The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 32

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XXXII

REV. DR. WILLIAM MILLER.

(1923)

(1)

Pithapuram, July 22, 1923.

My dear Friend,

Writing for the first time after that arresting news of the solemn euthanasia at Edinburgh last Sunday, what can I think or speak of but the great Soul that has been a load-star unto a host of those "sailng o'er life's solemn main"? By what he was and what he did unto his pupils, he brought home to their "bosoms" the truth of Alexander's "confession" that verily Aristotle was his father in a much more real sense than Philip. Endowed with capacities and opportunities which would undoubtedly have won for him the highest position in the gift of the sovereign or of the people, he elected to dedicate himself to one of the humblest of humble professions, and by his talent and his character he exalted it to a dignity that thrones or crowns may seldom attain. While his gifts of intellect were unquestionably rich, yet it was his largeness of heart, resoluteness of will, singleness of purpose and firmness of faith that signalised his noble career. Little fitted to judge of greatness, I have somehow always associated his name with that of the great Duke of Wellington. Like that illustrious hero, our revered master, too, "stood four-square to all the winds that blew"; he, too, "sought but Duty's iron crown;" he, too, proved that "the path of duty was the way to glory."

Representative to an uncommon degree will be the meeting over which you will preside tomorrow — representative of the keenest regrets and the profoundest reverence of thousands of fellow-mourners and admirers spread all over the Presidency and beyond it. How true of him the "household word" he himself quoted feelingly on an important occasion —

"He had kept
The whiteness of his life, and thus men
o'er him wept"!
"God accept him, Christ receive him!"

Your companion

in grief and gratitude,

R. Venkata Ratnam.

To

The Hon'ble Rai Bahadur
Sir K. V. Reddi naidu B.A.,B.L., Kt.,
President, Miller Memorial Meeting,
Christian College,
Madras.

(2)

The esteemed Editor of the College Magazine gives me a gracious invitation to send a short contribution to the 'Memorial' number; and I am sincerely grateful for this privilege. Though I greatly doubt my fitness for this distinction, in view of the several learned 'appreciations' from others, I thankfully avail myself of this opportunity, as the kind invitation has it, "to offer this last tribute to the memory of Dr. Miller." Yet, this can be 'the last tribute' only in a restricted sense; for, while life lasts and memory endures, as each week closes with its Sabbath—likewise the day of the Master's euthanasia, the mind shall muse with reverence on the noble virtues of the departed worthy, and the heart shall supplicate grace that the humble life of the disciple might not be altogether inacceptable to the ever-revered Guru. Further, as the revolving year brings the solemn 15th of July, the anniversary shall be devoutly kept, even as the auspicious 13th of January used hitherto to be joyfully observed.

'Great' is the word which spontaneously comes upon the lip, as one contemplates that illustrious career. The several admirers w ill have studied the different phases of that greatness. I choose to dwell, in a few, inadequate words, on the element of the remarkably fruitful life which helped to give to my mind its favourite bent and served to determine for me my life work— namely, the Master's pre-eminence as a Teacher.

Dr. Miller was the Mahamahopadhyaya of Southern India; and might I humbly add 'Methinks 'tis prize enough' to have been his pupil? No doubt, he was great as an Educationist; but as a Teacher he Was incomparable. An Educationist is generally an erudite exponent of "Applied Psychology;" he is (be the quaint phrase excused) a skilful survey-and-settlement officer in the field of the mind. But a Teacher is a 'Gardener' of the heart, a 'pearl-fisher' of the soul, 'Labour, ' 'intent study' and 'the strong propensity of Nature' (to borrow Milton's pregnant phrase) combined to make Dr. Miller an ideal teacher. He was gifted, to a rare degree, with a power akin to that vision of the 'Faith beyond the forms of faith,' which 'spies the summer through the winter bud,' or (to adopt his own favourite analogue) which discerns the full-grown tree in the full-formed seed. With a keen gaze, he could limn the complete orb about 'the descent moon,' He Was a born—aye, a "heaven-born"—teacher.

Hence, he loved his work as Teacher; he devoted all his rich powers and capacities to it. Lord Napier, once Governor of Madras, is reported to have described him as a 'missionary teacher' known for piety and seal; and that phrase, 'a missionary teacher,' rightly understood, sums up Dr. Miller's great merits as a teacher. With him teaching was the 'mission' of life—the task for which his Maker designed him and to which his Master called him; and it naturally followed that his work was sanctified by piety and inspired by zeal. The poet's definition of teaching as a 'delightful task' was daily illustrated in Dr. Miller's life. Teaching was for him a task with its exacting responsibilities and a delight with its blissful felicities. Alike in preparation, in exposition and in application or illustration, he was almost Herculean in the pains which he took, as he was altogether enviable, one may be sure, in the pure pleasure which he thereby earned for himself. And 'masterly' was the method adopted by Dr. Miller in his work.Ho clearly and fully recognised the respective shares of the master and the student in the task prescribed. There be some teachers who seem wholly to cater to their own personal enjoyment, oblivious of the wants of their pupils; and they achieve only 'wondering blanks.' There are, again, not a few who completely obliterate the living selves, teacher and taught alike,, in the lifeless routine of teaching; and they produce only 'mechanical automatons.' Dr. Miller, however, was the model Upadhyaya—the guiding fellow-student, the path-finding companion. With legitimate pride he refers, in one of his 'messages' to the College-Day Association, to the fact that his College was the pioneer, despite many gloomy forebodings, in instituting 'a consulting-room;' and it did one's heart good to see, after the College hours, that veritable 'beehive' of eager students, diligently preparing the task for the morrow. Yet, as against the latter-day exhortations to leave the student to himself, to throw the student on his own resources, Dr. Miller believed in direct, detailed teaching, even in the highest classes. He had an instinctive perception of the real requirements and the true interests of the average Indian student. Was the subject a section of the Bible for the Scripture lesson, or a play of Shakespeare for the University studies, the teacher and the taught were en rapport—reciprocally absorbed and enraptured. Dr. Miller held, it Would s^em, that in a 'Classic' there would be no aimless superfluities, no negligible commonplaces-every phrase and every sentence had an import and a purpose. If I might dwell just a little on my own expedience, I shall venture to retail my reminiscences of two of the lessons. In the first year class, we had for the scripture work one book of The Kings. Would it be grave mis-judgment to say that to most non-Christian readers that book would appear to be nothing much better than a compendium, in the main, of prosaic fact and romantin fiction? Yet the Master made the study thrice-engaging-interesting as literature,informing as history, edifying as morals. Again, the Shakespeare lesson-that was the dread and the delight of the day, dread unto the truant and delight unto the diligent. And as the Master gently and skilfully led us into the marvels and mysteries of that magic 'Maker,' it was a triple revelation of the spirit—the creative spirit of the Author, the reproductive spirit of the Teacher, the realised spirit of the Learner. And this revelation made an ineffaceable impression, effected a transfiguring change, on the lives of the loyal. It is said that Corpus Christi College has a pelican for the College emblem or badge, to symbolise the 'ministration' of Christ unto the Church, even as the pelican feeds its young one from the very substance of its bosom; and Dr. Miller the Teacher was a true follower of Christ in that he nurtured the growing life of the youth even with the essence of his own mind and heart and soul. He concludes one of the College-Day Messages with the sublime sentiment, "the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep"; and truly and verily he was the good shepherd unto the sheep whose tending was the prime concern of his God-illumined and God-accepted life.


(3)*[1]

Duty and desire, gratitude and affection, have drawn us here together. We are here, I believe, neither to mourn a loss nor to pronounce a eulogy. We are here to affirm a faith and to confirm a hope. The first of those noble messages, so eagerly awaited and so respectfully received, which used to be, for over a decade and a half, the centre of attraction in the programme of the College Day Celebrations, concludes with the touching words: "even when the present shadows close finally around me, I have tho hope that I shall be remembered for a time by some of you," as one who, though well aware of having fallen short of all that he should have done or that he might have been, "tried to do the work which he felt fitted and called to do for your good and for the good of India." Now that the shadows have closed finally, baffling the power of mere human ken, shall not this very human hope—it may of right be named the claim or the challenge—to be so remembered, not alone by 'some' but by all of his pupils, and again not merely 'for a time' but during the whole term of their lives, be fully ratified? Rich beyond common measure was the merit, the title, to be thus remembered—to be thus gratefully and reverently enshrined in their recollections—by those that had the good fortune to call him Master. And gathered hero on this solemn occasion, render we unto his honoured self the richest homage of esteem for the exemplary life he lived and of gratitude for the ample good he did for the lasting benefit of 'his numerous pupils and their fatherland. The moment to say 'adieu' has arrived; but it is only au revoir. The orb, so radiant to our living memories, was long declining along the western slope; and only a pensive farewell shall mark its final set. The fruit was full-ripe and has been 'seasonably gathered;' and the 'fruit-gathering' chant shall be both a requiem and a te Deum. No doubt, even unto the loftiest-souled, the poet permits, at the hour of translations "longing lingering look behind;" and the lone lingerer behind cannot but respond with an answering gaze of wistful wonder cast into the great Beyond. The spasm of bereavement, however, has no place in this solemn leave-taking. It is a temporary snap of 'the sacred tie;' hearts' loves shall be respun into inseparable unity.

This vivid expectation that the broken thread shall be restrung is prompted by the life-long affection that subsisted between the great Master and his countless pupils. The tender solicitude which embraced those large numbers in its ever-increasing compass and the admiring gratitude which incessantly gained in intensity with age and experience—do they not form a treasure which Time only holds in trust for Eternity? With that modesty which is a true mark of real worth, he hoped to be remembered "for a time;" but can we ever forget him who never forgot us? The memory of those warm words, as they came from the depths of a loving heart, four decades and more of years have served only to keep all the greener: the words, "they are my children," uttered as our father literally 'handed' me and my brother over to his parental keeping, by placing our trusting in his welcoming hands. And how faithfully and lovingly that pledge has been sustained! In a very real sense, Dr. Miller's pupils were his children—the manasaputras of that mighty heart. According to the world's ways, he might be termed "an Elm without his Vine;" but passing rich has been that " dower of clustering charities," which his love has won as a heaven-awarded prize. Men have marvelled how Dr. Miller could, as he actually did, remember not only his innumerable pupils but also, in many cases, their relations and friends. The secret of this power lay not in his memory but in his love; it was not merely a feat of memory, it was a trophy of love. And surely there was a touch of the Divine in that capacious love which had a distinct place for each single object of its self-expression. For, the almost limitless variations of contour and complexion, amidst misleading degrees of similarity, between one creature and another, constitute not merely a rich provision for the charms of Nature but, even more, a convincing witness unto the direct interest of Providence in each individual. Dr. Miller possessed a remarkably retentive memory, even because he cherished such divine love for his 'boys.' It is such love that, in its own proper nature, begets love. It is of such love that the poet's prophecy comes true, 'What is time?' 'Man has Forever.'

And to the labours which this love entailed, to this Heaven-appointed task, Dr. Miller devoted powers and capacities, resources and energies, of the first order. The best student of his year at the University, he was, true to his own precept, a student all his days—a student alike of books and of the great facts of life. His natural talents and cultivated abilities were of a magnitude quite ample to place him in the fore-front of his contemporaries. His keen acumen, his sound sagacity, his clear grasp of principles, his patient mastery of details, his dispassionate review of issues, his perspicuity of exposition, his untiring industry, his indomitable will to face difficulties, his genuine sympathy for all good causes, his genius for initiative, his undimmed faith in the potency of the Right, would, in any honorable field of work, have won for him the richest laurels of distinction. Had he chosen the career of a statesman, he should undoubtedly have become a "pillar of the State;" it were no exaggeration at all to say that a Cabinet Ministership would have been his by common assent. In sheer vital energy—in the capacity for sustained application to divers duties—his strength was "as the strength of ten'. He "scorned delights and lived laborious days", though the "spur" to those exertions was something sublimer than the motive which the poet specifies. Again, the advantages of birth, position and fortune could have potently helped him to eminence, even with a less conspicuous endowment of mental and moral worth. A well-known countryman of his, also an educationist, is reported to have observed that, possessing a fraction of Dr. Miller's independent means, he himself would not have troubled to come out to India. Yet all this fund of facilities and opportunities he placed at the feet of his Master to be employed all for His glory. The task set to him—rather, the task gradually unfolded to him—was manifestly of gigantic proportions. Let us try to realise the nature of the work to which he was called, the conditions under which he had to labour, the aims which he had to keep in view, the spirit by which he was actuated, the interests which he had to satisfy, the views or attitudes which he had to conciliate, the different directions in which his energies had to operate, the prolonged period over which those activities extended, the even tenor and the fine level which had to be maintained, the notable results—so rich in quality and so ample in quantity—which he could harvest, the guiding light and the propelling vigour which he could impart to a host of trusting souls—let us endeavour tc focus these several scattered points into one heart-vision; and we shall find full justification to apply to our good Master the grateful and glowing terms in which Matthew Arsold sings the glory of his illustrious father—that, with no langour in the heart, no weakness in the word, no weariness on the brow, here was an angelic being, 'radiant with ardour divine,' set up as a star of hope to light our path, beyond 'the bound of the waste,' on 'to the City of God.'

India's debt to Dr. Miller, who knows, who can estimate, in its full measure? He landed on her shores, when hardly twenty-five years old, with an extraordinary reserve of physical and mental vigour; he bade her a reluctant farewell, as a worn-out, half-blind old man verging on the Biblical terminus of threescore and ten. With him "the ideal life was the life of service"; and for full forty-five years he spent himself out in the service of India. The labours of that prolonged period, so rich in piety and zeal, he replenished with money contributions to the tune of some lakhs of rupees. He looked upon himself as the 'steward' of his Lord; and the closing account rendered of that stewardship is a princely bequest to the College and the Country which he loved so warmly and toiled for so selflessly. He sought no 'wages' save the 'wages of Virtue'—"the wages of going on and not to die." With the retrospect of half-a-century before his mind, he owned, "I feel thankful to have had the work of my life assigned, to me among you;" and again, "your welfare and the welfare of your country have still a dominating hold on my accustomed thoughts and deepest feelings." Here indeed, was a noble Friend of India; when and how often can India expect to see his like again?—Unto us, his students, the richest legacy of the Master was his inspiring life. "The Professor must inspire," remarks one of the greatest living authorities on University Education; and we ever found in the Master "inspiration" itself. "Inspiration" to live a loyal life radiated from him, as "virtue 'from a saintly soul, in all directions. This was in happy accord with his theory that a student should start as a "fellow-worker," and be elevated to "a friend in council" with the master, in pursuit of a common end. He was thus one of that blessed band—Heaven's favoured few, the enduring memorials of whose life-work could be pointed out in the convincing "Circumspice." And if only grace be vouchsafed unto us to realise in ourselves and to transmit to those around us some of that 'inspiration', then, though the world, with its customary phrase of time and sense, might sigh out, Dr. Miller is dead, from the depths of our believing hearts would spring up the acclamation of Eternal Hope, Long Live the Master !




Printed at the Albert Printing works, Cocanada.

  1. * Based on the opening and closing remarks made as President of the memorial meeting at Cocanada (31-7-23).