Chapter VIII.

From: Grandfather’s Chair (1841)
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published: E. P. Peabody 1841 Boston


  As Grandfather was a great admirer of the Apostle Eliot, he was glad to comply with the earnest reque8t which Laurence had made, at the close of the last chapter. So he proceeded to describe how good Mr. Eliot labored, while he was at work upon


  My dear children, what a task would you think it, even with a long life time before you, were you bidden to copy every chapter, and verse, and word, in yonder great family Bible. Would not this be a heavy toil? But if the task were, not to write off the English Bible, but to learn a language, utterly unlike all other tongues—a language which hitherto had never been learnt, except by the Indians themselves, from their mothers’ lips—a language never written, and the strange words of which seemed inexpressible by letters;—if the task were, first to learn this new variety of speech, and then to translate the Bible into it, and to do it so carefully, that not one idea throughout the holy book should be changed-what would induce you to undertake this toil? Yet this was what the Apostle Eliot did.

  It was a mighty work for a man, now growing old, to take upon himself. And what earthly reward could he expect from it? If one; no reward on earth. But he believed that the red men were the descendants of those lost tribes of Israel of whom history has been able to tell us nothing, for thousands of years. He hoped that God had sent the English across the ocean, Gentiles as they were, to enlighten this benighted portion of his once chosen race. And when he should be summoned hence, he trusted to meet blessed spirits in another world, whose bliss would have been earned by his patient toil, in translating the Word of God. This hope and trust were far dearer to him, than any thing that earth could offer.

  Sometimes, while thus at work, he was visited by learned men, who desired to know what literary undertaking Mr. Eliot had in hand. They, like himself, had been bred in the studious cloisters of a university, and were supposed to possess all the erudition which mankind has hoarded up from age to age. Greek and Latin were as familiar to them as the babble of their childhood. Hebrew was like their mother tongue. They had grown gray in study; their eyes were bleared with poring over print and manuscript, by the light of the midnight lamp.

  And yet, how much had they left unlearned! Mr. Eliot would put into their hands some of the pages, which he had been writing; and behold! the gray-headed men stammered over the long, strange words, like a little child in his first attempts to rend. Then would the apostle call to him an Indian boy, one of his scholars, and show him the manuscript, which had so puzzled the learned Englishman.

  “Read this, my child,” said he, “these are some brethren of mine, who would fain hear the sound of thy native tongue.”

  Then would the Indian boy cast his eyes over the mysterious page, and read it so skilfully, that it sounded like wild music. It seemed as if the forest leaves were singing in the ears of his auditors, and as if the roar of distant streams were poured through the young Indian’s voice. Such were the sounds amid which the language of the red man had been formed; and they were still heard to echo in it.

  The lesson being over, Mr. Eliot would give the Indian boy an apple or a cake, and bid him leap forth into the open air, which his free nature loved. The apostle was kind to children, and even shared in their sports, sometimes. And when his visiters had bidden him farewell, the good man turned patiently to his toil again.

  No other Englishmen had ever understood the Indian character so well, nor possessed so great an influence over the New England tribes, as the apostle did. His advice and assistance must often have been valuable to his countrymen, in their transactions with the Indians. Occasionally, perhaps, the governor and some of the counsellors came to visit Mr. Eliot. Perchance they were seeking some method to circumvent the forest people. They inquired, it may be, how they could obtain possession of such and such a tract of their rich land. Or they talked of making the Indians their servants, as if God had destined them for perpetual bondage to the more powerful white man.

  Perhaps, too, some warlike captain, dressed in his buff-coat, with a corslet beneath it, accompanied the governor and counsellors. Laying his hand upon his sword hilt, he would declare that the only method of dealing with the red men was to meet them with the sword drawn, and the musket presented.

  But the apostle resisted both the craft of the politician, and the fierceness of the warrior.

  “Treat these sons of the forest as men and brethren,” he would say, “and let us endeavor to make them Christians.

  Their forefathers were of that chosen race, whom God delivered from Egyptian bondage. Perchance he has destined us to deliver the children from the more cruel bondage of ignorance and idolatry. Chiefly for this end, it may be, we were directed across the ocean.”

  When these other visiters were gone, Mr. Eliot bent himself again over the half written page. He dared hardly relax a moment from his toil. He felt that, in the book which he was translating, there was a deep human, as well as heavenly wisdom, which would of itself suffice to civilize and refine the savage tribes. Let the Bible be diffused among them, and all earthly good would follow. But how slight a consideration was this, when he reflected that the eternal welfare of a whole race of men depended upon his accomplishment of the task which he had set himself! What if his hand should be palsied? What if his mind should lose its vigor? What if death should come upon him, ere the work were done? Then must the red men wander in the dark wilderness of heathenism forever.

  Impelled by such thoughts as these, he sat writing in the great chair, when the pleasant summer breeze came in through his open casement; and also when the fire of forest logs sent up its blaze and smoke, through the broad stone chimney, into the wintry air. Before the earliest bird sang, in the morning, the apostle’s lamp was kindled; and, at midnight, his weary head was not yet upon its pillow. And at length, leaning back in the great chair, he could say to himself, with a holy triumph—“The work is finished!”

  It was finished. Here was a Bible for the Indians. Those long lost descendants of the ten tribes of Israel would now learn the history of their forefathers. That grace, which the ancient Israelites had forfeited, was offered anew to their children.

  There is no impiety in believing that, when his long life was over, the apostle of the Indians was welcomed to the celestial abodes by the prophets of ancient days, and by those earliest apostles and evangelists, who had drawn their inspiration from the immediate presence of the Saviour. They first had preached truth and salvation to the world. And Eliot, separated from them by many centuries, yet full of the same spirit, had borne the like message to the new world of the West. Since the first days of Christianity, there has been no man more worthy to be numbered in the brotherhood of the apostles, than Eliot.


  “My heart is not satisfied to think,” observed Laurence, “that Mr. Eliot’s labors have done no good, except to a few Indians of his own time. Doubtless, he would not have regretted his toil, if it were the means of saving but a single soul. But it is a grievous thing to me, that he should have toiled so hard to translate the Bible, and now the language and the people are gone! The Indian Bible itself is almost the only relic of both.”

  “Laurence,” said his Grandfather, “if ever you should doubt that man is capable of disinterested zeal for his brother’s good, then remember how the apostle Eliot toiled. And if you should feel your own self-interest pressing upon your heart too closely, then think of Eliot’s Indian Bible. It is good for the world that such a man has lived, and left this emblem of his life.”

  The tears gushed into the eyes of Laurence, and he acknowledged that Eliot had not toiled in vain. Little Alice put up her arms to Grandfather, and drew down his white head beside her own golden locks.

  “Grandfather,” whispered she, “I want to kiss good Mr. Eliot!”

  And, doubtless, good Mr. Eliot would gladly receive the kiss of so sweet a child as little Alice, and would think it a portion of his reward in heaven.

  Grandfather now observed, that Dr. Francis had written a very beautiful Life of Eliot, which he advised Laurence to peruse. He then spoke of King Philip’s war, which began in 1675, and terminated with the death of King Philip, in the following year. Philip was a proud, fierce Indian, whom Mr. Eliot had vainly endeavored to convert to the Christian faith.

  “It must have been a great anguish to the apostle,” continued Grandfather, “to hear of mutual slaughter and outrage between his own countrymen, and those for whom he felt the affection of a father. A few of the praying Indians joined the followers of King Philip. A greater number fought on the side of the English. In the course of the war, the little community of red people, whom Mr. Eliot had begun to civilize, was scattered, and probably never was restored to a flourishing condition. But his zeal did not grow cold; and only about five years before his death, he took great pains in preparing a new edition of the Indian Bible.”

  “I do wish, Grandfather,” cried Charley, “you would tell us all about the battles in King Philip’s war.”

  “Oh, no!” exclaimed Clara. “Who wants to hear about tomahawks and scalping knives!”

  “No, Charley,” replied Grandfather, “I have no time to spare in talking about battles. You must be content with knowing that it was the bloodiest war that the Indians had ever waged against the white men; and that, at its close, the English set King Philip’s head upon a pole.”

  “Who was the captain of the English?” asked Charley.

  “Their most noted captain was Benjamin Church—a very famous warrior,” said Grandfather. “But I assure you, Charley, that neither Captain Church, nor any of the officers and soldiers who fought in King Philip’s war, did any thing a thousandth part so glorious, as Mr. Eliot did, when he translated the Bible for the Indians.”

  “Let Laurence be the apostle,” said Charley to himself, “and I will be the captain.”

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