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Death of Mrs. Livingstone

by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr.

David LivingstoneAt the beginning of 1861 a new steamer, the Pioneer, arrived, which, though not altogether satisfactory, was yet a great improvement on the Ma Robert, which was now totally useless. This boat was given by the English government for the navigation of the Zambesi and Shiré, and it carried the sections of the Lady Nyassa, designed to float on the waters of Lake Nyassa, and bought by Livingstone at the cost of £6,000, the greater part of the profits of his book.

During this year he explored the River Rovuma, and assisted Bishop Mackenzie and his co-laborers to establish the Universities' Mission on the Shiré, organized in response to a personal appeal from Livingstone to the English universities. The bishop was a man after Livingstone's own heart, and the mission was opened with the brightest hopes of success, doomed, alas, to speedy disappointment. This mission was ere long virtually, though not absolutely, broken up by the death of Bishop Mackenzie and several of his most efficient coworkers. This was a terrible blow to Dr. Livingstone, but it was followed by one still heavier, the death of his wife.

Early in January, 1862, Livingstone's wife was once more at his side, after an absence of four years. After returning to her children in Scotland, where she spent a year of great loneliness and depression, and intense longing for her husband, she had come back to Africa and rejoined him on the little steamer on the Zambesi, with bright plans for a happy home on the Nyassa.

Only three short months, however, were they together before his wife was taken from him. After an illness of a few days only, her spirit passed away, and the man who had faced calmly so many deaths, and braved so many dangers, knelt by her death-bed utterly broken down, and weeping like a child.

Livingstone says little in his next book, The Zambesi and its Tributaries, of the death of his wife. He cannot publish to the world the deepest feelings of his heart, but his journals give us some inkling of what he suffered in her loss. "It is the first heavy stroke I have suffered, and quite takes away my strength. I wept over her who well deserved many tears. I loved her when I married her, and the longer Iived with her I loved her the more. God pity the poor children, who were all tenderly attached to her; and I am left alone in the world by one whom I felt to be a part of myself. I hope it may, by divine grace, lead me to realize heaven as my home, and that she has but preceded me in the journey, Oh, my Mary, my Mary! how often we have longed for a quiet home since you and I were cast adrift at Kolobeng. Surely the removal by a kind Father who knoweth our frame means that He rewarded you by taking you to the best home, the eternal one in the heavens. ... For the first time in my life I feel willing to die.

In a letter written two days after Mrs. Livingstone's death he says: "This heavy stroke quite takes the heart out of me. ... I try to bend to the blow as from our heavenly Father... I shall do my duty; but it is with a darkened horizon that I set about it."

A pleasant little glimpse of home life is given in a later entry in his journal: "The loss of my ever dear Mary lies like a heavy weight on my heart. In our intercourse in private there was often more than what would be thought by some a decorous amount of merriment and play. I said to her a few days before her fatal illness: 'We old bodies ought now to be more sober, and not play so much.' 'Oh no,' said she,' you must always be as playful as you have always been. I would not like you to be as grave as some folks I have seen.' This when I know her prayer was that she might be spared to be a help and comfort to me in my great work, led me to feel what I have always believed to be the true way, to let the head grow wise, but keep the heart always young and playful. She was ready and anxious to work, but has been called away to serve God in a higher sphere."

The days after his wife's death were spent by Dr. Livingstone in writing fully to his children and family friends in regard to his great loss. His letter to his wife's mother, Mrs. Moffat, reached her at Kuruman by way of England. The sad tidings first came to her through traders, but before the news came she had written a long letter to her daughter, full of joy and gratitude that she and her husband had been permitted to meet again, and full of bright hopes for their future. For a whole month before this letter was written poor Mary had been sleeping under the baobab tree at Shupanga!

It is sad to read that, in addition to all their other trials, Livingstone and his wife had not been able to escape the tongue of slander. In his letter to his mother-in-law is this allusion: "I regret, as there are always regrets after one's loved ones are gone, that the slander, which unfortunately reached her ears from missionary gossips and others, had an influence on me in allowing her to come before we were fairly on Lake Nyassa. A doctor of divinity said, when her devotion to her family was praised: 'Oh, she is no good; she is here because her husband cannot live with her.' The last day will tell another tale."

Mrs. Moffat in her reply says: "As for the cruel scandal that seems to have hurt you both so much, those who said it did not know you as a couple. In all our intercourse with you, we never had a doubt as to your being comfortable together. I know there are some maudlin ladies who insinuate when a man leaves his family frequently, no matter how noble is his object, that he is not comfortable at home. But we can afford to smile at this and say: 'The day will declare it.'"

To his daughter Agnes, after the account of her mother's death Livingstone writes: "Dear Nannie, she often thought of you, and when once from the violence of the disease she was delirious, she called out; 'See, Agnes is falling down a precipice.' May our Heavenly Savior, who must be your father and guide, preserve you from falling into the gulf of sin over the precipice of temptation... Dear Agnes, I feel alone in the world now, and what will the poor dear baby do without her mamma? She often spoke of her and sometimes burst into a flood of tears, just as I now do in taking up and arranging the things left by my beloved partner of eighteen years... I bow to the divine hand that chastens me. God grant that I may learn the lesson He means to teach! All she told you to do she now enforces, as if beckoning from heaven. Nannie dear, meet her there. Don't lose the crown of joy she now wears, and the Lord be gracious to you in all things... I pity you on receiving this; but it is the Lord. Your sorrowing and lonely father."

Letters of like tenor were written to every intimate friend. Livingstone's heart seemed to find relief in pouring itself out in praise of her whom he loved so dearly, and whom he should see no more on earth. How he must have yearned in this time of desolation for the comfort of the human sympathy, the clasp of the loving hands, of those dear to him, thousands of miles away. But He who alone can give true comfort, and who is just as near to His followers in the jungles of Africa as in the peaceful homes of England and America, gave him His peace, and courage to keep on his way, lonely yet undaunted, "faint yet pursuing."


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Life of David Livingstone by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr. Chicago, Ill.: Fleming H. Revell, ©1888. Chapter 9.

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