On Knowing Your Missionary
MARK TWAIN has announced the verdiet that the missionary’s head is not so good as his heart, and that he is liable to errors of judgment. The Tu quoque argument is always embarrassing, but really, dear and honored Mark, have you not described in those words your own predicament ? Your swift attack upon what you conceived to be outrageous wrong has made us like you even better than before, but could there be a more grave error of judgment than your readiness to pronounce sentence upon very scanty knowledge of the facts ? When you lay bare the cant and hypocrisy of civilized nations, we applaud the moral courage that speaks the truth as it sees it, regardless of the popular fashion of the hour. But when you castigate American missionaries, please remember that they are the pride of a missionary-producing people. Some of us plain stayat-homes, who have never had your opportunity for traveling around the world, are persuaded that we know the American missionaries rather better than you do. We were brought up with them, have summered and wintered with them, have gone through school and college with them, have read letters from them and written letters to them all our lives. We have contributed hard cash — the Lord knows it was little enough ! — to help them in their work ; have welcomed them home on their rare vacations, and bidden them Godspeed when they returned. Missionaries ? Professional globe-trotters and correspondents speak of them as a bloodless, sexless, inefficient order of beings, living on charity, and never getting at the facts of foreign politics or the real temper of foreign peoples. But we know better. There is scarcely a town in New England where foreign missionaries are not as well known as the village postmaster. We raise missionaries!
The writer never saw a missionary at work in the foreign field, but he has fished, and shot, and sailed, and tramped, and forgathered with dozens of them here. William S., you of the West Coast mission now, do you remember pulling No. 2 in that heart-breaking race so long ago ? Billy M., of Asia Minor, you have forgotten how you surreptitiously gave me your blanket, that freezing night on Greylock, but I have not. Taciturn J. H., the Arabs of the desert have tried to murder you more than once, but you have never been nearer death than on that squally day off Rockland (it was Sunday, too !), when you were knocked over board by the boom. Stanley P., the river fever of Siam took your life all too soon, but how gayly you went out there, with your favorite tennis racket strapped up with your Bible ! Harry G., of South China, we have some good tackles nowadays, but never a man built as you were, or so quick in breaking through. And we missed you at centre, last fall, big Bob G., you who carried a rifle at the siege of Tien-tsin, and took care of the babies when off duty. And you, scholarly, book-loving S., who with your wife and child are holding your solitary post at the far end of Alaska, where the steamer touches but once a year, — Mark Twain may think your heart is better than your head, but I should be satisfied if I had either.
As for the missionary women, I have frankly lost my heart to more than one of them. Bright-eyed, brave, soft-voiced little strategists, I have heard you tell the story of Armenian massacres, when you cared, single-handed, for hundreds of refugees ; the story of famines in India, when you were quartermasters-general. Only the other day I had the pleasure of lunching with one of you, who toiled side by side with the Rev. Mr. Ament through the siege of Pekin, and know him as only those who have faced death together can know each other. If you or he were more bent upon procuring food and shelter for your homeless converts than you were upon getting favorable press notices, it was the sort of error in judgment that does you infinite honor.
Dear Mark Twain, was not your hasty condemnation of such men and women as these a little like the conduct of your own delightful sea captain, who insisted, you remember, on hanging the nigger first and trying him afterwards ? That course of procedure has a certain fascination for some of our fellow citizens to this day ; but having yourself satirized the practice once, you cannot expect us to applaud when you range yourself with the lynchers.