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The Life of James Stewart
Somgzada: The Man of Action


His Native Name - Energy - Promptitude - Thoroughness - Variety of Activities—A Day in the Office at Lovedale.

‘I am—I know—I ought—I can—I will.’—Augustjne’s Ladder of Character.

‘Be a whole man: do one thing at a time. ‘—Dr. Thomas Binney.

‘The word of action is stronger than the word of speech.’—’ AEquanimitas,’ by William Osler, M.D.

‘It is an incontrovertible truth that no man ever made an ill figure who understood his own talents, nor a good one who mistook them. ‘—Dean Swift.

‘Give me patience to labour at details as much as if they were the highest work. God is the Doer. ‘—Dr. Stewart's Journal.

IT is now the time, with as little repetition as possible, to sum up our impressions regarding the man and his work. His career can be understood only by those who study his marvellous activity and his implacable optimism.

His Native Name,—The Africans usually give a significant name to every white man among them. It may be a title of respect, or a nickname by which his appearance, manner, or gait, is very cleverly hit off, often with a touch of real humour. Their languages are rich in pictorial epithets. When Joseph Chamberlain visited them, their greeting was ‘Welcome, Moatlodj,’ that is—’ The man who makes crooked things straight.’ They called Cecil Rhodes—’ the Bull that separates the fighting bulls.’ Their favourite name for Stewart was Somgzada, which has been translated as—Long-strider; the Father of strides; he who is here, there, and everywhere; or the Ubiquitous, who finds you when you don’t expect him. The name well described his constant movement, and the ceaseless, tireless activity of this human dynamo. [The natives also called him ‘Tiger-step,’ to denote the energy of his movements, ‘Have you seen Condé?" some one asked Turenne at the Close of a battle, ‘I must have seen a dozen Condés,’ was the reply : ‘he multiplies himself.’]

Once his wagon broke down at a distance from home. On appealing to the natives for help, they asked his name, ‘Dr. Stewart,’ he replied. They made no response. He then said, ‘I am Somgzada.’ Their faces lighted up, and they gladly helped him. Somgzada is the name by which he will be known to children’s children.

His Energy.—Mind, body, and will were endowed with exuberant vigour which he had thoroughly developed and kept under command. The limitations which his chosen work imposed were frankly accepted, and he did not yearn for success in other spheres. ‘Whatever was eminently and grandly practical,’ writes a fellow-student, ‘that he followed,’ His was the blessedness of the man who had found his work and wanted nothing else. The poet thus voiced one of his deepest convictions:

‘We have an hour allotted thus,
We have a task appointed us,
Nor culture of the mind and heart
Shall be the Christian’s only part,
But he shall bend his will
To present duty stilL’

A lover of the concrete, he regarded action as the crown of knowledge, and till far on in life, he seemed almost proof against fatigue. All his powers were braced and refreshed by difficulty and opposition. To giant circumstance he opposed himself as a greater circumstance. As the science of success is the science of energetics, he did wonders in his own department. Energy and resolution were stamped upon all his features, for he looked as if he could face anything, and go through anything, and he rejoiced to dynamite his way through opposing barriers.

Promptitude.—In the dynamic of human affairs, power and promptitude are essential to success. But failure is certain if promptitude lapses into impetuosity or precipitation. ‘First weigh, then venture,’ was Moltke’s motto. ‘Be sure you are right, then go ahead,’ was the advice of another great man of action. Stewart was gifted with a sense of opportunity, and was quick in discerning and seizing what was likely to suit his purpose. He might have justly adopted as his motto the word ‘forthwith,’ which is found about eighty times in the New Testament He was impulsive after thinking, but not before it. It seemed as if a voice were always saying to him, ‘Do something, do it at once, do it with all thy might.’ ‘Postponed good deeds,’ he once wrote, ‘like rainbow hues, are vanishing haloes at the best.’ The natives at Lovedale were fined when they entered the office through the open window instead of the door. Stewart came along and jumped through the window, as he always took the shortest way to his work. The native in charge told him that he must pay the fine. After writing an hour at his desk, he jumped out through the window, and was fined again. ‘That,’ says the informant, ‘was Dr. Stewart.' Thucydides says that the Greeks had the power of thinking before they acted and of acting too. Stewart was like a Greek in his union of these two powers.

His promptitude, without fussiness and strain, had in it a military quality. Sometimes he thought that he should have been a soldier. ‘A soldier, to slay!’ a friend exclaimed. ‘Nay,’ was the reply, ‘but to prevent slaughter.’ Had he been a soldier, he would have been the Cornelius of his band, and have conquered as Alexander the Great did, ‘by not delaying.’ The Viking of the North Seas was strong in him.

Thoroughness in details was another feature of his work. La Bruyère’s motto, ‘The best in the least,’ was also his. The mission, he felt, deserved the best of everything. His quickness in lighting on weak spots amounted almost to a sixth sense, says one of his colleagues. Every stone in the building must be well and truly laid. His passion and genius for efficiency would not allow him to accept a second class work from any one, least of all from himself. His gospel of labour was nobler and healthier than Carlyle’s, and most of his rivets will hold.

His patience with endless details, however fagging and trivial, was astonishing in so impetuous a worker, whose heart was set on the highest spiritual results. It is just here that so many cultured men fail. With them the best is the enemy of the good. Believing that action is coarsened thought, they become martyrs of disgust, and are eager to escape from the dust of the actual, nursing their dignity, and so afraid of doing things imperfectly that they do nothing at all. A devout Jewish priest counted the pins and nails of the tabernacle worthy of his best, so in Stewart’s eyes, small things were clothed with an imputed dignity because they belonged to the Kingdom. His friends much desired that in his late years he had adopted the sacred principle of delegation,. and left details to others. But the habits which were a necessity in his earlier days when efficient help was scarce, clave to him unto the very end. His finger must be kept on the pulse of everything in Love-dale, and he grew more and more eager to work as the shadows were gathering. Wiser in this respect was another man of energy and action, who said that he had two rules; the first was to make sure that he could do his own work better than any one else could do it; and the second was, then to get other people to do it.

The variety of his activities surprises us. Preacher, Missionary, Doctor, Educationalist, Master-builder, Champion of the Natives, Farmer, Captain of Industries, Collector of Money, Statesman, daily Providence of some hundreds of natives, the Ruler of a small Kingdom, and that which came to him daily, the care of all his enterprises—so many labours and so great affairs—to read the bare list gives one a sense of fatigue. If ever a man was ‘by thronging duties pressed,’ and mobbed by details, the Principal of Lovedale was. With him to live was to serve, in the soldier’s phrase. And he bounded to his work and did it joyfully, like Mercury, the celestial messenger, with wings on both feet.

While in Africa, he toiled on in all weathers, forgetting the gospel of relaxation. He never took a real holiday, and could scarcely find time to spend Christmas with his family in the country. When he did so he took his work with him, and was often at it from morn till midnight. Most of his time on ship-board was spent in writing in the interests of the mission. By sea and land interrupted work was always awaiting his attention. Another Somgzada, Archbishop Temple, held that a very busy man must make many blunders, because he had not time enough for reflection.

‘One has only to turn up Parliamentary Blue Books, Synod Reports, Missionary Records, or even the public press of this and the home country to discover how wide was the range and catholic the character of Dr. Stewart’s interests and labours during a long and full life. Now we find him guiding the counsels of a Parliamentary Commission, then leading a Church Court through a stirring crisis; at times directing a missionary policy, and ever and anon championing some righteous cause. In all he is ever the same, strong, sane, fearless, wise.

‘It is safe to say that during the thirteen days he spent at Lovedale when about to pioneer the East African Mission, he did not sleep thirty hours. When the dawn was breaking you might still see a light in his room.’ For, like Caesar, he counted nothing done, so long as anything remained to be done. His work would have broken the back of an average man. Tireless energy like his was possible only to one who had a great capacity for affairs, and was living the life for which he had been formed. Stewart was fitted for, and fitted into, his work, as the ball of bone fits into its socket. Trained in self reliance and responsibility, he was the man of action the times required. The records of his work, like John Wesley’s, have an atmosphere of tremendous activity. And yet he was a very severe critic of his own work, and often upbraided himself because he had not done half enough! A sure sign of genius is a certain sacred dissatisfaction with its best creations

The ease-loving natives regarded his tireless activity as something supernatural. They had an uncanny feeling about his truly demonic energy, and even suspected, it is said, that he drew strength from these mysterious sources in which they half-believed, and which he disowned. They had, however, pleasure in the consciousness that all these strange powers were on their side.

The Rev. R. W. Barbour thus describes ‘the day’s work of a giant’ in the office at Lovedale:— ‘There are desks and papers enough lying about to justify its ordinary name, though to this might be added, among other appropriate designations, those of chemist’s shop and place of universal intrusion. For while there are bottles on one side and medical books on the other, the door at the end—it is a room at the corner of Dr. Stewart’s house—keeps constantly opening, and presents to the patient observer as lively and complete a succession of scenes from the life of Lovedale as ever did aperture in the best magic lantern. Before the day has begun it may be a refractory apprentice who does not see the beauty of restraint nor the use of evening classes, and comes to say the best he can for himself, and then hear what is certainly not the worst for him. Now it is a batch of examination papers from one of the masters by which you may gather how some of the head. work is proceeding. Next it is some one from the farm to say how the drought is telling upon this year’s crop, and consult as to what is to be done to make out the necessary supplies. Then there arc telegrams, letters, and messages innumerable from everywhere and about everything. In fine, from District Magistrate to a Red Kafir, everything in the shape of inquiry, appeal, complaint, objection, and emergency comes to the office. The interruption is quite unbroken. In the afternoon, it is a schoolboy who has brought his companion in with a dislocated wrist that wants setting and bandaging after a too rapid descent from a tree; or it is an editor in search of information or supervision for a clamant article. When the lamps are lit you expect peace. If so, you must seek it elsewhere, for there is a most miscellaneous and unpredictable programme for the evening before the occupant or occupants of that office. There is a deputation of lads down from the Institution to make serious representation in the matter of "smoked mealies" said to have been had at supper. There are the books of the various work departments brought down here at the close of each day. There is a large and complicated correspondence to keep up. In fact, the cases and interests, the needs and necessities, calls and responsibilities of a community of somewhere about five hundred persons with all their relations and bearings, their conditions and prospects, resort in the last issue to this little spot of ground. After seeing a little of the systematic invasion which goes on night and day, one thinks the name of "sanctum" sometimes applied to places such as this strangely out of place. "Profanum" might be more in keeping.’

In days to come Stewart will be Somgzada in South Africa, the man who is everywhere in things pertaining to the elevation of the natives.


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