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CHAPTER XI CHARACTERISTICS
The life of Livingstone has been indifferently told if the personality of the man has not appeared in these pages. But the reader will welcome a few personal details that could not well find a place in previous chapters. The portrait of Livingstone is well known. It is a strong, rugged face, rather heavy and severe in its general effect, with a thick dark moustache, a broad mouth and full chin—the whole lightened, however, by the honest kindly eyes and the suggestion of humour about the lips. When he was a young man it would appear that his hair was almost black, but it became lighter in colour later, and the lock of it in possession of one of his relatives is distinctly brown. He is himself our authority for saying that his{230} beard was reddish in colour; and it must be remembered that in this respect all our pictures are at fault. Not one of them shows us a bearded African traveller; yet, except on his visits to England, he always wore a beard. Stanley’s first impression was of the grey-bearded man whom he found at Ujiji. Later on he noted that his hair had still a “brownish colour,” but that his beard and moustache were “very grey.” Stanley also paid a tribute to the brightness of his eyes, which he says were hazel. They appear to have been grey with a bluish tinge. Livingstone himself comments on the astonishment of the natives at his red beard and blue eyes. From that reference one might imagine that he had the appearance of a Viking or Scandinavian; but the fact is that his eyes were really more grey than blue, and that his hair was a very dark brown, while his beard was more distinctively Scotch and “sandy.”

In height he always appeared quite short when in contact with tall companions. But he was about average height, say five feet{231} six inches; certainly not more. He had the broad chest and shoulders of a man specially built to endure exceptional fatigue; but otherwise he always created the impression of a short and spare man. That he inherited an iron constitution is evident from the mere narrative of his travels and privations. One of the things that most vividly impressed Stanley was how swiftly the man he found so worn and thin and haggard threw off the burden of the years, recovered his old buoyancy of spirit and physical efficiency, and took upon him the appearance of one who was ten years younger than his actual age.

He was in some ways a fastidious person. He was scrupulously neat in his manner of dress. Even on his travels, when making his way through swamp and jungle, the one luxury he most prized was a change of raiment; and his torn clothes would be mended to the best of his ability. Stanley found him “dressed in a red shirt, with a crimson joho, with a gold band round his cap, an old tweed pair of pants, and shoes{232} looking the worse for wear.” The wonder is he had anything left that was fit to be seen, and the new apparel that came to him was hailed with genuine exclamations of delight. He set great store on an example to the natives of simplicity and neatness. This characteristic also comes out in other ways. His diaries are done with wonderful care and precision. His handwriting was not naturally good, but it is admirably legible.

Every entry in his diary bears upon it the marks of method and neatness, while the scientific observations are set forth with a clearness which won the highest praise from those best competent to give it. Nothing was slurred over. There is no sign of hurry or of the exhaustion of patience. Similarly, there is a notable absence of all embroidery. The language is throughout austerely plain and truthful. Everything is in keeping with his essential character of a man who hated the vulgarity of useless or tawdry rhetoric, and held always by the refinement of simplicity. From many anecdotes related of him it is clear that not only his writing but{233} his private and public speech were affected by his taste in this respect. A letter is extant in which he counselled his children to speak English because it was “prettier” than Scotch. He was doubtless thinking of the somewhat coarse Scotch accent prevalent in Glasgow and the neighbourhood, where his youth was spent. Strangers who met him were uniformly impressed by the softness and gentleness of his speech. His voice was deep; and if sometimes in public it took on a harsh sound, this was undoubtedly due to the difficulty of public utterance, which he never mastered. His addresses to great audiences in England were always delivered in a slow, hesitating, and rather laboured fashion. For one thing, he grew so accustomed to thinking and speaking in the native languages of Africa that his own tongue became strange to him. But, apart from that, he was never a fluent speaker; public address was an ordeal to him, and he had a Puritan disposition towards restraint and reserve, combined with a scientific predilection for exact statement. The impression he left{234} upon his audience, however, was always powerful. Every one who heard him testifies that the man triumphed where the orator was most to seek.

When he once became sufficiently at home with any one to conquer his natural reserve, he was excellent company, for he had a large fund of humour, and the gift of Teufelsdr?ckian laughter—“a laugh of the whole man from heel to head.” He was especially devoted to children. One of my correspondents remembers him most vividly with a child on each knee telling them lion stories; and another recalls his own boyhood, and days of sickness in bed brightened by a visit from Livingstone, who showed him the marks of the lion’s teeth in his arm, and entertained him with some of his adventures. The atmosphere that he most detested was the atmosphere of flattery. There is a fine story about him which illustrates this. He had been invited out to dinner, and had fallen to the lot of a society lady who was injudicious enough to indulge in some very highly coloured compliments on his achieve{235}ments. Suddenly Livingstone left the table, and was afterwards discovered sitting in a room in the dark. He explained that he could not endure to be praised to his face, and that he would not sit and listen to it. One who knew him intimately told me of a lecture delivered in one of our great northern towns. Two local orators introduced the proceedings with speeches magnifying Livingstone’s achievements. When he rose to his feet he had an overwhelming reception, but, turning straight to a large map, he said in a singularly cold, hard voice: “If you want to know the truth about the river system of Central Africa, be good enough to look at this map,” and plunged into his subject without a word of reference to anything that had been said about himself. He was the least vain and most unspoiled of any man who was ever lionised by the British public; the secret of which was undoubtedly to be found in the humility and sincerity of his Christian faith and character.

Of that faith something ought to be said. In his earliest letters which have been{236} preserved, we can see how strongly he was influenced by forms of theology that have long since ceased to be regarded as Scriptural. That the heathen who had never heard of Christ were perishing eternally was a doctrine that inspired much missionary devotion. These dogmas, it is clear, very gradually became impossible to him in view of the actual facts of the vast heathen world. But the supreme motive never changed. In a letter written just at the time of his ordination, he expresses his sense of the honour done to him in being accepted by Christ Jesus as one of His witnesses. The absolute surrender of his own will and mind to “his fair Captain Christ” was the fact most fundamental to Livingstone’s whole career. To the last, he never felt that he was really in the way of duty unless he was doing missionary work and bearing witness to the lordship of Christ. Stanley bore his testimony to the practical character of Livingstone’s religion. “In him religion exhibits its loveliest features; it governs his conduct{237} not only towards his servants, but towards the natives, the bigoted Mohammedans, and all who come in contact with him.” In another striking phrase, he says: “Religion has tamed him and made him a Christian gentleman.” Until his physical powers utterly failed, he never omitted to gather his men around him for evening service, read and pray with them, and add some simple exhortation.

He was a man of deep convictions. Once thoroughly alive to some fact, he took a tenacious grip of it, and gave it a place in all his thinking. That was how it came to pass that neither the politicians nor the men of science could prevail upon him to leave the social sore of Africa to others and devote himself to exploration and discovery. Livingstone’s Puritan soul, that knew how to put first things in the first place, realised that the fact of most moment in Africa was not the sources of the Nile, but the sources of the slave trade. This great social problem had to be attacked if religious and spiritual work was not to be negatived. Much{238} might be written about his courage in alienating those who sympathised with his work as an explorer and those who might have assisted him financially. He knew quite well that a price must be paid by any one who was really in earnest to destroy the slave trade. But nothing moved him. Henceforth it was a case of “this one thing I do.” Perhaps the most remarkable fact of all is, how early in his life he perceived that here lay the path he was to tread. There lies before me as I write an old brown and much torn letter which must have been the first he wrote from the Cape on his arrival there, and is dated March 10, 1841. Every inch of the large sheet is covered with writing, and among the last words is a reference to the resistance of certain of the Boers to the policy of emancipation. Then follows this sentence: “Oh! when shall the time come in which every man that feels the heat of the sun shall be freed from all other fetters but bonds of love to our Saviour!” So the young missionary wrote in his first{239} letter from Africa; so he prayed and strove for thirty laborious and weary years; and so he prays still from his grave in the Abbey, and few will claim that that prayer has been vainly uttered in the ear of God and man.

His unique influence over the natives of Africa is admitted. It may not be possible wholly to analyse his secret, for such words as “personality” and “magnetism” are easily written, and do not help us very much. Two things we may say on this subject, and leave it. Firstly, he believed in them; and secondly, he did not expect too much of them. This is no more than to say that he entered into his inheritance by means of the two ancient and Scriptural keys—faith and patience. He was abundantly rewarded for his faith. “Any one,” he said once, “who lives long among them (i.e., the natives) forgets that they are black and remembers only that they are fellow-men.” That was certainly all that he remembered. The stories of Sechele, Sebituane, Sekeletu, and others would have{240} set the crown on his reputation were it not that that was reserved for the heroic band who attended him on the last of his journeys, and made themselves an everlasting name by their final and supreme act of devotion. But, if he saw their splendid possibilities underneath all their degradation, he never expected too much of them. His scientific mind appreciated all that they owed to centuries of savagery and superstition. He was infinitely patient with them. He forgave them until seventy times seven. He quietly and gently reasoned with them when any other white man would have lost his temper and resorted to force. He could hardly be persuaded even to punish the recreant with any severity. “I have faults myself,” he would say simply.

The last word should concern his single-mindedness and disinterestedness. Neither as missionary nor as Government official is there any trail of commercialism over his life. When the bank in Bombay failed, with the money he had lodged in its keeping, it{241} hardly cost him a pang. All his money was dedicated to the cause in which he gave his life, and his personal serenity was quite independent of possessions. He refused to bargain with the Government as to terms; and when Lord Palmerston sent a friend to ask what he could do for him, Livingstone’s whole ambitions were centred on an international arrangement that would sanction the creation of settlements which could stand between the natives and the slavers. At no single period in his life is there any tittle of evidence that he cared for money save as it might advance the cause that was dearer to him than life itself.

The world still argues and disputes as to what it is that constitutes the highest form of greatness. In the common acceptation of the term Livingstone was not a man of genius. He was not brilliant; he was not strikingly original. What he achieved was done by the genius, falsely so called, of taking pains. But this we may surely say: If human greatness consists not in any natural endow{242}ment alone, whether of the genius of those
“Who seem not to compete nor strive,
Yet with the foremost aye arrive”;

or the genius of industry in those who believe that “it is dogged as does it”; but rather in all the powers and faculties of a man’s nature brought into subjection to one supreme disinterested ambition for the glory of God and the good of man, then few greater men have ever walked this earth than David Livingstone.

The End


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