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Two Interludes


Dr. Thomas landed in England towards the end of June, 1848, and arrived back in Richmond, Virginia, in November, 1850. From the foregoing pages it will have been seen that the time between the two dates had been mostly spent in discussion, speaking, correspondence, and the writing of Elpis Israel. All this gave him little time for recreation, that is re-creation. He was constantly putting out energy, and not renewing it to the extent that was necessary. Such a course could not be pursued without ill-effects, and it at times was essential that something should be done to restore flagging powers of body and of mind. Hence the two episodes narrated in this chapter. Here are his own words. “The nervous debility consequent upon such frequent speaking, and more continued excitement than our physique was accustomed to—organic inaction, or irregular action, dependent on undue exertion, began to impair our general health. Acidity of stomach, hacking cough, affection of the throat almost to loss of voice occasionally, and other symptoms, admonished us that we must seek repose of mind and recreation.”


            After referring to these general symptoms, Dr. Thomas describes a “flying visit” to Helensburgh, on the Clyde, and to a journey to the Isle of Islay, off the coast of Argyllshire. He went at the invitation of a friend. Leaving Glasgow, he sailed down the Clyde, passing Dunoon, Rothesay, the Isle of Arran, through the Kyles of Bute, and Loch Fyne to East Tarbet. Then crossing the Mull of Kintyre to West Tarbet, he joined a steamer that took him to the Isle of Islay, whose shores are washed by the waters of the Atlantic. Such a journey must have been refreshing to a man suffering from loss of nervous energy.


            He described his experiences in a letter to his daughter, which he printed in the Herald. He referred to the native dialect, and of the interest of the boys of the island in his appearance. One who was acting as his guide told him they “set a great eye upon him”; his beard being, apparently, the principal cause of their interest! His letter shows him to have been both observant and absorbent; he knew something of “Rabbie Burns” and his poetry; of stories concerning Scotch whisky and the results that came to those who drank it too freely, and so forth. The story as he told it to his daughter illustrates the human side of his character, a pleasant change from the ideas likely to be formed of him if the reader is only told of his many arguments and discussions on religion, particularly those which he conducted with Alexander Campbell.


            From October until the publication of Elpis Israel there was little rest for the Doctor; at the end of that period he was in real need of re-creation once again. This time he found it in a tour of part of the Continent, accompanied by two friends. The tour is recorded at some length in the pages of the Herald; all that is necessary here is to repeat so much of it as will enable readers to gather something more of the character of the man in the ordinary affairs of life.


            Accompanied by his friends Dr. Thomas left London on September 7th, 1850, for Rotterdam, which he described as the birthplace of “the renowned Erasmus,” the Greek scholar who would have had the Bible read even by Turks and others instead of being kept in its Latin form in which it could not be read by the laity of any country. Speaking of his journey, the Doctor says he was not in good health; his stomach was very infirm after the qualms of the voyage from England. He describes Rotterdam as a place where “land and water were strangely and picturesquely intermingled,” and of the music he heard in the Protestant cathedral at Rotterdam, he says, “The qualities of the organ came out effectively in the preliminary air, and he who heard it could never forget the burst of sound when the singing began! The whole congregation seemed to sing with a spirit and heartiness that I never heard equalled. We listened to the pealing and sonorous harmony with delight. It was sounding as the roar of many waters upon the ear in grand accord. It alone was well worth a voyage across the German Ocean to listen to. It was beyond all praise.”


            From Rotterdam the party proceeded to The Hague, Amsterdam, and other Dutch towns.


            The party left Holland for Prussia and Germany (the tour was taken before the unification of Germany, which did not take place until nearly twenty years later; hence the mention of Prussia and Germany). They went by steamer on the upper Rhine, visiting, among other places, Cologne, which he spoke of as one of the most famous and ancient cities on the Rhine. Dr. Thomas was reminded of the book of Daniel and his account of the vision of the image, especially of the toe kingdoms. His thoughts led him on to reflections concerning the land of Magog. In his notes of the journey he records many historical incidents connected with various places. His notes show him to have been well informed on such matters, for the events referred to are often not those usually found in guides to the country.


            The last stopping-place in Germany was Frankfort, which reminded Dr. Thomas of Charlemagne, and the Holy Roman Empire, or, as he describes it, “a beast coming up out of the earth, having two horns like a lamb and speaking as a dragon.” Of this he says, “Since the year 1356 the Emperors of the Holy Roman, or, as it is sometimes styled, the Roman German, Empire were elected, and since 1562, also crowned by the Archbishop and Elector of Mentz (usually spelt Mainz) in Frankfort.”


            He records a somewhat amusing incident about a dinner that was served on the journey. The waiter asked the party if they would take any fleisch. The Doctor said “Yes,” but the others declined. Dr, Thomas proceeded with his meal though the fleisch did not look like the roast beef of Old England. It looked rather bilious, it was more dense, and it tasted sugary. When he had finished one of his friends asked him if he knew what he had been eating, to which he replied, “Yes, beef, but not so savoury as English Durham.” “Beef?” said his friend, “horse flesh you mean.” He had not thought horse-flesh would be used as human food, and thought it was only sold on skewers for cats and dogs to eat!


            The tour was brought to a conclusion by way of Belgium and France. When in Brussels, Dr. Thomas came to the conclusion, from what he saw, that “a poperised brain is an earthly, sensual, devilish brain, like the wisdom from beneath which prostrates it. The bones and muscles of the face and head are moulded into form and feature by the plastic influence of the brain.”


            While in Brussels the party visited the field of Waterloo, which the Doctor examined with interest, and on which he moralised at considerable length. Some time before members of the Peace Society had protested against war. The Doctor went further; he wrote on the wall “Success to War until Mariolatry and Image-worship are destroyed from decrepit old Europe,” under which he signed his name and gave his place of residence.


            Finally, the party visited Paris. In his story the Doctor again gives an outline of the history of the city and includes a description of such places as Notre Dame and the Champs Elysees. Paris was the last place where they stayed; they returned by rail and steamer to England. He finished the account of the tour as follows: “Thus ended an enterprise which opened a new chapter in our history connected with the advocacy and propagation of the truth.”


            Some may ask why this chapter has been included in a book which purports to be a biography illustrative of the process by which the system of Truth revealed in the Bible has been recovered in modern times. The answer is simple. A biography should make the subject of it known to its readers. No man can be correctly appreciated by those who only know of his thoughts and acts relating to one aspect of his career. Only those who can realise the man in more phases of his life can rightly appreciate him. For this reason this brief record of Dr. Thomas when not engaged in religious controversies or in exposition of Scripture, is included.


            As he travelled in strange lands, where other languages were spoken, and customs differed, the other side of the Doctor’s personality is seen, and he appears as one moved by beautiful scenery, touched by the strains of music, a reader of history, not as a mere record of facts, but as the basis of thought in relation to things of the present. 


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