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William Carey: The Orientalist Cobbler


“A sublimer thought cannot be conceived than when a poor cobbler formed the resolution to give to the millions of Hindoos the Bible in their own language.” — William Wilberforce

carey02Meet William Carey (1761-1834), the cobbler who taught himself Latin and Greek before becoming a British Baptist Missionary, the first translator of the New Testament into Bengali and Professor of Oriental Languages in Fort Williams College. The eldest son of Northamptonshire weavers, Carey grew up in the village of Paulerspury and at the age of fourteen became bound apprentice to a cobbler in nearby Piddington, Clarke Nichols.

At the age of twelve he picked up a copy of Dyche‘s Latin Grammar and Vocabulary and memorized it. This achievement and the ability it revealed did not go unnoticed. Grammar school or college, however, was too costly to be considered and the local schools could not offer any classical training. During his apprenticeship a copy of the New Testament came into his possession. In the notes were a number of Greek words, and curious of their meanings he sought help.

Some say he embarked upon teaching himself Greek under the guidance of a local vicar, others maintain that his instructor was a classically-educated weaver from Kidderminster. Either way, it was with generally little assistance that Carey learned enough Greek to read the New Testament.

In 1785 after years bent over the last, reading the scriptures in their original languages (apparently to the not inconsiderable detriment of the shoes he was working on), he took up the pastorate of a small Baptist church at Moulton and also served as a schoolmaster. He had come to Due to the meagerness of the living he made in this post, Carey continued his awl-work: “Once a fortnight Carey might be seen walking eight or ten miles to Northampton, with his wallet full of shoes on his shoulder, and then returning home with a fresh supply of leather.”

In 1793 Carey landed in Calcutta with his young family to embark on missionary work. By 1821 he had completed translations of both the New and Old Testaments into Sanskrit, Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali.


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