The Personal Life of David Livingstone/CHAPTER I

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A.D. 1813-1836.

Ulva--The Livingstones--Traditions of Ulva life--The "baughting-time"--"Kirsty's Rock"--Removal of Livingstone's grandfather to Blantyre--Highland blood--Neil Livingstone--His marriage to Agnes Hunter--Her grandfather and father--Monument to Neil and Agnes Livingstone in Hamilton Cemetery--David Livingstone, born 19th March, 1813--Boyhood--At home--In school--David goes into Blantyre Mill--First Earnings--Night-school--His habits of reading--Natural-history expeditions--Great spiritual change in his twentieth year--Dick's _Philosophy of a Future State_--He resolves to be a missionary--Influence of occupation at Blantyre--Sympathy with the people--Thomas Burk and David Hogg--Practical character of his religion.

The family of David Livingstone sprang, as he has himself recorded, from the island of Ulva, on the west coast of Mull, in Argyllshire. Ulva, "the island of wolves," is of the same group as Staffa, and, like it, remarkable for its basaltic columns, which, according to MacCulloch, are more deserving of admiration than those of the Giant's Causeway, and have missed being famous only from being eclipsed by the greater glory of Staffa. The island belonged for many generations to the Macquaires, a name distinguished in our home annals, as well as in those of Australia. The Celtic name of the Livingstones was M'Leay, which, according to Dr. Livingstone's own idea, means "son of the gray-headed," but according to another derivation, "son of the physician." It has been surmised that the name may have been given to some son of the famous Beatoun, who held the post of physician to the Lord of the Isles. Probably Dr. Livingstone never heard of this derivation; if he had, he would have shown it some favor, for he had a singularly high opinion of the physician's office.

The Saxon name of the family was originally spelt Livingstone, but the Doctor's father had shortened it by the omission of the final "e." David wrote it for many years in the abbreviated form, but about 1857, at his father's request, he restored the original spelling[1]. The significance of the original form of the name was not without its influence on him. He used to refer with great pleasure to a note from an old friend and fellow-student, the late Professor George Wilson, of Edinburgh, acknowledging a copy of his book in 1857: "Meanwhile, may your name be propitious; in all your long and weary journeys may the _Living_ half of your title outweigh the other; till after long and blessed labors, the white _stone_ is given you in the happy land."

[Footnote 1: See Journal of Geographical Society, 1857, p. clxviii.]

Livingstone has told us most that is known of his forefathers; how his great-grandfather fell at Culloden, fighting for the old line of kings; how his grandfather could go back for six generations of his family before him, giving the particulars of each; and how the only tradition he himself felt proud of was that of the old man who had never heard of any person in the family being guilty of dishonesty, and who charged his children never to introduce the vice. He used also to tell his children, when spurring them to diligence at school, that neither had he ever heard of a Livingstone who was a donkey. He has also recorded a tradition that the people of the island were converted from being Roman Catholics "by the laird coming round with a man having a yellow staff, which would seem to have attracted more attention than his teaching, for the new religion went long afterward--perhaps it does so still--by the name of the religion of the yellow stick." The same story is told of perhaps a dozen other places in the Highlands; the "yellow stick" seems to have done duty on a considerable scale.

There were traditions of Ulva life that must have been very congenial to the temperament of David Livingstone. In the "Statistical Account" of the parish to which it belongs[2] we read of an old custom among the inhabitants, to remove with their flocks in the beginning of each summer to the upland pastures, and bivouac there till they were obliged to descend in the month of August. The open-air life, the free intercourse of families, the roaming frolics of the young men, the songs and merriment of young and old, seem to have made this a singularly happy time. The writer of the account (Mr. Clark, of Ulva) says that he had frequently listened with delight to the tales of pastoral life led by the people on these occasions; it was indeed a relic of Arcadia. There were tragic traditions, too, of Ulva; notably that of Kirsty's Rock, an awful place where the islanders are said to have administered Lynch law to a woman who had unwittingly killed a girl she meant only to frighten, for the alleged crime--denied by the girl--of stealing a cheese. The poor woman was broken-hearted when she saw what she had done; but the neighbors, filled with horror, and deaf to her remonstrances, placed her in a sack, which they laid upon a rock covered by the sea at high water, where the rising tide slowly terminated her existence. Livingstone quotes Macaulay's remark on the extreme savagery of the Highlanders of those days, like the Cape Caffres, as he says; and the tradition of Kirsty's Rock would seem to confirm it. But the stories of the "baughting-time" presented a fairer aspect of Ulva life, and no doubt left happier impressions on his mind. His grandfather, as he tells us, had an almost unlimited stock of such stories, which he was wont to rehearse to his grandchildren and other rapt listeners.

[Footnote 2: Kilninian and Kilmore. See _New Statistical Account of Scotland_, Argyllshire, p. 345]

When, for the first and last time in his life, David Livingstone visited Ulva, in 1864, in a friend's yacht, he could hear little or nothing of his relatives. In 1792, his grandfather, as he tells us, left it for Blantyre, in Lanarkshire, about seven miles from Glasgow, on the banks of the Clyde, where he found employment in a cotton factory. The dying charge of the unnamed ancestor must have sunk into the heart of his descendant, for, being a God-fearing man and of sterling honesty, he was employed in the conveyance of large sums of money from Glasgow to the works, and in his old age was pensioned off, so as to spend his declining years in ease and comfort. There is a tradition in the family, showing his sense of the value of education, that he was complimented by the Blantyre school-master for never grudging the price of a school-book for any of his children--a compliment, we fear, not often won at the present day. The other near relations of Livingstone seem to have left the island at the same time, and settled in Canada, Prince Edward's Isle, and the United States.

The influence of his Highland blood was apparent in many ways in David Livingstone's character. It modified the democratic influences of his earlier years, when he lived among the cotton spinners of Lanarkshire. It enabled him to enter more readily into the relation of the African tribes to their chiefs, which, unlike some other missionaries, he sought to conserve, while purifying it by Christian influence. It showed itself in the dash and daring which were so remarkbly combined in him with Saxon forethought and perseverance. We are not sure but it gave a tinge to his affections, intensifying his likes, and some of his dislikes too. His attachment to Sir Roderick Murchison was quite that of a Highlander, and hardly less so was his feeling toward the Duke of Argyll,--a man whom he had no doubt many grounds for esteeming highly, but of whom, after visiting him at Inveraray, he spoke with all the enthusiasm of a Highlander for his chief.

The Ulva emigrant had several sons, all of whom but one eventually entered the King's service during the French war, either as soldiers or sailors. The old man was somewhat disheartened by this circumstance, and especially by the fate of Charles, head-clerk in the office of Mr. Henry Monteith, in Glasgow, who was pressed on board a man-of-war, and died soon after in the Mediterranean. Only one son remained at home, Neil, the father of David, who eventually became a tea-dealer, and spent his life at Blantyre and Hamilton. David Livingstone has told us that his father was of the high type of character portrayed in the _Cottar's Saturday Night_. There are friends still alive who remember him well, and on whom he made a deep impression. He was a great reader from his youth upward, especially of religious works. His reading and his religion refined his character, and made him a most pleasant and instructive companion. His conversational powers were remarkable, and he could pour out in a most interesting way the stores of his reading and observation.

Neil Livingstone was a man of great spiritual earnestness, and his whole life was consecrated to duty and the fear of God, In many ways he was remarkable, being in some things before his time. In his boyhood he had seen the evil effects of convivial habits in his immediate circle, and in order to fortify others by his example he became a strict teetotaler, suffering not a little ridicule and opposition from the firmness with which he carried out his resolution. He was a Sunday-school teacher, an ardent member of a missionary society, and a promoter of meetings for prayer and fellowship, before such things had ceased to be regarded as badges of fanaticism. While traveling through the neighboring parishes in his vocation of tea-merchant, he acted also as colporteur, distributing tracts and encouraging the reading of useful books. He took suitable opportunities when they came to him of speaking to young men and others on the most important of all subjects, and not without effect. He learned Gaelic that he might be able to read the Bible to his mother, who knew that language best. He had indeed the very soul of a missionary. Withal he was kindly and affable, though very particular in enforcing what he believed to be right. He was quick of temper, but of tender heart and gentle ways; anything that had the look of sternness was the result not of harshness but of high principle. By this means he commanded the affection as well as the respect of his family. It was a great blow to his distinguished son, to whom in his character and ways he bore a great resemblance, to get news of his death, on his way home after his great journey, dissipating the cherished pleasure of sitting at the fireside and telling him all his adventures in Africa.

The wife of Neil Livingstone was Agnes Hunter, a member of a family of the same humble rank and the same estimable character as his own. Her grandfather, Gavin Hunter, of the parish of Shotts, was a doughty Covenanter, who might have sat for the portrait of David Deans. His son David (after whom the traveler was named) was a man of the same type, who got his first religious impressions in his eighteenth year, at an open-air service conducted by one of the Secession Erskines. Snow was falling at the time, and before the end of the sermon the people were standing in snow up to the ankles; but David Hunter used to say he had no feeling of cold that day. He married Janet Moffat, and lived at first in comfortable circumstances at Airdrie, where he owned a cottage and a croft. Mrs. Hunter died, when her daughter Agnes, afterward Mrs. Neil Livingstone, was but fifteen. Agnes was her mother's only nurse during a long illness, and attended so carefully to her wants that the minister of the family laid his hand on her head, and said, "A blessing will follow you, my lassie, for your duty to your mother." Soon after Mrs. Hunter's death a reverse of fortune overtook her husband, who had been too good-natured in accommodating his neighbors. He removed to Blantyre, where he worked as a tailor. Neil Livingstone was apprenticed to him by his father, much against his will; but it was by this means that he became acquainted with Agnes Hunter, his future wife. David Hunter, whose devout and intelligent character procured for him great respect, died at Blantyre in 1834, at the age of eighty-seven. He was a great favorite with his grandchildren, to whom he was always kind, and whom he allowed to rummage freely among his books, of which he had a considerable collection, chiefly theological.

Neil Livingstone and Agnes Hunter were married in 1810, and took up house at first in Glasgow. The furnishing of their house indicated the frugal character and self-respect of the occupants; it included a handsome chest of drawers, and other traditional marks of respectability. Not liking Glasgow, they returned to Blantyre. In a humble home there, five sons and two daughters were born. Two of the sons died in infancy, to the great sorrow of the parents. Mrs. Livingstone's family spoke and speak of her as a very loving mother, one who contributed to their home a remarkable element of brightness and serenity. Active, orderly, and of thorough cleanliness, she trained her family in the same virtues, exemplifying their value in their own home. She was a delicate little woman, with a wonderful flow of good spirits, and remarkable for the beauty of her eyes, to which those of her son David bore a strong resemblance. She was most careful of household duties, and attentive to her children. Her love had no crust to penetrate, but came beaming out freely like the light of the sun. Her son loved her, and in many ways followed her. It was the genial, gentle influences that had moved him under his mother's training that enabled him to move the savages of Africa.

She, too, had a great store of family traditions, and, like the mother of Sir Walter Scott, she retained the power of telling them with the utmost accuracy to a very old age. In one of Livingstone's private journals, written in 1864, during his second visit home, he gives at full length one of his mother's stories, which some future Macaulay may find useful as an illustration of the social condition of Scotland in the early part of the eighteenth century:

"Mother told me stories of her youth: they seem to come back to her in her eighty-second year very vividly. Her grandfather, Gavin Hunter, could write, while most common people were ignorant of the art. A poor woman got him to write a petition to the minister of Shotts parish to augment her monthly allowance of sixpence, as she could not live on it. He was taken to Hamilton jail for this, and having a wife and three children at home, who without him would certainly starve, he thought of David's feigning madness before the Philistines, and beslabbered his beard with saliva. All who were found guilty were sent to the army in America, or the plantations. A sergeant had compassion on him, and said, 'Tell me, gudeman, if you are really out of your mind. I'll befriend you.' He confessed that he only feigned insanity, because he had a wife and three bairns at home who would starve if he were sent to the army. 'Dinna say onything mair to ony body,' said the kind-hearted sergeant. He then said to the commanding officer, 'They have given us a man clean out of his mind: I can do nothing with the like o' him,' The officer went to him and gave him three shillings, saying, 'Tak' that, gudeman, and gang awa' hame to your wife and weans, 'Ay,' said mother, 'mony a prayer went up for that sergeant, for my grandfather was an unco godly man. He had never had so much money in his life before, for his wages were only threepence a day."

Mrs. Livingstone, to whom David had always been a most dutiful son, died on the 18th June, 1865, after a lingering illness which had confined her to bed for several years. A telegram received by him at Oxford announced her death; that telegram had been stowed away in one of his traveling cases, for a year after (19th June, 1866), in his _Last Journals_, he wrote this entry: "I lighted on a telegram to-day:

    'Your mother died at noon on the 18th June.

This was in 1865; it affected me not a little[3]."

[Footnote 3: _Last Journals_ vol. i. p. 55]

The home in which David Livingstone grew up was bright and happy, and presented a remarkable example of all the domestic virtues. It was ruled by an industry that never lost an hour of the six days, and that welcomed and honored the day of rest; a thrift that made the most of everything, though it never got far beyond the bare necessaries of life; a self-restraint that admitted no stimulant within the door, and that faced bravely and steadily all the burdens of life; a love of books that showed the presence of a cultivated taste, with a fear of God that dignified the life which it moulded and controlled. To the last David Livingstone was proud of the class from which he sprang. When the highest in the land were showering compliments on him, he was writing to his old friends of "my own order, the honest poor," and trying, by schemes of colonization and otherwise, to promote their benefit. He never had the least hankering for any title or distinction that would have seemed to lift him out of his own class; and it was with perfect sincerity that on the tombstone which he placed over the resting-place of his parents in the cemetery of Hamilton, he expressed his feelings in these words, deliberately refusing to change the "and" of the last line into "but":


David Livingstone's birthday was the 19th March, 1813. Of his early boyhood there is little to say, except that he was a favorite at home. The children's games were merrier when he was among them, and the fireside brighter. He contributed constantly to the happiness of the family. Anything of interest that happened to him he was always ready to tell them. The habit was kept up in after-years. When he went to study in Glasgow, returning on the Saturday evenings, he would take his place by the fireside and tell them all that had occurred during the week, thus sharing his life with them. His sisters still remember how they longed for these Saturday evenings. At the village school he received his early education. He seems from his earliest childhood to have been of a calm, self-reliant nature. It was his father's habit to lock the door at dusk, by which time all the children were expected to be in the house. One evening David had infringed this rule, and when he reached the door it was barred. He made no cry nor disturbance, but having procured a piece of bread, sat down contentedly to pass the night on the doorstep. There, on looking out, his mother found him. It was an early application of the rule which did him such service in later days, to make the best of the least pleasant situations. But no one could yet have thought how the rule was to be afterward applied. Looking back to this period, Livingstone might have said, in the words of the old Scotch ballad:

    "O little knew my mother,
        The day she cradled me,
    The lands that I should wander o'er,
        The death that I should dee."

At the age of nine he got a New Testament from his Sunday-school teacher for repeating the 119th Psalm on two successive evenings with only five errors, a proof that perseverance was bred in his very bone.

His parents were poor, and at the age of ten he was put to work in the factory as a piecer, that his earnings might aid his mother in the struggle with the wolf which had followed the family from the island that bore its name. After serving a number of years as a piecer, he was promoted to be a spinner. Greatly to his mother's delight, the first half crown he ever earned was laid by him in her lap. Livingstone has told us that with a part of his first week's wages he purchased Ruddiman's Rudiments of Latin, and pursued the study of that language with unabated ardor for many years afterward at an evening class which had been opened between the hours of eight and ten. "The dictionary part of my labors was followed up till twelve o'clock, or later, if my mother did not interfere by jumping up and snatching the books out of my hands. I had to be back in the factory by six in the morning, and continue my work, with intervals for breakfast and dinner, till eight o'clock at night. I read in this way many of the classical authors, and knew Virgil and Horace better at sixteen than I do now[4]."

[Footnote 4: _Missionary Travels_, p. 8.]

In his reading, he tells us that he devoured all the books that came into his hands but novels, and that his plan was to place the book on a portion of the spinning-jenny, so that he could catch sentence after sentence as he passed at his work. The labor of attending to the wheels was great, for the improvements in spinning machinery that have made it self-acting had not then been introduced. The utmost interval that Livingstone could have for reading at one time was less than a minute.

The thirst for reading so early shown was greatly stimulated by his father's example. Neil Livingstone, while fond of the old Scottish theology, was deeply interested in the enterprise of the nineteenth century, or, as he called it, "the progress of the world," and endeavored to interest his family in it too. Any books of travel, and especially of missionary enterprise, that he could lay his hands on, he eagerly read. Some publications of the Tract Society, called the _Weekly Visitor_, the _Child's Companion and Teacher's Offering,_ were taken in, and were much enjoyed by his son David, especially the papers of "Old Humphrey." Novels were not admitted into the house, in accordance with the feeling prevalent in religious circles. Neil Livingstone had also a fear of books of science, deeming them unfriendly to Christianity; his son instinctively repudiated that feeling, though it was some time before the works of Thomas Dick, of Broughty-Ferry, enabled him to see clearly, what to him was of vital significance, that religion and science were not necessarily hostile, but rather friendly to each other.

The many-sidedness of his character showed itself early; for not content with reading, he used to scour the country, accompanied by his brothers, in search of botanical, geological, and zoological specimens. Culpepper's _Herbal_ was a favorite book, and it set him to look in every direction for as many of the plants described in it as the countryside could supply. A story has been circulated that on these occasions he did not always confine his researches in zoology to fossil animals. That Livingstone was a poacher in the grosser sense of the term seems hardly credible, though with the Radical opinions which he held at the time it may readily be believed that he had no respect for the sanctity of game. If a salmon came in his way while he was fishing for trout, he made no scruple of bagging it. The bag on such occasions was not always made for the purpose, for there is a story that once when he had captured a fish in the "salmon pool," and was not prepared to transport such a prize, he deposited it in the leg of his brother Charles's trousers, creating no little sympathy for the boy as he passed through the village with his sadly swollen leg!

It was about his twentieth year that the great spiritual change took place which determined the course of Livingstone's future life. But before this time he had earnest thoughts on religion. "Great pains," he says in his first book, "had been taken by my parents to instill the doctrines of Christianity into my mind, and I had no difficulty in understanding the theory of a free salvation by the atonement of our Saviour; but it was only about this time that I began to feel the necessity and value of a personal application of the provisions of that atonement to my own case[5]." Some light is thrown on this brief account in a paper submitted by him to the Directors of the London Missionary Society in 1838, in answer to a schedule of queries sent down by them when he offered himself as a missionary for their service. He says that about his twelfth year he began to reflect on his state as a sinner, and became anxious to realize the state of mind that flows from the reception of the truth into the heart. He was deterred, however, from embracing the free offer of mercy in the gospel, by a sense of unworthiness to receive so great a blessing, till a supernatural change should be effected in him by the Holy Spirit. Conceiving it to be his duty to wait for this, he continued expecting a ground of hope within, rejecting meanwhile the only true hope of the sinner, the finished work of Christ, till at length his convictions were effaced, and his feelings blunted. Still his heart was not at rest; an unappeased hunger remained, which no other pursuit could satisfy.

[Footnote 5: _Missionary Travels_, p.4]

In these circumstances he fell in with Dick's _Philosophy of a Future State_. The book corrected his error, and showed him the truth. "I saw the duty and inestimable privilege _immediately_ to accept salvation by Christ. Humbly believing that through sovereign mercy and grace I have been enabled so to do, and having felt in some measure its effects on my still depraved and deceitful heart, it is my desire to show my attachment to the cause of Him who died for me by devoting my life to his service."

There can be no doubt that David Livingstone's heart was very thoroughly penetrated by the new life that now flowed into it. He did not merely apprehend the truth--the truth laid hold of him. The divine blessing flowed into him as it flowed into the heart of St. Paul, St. Augustine, and others of that type, subduing all earthly desires and wishes. What he says in his book about the freeness of God's grace drawing forth feelings of affectionate love to Him who bought him with his blood, and the sense of deep obligation to Him for his mercy, that had influenced, in some small measure, his conduct ever since, is from him most significant. Accustomed to suppress all spiritual emotion in his public writings, he would not have used these words if they had not been very real. They give us the secret of his life. Acts of self-denial that are very hard to do under the iron law of conscience, become a willing service under the glow of divine love. It was the glow of divine love as well as the power of conscience that moved Livingstone. Though he seldom revealed his inner feelings, and hardly ever in the language of ecstasy, it is plain that he was moved by a calm but mighty inward power to the very end of his life. The love that began to stir his heart in his father's house continued to move him all through his dreary African journeys, and was still in full play on that lonely midnight when he knelt at his bedside in the hut in Ilala, and his spirit returned to his God and Saviour.

At first he had no thought of being himself a missionary. Feeling "that the salvation of men ought to be the chief desire and aim of every Christian," he had made a resolution "that he would give to the cause of missions all that he might earn beyond what was required for his subsistence[6]." The resolution to give himself came from his reading an Appeal by Mr. Gutzlaff to the Churches of Britain and America on behalf of China. It was "the claims of so many millions of his fellow-creatures, and the complaints of the scarcity, of the want of qualified missionaries," that led him to aspire to the office. From that time--apparently his twenty-first year--his "efforts were constantly directed toward that object without any fluctuation."

[Footnote 6: Statement to Directors of London Missionary Society.]

The years of monotonous toil spent in the factory were never regretted by Livingstone. On the contrary, he regarded his experience there as an important part of his education, and had it been possible, he would have liked "to begin life over again in the same lowly style, and to pass through the same hardy training[7]." The fellow-feeling he acquired for the children of labor was invaluable for enabling him to gain influence with the same class, whether in Scotland or in Africa. As we have already seen, he was essentially a man of the people. Not that he looked unkindly on the richer classes,--he used to say in his later years, that he liked to see people in comfort and at leisure, enjoying the good things of life,--but he felt that the burden-bearing multitude claimed his sympathy most. How quick the people are, whether in England or in Africa, to find out this sympathetic spirit, and how powerful is the hold of their hearts which those who have it gain! In poetic feeling, or at least in the power of expressing it, as in many other things, David Livingstone and Robert Burns were a great contrast; but in sympathy with the people they were alike, and in both cases the people felt it. Away and alone, in the heart of Africa, when mourning "the pride and avarice that make man a wolf to man," Livingstone would welcome the "good time coming," humming the words of Burns:

[Footnote 7: _Missionary Travels_, p. 6.]

    "When man to man, the world o'er,
    Shall brothers be for a' that."

In all the toils and trials of his life, he found the good of that early Blantyre discipline, which had forced him to bear irksome toil with patience, until the toil ceased to be irksome, and even became a pleasure.

Livingstone has told us that the village of Blantyre, with its population of two thousand souls, contained some characters of sterling worth and ability, who exerted a most beneficial influence on the children and youth of the place by imparting gratuitous religious instruction. The names of two of the worthiest of these are given, probably because they stood highest in his esteem, and he owed most to them, Thomas Burke and David Hogg. Essentially alike, they seem to have been outwardly very different. Thomas Burke, a somewhat wild youth, had enlisted early in the army. His adventures and hairbreadth escapes in the Forty-second, during the Peninsular and other wars, were marvelous, and used to be told in after-years to crowds of wondering listeners. But most marvelous was the change of heart that brought him back an intense Christian evangelist, who, in season, and out of season, never ceased to beseech the people of Blantyre to yield themselves to God. Early on Sunday mornings he would go through the village ringing a bell to rouse the people that they might attend an early prayer-meeting which he had established. His temperament was far too high for most even of the well-disposed people of Blantyre, but Neil Livingstone appreciated his genuine worth, and so did his son. David says of him that "for about forty years he had been incessant and never weary in good works, and that such men were an honor to their country and their profession." Yet it was not after the model of Thomas Burke that Livingstone's own religious life was fashioned. It had a greater resemblance to that of David Hogg, the other of the two Blantyre patriarchs of whom he makes special mention, under whose instructions he had sat in the Sunday-school, and whose spirit may be gathered from his death-bed advice to him: "Now, lad, make religion the every-day business of 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 would hardly be possible to give a better account of Livingstone's religion than that he did make it quietly, but very really, the every-day business of his life. From the first he disliked men of much profession and little performance; the aversion grew as he advanced in years; and by the end of his life, in judging of men, he had come to make somewhat light both of profession and of formal creed, retaining and cherishing more and more firmly the one great test of the Saviour--"By their fruits ye shall know them."