Neuchatel, 6 May 1874
My dear friend,
You journalists often keep us up to date with things with which we have little to do, and do not give us news which would interest us from closer to home. It is thus that no newspaper in Neuchatel has breathed a word of the great event of the past fortnight, namely the presence of Mr Darby in our town. The flood of people flowing at certain times from the Rue de l'Orangerie should have been enough to rouse you all.
Every day there has been conferences or Bible studies from 9 to 12 in the morning and from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, attended by crowds of brethren from Switzerland, France and even Germany; sometimes there are also preachings in the evenings.
I was present at one of these preachings and I was profoundly edified and deeply interested. Mr Darby must be a great age, but you can see that in spite of his white hair, he retains his strength and vigour. He speaks standing for an hour and a half without tiring, and, what is rarer, without tiring his listeners. What allows them to listen for such a long time without growing weary is not that he preaches, but rather teaches; he is not exactly a preacher or an orator (not in a negative sense, nor indeed in a positive sense) – but he instructs with authority*: his eloquence is not quite the sort that is appreciated subjectively, but is rather in the expanse of the thought, or rather yet in the degree of clarity and evidence which he is able to give to the teachings of Scripture.
My Darby speaks French without any accent, with perfect ease and a rare appropriateness of expression. It would be difficult to detect he is a foreigner. I highlight this not only because it adds to the attractiveness of his speech, but also as an ability to assimilate a foreign language to such a degree appears to me to be a remarkable indicator of the strength of his intelligence.
I so wish that you would be sent one time to analyse one of his discourses – I am too pressed to try to do so. All that I can tell you is that in what I heard there was nothing at all narrow, exclusive or sectarian. It was the Gospel taken from upstream, very close to the source, above the point where the waters branch and flow into the channels established by various schools to power their various windmills…
* Literally ‘doctor’, or ‘teacher’, but in distinction from the previous ‘teacher’ (‘enseigne’). I have rendered it differently because the writer changed words to make an amplifying point. It seems to turn on the distinction the author is making between a ‘preacher’ – I presume used to suggest a hint of a rhetoric or hectoring, which he says Darby did not do, and a ‘docteur’ – I take it one who is amply qualified to speak, and give interest to his listeners not due to his oratory but rather due to his great grasp of the subject.
Anyone able to translate the French transcript into an English one?
Tom, I have added my efforts. I don't know who the writer is - he appears not to be at the heart of the brethren movement, at least, and probably an outside observer - but I was very struck by his testimony that even at this late stage in Darby's life, he found nothing narrow, exclusive or sectarian in Darby's teaching. The illustration he uses of Darby taking the 'source' of his teaching near the head of the stream, before it branches out into various denominational channels, I found very striking.