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David Livingstone: Estimate of His Lifework

by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr.

David Livingstone"God has taken away the greatest man of his generation, for Dr. Livingstone stood alone." So wrote Florence Nightingale to his sorrowing daughter, and no careful reader of his life can fail to recognize in him one of the grandest heroes not merely of this, but of any age.

As a missionary explorer he stood alone, travelling 29,000 miles in Africa, adding to the known portion of the globe about a million square miles, discovering lakes N'gami, Shirwa, Nyassa, Moero and Bangweolo, the upper Zambesi and many other rivers, and the wonderful Victoria Falls. He was also the first European to traverse the entire length of Lake Tanganyika, and to travel over the vast water-shed near Lake Bangweolo, and, through no fault of his own, he only just missed the information that would have set at rest his conjectures as to the Nile sources. He greatly increased the knowledge of the geography, fauna and flora of the interior, yet never lost sight of the great objects of his life, the putting down of the slave-trade, and the evangelization of Africa.

His attainments as a physician were of no mean order. The London Lancet, expressing the hearty appreciation of the medical profession, says: "Few men have disappeared from our ranks more universally deplored, as few have served in them with a higher purpose, or shed upon them the lustre of a purer devotion."

During the thirty-three years of Dr. Livingstone's service for Africa, his labors as a philanthropist and a missionary were unceasing. Largely as a result of these labors, that infamous slave-trade, against which he struck the first blow, has now been obliterated along thousands of miles of African coast where once it held full sway, and all Christian nations have banded together to forbid and punish this traffic throughout a vast area in the interior, planting stations for 1,500 miles inland for the enforcement of the law.

As a missionary his immediate success may not have appeared great; he was but a forerunner "preparing the way of the Lord." His was the work of the pioneer, blazing the way, making the rough places smooth for others to follow, opening the country for Christianity to enter in. But scarcely had the civilized world learned of his death, before, inspired by his example, there began a mighty movement on behalf of Africa. The first fruits of that last dying prayer for the country to which he had given his life were seen in the establishment near Lake Nyassa of a mission founded by the churches of Scotland, henceforth to be known by the name of Livingstonia. As soon as Stanley knew that his friend was no more, he resolved to carry on his efforts in opening up Africa to civilization. A thousand days' journey brought him from Zanzibar to the mouth of the Congo, the news of which reaching England, the next vessel that sailed for the "dark continent" carried missionaries to help enlighten its darkness. Wherever he has gone Stanley's explorations have left behind them a line of Christian light. Robert Arthington now pours out his fortune, giving in ten years over two millions of dollars. Missionaries hasten to the interior. All denominations vie with each other in Christian zeal. King Leopold, of Belgium, resolves to "live for Africa." The fruit of this resolve is seen in the Congo Free State.

The statement bas been made, and it scarcely seems exaggerated, that there is probably no mission field in the world that is at present attracting the attention of the church at large as much as that of Africa. All eyes turn with interest, especially to that wonderful Congo Free State, with its rich and vast area, and its population of fifty millions of inhabitants, with its express promises of government protection and favor to all religious undertakings, and its guarantee to the natives of freedom of conscience and religious toleration. True, with all that is encouraging in its outlook, the new liquor traffic is threatening its peace and prosperity, but already the abhorrence of Christendom regarding this death-dealing traffic is making itself felt, and we can but believe that this monstrous iniquity will be throttled while it is yet in its infancy.

All through that region of eastern and central Africa in which Livingstone spent so many years, and for which he uttered so many prayers, new mission stations are being planted, the Universities' Mission, the London Missionary Society, the Free and Established churches of Scotland, the Methodists, Swiss, and other societies all having representatives there. So great an expansion of missionary enterprise could never have taken place in so short a time but for Dr. Livingstone's energy in opening Africa, and for his enthusiasm in enlisting recruits for his loved field.

At a moderate estimate there are now between thirty and forty missionary societies working in Africa, and over 500 missionaries spreading the glad tidings of salvation. The converts, though already numbering many tens of thousands, are as yet but a handful among the two hundred millions with which Africa teems, but their number is steadily growing, and when we remember that until a few years ago nothing was known of the vast interior, we have reason to thank God and take courage. Soon the continent will be crossed by a network of railways, penetrated by explorers, settled by traders, and dotted over with Christian missions. Already roads are being built and railways constructed, steamboats sail up and down the great lakes and rivers, and a submarine cable has been laid. It will not be long ere all these millions of inhabitants will be practically within the reach of Christian missionaries.

Was Dr. Livingstone's life then a failure? Was it a wasted service, that ended only in defeat as he breathed his last in that lonely hut in Ilala? These few years that have elapsed since his death have already seen realized the deepest desires of his heart. Africa is open, the slave-trade is condemned, a wonderful impetus has been given to the planting of Christian missions, and—the end is not yet.

From The Life of David Livingstone by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr. Chicago, Ill.: Fleming H., ©1888. Chapter 16.

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