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Henry Martyn was born in Truro, Cornwall, England, and he was only two years old when his mother died from tuberculosis. (His sisters followed their mother to an early grave and by the time he was 28, he was the only member of his family still surviving.)
Henry was a gifted student, and the ease with which he was able to learn, tempted him to avoid hard work and he gained a reputation for idleness. He was not popular and his small physique invited bullying by other boys. To protect him from bullying, the teachers placed him under the protection of another boy, who had an enduring Christian influence on his life.
While studying at St. John’s College, Cambridge, Henry got into arguments and fights. On one occasion he threw a knife at a fellow student. At this time his father died and his sister began intensive intercession for her wayward brother. A lecturer and another student challenged Henry about his relationship to the Lord, and he began reading The Bible. As Henry was converted to Christ, he also achieved great success in his academic studies, but now in the light of his conversion experience, Henry observed: “I obtained my highest wishes, but was surprised to find that I had grasped a shadow.”