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Life of john kitto


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CHAPTER VI.
JOURNEY TO THE EAST.
MR GROVES, who had already taken Kitto to Exeter, and who now engaged him to travel, was a man of marked peculiarity. He had latterly, and before leaving Dublin University, joined in such extra-ecclesiastical meetings for sacramental fellowship and prayer, as characterize the religious party now commonly known by the name of Plymouth Brethren. He abandoned a lucrative profession in order to become a missionary, and made no stipulation for maintenance when he went abroad, but relied solely on the voluntary aid of Christian friends, and ‘on what his Master inclined the hearts of his brethren to furnish.’ His notions of self dedication were acted out by him with rigid fidelity. He was a ‘good man,’ and ‘full of faith.’ His labours in Persia did not by any means produce the anticipated fruits; but his subsequent toils in India were largely blessed. He was one of those men who exercise an immediate and deep personal influence upon others. Mr Müller of Bristol, a near relative of Mr Groves, and the originator and pro­moter of that marvellous orphan-house on Ashley Down, says, in his interesting ‘Narrative,’ that the example of Brother Groves both excited and cheered him in his prolonged and arduous efforts—efforts which, sustained by no visible machinery, but resting solely on ‘faith in God as to temporal things,’ have realized £77,990, and which actu­ally received in one year no less a sum than £15,000.

Mr Groves being himself in earnest, had strong force of character, and made his imperious will the law to all around him. So that various estimates were formed of him by those who came in contact, and those who came into collision with him; by those who beheld his actions at a distance, and by those who were immediately under his control. Whatever he felt to be duty, no matter how he made the discovery, he would do it at all hazards, and every one in his sphere was expected to bend to his con­victions. These convictions sometimes bordered on fana­ticism. On one occasion, in Exeter, when the mind of Mrs Groves was in doubt as to a critical point of duty, she proposed that ‘Kitto should search out the mind of the Lord from the New Testament, and say what he thought.’ ‘The result’ of this oracular inquiry Mr Groves laments, ‘was, as might be expected, seeing Kitto had no interest in the question;’ that is, Kitto’s decision was contrary to that of Mr Groves himself, and he would not be bound by it. In various parts of his journal, he avows his belief that miracles might be still expected by the Church; nay, he argues, ‘that as miracles were designed for unbelievers, and not for the Church, we must expect to see them arise among missionaries to the heathen.’ Might they not, therefore, be expected in his own position? Now, if one gift more than another was needed and coveted by him, it was the Pentecostal gift of Tongues; and yet we find him again and again lamenting the fatiguing labour gone through, and the precious time spent in acquiring a new and eastern language, the pursuit of which ‘disordered his soul greatly.’

He relates, in his second journal, published in 1832, that when Mr Newman42 was sick, and ‘at the worst, and they had given up all hopes of him, they anointed him with oil, according to James v. 14, and prayed over him, and the Lord had mercy on them; yea, and on me also, and restored him. It seems to me truly scriptural.’ But his unguarded notions were sometimes sharply corrected; for when the plague did enter his dwelling, take away his wife, and prostrate himself, he slowly admits that he did not expect such a visitation, but rather thought he had been secured against it, and that his ‘error arose from considering the temporal promises of the 91st psalm as legitimate objects of faith.’

On being asked by Mr Burnard as to some points in Mr Groves’ Christian character, Kitto replied from Exeter, after he had been a short time in his employment, ‘Mr Groves is not a Methodist, a Calvinist, a Lutheran, or a Papist. What, then, is he? A Deist, a Unitarian, an Antinomian? No. He is one of those rather singular characters—a Bible Christian, and a disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus; not nominally, but practically and really such. A man so devotedly, so fervently attached to the Scriptures, I never knew before.’ Of his benignant influ­ence on Kitto we have already spoken, and his young friend, though he could not agree with him ultimately in many of his peculiar views, never ceased to regard him with esteem and affection.

The company that embarked with Mr Groves consisted of seven persons. Those immediately connected with him were his wife and sister, Miss Taylor, his two boys, and Kitto. The Osprey, a vessel of forty-five tons, and belonging to the Royal Yacht Club, conveyed them, free of expense, to St Petersburg; and its owner, Mr Puget, along with Mr Parnell, now Lord Congleton, accompanied them to the Russian capital. We can afford space for only a few sketches of the journey. Kitto wrote copious letters about some parts of it, and kept as copious journals of other parts of it. He was ever writing, that being of necessity his principal and almost only method of giving utterance to his thoughts. Most of us are fond of detail­ing what our impressions are in scenes of novelty. Kitto’s method of record was not by the use of his tongue, but by the tracery of his pen; and some of these papers were composed with a view to subsequent publication. Indeed, he often meditated a book of travels; but the fruits of his journeys assumed a different form.

Mr Groves and his friends sailed from Gravesend on the 12th June 1829, and, after encountering a heavy storm in the Cattegat, cast anchor before the village of Wedbeck, in the vicinity of Copenhagen, on the 20th of the same month. The yacht had sustained some damage in the gale, and underwent the necessary repairs at the Danish capital. During almost the whole voyage, the Osprey’s people had worship on deck morning and evening. The first notice of Kitto in Mr Groves’ journal is under date, Sunday, June 14:—‘K is not quite well, complaining of headache.’43 The second is Monday, June 22:—‘K——‘s connection with the dear little boys is most promising, and leads us to feel assured that he is really sent us by the Lord for that very end, and others important to the mission. He seems happy, and, I trust, is so, which comforts us greatly.’44 The next allusion is still more characteristic. July 1: ‘I feel the expediency of forming a more regular plan with K —— about the little boys. May the Lord, in His great goodness, lead us to adopt a wise one, in the spirit of Christian wisdom. I perceive that K—— has a deep sense of neglect, or apparent want of respect. May all things be so ordered, that he may not feel this. I feel his heart is worth winning even on natural grounds, for he has affections that are strong and true; but on spiritual grounds it is our duty, and may it be felt by us also to be our privilege.’45

The party stayed for some days at Wedbeck with the British Charge d’Affaires, and then sailed for St Petersburg. Prevailing light winds made the voyage longer than was an­ticipated. At Cronstadt, Kitto saw a portion of the Russian fleet, and, after the Thames, never beheld such a forest of masts. The Osprey was brought up the river nearly to the city, and then her passengers went ashore in a boat. A pilot had been hired for the difficult navigation; and this transaction set Kitto on thinking of Peter the Great, who often conducted vessels from Cronstadt, and uniformly demanded the usual wages. After three weeks’ sailing, Kitto was glad to set his foot on land, and to ‘lie down on a quiet bed;’ but the pilot in the channel, and the scenes in England which had so grated on his spirit as to impel him to travel, were wrought into a dream, which he relates in impressive style:—

‘Methought—you see I begin in the orthodox style—methought the scene was the same as that of the preceding day, only sublimed in the alembic of dreams. Rocks tre­mendous and awful, and dangerous shallows, were there, which the charts do not exhibit; and the city in the distance, to which we were approaching, seemed more glorious than Petersburg by far; more glorious than the cities of Arabian tales; than the hundred-gated Thebes, Nineveh, or Babylon. Rivers of peace—bowers of repose —and palaces, and walls, and gates refulgent with diamond and gold, in magnificent perspective, were laid out there.

Amidst these rocks and shallows, not knowing which way to take with safety, we lay to, and made signals for a pilot. One came off in a boat from the shore. He was the Great Peter himself. He had clouted shoes, and, excepting the band and hat, was dressed much like the peasants I had seen at Cronstadt. He seized the helm; issued his orders as pilot with dignity; and guided the vessel with the air of one who was fully confident that he could bring her, through all the difficulties by which we were surrounded, to the desired haven.

‘I gazed on this extraordinary character with interest and emotion; but a change suddenly came over the spirit of my dream; a mist arose, which concealed the pilot from me. The mist dissipated, and the autocrat was no longer at the helm. His place was supplied by a tender and delicate woman—by H— A— herself. (I like to dream, but I would cease to dream for ever, rather than dream once more of her. Once she had made my waking dreams very happy, but now—Well! you know it all.) She was attired in the white vestments of a bride—which were also the vestments of her grave. There was nothing warm or vital in her appearance. She gave impulse to the helm indeed; but her eyes were fixed on the deck, and, though open, there was no motion in them. I was not surprised. People are not generally surprised in dreams. I tried to speak, but I could not; to move, but I could not. My first impulse was to haste and take the helm from her hand. She had made shipwreck of my heart and its best feelings once before—and should she again guide the helm? No. But I could not carry this con­viction into effect. I sat down in desperate idolatry, and gazed upon her. Do what thou wilt;—let me live—let me die—let me arrive in safety, or let the deep swallow me up.

‘Once more the mist arose, and veiled one whom I had loved “not wisely, but too well.” When it expanded, the helm was in the hand of the Master Himself. There was nothing terrible in the appearance. He was as in the days of His sojourning among men—meek, lowly, and kind. Yet I trembled. But He said to me, “Fear not, for I am with thee.” Then I thought, What should I fear, if Thou art with me? and I ceased to be afraid. Oh! how happy I was then. I had no doubt. This was the Pilot who never yet made shipwreck of aught that He ever guided; and our safety now was assured. Happy he, the vessel of whose hopes and whose desires Thou steerest, O Lord.

‘This was my dream. An interpretation occurs to me; but as I should like to compare notes with you on the subject, I shall expect to receive your interpretation in the first letter you send me after this comes to hand.’

Really, as to the interpretation, it is not very difficult. The dream, as any one may perceive, was but a reproduc­tion of past sensations and agonies, cast into naval imagery by the recent passage through the shoals and intricacies, islands and lighthouses, of Cronstadt Channel. Ben Jonson sang—
‘And phantasie, I tell you, has dreams that have wings,

And dreams that have honey, and dreams that have stings;

Dreams of the maker, and dreams of the teller;

Dreams of the kitchen, and dreams of the cellar.’


It requires not a soothsayer to tell under what class the preceding vision of the night should be placed. Kitto, it may be said in passing, had considerable faith in dreams, and, as his papers show, he again and again philosophised on their character and predictive power.46

During Kitto’s stay at the northern Russian capital, many Christian friends showed him attention. He makes grateful mention of Mr Knill and of Miss Kilham, a lady who was patronised by Prince Galitzin and the imperial family in her excellent educational institution. In writing to Miss Hypatia Harvey from Baghdad, October 17, 1831, he thus records his reminiscences of this lady:—

‘Did you never hear of Mrs Hannah Kilham, the Quaker lady, who has made so many voyages to Africa, with the view of benefiting the poor negroes? If not, the history of her most benevolent labours is worth inquiry. The lady I speak of is her daughter, who walks in the steps of her noble mother most entirely, and who has resided some years in Russia, promoting the work of female education, and superintending a school of Russian females, half of whom were slaves. I saw them. They were fine girls. So far as female education is at all an object of attention in Russia, French and dancing are its primary objects. Miss Kilham’s institution has nothing to do with these studies. They are taught to read their native language—to write—cipher—sew—and, in general, the affairs of domestic life—to qualify them for useful wives—mothers —servants—and above all, to teach them their duty to God and man, which is done in a way beautifully simple and impressive. This is a sort of model school, and is, I hope, the germ of a most valuable system of education for the lower classes of females in Russia. Miss Kilham, with nothing outwardly on which the eye of man rests with pleasure, has that superior beauty of “the king’s daughter, all glorious within (Psalm xlv.), which, being combined with infinite humility, and a manner, unassum­ing, quiet, and unostentatious, conciliates the affection of many who do, and the respect of those who do not, understand the high principles on which her mind and character are formed. For myself, I count it among the best fruits of my travel, to have formed so inestimable a friendship.’

Kitto formed no high idea of the Russian people, or of their government: ‘Their calendar is unreformed, the peculiar costume remains; the knout remains; slavery remains; ignorance remains.’ ‘There is little show of literature. The booksellers’ shops are few, and those few about as well furnished as the bookstalls of London. Upon the whole, the exterior of Russian society is repulsive, notwithstanding the gloss, which the courtesy and politeness natural to all classes of the Russians throw upon it. The air of military despotism—the strut of office which meets you at every turn, and the abject worship which inferiors render to their superiors, are most disgusting. Govern­ment! government! There is nothing to be done or said without government. Government must control all your movements. Government would know the secrets of your chamber. With a feeling of much personal kindness to Russians as individual men, I detest such a system of minute rule and legislation.’

‘The mass of the people are much more superstitious than I had expected; in this respect, there seems little to choose between this and a Popish country. But supersti­tion is here of a less imposing character. Very pitiful pictures are placed about the city, before some of which lamps are continually burning, and which the people salute in passing, crossing themselves repeatedly and bowing. Statues are no objects of aversion in the Russian Church, and, though pictures are more frequent, I have seen the same homage paid to statues and to figures in alto and basso relievo. This species of idolatry is more common than I ever saw it in Malta, and if religion were measured by it, the Russians might be pronounced a very religious people. But this is all their religion. Their mode of crossing is considered heterodox by the Romish Church. I do not understand the difference; but I remember that at a grand religious procession at Malta, when a company of Russian sailors stood crossing and bowing after their fashion to every banner, statue, picture, and cross that passed by, they were grossly derided by the Catholic wor­shippers. Poor fellows! why in all the boasted improve­ments of their nation, has it not been endeavoured to teach them that “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” From this species of homage, men in the employ of government seem to consider themselves exempt. I never saw it rendered by a soldier; and I do not recollect to have seen one man of the crowds who pour out from the admiralty, at eight o’clock in the evening, stop to cross himself at a famous crossing place near.’

Miss Groves was prevented by sickness from proceed­ing on the journey, but her brother was joined here by Mr Bathie, and Mrs Taylor and her suite, who had preceded him by way of Lubeck.47 The company left St Petersburg on Thursday, the 16th of July, and arrived at Moscow on the 24th—a city which Kitto regarded as the most pleasant he had ever been in. On his first night’s journey, he saw some fires, round which gypsies, as he fancied, were encamped. To show his prevail­ing thoughts at this time, we subjoin his reflection

‘Is the conversion of gypsies impossible? If not, why, having them at our doors in England, have they been so much neglected there? Their former hardy and vagrant habits would admirably prepare them for some depart­ments of missionary service. Most likely a gipsy mission­ary would ramble with peculiar pleasure in Cabool, Beloo­chistan, Bokhara, and Khorassan.’ Still he was not very sure of his own ultimate position with Mr Groves; for he uses such language as this—‘As a Christian, I do not know if I may say, Missionary.’ He went three times to inspect the Kremlin. ‘There are others,’ he writes, ‘to measure columns, to paint scenery, and to describe churches and palaces; to them I leave it.’ He has given no description of Moscow. Somewhere he speaks of his intention of doing it, but confesses, that after leaving the city, he found that his impressions were not distinct enough to warrant an account of that strangely fated capital, which one of its own poets thus addresses:—
‘Proud city! sovereign mother thou

Of all Sclavonian cities now!

Work of seven ages!—beauty once

And glory were around thee spread.;

Toil-gathered riches blest thy sons,

And splendid temples crown’d thy head;

Our monarchs in thy bosom lie

With sainted dust that cannot die!

Farewell! farewell! thy children’s hands

Have seized the all-destroying brands,

To whelm in ashes all thy pride!

Blaze! Blaze! thy guilt in flames be lost;

And heaven and earth be satisfied

With thee, the nation’s holocaust!

The foe of peace shall find in thee

The ruined tomb of victory.’48


Mr Groves’ caravan left Moscow on the 28th July,49 and reached Astrachan on the 15th of August—a distance of 1401 versts, or about a thousand miles. Kitto, in his Journal, makes the usual remarks of travellers, and instinct­ively compares the scenery through which he was passing, with the landscapes of his own country. The ordinary incidents occur: a landau sticking in the sand, and crowds gathering around the strangers, while Mrs Taylor’s negro servant was absolutely mobbed. ‘I believe all our heads ache: mine does.’ In the churchyard of Ekinnouskoy, he witnessed a scene which prompted him not only to record his emotion, but to cluster around it a host of fancies and reflections:—

‘As I passed through it, on my return from the river, I observed over a grave on which the grass had not yet grown, a group which affected me strongly. There was one very aged woman kneeling, with her head on the grave; another middle-aged woman kneeling also, with her lips to the consecrated earth; and there were three sweet children, the eldest of whom, a girl, lay flat alongside the grave.

It was easy to guess the story:—a son lay there, the prop of his mother’s age—a husband, taken in his prime from the wife of his youth—a father, a beloved one, the support of his children, their protector, their guide, their friend. He lies there, in whom all this combination of beautiful relations was bound—all dissolved now, and broken, and lost.

‘I looked on at a distance, for I had no mind to disturb the sorrow of which I partook. How universal the true feelings of nature! I was surprised to meet here such an exhibition of those feelings; but why surprised? True, they were poor—they were rude, and slaves, perhaps; but had they not spirits, like me, to feel and suffer; had they hearts less warm, feelings less acute, than mine? I was ashamed of my surprise.

‘Death, thought I, is a terrible thing after all that philo­sophers have said, and written, and acted—terrible to the dead, terrible to the living. It was intended to be terrible; and I do not admire the philosophy which exhibits death as an object of contempt. It is not contemptible. Is it not terrible to close the eye for ever on the happy vales and ancient mountains? Is it not terrible to hear no more the voices which have been our music? to mingle no more in the dear relations which, with all their burdens, are so pleasant? Oh, it is terrible—very terrible to die! And then, as to all the fine sayings about the independence of the spirit on the body, and that the body not being part of ourselves, we should think only of the better half—it is all cant and rigmarole. It is part of ourselves—an essential part; and if it were not, why does our holy religion teach that these scattered elements shall be collected once more, be once more married to their former companion. If the body be not part of ourselves, why would not rather the unessential part be left to corruption and the grave? Then, is it not terrible to feel that that part of ourselves, with which all our pleasures, our feelings, our hopes, have been identified, must, in a day or two, become a “kneaded clod?”

‘And still more terrible it is to hang over the dead. To wonder, in the midst of our sorrows, by what marvellous process could thus become cold—cold—cold—that warm, ardent, sentient being, which, but a little while ago, was one of ourselves—went with us to and fro—talked with us, felt with us, and loved us. Indeed, I could never look upon the dead with the conviction that there was nothing vital left—no sense, no apprehension, in that which lay before me. Could I have realized this conviction, I should have gone mad long ago.

‘But were there no bright side to this picture, man were, indeed, most miserable. I believe the Bible, without doubt or reservation, and though I find nothing there to tell me that death is not terrible, I find there much consolation in the article of death. There is nothing to inculcate indif­ference to it, but much to strengthen under its infliction. That combination of soul and body, which, separate from all mysticism and metaphysical distinction, is properly and truly ourselves, and out of which no idea of distinct per­sonality can exist, has undergone no endless dissolution. The spirit waits a happier union, in a happier place, where He that sits upon the throne shall dwell among His redeemed. In anticipation of this happy union, we may ven­ture to meet him, whom even Scripture calls “the king of terrors,” undismayed. And with these bright prospects before us, there may be even moments in which, feeling the dissolution of these elements a necessary preliminary to full enjoyment, we may eagerly look forward to that hour—
“When this material

Shall have vanished like a cloud.”


But, perhaps, the permanent realization of this feeling would not be either happy or wise. It does very well in poetry, but nowhere else.

‘As the poor people were returning home, I contrived to slip a small donation into the hand of one of the children, and as I could not speak their language, I contented myself with praying that God would be more than son, hus­band, father, to them. In another half hour our carriage rolled away from Ekinnouskoy.’

The Moravian settlement of Sarepta was also visited, and found to be no longer a missionary station, but simply a colony of artificers. Melons were sold at one copec each. As the travellers approached Astrachan, Dr Glen met them, and during their brief sojourn in that city, showed them no little kindness. He was then in connec­tion with the Scottish Missionary Society, and was en-gaged in translating the Old Testament into Persian, hav­ing at this period proceeded as far as Ezekiel. Many years afterwards, Kitto refers to this visit in the following glowing terms:—

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