which he sat, opposite the window that looks out into the garden he carefully kept. Here, when his second master died, Carey succeeded to the business, charging himself with the care of the widow, and marrying the widow’s sister, Dorothy or Dolly Placket. He was only twenty when he took upon himself such burdens, in the neighbouring church of Piddington, a village to which he afterwards moved his shop. Never had minister, missionary, or scholar a less sympathetic mate, due largely to that latent mental disease which in India carried her off; but for more than twenty years the husband showed her loving reverence. As we stand in the Hackleton shed, over which Carey placed the rude signboard prepared by his own hands, and now in the library of Regent’s Park College, “Second Hand Shoes Bought and–,”2 we can realise the low estate to which Carey fell, even below his father’s loom and schoolhouse, and from which he was called to become the apostle of North India as Schwartz was of the South.
How was this shed his college? We have seen that he brought with him from his native village an amount of information, habits of observation, and a knowledge of books unusual in rustics of that day, and even of the present time. At twelve he made his first acquaintance with a language other than his own, when he mastered the short grammar in Dyche’s Latine Vocabulary, and committed nearly the whole book to memory. When urging him to take the preaching at Barton, Mr. Sutcliff of Olney gave him Ruddiman’s Latin Grammar. The one alleviation of his lot under the coarse but upright Nichols was found in his master’s small library. There he began to study Greek. In a New Testament commentary he found Greek words, which he carefully transcribed and kept until he should next visit home, where a youth whom dissipation had reduced from college to weaving explained both the words and their terminations to him. All that he wanted was such beginnings. Hebrew he seems to have learned by the aid of the neighbouring ministers; borrowing books from them, and questioning them “pertinently,” as he did Scott.3 At the end of Hopkins’s Three Sermons on the Effects of Sin on the Universe, preached in 1759, he had made this entry on 9th August 1787–“Gulielm. Careius perlegit.” He starved himself to purchase a few books at the sale which attended Dr. Ryland’s removal from Northampton to Bristol. In an old woman’s cottage he found a Dutch quarto, and from that he so taught himself the language that in 1789 he translated for Ryland a discourse on the Gospel Offer sent to him by the evangelical Dr. Erskine of Edinburgh. The manuscript is in an extremely small character, unlike what might have been expected from one who had wrought with his hands for eight years. French he acquired, sufficiently for literary purposes, in three weeks from the French version of Ditton on the Resurrection, which he purchased for a few coppers. He had the linguistic gift which soon after made the young carpenter Mezzofanti of Bologna famous and a cardinal. But the gift would have been buried in the grave of his penury and his circumstances had his trade been almost any other, and had he not been impelled by the most powerful of all motives. He never sat on his stall without his book before him, nor did he painfully toil with his wallet of new-made shoes to the neighbouring towns or return with leather without conning over his lately-acquired knowledge, and making it for ever, in orderly array, his own. He so taught his evening school and his Sunday congregations that the teaching to him, like writing to others, stereotyped or lighted up the truths. Indeed, the school and the cobbling often went on together–a fact commemorated in the addition to the Hackleton signboard of the Piddington nail on which he used to fix his thread while teaching the children.
But that which sanctified and directed the whole throughout a working life of more than half a century, was the missionary idea and the missionary consecration. With a caution not often shown at that time by bishops in laying hands on those whom they had passed for deacon’s orders, the little church at Olney thus dealt with the Father of Modern Missions before they would recognise his call and send him out “to preach the gospel wherever God in His providence might call him:”
“June 17, 1785.–A request from William Carey of Moulton, in Northamptonshire, was taken into consideration. He has been and still is in connection with a society of people at Hackleton. He is occasionally engaged with acceptance in various places in speaking the Word. He bears a very good moral character. He is desirous of being sent out from some reputable church of Christ into the work of the ministry. The principal Question was–‘In what manner shall we receive him? by a letter from the people of Hackleton, or on a profession of faith, etc.?’ The final resolution of it was left to another church Meeting.
“July 14–Ch. Meeting. W. Carey appeared before the Church, and having given a satisfactory account of the work of God upon his soul, he was admitted a member. He had been formerly baptised by the Rev. Mr. Ryland, jun., of Northampton. He was invited by the Church to preach in public once next Lord’s Day.
“July 17.–Ch. Meeting, Lord’s Day Evening. W. Carey, in consequence of a request from the Church, preached this Evening. After which it was resolved that he should be allowed to go on preaching at those places where he has been for some time employed, and that he should engage again on suitable occasions for some time before us, in order that farther trial may be made of ministerial gifts.
“June 16, 1786.–C.M. The case of Bror. Carey was considered, and an unanimous satisfaction with his ministerial abilities being expressed, a vote was passed to call him to the Ministry at a proper time.
“August 10.–Ch. Meeting. This evening our Brother William Carey was called to the work of the Ministry, and sent out by the Church to preach the Gospel, wherever God in His providence might call him.
“April 29, 1787.–Ch. M. After the Orde. our Brother William Carey was dismissed to the Church of Christ at Moulton in Northamptonshire with a view to his Ordination there.”
These were the last years at Olney of William Cowper before he removed to the Throckmortons’ house at Weston village, two miles distant. Carey must often have seen the poet during the twenty years which he spent in the corner house of the market-square, and in the walks around. He must have read the poems of 1782, which for the first time do justice to missionary enterprise. He must have hailed what Mrs. Browning calls “the deathless singing” which in 1785, in The Task, opened a new era in English literature. He may have been fired with the desire to imitate Whitefield, in the description of whom, though reluctant to name him, Cowper really anticipated Carey himself:–
“He followed Paul; his zeal a kindred flame,
His apostolic charity the same;
Like him crossed cheerfully tempestuous seas,
Forsaking country, kindred, friends and ease;
Like him he laboured and, like him, content
To bear it, suffered shame where’er he went.”