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The Life Of Social Service As Exemplified In David Livingstone


[Note 47: Delivered at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, on the
occasion of the Centenary of the birth of David Livingstone, March 7,

Hamilton Wright Mabie says that the question for each man to settle is
not what he would do if he had means, time, influence, and educational
advantages, but what he will do with the things he has. In all history
there are few men who have answered this question. Among them none have
answered it more effectively than he whom we have gathered to honor
to-night--David Livingstone.

The term "social service," which is on every one's lips now, was as yet
uncoined when David Livingstone was born. But it was none the less true,
that without overmuch prating of the ideal which is held up to the man
of to-day as the only one worth striving for, the sturdy pioneers of
Livingstone's day and ilk realized to the highest the ideal of man's
duty to his fellow-man.

The life of David Livingstone is familiar to all of you. From your
childhood you have known the brief data of his days. He was born in
Lanarkshire, Scotland, March 19, 1813. He began working in a
cotton-factory at the age of ten, and for ten years thence, educated
himself, reading Latin, Greek, and finally pursuing a course of
medicine and theology in which he graduated. In 1840, firmly believing
in his call, he offered his services to the London Missionary Society,
by whom he was ordained, and sent as a medical missionary to South
Africa, where he commenced his labors. In 1849, he discovered Lake
Ngami; in 1852, he explored the Zambezi River. In 1856, he discovered
the wonderful Victoria Falls, and then returned to England, where he was
overwhelmed with honors. In 1857, he published his first book, hardly
realizing that it was an epoch-making volume, and that he had made an
unprecedented contribution alike to literature, science, and religion.
In the same year, he severed his connection with the Missionary society,
believing that he could best work unhampered by its restrictions. He was
appointed British Consul for the East Coast of Africa, and commander of
an expedition to explore Eastern and Central Africa. He discovered the
Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa in 1859; published his second book during a
visit to England, 1864-65. He returned to Africa, started to explore the
interior, and was lost to the world for two years. He re-appeared in
1867, having solved the problem of the sources of the Nile. From then
until 1871, when he was found by Stanley, suffering the most pitiful
privations, his was a record of important discoveries and explorations.
After parting with Stanley in 1872, he continued his explorations, and
died in 1873. His body was interred in Westminster Abbey in 1874.

This is a meagre account of the life of David Livingstone. The romance
and wonder of it do not appear on the surface; the splendor of the
heroic soul is lost in the dry chronology of dates; the marvelous
achievement of self-sacrifice is not visible. Yet the wildest fantasies
of medieval troubadours pale into insignificance when placed side by
side with the life-story of David Livingstone.

What has this modern romance in it for the man of to-day? An infinity of
example, of hope, of the gleam to follow. The most salient thing about
Livingstone's early life is the toil and the privation which he endured
gladly, in order to accomplish that which he had set himself to do.
Listen to his own words in describing the long hours spent in the
cotton-mill. Here he kept up his studies by placing his book on the top
of the machine, so that he could catch sentence after sentence as he
passed his work, learning how completely to abstract his mind from the
noises about him. "Looking back now on that life of toil, I cannot but
feel thankful that it formed such a material part of my early education,
and were it possible, I would like to begin life over again in the same
lowly style, and to pass through the same hardy training."

I wonder how many of the modern men, whose privations in early life in
no wise approached those of our hero look back with gratitude upon their
early days? Are we not prone to excuse and condone our shortcomings,
either of character or of achievement, by murmuring at the hard fate
which deprived us of those advantages which more fortunate brothers and
sisters enjoyed in infancy and youth? Do we not to-day swing too far in
the direction of sickly sentimentality and incline to wrap ourselves,
and those about us, in the deadening cotton-wool of too much care? Were
it not better if a bit more of the leaven of sturdy struggle were
introduced into the life of the present-day youth? Strength of character
and strength of soul will rise to their own, no matter what the
struggles be to force them upward.

In keeping with this studious concentration which is shown in his work
in the cotton-mill, was Livingstone's ideal of thorough preparation for
his work. On his first missionary journey, before penetrating into the
interior, he stopped at a little station, Lepelole, and there for six
months cut himself off from all European society in order to gain an
insight into the habits, ways of thinking, laws, and language of the
natives. To this he ascribed most of his success as a missionary and
explorer, for Livingstone's way was ever the gentle method of those who
comprehend--not the harsh cruelty of those who feel superior to the ones
among whom they work. In a day whose superficiality is only equalled by
the ease with which we gloze over the faults of the unprepared, this bit
of information of Livingstone's preparation comes like a refreshing
reminder that true worth is always worth while.

When Livingstone gave up his purely missionary labors and turned his
life channel into the stream of scientific investigation, the same
thoroughness of preparation is shown. He did not work for immediate
results, attained by shallow touching of the surface, or for hasty
conclusions. His was the close observation and careful and accurate
deductions of the mind trained by science to be patient and await
results. Rather than be inaccurate, he would wait until he knew he was
correct. A quarter of a century after Livingstone died a compatriot of
his, Robert Louis Stevenson, said that among the hardest tasks that life
sets for a man is "to await occasions, and hurry never." Livingstone
learned this thoroughly.

In keeping with the quietness, simplicity, and thoroughness of this
truly great man was the meeting between him and Stanley when that
redoubtable youth found him in the heart of the Dark Continent. Life is
essentially a dramatic thing, for as Carlyle says, "Is not every
deathbed the fifth act of a tragedy?" But I sometimes think that we miss
the drama and poetry of every-day life because it seems so commonplace.
We look abroad and afar for great moments, and great moments pass
unheeded each hour. So to those two--the toil-worn and weary explorer
and the youthful Stanley, full of enthusiasm, albeit dimmed by the
hardships and disappointments of his long search, that moment of first
meeting must have seemed essentially commonplace. There was a wonder in
the encounter, but like all great emotions and great occasions there was
a simplicity, so that the greetings were as commonplace as if occurring
in a crowded street. Thirty years had passed since the explorer had
dedicated himself to the task of making the world know Africa, and he
was an old man, worn-out, bent, frail, and sorrow-stricken. But courage
was unfaltering, faith undimmed, power unabated. Had Stanley been a few
months later, much of his work would have been lost, and his death even
more pitiful than it was--yet he could smile and be patient and

As Stanley phrases it, "Suppose Livingstone, following the custom of
other travellers, had hurried to the coast, after he had discovered Lake
Bangweolo, to tell the news to the geographical world; then had returned
to discover Moero, and run away again, then come back once more to
discover Kamolondo, and to race back again. But no, he not only
discovers the Chambezi, Lake Bangweolo, Luapula River, Lake Moero,
Lualaba River, and Lake Kamolondo, but he still tirelessly urges his
steps forward to put the final completion to the map of the grand
lacustrine river system. Had he followed the example of ordinary
explorers, he would have been running backwards and forwards to tell the
news, instead of exploring, and he might have been able to write a
volume upon the discovery of each lake and earn much money thereby."

This was no negative exploration. It was the hard, earnest labor of
years, self-abnegation, enduring patience, and exalted fortitude, such
as ordinary men fail to exhibit. And he had achieved a wonderful deed.
The finding of the poles, north and south, is no greater feat than his.
For, after all, what is it to humanity that the magnetic pole, north or
south, is a few degrees east or west of a certain point in the frozen
seas and barren ice mountains? What can humanity offer as a reward to
those whose bodies lie under cairns of ice save a barren recognition of
their heroism? What have their lives served, beyond that of examples of
heroism and determination? Bronze tablets will record their deeds, but
no races will arise in future years to call them blessed. Cold marble
will enshrine their memory; but there will be no fair commerce, nor
civilization, nor the thankful prayers of those who have been led to
know God.

In his earlier years of exploration, Livingstone became convinced that
the success of the white missionary in a field like Africa is not to be
reckoned by the tale of doubtful conversions he can send home each year,
that the proper work of such men was that of pioneering, opening up,
starting new ground, leaving native agents to work it out in detail. The
whole of his subsequent career was a carrying out of this idea. It was
the idea of commerce, bringing the virgin country within the reach of
the world, putting the natives in that relation to the rest of humanity
which would most nearly make for their efficiency, if not in their own
generation, at least in the next. Shall we not say that this is the
truest ideal of social service--to plan, not for the present, but for
the future; to be content, not with the barren achievement of
exploration, the satisfaction that comes with the saying, "I am the
first who has trod this soil!" but to be able to say, "Through me,
generations may be helped?"

Says a biographer of Dr. Livingstone, "His work in exploration is marked
by rare precision and by a breadth of observation which will make it
forever a monument to the name of one of the most intrepid travellers of
the nineteenth century. His activity embraced the field of the
geographer, naturalist, benefactor of mankind, and it can justly be
said that his labors were the first to lift the veil from the 'Dark

During the thirty years of his work he explored alone over one-third of
the vast continent; a feat which no single explorer has ever equalled.
But it must be remembered that even though he had severed his connection
with the missionary society that he regarded himself to the last as a
"Pioneer Missionary."

One of the most fascinating subjects of controversy since the time of
Herodotus was the problem of the source of the Nile. Poetry, from the

description of the Garden of Eden and the writings of Ptolemy to the
Kubla Kahn of Coleridge, ran rife over the four fountains out of which
flowed the wonderful river. To Livingstone was reserved the supreme
honor of settling for all time the secret of this most poetic river of
mystery. Long ere this he had been honored with a gold medal from the
Royal Geographical Society. How futile must the bit of metal have seemed
to this dark, silent man, whose mind had grown away from bauble and
tinsel, and who had learned in the silences the real value of the
trinkets of the world.

When he had discovered the Victoria Falls, he had completed in two years
and a half the most remarkable and most fruitful journey on record,
reconstructed the map of Africa, and given the world some of the most
valuable land it ever could possess. The vast commercial fields of ivory
were opened up to trade; the magnificent power of the Victoria Falls
laid bare to the sight of civilized man. We can imagine him standing on
the brink of the thunderous cataract of the Victoria gazing at its
waters as they dashed and roared over the brink of the precipice,

"--Like stout Cortez--when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

To this man, who had opened up a continent; who had penetrated not only
into the heart of the forest, but had made himself one with the savages
who were its denizens; who knew and understood them as human beings, and
not as beasts, the slavery trade was, as he expressed it, "the open sore
of Africa." Over and again he voiced his belief that the Negro freeman
was a hundred times more valuable than the slave. He repeatedly enjoined
those who had the fitting out of his expeditions not to send him slaves
to accompany him on his journeys, but freemen, as they were more
trustworthy. He voiced the fundamental truth that he who is his own
master is he who obeys and believes in his master.

The slave trade in Africa was dealt its death-blow by Dr. Livingstone.
Portugal had foisted the shame of centuries upon the Dark Continent, and
openly defied decency and honor. Livingstone's example and his death
acted like an inspiration, filling Africa with an army of explorers and
missionaries, and raising in Europe so powerful a feeling against the
slave trade that it may be considered as having received its death-blow.
Dear to his heart was Lincoln, the Emancipator, an ideal hero whom he
consistently revered. Away to the southwest from Kamolondo is a large
lake which discharges its waters by the important river, Lomami, into
the great Lualaba. To this lake, known as the Chobungo by the natives,
Dr. Livingstone gave the name of Lincoln, in memory of him for whom your
noble institution was named. This was done because of a vivid impression
produced on his mind by hearing a portion of Lincoln's inauguration
speech from an English pulpit, which related to the causes that induced
him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. To the memory of the man
whom Livingstone revered he has contributed a monument more durable than
brass or stone.

This strange, seemingly almost ascetic man sets before us of to-day an
almost impossible standard of living. One idea mastered him--to give
Africa to the world. His life was a success, as all lives must be which
have a single aim. Life was clear, elemental almost to him, and to the
man whose ambition is a unit; who sees but one goal, shining clearly
ahead, success is inevitable, though it may be masked under the guise of
poverty and hardship. Livingstone had a higher and nobler ambition than
the mere pecuniary sum he might receive, or the plaudits of the
unthinking multitude; he followed the dictates of duty. Never was such a
willing slave to that abstract virtue. His inclination impelled him
home, the fascinations of which it required the sternest resolves to
resist. With every foot of new ground he travelled over, he forged a
chain of sympathy which should hereafter bind all other nations to
Africa. If he were able to complete this chain, a chain of love, by
actual discovery and description of the people and nations that still
lived in darkness, so as to attract the good and charitable of his own
land to bestir themselves for their redemption and salvation--this,
Livingstone would consider an ample reward. "A delirious and fatuous
enterprise, a Quixotic scheme!" some will say. Not so; he builded better
than even he knew or dared hope, and posterity will reap the reward.

The missionary starting out must resolve to bear poverty, suffering,
hardship, and, if need be, to lose his life. The explorer must resolve
to be impervious to exquisite little tortures, to forget comforts, and
be a stranger to luxuries; to lose his life, even, in order that the
world may add another line or dot to its maps. The explorer-missionary
must do all these things, and add to them the zeal for others that shall
illumine his labors, and make him at one with God. David Livingstone had
all these qualities, coupled with the sublime indifference of the truly
great to the mere side issues of life. You and I sit down to our
comfortable meals, sleep in our well-appointed beds, read our Bibles
with perfunctory boredom, and babble an occasional prayer for those who
endure hardships--when we are reminded from the pulpit to do so. When we
read of some awful calamity, such as has blazoned across the pages of
history within the past few weeks, we shudder that men should lay down
their lives in the barren wastes of ice. When we read of the thirty
years of steady suffering which Livingstone endured in the forests of
Africa, the littleness of our own lives comes home to us with awful
realization. You who fear to walk the streets with a coat of last
year's cut, listen to his half whimsical account of how he "came to the
Cape in 1852, with a black coat eleven years out of fashion, and Mrs.
Livingstone and the children half naked." You who shudder at the tale of
a starving child in the papers, and lamely wonder why the law allows
such things, read his recital of the sufferings of his wife and little
ones during the days without water under a tropic sun, and of the
splendid heroism of the mother who did not complain, and the father who
did not dare meet her eye, for fear of the unspoken reproach therein.

He was never in sufficient funds, and what little means he could gather
here and there were often stolen from him, or he found himself cheated
out of what few supplies he could get together to carry on his travels.
Months of delay occurred, and sometimes it seemed that all his labors
and struggles would end in futility; that the world would be little
better for his sufferings; yet that patient, Christian fortitude
sustained him with unfaltering courage through the most distressing
experiences. Disease, weakening, piteous, unromantic, unheroic, wasted
his form; ulcers, sores, horrible and hideous, made his progress slow
and his work sometimes a painful struggle over what many a man would
have deemed impossible barriers. The loss of his wife came to him twelve
years after she had elected to cast in her lot with his, but like Brutus
of old, he could exclaim,

"With meditating that she must die once,
I have the patience to endure it now.

Stanley could but marvel at such patience. On that memorable day when
they met, and the younger man gave the doctor his letters, he tells how
"Livingstone kept the letter-bag on his knee, then, presently opened it,
looked at the letters contained there, read one or two of his children's
letters, his face in the meanwhile lighting up. He asked me to tell him
the news, "No, Doctor," said I, "read your letters first, which I am
sure you must be impatient to read." "Ah," said he, "I have waited years
for letters, and I have been taught patience."

To you, of the younger generation, what a marvel, what a world of
meaning in those words--"I have been taught patience." We, who fret and
chafe because the whole world will not bend its will to our puny
strivings, and turn its whole course that we might have our unripe
desires fulfilled, should read and re-read of the man who could wait,
because he knew that time and all eternity would be bent to meet his
desires in time.

Livingstone's is a character that we cannot help but venerate; that
calls forth all one's enthusiasm; that evokes nothing but sincerest
admiration. He was sensitive, but so is any man of a high mind and
generous nature; he was sensitive on the point of being doubted or
criticised by the easy-chair geographers, lolling comfortably in their
clubs and scanning through their monocles the maps which the hard
working travellers had made. He was humble-souled, as are all the truly
great. His gentleness never forsook him; his hopefulness never deserted
him. No harassing anxiety, distraction of mind, long separation from
home and kindred, could make him complain. He thought all would come
out right at last, such faith had he in the goodness of Providence. The
sport of adverse circumstances; the plaything of the miserable slaves,
which were persistently sent him from Zanzibar, baffled and worried,
even almost to the grave; yet he would not desert the charge imposed
upon him. To the stern dictates of duty alone did he sacrifice his home
and ease, the pleasures, refinements, and luxuries of civilized life.
His was the Spartan heroism, the inflexibility of the Roman, the
enduring heroism of the Englishman--never to relinquish his work, though
his heart yearned for home; never to surrender his obligations, until he
could write "Finis" to his work.

Yet who shall say that the years spent alone at the very heart of Nature
had not made him the possessor of that "inward eye," which, as
Wordsworth says, "is the bliss of solitude." For many years he lived in
Africa deprived of books, and yet when Stanley found him, he learned to
his surprise, that Livingstone could still recite whole poems from
Byron, Burns, Tennyson, Longfellow, and other great poets. The reason is
found in the fact that all his life he lived within himself. He lived in
a world in which he revolved inwardly, out of which he awoke only to
attend to his immediate practical necessities. It was a happy inner
world, peopled with his own friends, acquaintances, relatives, readings,
ideas, and associations. Blessed is the man who has found the inner life
more real than the trivial outer one. To him mere external annoyances
are but as the little insects, which he may brush away at will. No man
can be truly great who has not built up for himself a subjective world
into which he may retire at will. The little child absorbed in a
mythical land peopled by fairies and Prince Charmings is nearest to
possessing such an inner life; and we must become as little children. To
some it is a God-given gift; others may acquire it, as Jack London tells
us, by "going into the waste places, and there sitting down with our
souls." There comes then, the overwhelming realization of the charms and
beauties of nature--man is a pygmy, an abstraction, an unreality. This
had come to our hero. Added to the strength of his inner life
Livingstone had the deep sympathy with Nature in all her moods. He
became enthusiastic when he described the beauties of the Moero scenery.
The splendid mountains, tropical vegetation, thundering cataracts, noble
rivers, stirred his soul into poetic expression. His tired spirit
expanded in the presence of the charms of nature. He could never pass
through an African forest, with its solemn stillness and serenity,
without wishing to be buried quietly under the dead leaves where he
would be sure to rest undisturbed. In England, there was no elbow-room,
the graves were often desecrated, and ever since he had buried his wife
in the woods of Shupanga, he had sighed for just such a spot, where his
weary bones would receive the eternal rest they coveted. But even this
last wish was denied him, and the noisy honors and crowded crypt of
Westminster Abbey claimed him, far away from the splendid solitude he
craved. All Africa should have been his tomb. He should never have been
forced to share with hundreds of others a meagre and scant
resting-place. Yet there is food for rejoicing in the knowledge, that
though his body was borne away, his heart was buried by his beloved
natives in the forest.

The study of Dr. Livingstone would not be even superficially complete if
we did not take the religious side of his character into consideration.
By religion, we do not mean the faith he professed, the particular
tenets he believed, the especial catechism he studied, or any
hair-splitting doctrine he might have upheld, but that deeper ethical
side of manhood, without which there can be no true manhood.
Livingstone's religion was not of the theoretical kind, but it was a
constant, earnest, sincere practise. It was neither demonstrative nor
loud, but manifested itself in a quiet, practical way, and was always at
work. It was not aggressive, nor troublesome, nor impertinent. In him,
religion exhibited its loveliest features; it governed his conduct not
only towards his servants, but towards the natives, the bigoted
Mohammedans, and all with whom he came in contact. Without it,
Livingstone, with his ardent temperament, his enthusiasm, his high
spirit and courage, must have become uncompanionable, and a hard master.
Religion had tamed him, and made him a Christian gentleman; the crude
and wilful were refined and subdued; religion had made him the most
companionable of men and indulgent of masters--a man whose society was
pleasurable to a high degree.

If his life held for us no other message than this, it would hold
enough. Unfortunately the youth of to-day is apt to chafe when the
ideal of Christianity and manly religion is held up to him. He thinks of
the religious man as a milksop, a mollycoddle. He cannot associate him
in his mind with the doing of great deeds, the thinking of great
thoughts. His ideal of manhood is the ruthless Man on Horseback, with
too often a disregard of the sacred things of life. Sometimes, if the
youth of to-day thinks at all, he runs riot into ethics, forgetting
that, after all, there could be no ethics without a firm base of
religion. And so he wastes many precious years before he learns that all
the greatest men whom the world has known drew their strength and power
from the unseen and the spiritual.

We have noticed that Livingstone's religion was not aggressive nor
impertinent. Early in his career as a missionary, he recognized the
truth that if he were to exercise any influence on the native Africans,
it would not be by bringing to them an abstraction in place of their own
savage ideals. His influence depended entirely upon persuasion, and by
awakening within their minds the sense of right and wrong. "We never
wished them to do right," he says, "because it would be pleasing to us,
nor think themselves to blame when they did wrong." Worldly affairs, and
temporal benefits with the natives were paramount, so he did not force
abstractions upon them but, with a keen insight into human nature, as
well as into savage human nature, he reached their higher selves through
the more worldly.

His was a pure and tender-hearted nature, full of humanity and sympathy,
modest as a maiden, unconscious of his own greatness, with the
simplicity we have noted before, the simplicity of the truly great. His
soul could be touched to its depths by the atrocities of the Arab
slave-traders, yet he forgot his own sufferings in the desire to make
others immune from suffering. He had but one rule of life, that which he
gave to the Scotch school children, whom he once addressed:

"Fear God and work hard!"

* * * * *

It is one hundred years since this quiet, high-souled man was given the
world, in the little Scotch village, and yet another hundred may pass
away and still his life will be as a clarion call to the youth of the
world to emulate his manhood. For the world needs men now, as it never
needed them before,

"Men, high-minded men,
With powers as far above dull brutes endued
In forest brake or den, as beasts excel cold rocks and rambles rude."

Such a man was Livingstone, not afraid to be meek in order to be great;
not afraid to "fear God and work hard;" not ashamed to stoop in order
that he might raise others to his high estate. He gave the world a
continent and a conscience; with the lavishness almost of Nature herself
he bestowed cataracts and rivers, lakes and mountains, forests and
valleys, upon his native land. He stirred the soul of the civilized
world to the atrocities of the slave trade, and he made it realize that
humanity may be found even in the breast of a savage. When he laid down
his life in the forest he loved, he laid upon the altar of humanity and
science the costliest and sweetest sacrifice that it had known for many
a weary age.

What message has this life for us to-day, we the commonplace, the
mediocre, the unknown to fame and fortune? Shall we fold our hands when
we read of such heroes and say, "Ah, yes, he could be great, but I? I am
weak and humble, I have not the opportunity?" Who was more humble than
the poor boy spinning in the cotton-mill; who was less constrained by
Fortune's frowns than the humble missionary? His life brings to us the
message of doing well with that little we have.

We cannot all be with Peary at the North Pole, nor die the death of the
hero, Scott, on the frozen Antarctic continent. It is not given to us to
be explorers; it is not given us to be pioneers; we may not discover
vast continents, name great lakes, nor gaze with wonder-stricken eyes
upon the rolling of a mighty unknown river. But to each and all of us
comes the divine opportunity to carve for himself a niche, be it ever so
tiny, in the memories of men. We can heed the admonition of Carlyle, "Be
no longer a Chaos, but a World, or even a Worldkin. Produce! Produce!
Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce
it in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou hast in thee, out with it then!"

The life of service; the life of unselfish giving--this must
Livingstone's life mean to us. Unselfish, ungrudging lavishing of life
and soul, even to the last drop of heart's blood. Service that does not
hesitate because the task seems small, or the waiting weary; service
that does not fear to be of no account in the eyes of the world. Truly,
indeed, might Wordsworth's apostrophe to Milton be ascribed to him:

"Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way
In cheerful godliness, and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on itself did lay."

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