Introduction by FWP
As so often, dear reader, this project began when I was checking out, rather dubiously, an etext on Project Gutenberg. While Madame Blavatsky turned out to be a great read (at least, when she's not vaporing on about esoteric ancient knowledge systems that are beyond the grasp of mere rationality), this book turned out to have quite a different kind of appeal. It's the work of an author as deeply committed to evangelical Christianity as Carey was himself, and a more sympathetic biographer, for a more congenial biographee, can hardly be imagined. The work is full of Carey's own letters; of thoughts and observations about South Asian (and English, and Christian) history; culture, and language as they looked both to Carey and to the author; and of the constant interpenetration of religion and empire. Smith of course considers this interpenetration to be no bad thing: he salutes Carey as "the man who, more than any other and before all others, made the civilisation of the modern world by the English-speaking races a Christian force" (at the end of Chapter 15). Smith rails against the Company's early refusal to permit missionaries to preach to the natives; Carey was one of those whose life and work helped to overturn the ban. Smith speaks of Carey's influence as promoting "a new spirit of earnest aggressiveness" (chapter 13) in the evangelical movement-- and his more arrogant and racist successors were in the front ranks of those who sowed the seeds of 1857.
So be warned: prepare for a heavy, completely unapologetic dose of cross-and-crown evangelical zeal. I found it irritating at times myself. But then, whenever I read Abul Fazl I find his equally unrelenting and unapologetic Akbar-worship irritating too. And there's lots of useful historical information in this book, lots of windows and insights into both Carey's and Smith's times. "A Gentleman is the next best character after a Christian, and the latter includes the former," Carey wrote to his son (beginning of Chapter 8), and consciousness of social class runs even deeper in his biographer. Carey was of humble peasant stock, and in a conservative era he became a Gentleman by sheer individual achievement; he was scarcely educated, and became a great scholar of language and philology, a professor at Fort William College, the founder of a college of his own, a writer of grammars and dictionaries, an astonishingly productive translator: just take a look at the table of his Bible translations in Chapter 10, and marvel. Most fascinating of all, he not only became an evangelical missionary, but apparently also invented most of the theory and practice of evangelical missionary activity. His invention has affected the lives of literally millions around the world, from that day to this.
Anyway, I started with a *Project Gutenberg etext* (#2056). In the maddening Project Gutenberg way, it doesn't give the date of publication, so I didn't (and still don't) know which edition it was, except that it was not the second. It may have been the first. Anyway, I went and got from the Columbia library the second edition of 1887. On its title page it describes itself as:
T H E L I F E
This is the edition that I've adopteded for this etext: I've adjusted the Gutenberg etext to follow this edition's text, footnotes, and chapter numbering. I've taken the liberty of breaking many very long paragraphs into two or three shorter ones for ease of reading; I've also indented long quotations for the same reason. In a very few cases I've adjusted erroneous punctuation. In only one case have I changed a spelling: for type faces I use "font," since "fount" is so distracting and potentially confusing. Any other editorial comments are in square brackets. Note to the unwary: the original Gutenberg etext persistently locates Carey's first missionary work in "Dinapoor," an error for "Dinajpoor" that has been corrected in the edition that I've used. Chapter XIV is also somewhat augmented in my second edition as compared to the Gutenberg etext, and the thin little Chapter XV ("Carey's Christian University for the People of India") has been omitted in the second edition. I've also been able to restore all but one of the illustrations, thanks to *a William Carey photo gallery*.
You'll find this book thought-provoking-- and just plain provoking, too, despite Carey's low-key engagingness. Under the orotund, elegantly multi-clausal sentences there's a powerful conviction that's still very much operative-- all too operative, I'm tempted to say-- in the world today. Then I remember the evangelical crusades against slavery, sati, female infanticide, child marriage, persecution of untouchables, maltreatment of lepers, and so on, and Carey's push for the education of women and ordinary people. And I also recall the many years of petty harassment he underwent at the hands of some of his fellow evangelicals, all in the name of the faith. It's a mixed bag, this evangelical spirit. But then, how could it not be? For better or worse, it's a powerful inducement to its believers: it enjoins them to work in the world and get things done.
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