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By Rev. JOHN KELMAN, D.D.
It was on the Empress of Russia, in the early summer of 1920, that a certain group met. They were a mixed crowd, English, American and Oriental, gathered for ten days to scatter over many eastern landsJapan and the further coast of China, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippine Islands—even of India, and in some cases eventually Europe. The winds blow cold upon that trip all the year round, with a touch of the northern ice in them: and the long chain of the Aleutian Islands, snow-clad volcanic peaks, strung like beads for a necklace on the Arctic, are surely the austerest jewels of the Seven Seas. So the passengers are much engaged in indoor occupations, and meet in groups in sheltered places for employments congenial to their desires. For our part we gathered round a little woman of Scottish Canadian blood, who told us the strangest story in all the world. That story is the present volume.
Miss Caroline Macdonald is carrying on a quite unique work in the prisons of Tokyo. The first visitor I met in her home in Kojimachi was a modest and quiet-eyed elderly man, who talked with shrewd intelligence upon many subjects; he had served twentyseven years in jail for murder. Soon after him entered Mr. Arima, the Christian governor of one of
the great long-sentence prisons in Japan, whose acquaintance readers will make before long. The tale Miss Macdonald told us, of which this book is a translation from the Japanese, is indeed one of the world's great stories. There is in it something of the glamor of The Arabian Nights, and something of the naked hellishness of Poe's Tales of Mystery. There is also the most realistic vision I have ever seen of Jesus Christ finding one of the lost. You see, as you read, the matchless tenderness of His eyes and the almighty power of the gentlest hands that ever drew a lost soul out of misery into peace.
For the title of the book I alone am responsible, and although I am not satisfied with it, yet on the whole it is the most expressive that I could find. It is a true title, for Ishii was one of God's aristocrats. Even in his unregenerate days one notes the generous largeness of his nature, the instinctive diligence of his spirit and the honorable pride that finds it difficult to accept a favor. He is nervously high strung, quick and passionate, sensitive alike to kindness and to injury. Upon this delicate instrument life plays its violent music, handling the strings harshly and jangling the melody. There are two men here and the struggle between them is desperate. The bad man is bad with a vengeance, but the good man is entirely and instinctively a gentleman, and able, both in his own case and that of others, to see quite clearly that the world must be governed and that the lawless man has no real place in the scheme of things. In our title there is also a subtle hint of escape. No true gentleman will remain long in prison. He will find release, either within or
without the gates, making stone walls and iron bars a hermitage while others know them only as a cage, and in God's strange way eventually returning to his native freedom.
Besides its main purpose the book has other interests. Here you will find many a quaint and vivid expression revealing in a flash the picturesque chamber of imagery which is the mind of the Japanese. Thus when Ishii reads the phrase that brought to him salvation, he is stabbed to the heart “as if pierced by a five-inch nail”: and again, talking of his grumbling over food, he remarks that he did not then understand “that one food is as good as another after it has gone three inches past the throat.”
He is an inveterate moralizer. He cannot see the prison bath or watch the officers practising upon a bicycle without the suggestion of scriptural emblems worthy of Bunyan or of Quarles. He moralizes chiefly at his own expense, upholding the authority of the state as against the rights and pleasures of the individual, and he does it with such a calm and dispassionate air of impersonality that you have to force yourself continually to realize that he is writing against time—a race with the gallows. Moralizing may be dull work, but not when it is done in successions of inimitable pictures sketched in the artistic style of old Japan, all line-work, little filling in, and no background. Again the moralizing will give you many hints for prison reform, applicable to other lands as well as to his own. There is an astonishing amount of heart as well as intelligence manifest in the existing prison system as he describes it. Nothing could be quainter