To Lady Olivia Sparrow, 1826 (incomplete)

To: Lady Olivia Sparrow
Address: None
Stamped: None
Postmark: None
Seal: None
Watermarks: Undetermined


MS: British Library, Egerton 1965 f. 95
Published: Undetermined

Late Election I heard most honourable mention of her Noble Lord.

I rejoyce that my excellent friend the Bishop of Lichfield is just arrived at his Deanery at Wells, and that for a short time is once more my neighbour. Lichfield is such a sad distance! I wish we had twenty four such Prelates I am sure you mourned for the Bp of Calcutta.

Among several interesting Visitors I have had from the East, Constantinople, Jerusalem Egypt &c none has been more interesting than Doctor Marshman from Serampore. He has made himself Master of 22 Indian Dialects, into which he has translated the Scriptures. He has finished the Penteteuch for the 2d. Edition in Chinese;[2] and he has not only written all these but has printed them himself at his own Printing Press .[3] When I asked how he could survive such labours, his answer was "in the 27 Years I have spent in this Mission, I have never known one day’s head ach or heart ach. I had missed seeing him for three or four Months, and when I asked him where he had been, he told me he had been paying a Visit to the King of Denmark of whom he obtained an Audience with the greatest ease; he granted his petition at once, which was to allow him to erect a College and chuse their own Professors.[4] I did not know that Serampore had been a Danish Island.[5]

You have probably seen our extraordinary pleasant friend Lewis Way since his Visit to Mount Lebanon where he had erected a large house for Missionaries and Travellers and furnished with every convenience but it was scarcely furnished when the Pope and the Turk pulled it down!![6] I dare say he has told You /of/ his visit to Lady Hester Stanhope, &c

Adieu my dearest Lady Olivia. I have not written so long a scrawl for many Months I fear you will scarcely decypher it.
Ever most truly, faithfully and affectionately
Your Ladyship’s humble Servant
Hannah More

How is good Mr. Obins?


The letter is dated using contextual information from the letter, specifically the reference to Marshman’s visit to the King of Denmark, which occurred in August 1826.


Joshua Marshman was an extremely able linguist, and had by this time translated the scriptures into more than ten languages, including Bengali, Sanskrit and Hindi. The first translation of the Bible into Chinese was the work of several individuals, including Marshman and his sons in addition to an Arminian Mandarin-speaking factor resident in Serampore, and a number of Chinese assistants. The first edition appeared in 1822, but was quickly superseded in 1823 by a translation by Robert Morrison that was considered superior. Marshman may have exaggerated his progress to More: the volume of The Religious Magazine for January-June 1828 claimed that Marshman had ‘advanced as far as Leviticus’ (p. 224), the third of the five Biblical books in the Pentateuch. It is unclear whether Marshman’s second edition was published.


Marshman was instrumental in developments in printing in Chinese, experimenting throughout the 1810s with different means of printing Chinese characters: early attempts with wooden blocks lead to extremely large and expensive books as a result of the large amount of space left by the blocks around each character. During 1811 and 1812 attempts were made to use metal type, but difficulties in casting characters were the cause of further problems. When finessed, however, metal type enabled five times the number of characters to be printed compared to wooden blocks, which represented a significant improvement. The crowning achievement of the Serampore press was the publication in Chinese in 1822 of Marshman’s translation of the Bible. However, the considerable expenses involved in printing in Chinese, in addition to the further advances made in the field by printers in China itself, meant that the Serampore venture made little money.


Serampore College was founded in 1818 by Marshman, William Carey, and William Ward. Marshman’s audience with the king of Denmark was not, as More asserts here, to secure permission to erect a college, but to obtain a Royal Charter which granted the College the power to award degrees. This power was not exercised until 1915.


Serampore was a Danish colony from 1755 until 1845, when it was purchased by the British. The purchase included provisions for maintaining the powers granted by the Danish Royal Charter awarded to Serampore College in 1827.


Lewis Way had travelled to the Holy Land as a missionary with the Jews Society (which he had founded) in 1823. Whilst there he rented a building at Antoura, on Mount Lebanon, from a Roman Catholic Bishop, with the intention of setting up a place where missionaries could prepare for their work in the area. Ill health obliged Way to return to Europe in August 1823, but work at the Mount Lebanon residence continued in his absence, until the intervention of the recently-founded Roman Catholic Society for the Propagation of the Faith, who wrote to the Maronite Patriarch, urging him to prevent Way’s missionaries from distributing Bibles in the region. The Patriarch accordingly issued an edict early in 1824 which forced the closure of Way’s enterprise.