From my diary

A parcel arrived today, containing the German reference book which I laboriously scanned, turned into a PDF, and had printed as a book by Lulu.com.  It’s the same general standard as all books printed there — rather too thick paper, rather too thin cover — but it’s entirely serviceable and I shall feel no hesitation in scribbling in it.  Much better than a pile of photocopies, certainly.

A card from DHL lay on the mat when I got home.  That must be the leaflets to promote the Eusebius book.  DHL are difficult to deal with — I shall have to ring them tomorrow, and then probably go and get the boxes at lunchtime.  Once I have inspected them, I shall rewrap the parcel and despatch it to the conference.

Still sunshine and showers here.  I get a bit of holiday next week — I must find nice things to do with it, and get away from the daily routine.  Of course once you book holiday, you find an enormous number of things have to be done before you can go away!  Isn’t that a funny thing?  I would like to go to Pompeii, but unless you book 6 weeks in advance you get charged huge sums.

I’ve been rereading Tuckwell’s Reminiscences of Oxford, about life in the university in the 1830’s.  On p.95 we find the following notice of Solomon Caesar Malan, who translated from Armenian the homily of Eusebius of Emesa that I have online.

Contemporary with these was a genius perhaps more remarkable, certainly more unusual, than any of them. In 1833 Solomon Caesar Malan matriculated at St. Edmund’s Hall, a young man with a young wife, son to a Swiss Pastor, speaking as yet broken English, but fiuent Latin, Romaic, French, Spanish, Italian, German; and a proficient at twenty-two years old in Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit. He won the Boden and the Kennicott Scholarships, took a Second Class, missing his First through the imperfection of his English, was ordained, became Professor in Calcutta, gathered up Chinese, Japanese, the various Indian, Malay, Persian tongues, came home to the valuable living of Broadwinsor, where be lived, when not travelling, through forty years, amassing a library in more than seventy languages, the majority of which he spoke with freedom, read familiarly, wrote with a clearness and beauty rivalling the best native caligraphy. In his frequent Eastern rambles he was able, say his fellow-travellers, to chat in market and bazaar with everyone whom he met. On a visit to the Bishop of Innereth he preached a Georgian sermon in the Cathedral. He published twenty – six translations of English theological works, in Chinese and Japanese, Arabic and Syriac, Armenian, Russian, Ethiopic, Coptic. Five-fold outnumbering the fecundity of his royal namesake, he left behind him a collection of 16,000 Proverbs, taken from original Oriental texts, each written in its native character and translated. So unique was the variety of his Pentecostal attainments that experts could not be found even to catalogue the four thousand books which he presented, multa gemens, with pathetic lamentation over their surrender, to the Indian Institute at Oxford.

I encountered him at three periods of his life. First as a young man at the evening parties of John Hill, Vice-Principal of St. Edmund’s Hall, where prevailed tea and coffee, pietistic Low Church talk, prayer and hymnody of portentous length, yet palliated by the chance of sharing Bible or hymn-book with one of the host’s four charming daughters. Twenty years later I recall him as a guest in Oxford Common Rooms, laying down the law on questions of Scriptural interpretation, his abysmal fund of learning and his dogmatic insistency floated by the rollicking fun of his illustrations and their delightful touches of travelled personal experience. Finally, in his old age I spent a long summer day with him in the Broadwinsor home, enjoying his library, aviary, workshop, drawings; his hospitality stimulated by the discovery that in some of his favourite pursuits I was, longo intervallo, an enthusiast like himself. He was a benevolently autocratic vicar, controlling his parish with patriarchally imperious rule, original, racy, trenchant, in Sunday School and sermons. It was his wont to take into the pulpit his college cap: into it he had pasted words of Scripture which he always read to himself before preaching. They were taken from the story of Balaam : “And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said–” He died at eighty-two, to have been admitted, let us hope, in the unknown land to comradeship of no ordinary brotherhood by spirits of every nation, kindred, tongue; to have found there, ranged upon celestial shelves, the Platonic archetypes of the priceless books which it tore his mortal heart to leave.

Tuckwell, as a secularising late 19th century clergyman, had little understanding of the gospel and tied his fate firmly to the aspirations of the Victorian age.  But his book remains a charming picture into past days, although one that can make us all rather too conscious of our own mortality!

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