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CHAPTER I
The year 1813 in which my story opens was a momentous one in the history of Europe. The titanic struggle with Napoleon was nearing its crisis. Victor at Lutzen and Bautzen, he had been defeated at Leipzig, on one of the bloodiest battlefields in modern warfare. Away in the Pyrenees, Wellington was grappling with Soult, and step by step driving him back on to French soil. Among those who were fighting in the ranks of the British army were at least two men bearing the name of Livingstone. It is doubtful whether they even heard, amid the excitement and peril of the time, that away in peaceful far Blantyre, and in their brother{2} Neil’s home, a lad had been born, and christened by the good, sound scriptural name of David. Yet it may come to be believed some day that the birth of David Livingstone was of more vital influence upon the destiny of the world even than the battle in which Napoleon’s star set in blood two years later. For to open up a continent, and lead the way in the Christianisation of its countless millions was one of the “more renowned” victories of peace—a more difficult and notable achievement than to overthrow one form of military domination in Europe.

The family of Livingstones or Livingstons—for David Livingstone himself spelt his name for many years without the final “e”—came from the Island of Ulva off the coast of Argyllshire. Not much of interest is known about them except that one of them died at Culloden fighting for the Stuarts; so that the “fighting blood” in their veins had its way with them before David’s more immediate kinsmen crossed the seas to the Peninsula. The most distinguished member{3} of the family inherited the Highlander’s daring and love of exploits combined with the most pacific spirit, and left behind him an unstained record as an explorer who never lifted his hand to do hurt to anyone through all the perils of his adventurous career. Towards the close of the eighteenth century his grandfather had crossed from Ulva and settled in Blantyre, a village on the Clyde that had certainly no romantic attraction. He was employed in a cotton factory there. Most of his sons went off to the wars; but one of them, Neil, settled in Blantyre as a dealer in tea. He had been previously apprenticed to David Hunter, a tailor; and, as many a good apprentice has done before him, married his master’s daughter. Neil Livingstone and his brave wife had a hard fight of it to make a living out of a small tea business, and to educate and rear their children. Two of the children died in infancy; but three sons and two daughters grew up in that humble home. David was the second son. He was born on March 19th, 1813.{4}

The small struggling tradesman has had little justice done to him either by the novelist or by common repute. He is usually represented as a man who cannot afford to keep a soul, and whose interests are limited to sordid and petty transactions across a counter, not always nor often of a scrupulous and honourable character. The reputation is very ill-deserved. The small shop has proved itself as good a training ground as any other for scholars, and saints and heroes; and, but for the fact that our prejudices die hard, we should recognise that it is so. Neil Livingstone and his wife may have lived a narrow life, serving faithfully their customers and dividing their interests between their family, their business, and the little Independent Chapel of which Neil Livingstone was a Deacon. But they found their sphere large enough for the practice of the fundamental Christian virtues, as well as for the noblest of all interests—the interest in the progress of the Kingdom of God throughout the world. There was one family tradition of which David Livingstone{5} was immensely proud. A saying had come down to them attributed to an ancestor that in all the family history there was no record of any dishonest man. When Deacon Neil Livingstone and his wife had passed away, the epitaph on their grave recorded the gratitude of their children for “poor and honest parents.” In this simple and public fashion they expressed their thanks for the honesty of one who, when he sold a pound of tea, gave neither short weight, nor an adulterated article. They also gave thanks for the poverty of their parents, recognising in poverty one of those hard but kind necessities that make for industry and courage and patience; and that the children of the poor oftener leave the world their debtor for serviceable activities than the children of the well-to-do, who have less spur to their ambitions. It was eminently characteristic of David Livingstone that he should thus avow his thanks for the honesty and poverty of his father and mother. There are those still living who recall the manly pride with which he was wont to{6} refer to “my own order, the honest poor.”

The mother of David Livingstone was a woman of great charm and force of character—“a delicate little woman, with a wonderful flow of good spirits.” In her, rare devoutness and sterling common sense were combined. She was the careful and thrifty housewife, who had to make every sixpence go as far as possible; but she was remembered for her unfailing cheerfulness and serenity, and there was always something to be saved out of the meagre income when the work of the Church of Christ needed extra support. She came of Covenanting stock, and her father, David Hunter, the tailor, received his first religious impressions at an open-air service, held while the snow was falling fast, and used to tell that so absorbed was he in the realisation of the truth of the Gospel, that, though before the end of the sermon the snow was ankle-deep, he had no sensation of cold. He lived to be eighty-seven, was a close and prolific reader, bore severe reverses of fortune with unflinching{7} courage, and earned the high respect of the countryside.

It is impossible to exaggerate what David Livingstone owed to the stock from which he sprang and the bracing influences of his early environment. There were two drawbacks to his home education. It seems that the Deacon had put two classes of book on his private index expurgatorius, as being dangerous—novels, and books of science. So far as novels are concerned the harm done was probably slight; for no one is well-read in the Bible and the Pilgrim’s Progress without receiving a liberal education, and the cultivation of the imagination; while history, biography, books of travel, and missionary records amply served the same purpose. But the proscription of books of science was an evidence of the old evil creed that there is essential antagonism between science and religion. This assumption came near to doing David permanent injury. His religious difficulties did not disappear until in his own words “having lighted on those admirable works{8} of Dr. Thomas Dick, ‘The Philosophy of Religion,’ and ‘The Philosophy of a Future State’ it was gratifying to find that he had enforced my own conviction that religion and science were friendly to one another.” Few people in the nineteenth century were destined to do more towards the practical reconciliation of science and religion than David Livingstone.

It is interesting to find that even in his very young days he had a mind and will of his own, and that not even the love and respect he felt for his father could shake his own conviction of truth. The last time his father “applied the rod” was when David refused to read “Wilberforce’s Practical Christianity.” The boy thought the matter over in his canny Scotch way, and concluded that, on the whole, the rod was the less severe form of punishment. So he took the rod, and refused a religious book for which he had no use. Looking back upon his own religious development in after years, he used to confess that at this stage he was “colour-blind.” When he was led{9} to see that God and Nature are “not at strife,” and that God does not say one thing to the theologian and its contrary to the scientist, he accepted in his own simple and sincere way the Christian Gospel, and drew from it the same splendid faith in the universality of the Kingdom of God that inspired the souls of the first apostles. To David Livingstone, to become a Christian was to become in spirit and desire a missionary. It is only necessary to add that the faith which he accepted with the full consent of heart and mind as a lad in Blantyre was the faith in which he died.

The days of David Livingstone’s boyhood were great days for missions. The churches were everywhere awakening to their opportunity and responsibility. A new “Acts of the Apostles” was being written. Letters from remote parts of the world, where the ancient battle between Christ and heathenism was being fought out anew, were eagerly read and deeply pondered. The romance and heroism of the majestic campaign captured and kindled{10} both young and old. The year of Livingstone’s birth was a year of singular triumph in the South Seas. It was the year when his great countryman Robert Morrison completed his translation of the New Testament into Chinese. When he was some six or seven years old, another famous Scotch missionary, Robert Moffat, was settling on the Kuruman; and Mrs. Moffat bore in her arms a baby girl destined to become David Livingstone’s wife. The life of Henry Martyn was a supreme call to consecration; while the story of the heroes and heroines of the Moravian missions was almost as familiar in that humble Scottish home as the history of the Apostle Paul.

A specially powerful influence in moving Livingstone to his life-decision was the appeal of Charles Gutzlaff for medical missionaries for China.

Livingstone was a born naturalist; and despite his father’s old-fashioned prejudices, he made himself a scientist at a very early age, searching old quarries for the shells in the{11} carboniferous limestone, “scouring Clyde-side for simples,” and arranging the flora of the district in botanical order. These expeditions were often very prolonged, and involved the endurance of fatigue and hunger; but the lad could not be discouraged. Unconsciously he was bracing himself physically for the toils and tasks of after years. There is a fine story about the revenge he took upon his native African escort, on one occasion, who had been misguided enough to talk disrespectfully about his slim figure and shortness of stature. Thereupon, Livingstone took them along for two or three days at the top of their speed till they cried out for mercy! He had not scoured Clyde-side for simples for nothing. His fearlessness is well illustrated in his daring and reckless exploit of climbing the ruins of Bothwell Castle, so that he might carve his name higher than any other boy had carved his. There, too, was the childlike ambition, which remained with him to the end, to do something which nobody else could surpass. “No one,” he wrote at{12} the very end of his life, on his last expedition, “will cut me out after this exploration is accomplished.” Then he adds finely, “and may the good Lord of all help me to show myself one of his stout-hearted servants, an honour to my children, and perhaps to my country and race.” The story of Livingstone is told there: it is the story of one of the good Lord’s stout-hearted servants.

All the drudgery and hardship of his lot went to make him the man he was. The days of his boyhood were “the good old days”—the days when children of ten years old were sent to work in the factories; and David went with the rest. No eight hours’ day his! No humane legislature thought it wise and well to forbid or curtail child labour. From six o’clock in the morning till eight o’clock at night he worked as a piecer; and all the world knows how he used to place the book he was studying on a portion of the spinning-jenny, and snatch a sentence or two as he passed at his work. He tells us he thus kept “a pretty constant study, undisturbed by the roar of machinery,” and that this habit of concentration stood him in good stead in after years when he wanted to read and write even “amidst the dancing and song of savages.” As if this were not enough, after a fourteen hours’ day in the factory he would go off to a night-school provided by the employers; and then home to work at his Latin till “mother put out the candle.” It is well for ten-year-old humanity when it has a mother to put out the candle, or Mother Nature might have put out another candle, and where would Africa have been then? Nine years of such severe and determined work as this brought him to University age; and as Glasgow University was hard by, and as he was promoted to be a spinner by this time and able to earn enough in the summer to keep him during the other six months, he entered as a student for Greek and medicine, and seems to have successfully schemed to attend some Divinity lectures even in the summer months. The Scotch Universities are the paradise of poor and struggling students who have more brains and character than bawbees: but the{15} education was not free in those days. The money for fees had to be pinched and scraped; but it was found somehow, and in the early winter of 1836, David and his father walked to the city from Blantyre and trudged the streets of Glasgow all day, with the snow upon the ground, till at last they found a room in “Rotten Row” that could be had for two shillings a week. Lodged thus as cheaply as could be managed, he applied himself with all his unfailing diligence and zest to learn Greek and medicine, as well as to such theological studies as could be undertaken under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Wardlaw—one of Glasgow’s most famous divines—who trained men for the Congregational ministry, and for whom Livingstone had a great admiration.

During his second session at Glasgow (1837-8) David Livingstone came to the most fateful decision of his life. He decided to offer himself to one of the Missionary Societies for foreign service. He chose the London Missionary Society because of his sympathy{16} with the catholicity of its basis. It existed “to send neither Episcopacy, nor Presbyterianism, nor Independency to the heathen, but the Gospel of Christ.” “This,” said Livingstone “exactly agreed with my ideas.” He was a member of a Congregational church, and the London Missionary Society has always been in the main supported by these churches. But the Society was founded by Evangelical churchmen and prominent Presbyterians, as well as by Congregationalists, and nothing appealed more to Livingstone than this union of Christian people in the service of an un-Christian world.

In due course the acceptance of his offer arrived, and in the early autumn of 1838 he travelled to London, where he was to appear before the Mission Board at 57 Aldersgate Street. One can imagine that, apart altogether from the momentous character of his visit, and the anxiety he must have felt as to his acceptance by the Directors, this first visit to London must have been a most impressive one to the young Scotsman. He{17} heard many distinguished preachers, and visited the famous sites of London. Among other places, he went with a companion to Westminster Abbey. It is a thrilling thought, as Mr. Thomas Hughes reminds us, that he was never known to enter that Abbey again until his remains were borne thither amid the lamentations of the whole civilised world, and all the honours that the living can ever pay to the dead.

The examination by the Directors was satisfactory; and according to the custom of the time Livingstone was committed for a short period of probation to the tutorship of the Rev. Richard Cecil, the minister of the little town of Chipping Ongar in Essex. There he was expected to give proof of his preaching ministry, with what result is generally known. He was sent one Sunday evening to preach in the village of Stanford Rivers, where the tradition of Livingstone’s first effort at preaching is still cherished. The raw, somewhat heavy-looking Scotch youth, to whom public speech was always a difficulty, gave out his text “very{18} deliberately.” That was all the congregation got. The sermon composed on the text had fled, owing to the nervous embarrassment produced by a handful of people in a village chapel. “Friends,” said the youth, “I have forgotten all I had to say”—“and hurrying out of the pulpit he left the chapel.” I have no doubt that “hurrying” is the right word. Never was failure more absolute. It is hardly to be wondered at that the Rev. Richard Cecil reported to the Directors his fears that Livingstone had mistaken his vocation. It was a risk to send someone to preach to the heathen who might possibly forget what he had come to say when he arrived. Moreover, criticism was made of his extreme slowness and hesitancy in prayer. Yet the man who was nearly rejected by the Society on this account, died on his knees in the heart of Africa, while all the world was awed by the thought that David Livingstone passed away in the act of prayer. As it was his probation was extended, and at the end of another two months he was finally accepted, and went up{19} to London to continue his medical studies in the London Hospitals. One of the most striking things ever written about him was by the celebrated Dr. Isaac Taylor, of Ongar. “Now after nearly forty years,” he writes, “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!” In November, 1840, he was able to return to Glasgow, and qualify as a Licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons; and a few days later he said goodbye to the old folks at home, one of whom—his father—he was never to see on earth again. On November 20th he was ordained at Albion Chapel, London, and three weeks later he sailed on the “George” to Algoa Bay in South Africa. One chapter in his memorable life was now definitely closed. Among the memories in it there are few if any that he cherished more than that of his old Sunday School teacher, David Hogg, who sent for him as he lay dying and said, “Now lad, make religion the every-day business of{20} your life, and not a thing of fits and starts, for if you do, temptation and other things will get the better of you.” It is hardly too much to say that the old man’s death-bed counsel became the watchword of his life.



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