Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reminiscences of an Active Life #8 -- October 11, 2008

Doctor Peter Henri Van Der Weyde was born in Nymegen, Holland in 1813. He went on to live a remarkable life of achievement in the sciences and the arts. He died in America in 1895.

While serving as editor of Manufacturer and Builder Magazine, he wrote many articles, including the ones which gave this blog its name. In 1893 and 1894, he published a 23-part (!) memoir in the same periodical. Here is the eighth part. He begins to discuss his training in theology.

It was a popular theory in Europe that Hebrew was the first human language --
spoken by Adam and Eve. Evolution is still a hot topic.

I mistakenly rolled out the October installment in September, so this is the September installment.

The image comes from the first installment, in the February, 1893 issue.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Reminiscences of an Active Life.


From Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 25, Issue 9, September 1893

(Continued from page 186.)

6th. Career as a Theological Student. At the time of my boyhood there were in Holland no Sunday-schools, nor Sunday-school teachers. Religious instruction was given by the preachers themselves, who, on certain week days, instructed classes which met at the preachers' respective residences, or, in case this was not convenient, in or near their church. Frequently such instructionwas also given by catechisers, who were licensed after examination, and who were paid by the parents of the pupils.

Being an only son, I was taken regularly to the church by my mother, and attended the catechising classes at the residence of one of the preachers, where I received instruction in the fundamental principles of the Christian religion, and especially in Bible history, in which I took so much interest as to be always at the head of the class. However, a maiden aunt (my father's sister, to whom I have referred on page 33 of this journal) had her conscience disturbed by the idea that her only nephew did not receive enough instruction in thetheory of the orthodox Church, and that among the several private teachers who came to our house to instruct me in various languages and branches of knowledge, the most important of all -- religion was not represented; therefore she induced my father to engage a special catechiser in the person of an old maiden lady, for whose benefit an hour was interpolated between my other lessons, and who was especially charged by my aunt to give particular attention to my instruction in the 52 chapters of the Heidelberg catechism, and in the 72 articles of faith, as established by the National Synod of the United Netherlands, held in the city of Dortrecht in the years 1618 and 1619. She intended to do her utmost to have me prepared to become a preacher of the faith as set forth there, and in the defence of which our ancestors had so prominently distinguished themselves in the war with Roman Catholic Spain, and which resulted in the establishment of the Dutch Republic.

I went so successfully through this additional training, according to the report made by my teacher to my aunt, that, as a premium for my industry, she presented me with a polyglot Bible in large quarto, printed in four columns; the first was Hebrew, the second Greek, the third Latin,and the fourth German, according to the translation made by Martin Luther while he was imprisoned, apparently as a punishment for being a heretic, but, in fact, to protect him against the persecutions of fanatics.

I was then almost as familiar with the German and French as with my native tongue -- that of Holland -- and so this assisted me in understanding the Latin and Greek; the latter, however, I have now almost totally forgotten, except the letters, as these are frequently used in mathematical formulae, it kept them in my memory.

My father was in favor of learning first that which was first known by man. Thus, for instance, I had to learn geometry before algebra, because the former was earlier studied than the latter (Euclid 300 B. C., and Descartes 1660 A. D.,) a difference of almost twenty centuries.

In order to be consistent, he held, also, that I should study Hebrew first, as this was anterior to the other languages, the Old Testament having been originally written in Hebrew. So he engaged the son of a Rabbi to teach me Hebrew. The novelty of writing the other way -- from the right to the left -- amused me. The written Hebrew letters are very different from the printed letters, these being still more mutually unlike thanis the case with the printed and written German letters. I did not like the Hebrew much; it appeared to me to be a very poor language -- far inferior to the Latin, as well in the number of words at disposal, as in the force of expressing ideas, in which the Latin is superior to all others; that is, so far as I can judge. A peculiarity in writing and reading that language, is that the vowels are all placed above the consonants, like the accents in French, and that in some books these vowels, or accents, are omitted, so that one has to guess what word is intended. As this can only be successfully done after having attained an extensive knowledge of many words, it is a serious difficulty for beginners. If the Hebrew were as rich in words as the English, for instance, it would be a far more serious impediment than it is in Hebrew with its very limited vocabulary.

A peculiar event made my knowledge of Hebrew of great benefit to one of my cousins, who was a lawyer, and had been engaged in the prosecution of a Jew who was imprisoned for fraudulent practices. By order of the court, the correspondence to him and from him, in the interest of justice, had to be examined. To his great disappointment, my cousin found that it was written in Hebrew; but, remembering that I was studying that language, he brought the letters to me, when I found that it was simply German, written with Hebrew letters -- a very common practice among the German Jews, and the matter of translating them became an easy task.

The main impulse which induced my aunt to furnish me with extra religious instruction, was that among the leading clergymen a tendency was developing to abandon the Calvanistic orthodoxy and omit preaching St. Paul's doctrine of predestination; also avoiding references to the theory that God made man perfect, and that the first pair turned out to be a failure. On the contrary, some of the preachers went so far as to exhibit a tendency toward the doctrine of evolution, which was then already explained to the theological students in some leading universities. Once I told my aunt that my catechising preacher had said that the story of the snake seducing Eve was the result of an attempted explanation in words of very ancient hieroglyphs, symbols, or picture writings (thus, for instance, an ostrich feather was the symbol of truth, a snake the symbol of treachery, etc). Hearing this, my aunt grew indignant, and the result was the additional private teaching referred to above.

Besides the liberal opinions which commenced to take hold of many, the evolution theory began to prevail among the most advanced thinkers of Holland, while several books were published setting forth such doctrines long before Darwin published his book on The Origin of Species. This book, and other similar writings, found in Holland a more welcome reception than in any other country of Europe, and later meetings were held by those who fostered the same advanced views and a testimonial was gotten up, consisting of a beautifully-bound album containing the photographs of some hundreds of Darwin's admirers in Holland, with a letter thanking him for having given shape and a solid foundation to a doctrine they had fostered for many years, and which wanted only a master mind to be established as one of the turning points in the progress of human intelligence. There are, however, many in Holland, as well as in this country, who adhere to the orthodox doctrine of Calvin and do not want new-fangled notions regarding evolution and the improvement of our race, but say: Give us the old doctrine of a heaven of bliss for the elect, and eternal damnation for the rest -- a hell of fire and brimstone, with the devil as the chief actor. That's what we want, they say.

(To be continued.)

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