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Cornelius Van Dyck (1818-1895)

Cornelius Van Dyck.jpg

Portrait of Cornelius Van Dyck

(Service to SPC 1867-1882)

American missionary, scientist, physician, and educator, Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck was born in Kinderhook, New York, on August 13, 1818. He studied medicine at Jefferson College in Philadelphia. In 1839, he sailed for Syria as a medical missionary. Upon arriving, he studied Arabic with Sheikh Nassif al-Yaziji and Sheikh Yusuf al-Asir sir and soon mastered the language. He moved to Abeih with Dr. William Thomson and Mr. Buṭrus al-Bustani to establish the Abeih Seminary for Boys on November 4, 1846, where he authored Arabic school books on various subjects including geography, geometry, and natural philosophy. In addition to teaching and authoring or translating books to Arabic, he joined a committee in 1847 with Drs. Eli Smith and G. B. Whiting to prepare a new enhanced translation of the Bible into the Arabic language. In 1865, he went to New York to supervise the electrotyping of the whole Bible, where he was offered a position at SPC. He returned to Beirut in 1867 where he accepted a professorship of pathology in the Medical Department and helped to finance the Observatory from his private practice. He worked in the college while working as an editor of the American Press and al-Neshrah, a weekly newspaper published by the Mission.[8]

In 1882, he resigned and abandoned the Syrian Protestant College in protest over the "Darwin issue," which arose when Professor Edwin Lewis in his commencement address made what were interpreted as favorable references to Charles Darwin's theories of evolution.[9] After his resignation, Dr. Van Dyck was invited by the Saint George Hospital, Greek Orthodox Hospital, to attend its clinics and continued in service at the hospital for ten years. On April 2, 1892, all his friends celebrated his jubilee of fifty years in Syria. The Greek Orthodox Hospital erected a white marble bust of him in its courtyard. His love of Arabic and local culture led him to adopt the Syrian costume, including the red fez or tarboosh hat, a jacket with tight sleeves, a vest, Turkish trousers, and local slippers. He authored twenty-seven books in Arabic and articles in Al-Muqtataf on the history of medicine. Early in November 1895, Dr. Van Dyck contracted typhoid fever, and after a brief illness he passed away on November 13, 1895, in Beirut and was buried in the Anglo-American Cemetery, Furn al-Shubbak, Beirut.[10]

[8] D.S. (1935). Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck he Intimate Friend of the Arabs. Al Kulliyah Review, v. III, no.3 November 16, 1935, (7).

[9] Barudi, I. (1900). Ḥayāt Kurnīliyūs Fān Dayk Ba’abda, Lubnan: al-Matba’ah al-Uthmaniyah.

[10] Lutfi M. Sa’di, et al. (1937) “Al-Hakim Cornelius Van Alen Van Dyck (1818-1895).” Isis, v. 27, no. 1, (20–45). JSTOR, . Accessed 3 Nov. 2023.