On this day in 1830, a great celebration was underway—the opening ceremony for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Prime Minister was in attendance. The celebration began with a parade of locomotives: Northumbrian, Phoenix, North Star and finally Rocket. Sadly, the exciting event was marred when a Member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was fatally stuck by Rocket.
In a letter two months later Frances Rolleston mentioned that the day of the accident which killed poor Huskisson (whom she had known), she had consulted her Hebrew teacher to ask if the word carcaroth in her Bible, translated swift beasts, could not be more correctly translated carriages.
She wrote, The word occurring no where else has received the most whimsical interpretations. I said, the Holy Spirit had dictated a new word to express a new thing, the reduplication of the root car expressing intensified rolling round and round, as the wheel of railway cars.
The scripture containing carcaroth is Isaiah 66:20 which speaks of the return of the Jewish people to their land: "And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD."
The oth of carcaroth is the plural suffix; what remains is car car, with the idea of round, the doubling indicating intensity. Frances' conclusion is that even by railway would the Jewish people one day return to their land. She was always alert to compare current events with Bible prophecies.
In a letter dated September 8, 1859, we learn that Frances Rolleston made the decision that many modern writers make:
After long delays in the attempt to find a publisher who would help with expenses, I have resolved, at a considerable pecuniary sacrifice, to print for myself.
The book in question is The Book of Canticles, or, Song of Solomon, according to the English Version, Revised and Explained from the Original Hebrew. It is only 20 pages long with an additional 12 pages for the "Metrical Version of the Canticles to which is added, Psalm XLV."
One might wonder why Frances should make a financial sacrifice for such a small book. She explains in the September 8 letter:
I believe it to be a Missionary service. I have long been made to feel that the translations of the Canticles gave a handle to infidels, and pain to lovers of the Bible. I knew the original was open to no such objections, and though some spiritually minded Christians have found edification in this book, the majority of Christians have passed it over in 'reverential forbearance.' One minister said to another in my hearing, "She has made it what can be read aloud." Only one verse of my translation meets with hesitation from the great Hebraists to whom I have submitted the work, the eighth verse of the sixth chapter; I enclose you a paper concerning it, and would be very glad for your opinion. I have no "authority" for my translation except the Hebrew text lying before me, with the change of one point, an easy corruption.
In a later letter Frances speaks of her hope that this translation of the Canticles will be an evidence of her expertise with Hebrew, thus adding credence to her great work, Mazzaroth: The Constellations.
Frances Rolleston loved the Hebrew language and read her Hebrew Bible every day. She cared about the Jewish people and expected, according to the prophecies in the Bible, that the Jews would return to their land and once again be a nation.
Eighty-four years after Frances' lifetime, Israel became a nation. Tomorrow is Tu Bi-Shvat, the day the Israeli people celebrate being back in their own land. They have a lovely way of celebrating it. Let me share this blog with you today:
In December 1841 at age 60, Frances wrote,
"I have this summer mastered Syriac enough to know that with a previous knowledge of Hebrew and the Chaldee verb differences, you have only the characters to learn, an ugly bungling device, from which, however, the Cufic* is mainly borrowed, and to which the modern Arabic has some little obligation."
Here is a woman who not only had the discipline to learn ancient languages, she also understood their development.
Her letter continued: "Arabic I am now rather hot upon, have exhausted the little vocabulary I have here, and am most anxious for a lexicon; do you know of a Castell? but I believe a modern German one would do better, except that Latin suits me better than German."
So, she needs a better dictionary to help her translate Arabic. An Arabic-German dictionary will do, but an Arabic-Latin one would be better.
By this time she already has Hebrew, French, German and some Danish—at least.
*Cufic or Kufic is an early angular form of Arabic script found mainly in decorative inscriptions.
By her eighties, Frances had lost all her old friends. The void was partially filled by Mr. Joseph Dallow, a young minister who came almost every day to read Hebrew Bible with her. He was dedicated to the needs of the country people and carried the gospel to places almost inaccessible.
On this day 1861, Frances wrote,
Last Sunday Mr. Dallow, expected home, did not come, and a simple Christian young man did the best he could for the people.* To-day Mr. Dallow has been here, and I found he had done what you and I would have anticipated,—in a poor neighborhood in Kendal a child rushed out of a cottage enveloped in flames and screaming 'Mammy!' he saved its life, rolling it on the ground, but burnt his own hand so badly that he could not travel. The pain, he says, has been dreadful, but no worse effects, and he thanks God he saved its life, and goes back tomorrow to evangelize the people, whose hearts no doubt are touched by his kindness.
What stands out to me in this account is that Frances makes no declaration of Mr. Dallow's heroism. What he did she or her correspondent could have "anticipated" just because that was the kind of person he was. It is daily behavior that shows true character.
*That is, filling in at the chapel where Mr. Dallow preached.
July 18, 1848
FR has just received a magazine in which an article has caught her attention. She immediately writes a rebuttal and encloses it in a letter to her friend Cary Dent.
"It is floundering for the want of Hebrew," she writes, "so do not lose a post in sending the enclosed to Mr. ___." In other words, get this in the mail to him immediately.
I suppose Mr. ___ is the editor of the magazine. Perhaps Cary had clout with him, or perhaps FR just wanted her to have the benefit of reading the correction first.
FR did engage in a number of debates by means of journals and newspapers. In this case, she is not content to inform the editor of the error, she comments further:
"It is a pity to waste so much good paper and printing on the conjectures of a blind man about light, for such must always be, tampering with translations without knowing the original."
FR, as we already know, was enthusiastic about Hebrew, having read and studied it since the age of 14. Reading her Hebrew Bible was a daily habit.
February 20th, 1860
The excitement of the brain of which I complained seems to have yielded to the counter-excitement of the Psalms. There is a young lady here, a real Hebrew scholar, who reads them for me, and is a judge of their accuracy.
Hebrew and poetry were two of FR's passions. They came together as she spent many hours translating the poetical passages of the Bible into poetic meter. This letter was written in her 80th year, and she was finding the work on the Psalms reviving to her. Her plan was to begin with Lamech's poem in Genesis and go right through to the Gospels to include the song of Mary and the prophecy of Zacharias.
My object is to keep as close as possible to our admirable E.V., only making it verse, not prose, and generally finding an obscurity in each Psalm, that I alter. I also wish to preserve Hebraisms as often as I can . . . Mine are not paraphrases, but the very closest translation I can give.
FR admired Milton and believed that he thought and wrote Hebraically, and that the meter he used was right for her work.
I find the eleven syllabled line, so often used by Milton in "Samson," is the natural tendency of all long Hebrew lines: ten seldom will hold them, twelve should only end a verse or subject.
FR's Metrical Versions of Early Hebrew Poetry was finally published three years after her death.