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The Life of James Stewart
The Agriculturalist


The Best Farmhouse—The African Ideals—A Genius for Farming — Manual Labour — A Friend of Nature—An Avenue worthy of the Mansion.

It is the practical Christian tutor—who can teach people to become Christians, can cure their diseases, construct dwellings, understand and exemplify agriculture, turn his hand to anything, like a sailor—that is wanted. Such a one, if he can be found, would become the saviour of Africa.’—H. M. Stanley.

‘How much a missionary must know! How one must be Jack-of-all trades in a country where no trades are known, it is difficult to imagine unless on the spot.’—Mackay of Uganda.

‘Fear God and work hard .‘—Livingstone’s last Advice to the Scholars of Scotland.

‘The best place in which to bring up a child is an honest farmhouse.’— John Locke, the Phi losofther.

‘If any one has a choice of birth and training, let him fix upon a farmhouse. ‘—President M’Cosh of Princeton College.

To the words of Locke and M’Cosh experience would add: provided the farm be not rack-rented, and the farmer’s lot be midway between crushing poverty and enervating superfluity; provided also that the family live in a genial Christian atmosphere, and cherish a due appreciation of education.

Such homes have been the chief nurseries and storehouses of Scotland’s intellectual and spiritual power, and in such a home James Stewart spent his youth. It was the best university in the world for the work of his life. It developed his powers of endurance, which were to be so severely tested, and it gave him a knowledge of farming, without which Lovedale and his life must have been the poorer. He was then girded for his tasks, though he knew it not.

He was a moral engineer and constructor of works for the uplift of the native. The aim was to raise his whole life, and to raise it very high. It was plain that this could not be done so long as the native scorned work. Stewart reverenced industry as the mother, nurse, and guardian of many virtues, while sloth converts the soul into the devil’s forge. His creed on its earthward side was after Carlyle’s heart He believed thoroughly that work is the portion of every son of Adam; that the best of it is, not the wages, but the work itself well done; that honest work makes a man, and scamped work a scamp. It was part of his creed that true religion should secure the best use of a man’s whole self, and the taking out of the human stuff and providential opportunities all that is in them.

‘Africa is the land of the unemployed,’ Henry Drummond says in his Tropical Africa. This saying is true only regarding the men. ‘What is the first commandment?’ a Lovedale boy was asked. ‘Thou shalt do no work,’ was the reply.

It was not only that agriculture is the stable base of a nation’s prosperity, but there could be no true manhood or Christianity without cheerful and steady toil. The Africans of all tribes used to believe that all the manual labour should be done by the women, and that fighting, raiding, and hunting were the only manly occupations. Many of them still believe that. It is said that a magistrate once presented to Cetewayo, in the name of the Queen, a number of barrows. ‘Why does the Queen send me those things?’ he asked. ‘Does she not know that I have plenty of women?’ The native’s wealth consisted of cattle and women. All the cultivation of the fields was done by the women—many of them with infants on their backs—with heavy-headed, long-handled hoes. Trained to it almost from infancy, a woman can carry nearly twice as heavy a load as a man. One of the traveller’s surprises in Africa is to see a woman carrying on her head, with ease and gracefulness, a pile of wood larger than her own body, and with which he dare not test his own physical powers.

As the men could not hunt, or raid, or fight, their manhood was rapidly decaying. It was plain that they must exchange a pastoral for an agricultural life. These children of the Earth, the Sun, and the open air then greatly disliked mining. ‘Why should a man be put under the ground,’ they asked, ‘before he is dead?’ They regarded the mines with trembling and superstitious awe. At first they were horror-stricken and fled, as every noise underground echoed and reverberated in a most unearthly fashion.

The natives have no word for peace; but under the Pax Britannica the natives were rapidly increasing, and the lands reserved for them were well occupied. Slavery had taught the lesson of labour to the African in America, but the Africans in Africa still kept aloof from it. Stewart believed that Christianity touched nothing effectually unless it touched everything, and that sloth was a deadly sin. He was as hard on it as the writer of the Book of Proverbs, holding that the idler is the devil’s plaything. He thus resolved to press the attack on heathenism along the whole line, and especially to assail their hereditary scorn of manual labour. So long as that remained, the elevation of the race, and especially of woman, was impossible. In the Fingoes, to the east of Lovedale, he saw a tribe that had outstripped all their neighbours, because slavery had compelled them to toil for their masters. All these considerations urged him to do his best to fill the vacant native mind with the love of Christ and of honest work. ‘The reason and object of our industrial training,’ Stewart wrote, ‘are not the value of the labour, but the principle that Christianity and idleness are incompatible.’

The farm-bred missionary was splendidly equipped for this task. A healthy, vigorous-minded boy on a farm gains a perfect knowledge of farming without tuition, effort, or even consciousness. This knowledge seems to come to him by nature, and to get into his very blood. He absorbs it as he absorbs sunshine, and it is never lost. He is amused and surprised that any youth should need to be taught farming, and suspects that the young apprentice-farmer must be deficient in intellect.

There was a wonderful peculiarity about Stewart’s interest in farming and kindred work. It seems to have yielded him the joys of creating, and it proved that he had a genius for agriculture. Like Antaeus, he got fresh vigour from the touch of mother-earth, and he had a deep delight in all the bounties she yields to man. He was mindful of the fact that God first planted a garden, and charged man to ‘subdue the earth, and dress it.’ Probably Scotland has never had more than one probationer who, supplying a country pulpit for a few weeks, went into the neglected manse garden at 6 A.M. on Monday, and, coat off, with his own hands brought it back to cultivation and beauty after the toil of several days. With him, as with some of the ancients, husbandry seemed to be clothed with a certain sacredness. When praising a man, Stewart used to say: ‘He knows how to take his coat off, and set to, himself.’

The native’s ignorance of agriculture was beyond belief. Even a man felt helpless in presence of that wonderful and complicated invention of the white man—a spade. He knew not how to grasp its handle, to put it into the ground, to turn over the soil. He turned it upside down, and seized the iron, as it was most likely not to give way under pressure. In the life of Schmidt, the first Protestant missionary to South Africa, there is a picture of him delving. The natives, with mouths agape and eyes enlarged, are holding up their hands in wonder, in presence of the white man’s new witchcraft.

In the early days, their Lovedale chief was the very man to train the pupils in manual labour, and change it from a shame into an honour. The Armada failed because its leader was not a seaman, and Lovedale would probably have failed on one of its sides if its leader had not been a wonderful agriculturalist. He showed them how to do work by doing it with them. One day an influential party entered the Lovedale grounds, and found a white man and some black boys delving. ‘Is Dr. Stewart at home?’ one of the visitors asked the white delver. ‘Yes,’ was the reply. ‘Could you tell us where we could find him?’ Drawing himself up, and leaning on his spade, he said, ‘I am Dr. Stewart.’ Nothing was small in his eyes, if it had any relation to the chief end of his mission. His was the spirit of Gareth, who wrought all kind of service with the noble ease that graced the lowliest act in doing it, because it was done in Arthur’s kitchen, and for Arthur’s sake. The end ennobled the deed.

The plough has been a great educator in teaching the men to work. The women never plough, and they consider it a disgrace to milk a cow. But they build the huts with great skill and speed, while the men attend to the cattle.

It pained him to see a Kafir making an uneven furrow. He would throw off his coat and show him how to make it straight. He could not endure bungling work in any department. His practical thoroughness abhorred the leaving of a ragged edge. Major Malan, in recording a visit to Lovedale, says:

‘Dr. Stewart tells me that in early life he studied farming, and could never understand why till he came here. Now he finds his knowledge invaluable.

Nothing but the best management, and his knowledge of farming and unusual capacity for superintendence, could keep it going on its present scale.’

The Principal was a genuine friend of nature, and kept very close to it. It was a relief to him to escape from the works of man and delight himself with the patterns and colours of ‘the visible vesture of God.’ His were the eye and the heart of the naturalist and the poet. What God had thought worth making, he thought worthy of loving study. His sympathy with nature and early love of botany remained with him through life. Believing also that God has made the world double, he prized these scriptures of earth, because they afforded a rich and never-failing harvest of beautiful and instructive figures. The poet’s creed was his:

‘For all that meets the bodily sense I deem
Symbolical, one mighty alphabet
For infant minds, and we in this low world
Placed with our backs to bright reality,
That we may learn with one unwounded ken
The substance from its shadow.’

His pupils were thus taught to keep near God in nature and trace His footprints in the objects around them.

The savage looks on the world with the eyes of an ox. Though he can admire things made by man, he has no sense of nature, no appreciation of the wonders and beauties with which the world is stored. Even when converted, he often remains for some time blind to the glories of creation and dead to the pleasures they yield. In that state he cannot make much progress in knowledge, as it depends largely on curiosity and habits of observation. It was one of Stewart’s avowed aims to foster taste, imagination, and a sense of the beautiful. He thus hoped to foster in the rudest curiosity, observation, attention, and admiration, these instructresses of the opening mind. Dr. Mackay had a similar appreciation of the refining influence of a keen love of nature. In his From Far Formosa (pp. 145, 176, 209) he tells that after the spiritual birth of his converts came the birth-hour of the sense of the beautiful. It was as if cataract had been removed from their eyes. They then had an eye and an ear for God’s message in creation. Their faith in Christ touched to life their hitherto dormant senses. Even they could be taught that untidiness is unchristian, and that aesthetics is next to ethics.

The Lovedale grounds with their stately trees were an impressive object-lesson on the fruits of welldirected industry. The dale of the beautiful river Tyumie was a perfect wilderness when it was acquired by the mission. It is now one of the most beautiful spots in South Africa, a paradise won from the veldt, and a fitting symbol of the spiritual husbandry which aims at making the barren and desolate soil a very garden of the Lord. The pupil thus enters the Temple of Learning through the gate called Beautiful.

All the Lovedale boys have to do thirteen hours of manual labour every week, chiefly in agriculture, but also in tree-planting, road-making, gardening, etc. A gold medal is given for the best spade-work. The garden was meant to be an educational model. Part of the mission farm had 2000 acres, of which 400 were arable. It is called Domira, from the name of the Glasgow residence of Mr. John Stephen, Stewart’s brother-in-law, the donor of the land and for forty years a very generous supporter of the mission.

The girls were daily trained in all the ordinary house-wiferies. They also helped to keep the walks and grounds in good order. They had little gardens of their own, and prizes were given to those who kept them best. They were taught that they could not be Christians unless they were also workers and found delight in the exercise of their God-given powers. By all these means a fruitful love of labour was infused into the whole institution.

The mission thus sought to slope and smooth at every step the incline by which young Ethiopia might rise to a nobler destiny, the Principal luring them on and leading the way.

The Lovedale husbandman could claim fellowship with the Apostle who said, ‘And we beseech you, brethren . that ye study (make it a point of honour, or the height of your ambition) to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands as we commanded you’ (I Thess. iv. 10, 11).


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