‘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
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
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
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
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
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.