David Livingstone (1813–1873): “He lived and died for good.” - page 4

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From the Fall 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  


David Livingstone (1813 -  1873)
"He lived and died for good."

by David B. Calhoun
Professor Emeritus of Church History Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

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  Later studies concentrated on Livingstone’s faults and failures and his supporting role in the European colonizing of Africa. Tim Jeal’s Livingstone, published in 1973, the year of the centenary of Livingstone’s death, “seemed intended to reduce Livingstone to a good deal less than half-size,” according to Neill. 20
   While sharply critical of Livingstone at some points, Cecil Northcott in David Livingstone: His Triumph, Decline, and Fall, also published in 1973, states that his “critical judgment is in no sense a demolition. [Livingstone] remains essentially, I think, a great and unique person.” “If I have laid the accent on failure,” Northcott writes, “it is because somewhere within that failure lies the essence of his triumph.”21
  Sarah Worden, curator of the David Livingstone bicentenary exhibition in the Royal Scottish Museum, says that Livingstone is “a complex and engaging subject, a fascinating story of a man who seems on the one hand larger than life, determined and driven, but essentially a fallible and vulnerable individual.” 22
   David Livingstone combined conflicting characteristics. He was stubborn and long-suffering, judgmental and generous,  harsh and gentle, proud and humble, reckless and courageous. 23  
  Both friends and enemies noted that he could be notoriously  stubborn. The London Missionary Society (LMS) found it difficult to control its famous missionary. Livingstone wrote to the LMS that he would try to follow its instructions, adding that he was willing to go anywhere, “provided it be forward.”24  And Livingstone believed that he knew better which way was forward. A friend commented lightheartedly that “in an Englishman we might, I think, have called the phase obstinance, but with Livingstone it was Scottishness.” 25   
  Livingstone drove himself beyond reason and expected others to do the same. He could be ruthless, at times, in his disregard of people’s feelings. Longtime friend John Kirk joined Livingstone on his Zambezi expedition but became furious with Livingstone’s leadership, throwing a copy of Livingstone’s Missionary Travels into the river. But Henry Stanley, who stayed with Livingstone for four months, wrote that he could not wish for a “happier companion, a truer friend, always polite—with a politeness of the genuine kind.” 26   
   David Livingstone recognized his failures. He realized, he said, that his heart was “sometimes fearfully guilty of distrust,” and he was ashamed to think of it. 27
  In a review of Oliver Ransford’s David Livingstone: The Dark Interior, Stephen Neill notes that Ransford acknowledges the “less pleasant side” of Livingstone alongside his “real greatness”: “his love for Africa and Africans, his deep hatred of the slave trade, his concern for the spread of the gospel, the immense services he rendered to Africa.” 28

His Love for Africa and Africans

  David Livingstone shed much light on “the dark continent” in his books, in which he treated geographical, scientific, linguistic, and cultural observations with explanations of his missionary work.29

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