Morrison, Robert, Dd
Morrison, Robert, D.D.
a distinguished English missionary to China, the first Protestant missionary to that country, and holding the same relation to it as Vanderkemp to Africa or Williams to the South Seas, was born of humble but respectable parentage at Morpeth, Northumberland, January 5, 1782. After receiving some elementary instruction in English, writing, and arithmetic, in a school conducted by a maternal uncle at Newcastle, he was apprenticed at a very early age to his father, who was then engaged in last-making. But so devoted had the boy become to his books that he spent his leisure in close study. "For the purpose of securing a greater portion of quiet retirement," says his widow, "he had his bed removed to his workshop, where he would often pursue his studies until one or two in the morning. Even when at work, his Bible or some other book was placed open before him, that he might acquire knowledge or cherish the holy aspirations of spiritual devotion while his hands were busily occupied in the labors of life." Amid such disadvantages Morrison hesitated not to commence a course of religious reading and study, and in 1801 was ready to study Hebrew, Latin, and theology under the superintendence of a Presbyterian minister of the town, by whom he was so much liked that Morrison was, in 1803, introduced by him to the committee and tutors of the Independent Theological Academy at Hoxton, as a fit person to be received into that institution to study theology. Morrison was admitted, and had not long been an inmate of the institution before he decided to devote himself to the missionary cause in heathen lands. Though his friends dissuaded him from such a step, he yet felt it his duty to devote the talent given him as Providence seemed unmistakably to point it out to him; and in May, 1804, he offered his services as a missionary to the London Missionary Society, was promptly accepted, and now removed from Hoxton to the Mission College at Gosport. In August, 1805, he commenced the study of Chinese under a native teacher. In January 1807, he was ordained as a missionary, set out at once for China, and in September of the same year arrived at Canton. Before leaving England. Mr. Morrison had procured from the British Museum a Harmony of the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, translated into Chinese by an unknown Roman Catholic missionary; and the Royal Asiatic Society lent him a manuscript Latin and Chinese dictionary. His moderate knowledge of Chinese inclined him to mingle at once among the natives, and having perhaps studied the customs of Roman Catholic missionaries, adopted, like them, the prevailing usages of diet, dress, and manners. He handled chop-sticks, coiled up his hair in form, and let his nails grow. But he soon saw the folly of this extreme conformity, and assumed a distinctive European character and aspect. He rapidly acquired the mastery of the Chinese, and how greatly his knowledge of the language was esteemed is apparent in that, though a minister, he was in 1808 appointed translator to the East India Company's factory at Canton. In 1810 the Acts of the Apostles in Chinese, which he had brought with him, were printed, after he had carefully revised and amended the text. In 1811 a Chinese grammar, which he had prepared about three years before, was sent to Bengal to be printed; but, after many delays, it did not issue from the press until 1815, when it was printed at Serampore, at the expense of the East India Company. In 1812 the Gospel of St. Luke in Chinese was printed; and by the beginning of 1814, the whole of the New Testament being ready for the press, the East India Company sent out a press and- materials and a printer to superintend the printing of the work. In 1813 the London Missionary Society had sent out the Reverend (afterwards Dr.) Milne to assist Morrison, and together these two Christian scholars now proceeded with the translation of the Old Testament. In 1815 the Book of Genesis and Psalms were printed, and by 1818 this great work of translating the Bible into Chinese was completed. The translation of the Scriptures, the great object of Dr. Morrison's life, was given to the world "not as a perfect translation." Dr. Morrison says he studied "fidelity, perspicuity, and simplicity;" "common words being preferred to classical ones." The authorized English version was followed. Dr. Morrison always explicitly stated that the Chinese manuscript in the British Museum was "the foundation of the New Testament;" which, he says, "I completed and edited." It is no disparagement of Dr. Morrison to assert that his work required revision; it was a first version into the most difficult language in the world. The translators contemplated the improvement of their work at some future period, "expecting that they should be able to sit down together and revise the whole." This expectation was never realized; Dr. Milne died in 1822, and the correction of errors and the verbal alterations made by Dr. Morrison were not of great importance. Towards the latter part of his life Dr. Morrison became more and more confirmed in the necessity of a thorough revision, and he anticipated the probability of this being effected by his son, who, however, on the death of his father, was selected to succeed him as the translator to the Superintendents of British Trade at Canton, and could not therefore devote his time to this object. From 1810 to 1818 the British and Foreign Bible Society had voted the sum of £6000, at seven different times, to assist in the printing and publication. The Old Testament formed 21 volumes, 12mo. The Book of Job and the historical books were translated by Dr. Milne, and the other portions by Dr. Morrison. Of the New Testament, Dr. Morrison translated the four Gospels, and from Hebrews to the end. Besides this great work, Dr. Morrison was also engaged on a Chinese Dictionary, which he completed in 1816, and it was printed by the East India Company, at a cost of £15,000, in 1821. Nor must it be supposed that he ever lost sight of the great missionary work intrusted to his charge while assuming so many other engagements. He constantly preached, and in every way possible sought out the native population, and in 1814 was gratified with his first convert, Tsae-ako, who died in 1818. Believing that the Chinese could be reached better through educational channels, he caused an Anglo-Chinese college to be founded at Malacca; gave £1000 for the erection of buildings, and £100 annually for its support. In 1824 he visited England, and remained home nearly two years. He was received everywhere with great distinction, and was even honored with a reception by king George IV, to whom Morrison presented a copy of the Scriptures in Chinese. He had brought home with him a Chinese library of 10,000 volumes, and labored earnestly to awaken an interest among his countrymen for Chinese literature. In this he moderately succeeded. In 1826 he again set sail for China, and now even more assiduously devoted himself to the missionary work. His time he mainly occupied in preaching, translating, and superintending the distribution of printed works for the conversion of the Chinese. In 1832 he felt so encouraged with the prospects of an early harvest for his many years of toil as to write to his friends in England: "I have been twenty-five years in China, and am beginning to see the work prosper. By the press we have been able to scatter knowledge far and wide." In the midst of these occupations Dr. Morrison died at Canton, August 1, 1834, preserving unimpeached until death the consistency, efficiency, and benevolence of the Christian missionary.
Dr. Morrison certainly achieved great things in China. The compilation of his dictionary in the vernacular language of that country was a Herculean task, which none but a man of the greatest strength of intellect and energy of purpose could have accomplished. Along with that he completed a Chinese version of the Old and New Testaments, which, in the opinion of all the learned men of Europe, was deemed utterly beyond the power of any single person. Nor were his exertions for the Chinese confined solely to literary works. He went about doing good. "He endeavored," says his biographer, "in the employment of such expedients as he could command, to relieve the wants, to mitigate the sufferings, and heal the diseases of the poor and suffering Chinese around him. In order to secure to the natives the means of a liberal and religious education, as well as to furnish facilities to foreigners to prosecute the study of the Chinese language, he projected the establishment of the Anglo-Chinese college." His whole life and works snow the activity and energy and comprehensiveness of his mental endowments, as well as the Christian benevolence of his heart. His office was that only of a pioneer who prepared the way for the evangelization of China. But with the instruments which his zeal and indefatigable industry put into the hands of the Evangelical churches, the preliminary obstacles have been removed, and the way prepared for carrying on the work of direct Christian instruction. His coadjutor, Dr. Milne, who died some time before, said of Morrison that "his talents were rather of the solid than the showy kind; adapted more to continued labor than to astonish by sudden bursts of genius; and his well-known caution fitted him for a station where one false step at the beginning might have delayed the work for ages." It may serve to give an idea of the exertions of Dr. Morrison and his colleagues to state that from 1810 to 1836, 751,763 copies of works, consisting of 8,000,000 pages, were printed in the Chinese and Malay languages at Canton, Malacca, Batavia, Penang, and Singapore. This includes 2075 complete Chinese Bibles, 9970 New Testaments, and 31,000 separate portions of Scripture in Chinese. See Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Robert Morrison, D.D., compiled by his Widow, to which is appended A Critical Essay. on the Literary Labors of Dr. Morrison, by the Rev. S. Kidd, professor of Chinese in the University College (Lond. 1839, 2 volumes, 8vo); Aikman, Cyclop. of Christian Missions, page 102 sq.; Eclectic Review, 4th series, 7:176; Philadelphia Museum, 37:94; Remusat, in Journal des Savans for 1824.