Wholesome Words Home
Missionary Biographies

Livingstone as a Man

by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr.

David LivingstoneBut beyond and above Doctor Livingstone's greatness as a missionary, a physician, a philanthropist, and an explorer, it is the character of the man that shines out preeminently great. The rare symmetry of this was such that one who knew him bears witness that he was the most Christ-like man he ever knew. Another says that she never knew any one who gave to her more the idea of power over other men, such power as Christ showed while on earth, the power of love and purity combined.

A friend of his earlier days remarks: "There was truly an indescribable charm about him, which, with all his rather ungainly ways and by no means winning face, attracted almost every one, and which helped him so much in his after-wanderings in Africa. He won those who came near him by a kind of spell."

This power lay first of all in his large heartedness, his genuine kindliness and consideration for others, which prompted him to be just as courteous, just as Christian let us rather say, in his treatment of the poor, uneducated black as in that of the most polished and learned European. Few men have the ability that he possessed of taking an "all around" view of things; he could look at matters not merely from a narrow standpoint of his own, but from the standpoint of others also; he needed far less than most of us, the injunction, "put yourself in his place."

''When a chief has made any inquiries of us," he observes, "we have found that we gave most satisfaction in our answers when we tried to fancy ourselves in the position of the interrogator, and him that of a poor uneducated fellow-country man in England. The polite, respectful way of speaking, and behavior of what we call 'a thorough gentleman' almost always secures the friendship and good will of the Africans."

And again he writes to the same effect: "Whether we approach the downtrodden victims of the slave-trade in sultry Africa, or our poor brethren in the streets who have neither warmth, shelter, nor home, we must employ the same agency to secure their confidence—the magic power of kindness; a charm which may be said to be one of the discoveries of modern days. This charm may not act at once, nor may its effects always be permanent, but the feelings which the severity of their lot has withered will in time spring up like the tender grass after rain."

One secret of his success in winning the friendship of the natives lay in the fact that his kindness to them was marred by no spirit of condescension, and that he thoroughly recognized their manhood. In the rudest black, as well as in the most cultivated white man, he saw a brother man, made in the image of God, and therefore to be treated with courtesy and respect.

Doctor Livingstone's tact and consideration for the feelings of others are strikingly shown in his treatment of the native doctors. The following extract is taken from his first book of travels: "Those doctors who have inherited their profession as an heir-loom generally possess some valuable knowledge, the result of long observation. The rest are usually quacks. With the regular practitioners I always remained on the best terms, and refrained from appearing to doubt their skill in the presence of their patients. Any explanation in private was thankfully received, and wrong treatment readily changed for more rational methods. English drugs were eagerly accepted; and we always found medical knowledge an important aid in convincing the people that we were anxious for their welfare. The surgical skill of the natives is at a low ebb. No one ever attempted to remove a tumor except by external application. A man had one on the nape of his neck as large as a child's head. Some famous doctor attempted to dissolve it by kindling on it a little fire, made of a few small pieces of medicinal roots. I removed this tumor, as I did an immense number of others, with perfect safety," but "I refrained from attending the sick unless their own doctors wished it, or had given up the case. This prevented all offense to the native practitioners, and limited my services, as I desired, to the severer attacks."

Dr. Livingstone showed the same spirit as was in his Master in taking a genuine interest in those about him. Nothing was too trivial for him to be interested in if it concerned his brother-man. One or two extracts from his journals will suffice here. "As we were sleeping one night outside a hut, but near enough to hear what was going on within, an anxious mother began to grind her corn about two o'clock in the morning. 'Ma,' inquired a little girl, 'why grind in the dark?' Mamma advised sleep, and administered material for a sweet dream to her darling. 'I grind meal to buy a cloth from the strangers which will make you look a little lady.' An observer of these primitive races is struck continually with such little trivial touches of genuine human nature."

Truly "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin."

"It is rather a minute thing to mention, and it will only be understood by those who have children of their own, but the cries of the little ones in their infant sorrows are the same in tone, at different ages, here as all over the world. We have been perpetually reminded of home and family by the wailings which were once familiar to parental ears and heart, and felt thankful that to the sorrows of childhood our children would never have superadded the heart-rending woes of the slave-trade."

Dr. Livingstone's wonderful patience has already been spoken of. Under the most trying circumstances he still preserved his self-control. Occasionally, as in the case of the Boers' unprovoked assault on Kolobeng and Limaue, he could find no excuse for those in fault, but generally he was quick to see extenuating circumstances. For instance, after being deserted by some of his men he says: "I have taken all the runaways back again; after trying the independent life, they will behave better. Much of their ill conduct may be ascribed to seeing that after the flight of the Johanna men I was entirely dependent on them. More enlightened people often take advantage of men in similar circumstances; though I have seen pure Africans come out generously to aid one abandoned to their care. I have faults myself."

In another place he speaks of sometimes being ashamed when he finds that he has been vexed at the natives without cause. Of course they are often stupid, but perhaps no more so than servants at home often are, and the conduct of white men must frequently appear to them silly or half-insane.

Another marked trait in Livingstone was his capacity for solitude, enabling him to endure an amount of loneliness that would have crushed any ordinary man. For, notwithstanding his interest in and love for the natives, he must often have felt an inexpressible desire for the companionship of those who could understand his motives and who by birth and education were fitted to be his intimate associates. His keen love of nature, his close habits of observation, must have helped him to pass cheerfully through his many lonely hours; but, best of all, he had constantly with him the presence of Him who had said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." The weary, tread-mill-like march he says was particularly favorable to meditation, and many must have been the hours of sweet communion held with his Master.

Dr. Livingstone's courage in exposing himself to danger if in the path of duty is no less to be commented on, though he himself never speaks of it. Dr. Moffat gives several instances as samples of what was habitual to him, only one of which we cite. Once, he tells us, when Dr. Livingstone was engaged in his special mission-work, a messenger came in the greatest haste to solicit his attendance on a native who had been attacked in a wood by a rhinoceros, and frightfully wounded. Livingstone's friends urged him not to take the risk of riding through the woods at night, exposed to the rhinoceros and other harmful beasts as he was certain to be, telling him that it was sure death to venture; but he felt that it was only a Christian duty to save the poor fellow's life if possible, and resolved to go in spite of the danger to himself. Starting at once to relieve the sufferer he forced his way for ten miles, in midnight darkness, through tangled brake and thicket, till he reached the spot where the wounded man lay, only to find him dead. But was it a wasted sacrifice? Was it not rather as the sweet ointment spilled out of love to the Lord?

Although the recipient of prizes, degrees, gold medals and honors of many kinds, Dr. Livingstone still preserved an unusually childlike, humble spirit. Once when a great man expressed admiration for his wonderful achievements, he replied: "They are not wonderful; it was only what any one else could do that had the will." Ah! but was not such a will wonderful? What too shall we say of such modesty as this? "Men may think I covet fame, but I make it a rule never to read aught written in my praise."

One who had known him as a student with Mr. Cecil writes: "I might sum up my impression of him in two words—Simplicity and Resolution. Now, after nearly forty years, I remember his step, the characteristic forward tread, firm, simple, resolute, neither fast nor slow, no hurry and no dawdle, but which evidently meant—getting there.' Simple and resolute Dr. Livingstone was to the last. With childlike trustfulness, combined with equal fearlessness, he was able to disarm the fierceness of savage men, where the least appearance of timidity might have been fatal.

His tremendous force of will carried him through dangers and obstacles before which a weaker nature would have quickly succumbed. Once having made up his mind that a certain course was the path of duty, nothing could cause him to swerve from it. This will-power availed not only for himself, but for his followers also, instilling courage and devotion to duty into the minds of those who heretofore had been weak and irresolute.

Livingstone's faithfulness to promises has already been dwelt upon. Whether made to the Geographical Society, or to the poor, helpless, African, it mattered not. Once made, a promise was faithfully carried out.

The description of the ideal missionary leader, as given in one of his own books, is so striking a picture of his own character that we cannot forbear quoting it: "The qualities required in a missionary leader are not of the common kind. He ought to have physical and moral courage of the highest order, and a considerable amount of cultivation and energy, balanced by patient determination; and above all these are necessary a calm, Christian zeal, and anxiety for the main spiritual results of the work." Yet this characterization does not necessarily give one the idea of such meekness and love as, in addition, belonged to our hero. It was the blending together of all these qualities that made the so nearly perfect man.

Do we seem to exaggerate? As Professor Blaikie says in his Life of Livingstone, while often eulogiums on the dead conceal one half of the truth, and fill the eye with the other half, here there is really nothing to conceal. A plain, honest statement of the truth regarding him is Livingstone's highest praise.

Mr. Stanley has written very fully of the impression that Dr. Livingstone made upon him. Let us listen to him once more as he goes still further into details:

"I grant he is not an angel; but he approaches to that being as near as the nature of a living man will allow. His gentleness never forsakes him; his hopefulness never deserts him. No harassing anxieties, distraction of mind, long separation from home and kindred, can make him complain. He thinks 'all will come out right at last;' he has such faith in the goodness of Providence...

"Another thing that specially attracted my attention was his wonderfully retentive memory. If we remember the many years he has spent in Africa, deprived of books, we may well think it an uncommon memory that can recite whole poems from Burns, Tennyson, Longfellow, Whittier, and Lowell...

"His religion is not of the theoretical kind, but it is a constant, earnest, sincere practice. In him religion exhibits its loveliest features: it governs his conduct, not only toward his servants, but toward the natives, the bigoted Mohammedans, and all who come in contact with him. Without it, Livingstone, with his ardent temperament, his enthusiasm, his high spirit and courage, must have become uncompanionable, and a hard master. Religion has tamed him, and made him a Christian gentleman; the crude and willful have been refined and subdued; religion has made him the most companionable of men and indulgent of masters,—a man whose society is pleasurable to a degree. From being thwarted and hated in every possible way by the Arabs and half-castes, upon his first arrival at Ujiji, he has, through his uniform kindness and mild, pleasant temper, won all hearts. I observed that universal respect was paid to him. Even the Mohammedans never passed his house without calling to pay their compliments, and to say, 'The blessing of God rest on you!'...

Each Sunday morning he gathers his little flock around him, and reads prayers, and a chapter from the Bible, in a natural, unaffected, and sincere tone; and afterwards delivers a short address in the Kisawahili language, about the subject read to them, which is listened to with evident interest and attention."

The latest words that we have seen from Stanley, testifying at once to the native nobility of the African, and to the personal influence which Livingstone exerted over himself, are to this effect: "I have been in Africa for seventeen years, and I have never met a man who would kill me if I folded my hands. What I wanted and what I have been endeavoring to ask for the poor Africans has been the good offices of Christians, ever since Livingstone taught me during those four months that I was with him. In 1871 I went to him as prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London. I was out there away from a worldly world. I saw this solitary old man there, and asked myself, 'Why on earth does he stop here?' For months after we met, I found myself listening to him, and wondering at the old man's carrying out all that was said in the Bible. Little by little his sympathy for others became contagious; mine was awakened; seeing his piety, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went quietly about his business, I was converted by him, although be had not tried to do it. How sad that the good old man died so soon! how joyful he would have been if he could have seen what has since happened there!"

A few years ago a missionary travelling in the Rovuma country met a native with the relic of an old coat, evidently of English manufacture, over his right shoulder. It seemed from the man's statement, that ten years before he had travelled some little distance with a white man who had given him the coat. A man whom to have once seen and talked to was to remember for life; a white man who treated black men as his brothers, and whose memory would always be cherished all through the Rovuma Valley; a man, short of stature, with bushy mustache and keen, piercing eye, whose words and manner were always kind and gentle; a man whom as a leader all men were glad to follow; a man who knew the way to the hearts of all.

Many and brilliant have been the eulogiums in which the learned and the great have vied with each other to do honor to the name of the great explorer; but among them all none touches the heart more deeply than the tribute of this untutored savage. Like the touching fidelity of the black body-guard[s] who bore his remains safely to the sea, it is an earnest and a prophecy of the reverent gratitude with which in all coming time the millions of that "dark continent," to whose redemption his life was given, will cherish the memory of the hero and apostle of Africa,—David Livingstone.

From The Life of David Livingstone by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr. Chicago, Ill.: Fleming H. Revell, ©1888. Chapter 17.

>> More David Livingstone

about | contact | terms of use | store

©1996-2024 WholesomeWords.org
"...to the glory of God."