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The Life of James Stewart
The Closing Years, 1899 - 1905


The Welcome Home—The Crisis in the Free Church of Scotland—A Visit to Lovedale—His Home-going—The Funeral—James Stewart and Cecil Rhodes—The Meeting of Native Delegates at the Grave—The Native College— The Fulfilment of the Dream of his Youth.

‘Let the night come before we praise the day. ‘—Old Proverb.

‘Waiting as a soldier on parade, in preparation for prompt obedience, feeling no desire to go, but ready. ‘—Lord Salisbury on Gladstone.

So little done, so much to do.’—Rhodes’s death-bed Commentary on his Career.

Moriamur in simplicitate nostra’ (Let us die in our simplicity).—The Motto of the Maccabees.

AFTER his moderatorship, Stewart returned to Lovedale in 1899, and came back to Scotland in 1900. In May of that year he presided at the opening of the General Assembly. After another visit to Lovedale in 1901, he returned to Edinburgh in 1902, to deliver the Duff lectures on missions, which were published in 1903, under the title of Dawn in the Dark Continent.

In 1903 he made a second visit to America, that he might examine all the new methods in its Negro Colleges.

He had previously been examined by two physicians in Edinburgh, who reported that his heart had been weakened by overstrain, and urged him to give up all work except the general superintendence of the mission. But ‘the natural and becoming indolence of age’ had no attractions for him. To him the want of occupation was not rest. In this he was like Livingstone, who tells us in his Last Journals that he was always ill when idle. With failing strength but never-failing will, he kept to his post.

Returning to Lovedale in April 1904, he received a right royal welcome from the staff, the pupils, and the apprentices, who lined the long avenue leading to his house. ‘He had come back to stay,’ he said— this from the Christian Express. ‘He seemed bright and well, his voice clear and strong, as he stood up to address all those who gathered to welcome him back again to his own kingdom. To the students his message was the same unchanging theme—Righteousness and hard work would lift them up as a race, and nothing else would.’

‘His first act on returning was eminently characteristic of the man. Hearing that a Presbytery meeting was being held that very afternoon at Macfarlan, within a couple of hours of his arrival in Lovedale, he was driving as fast as good horses would take him, along the Tyumie road. And so, at first sight, it seemed as if Dr. Stewart had returned in the fulness of vigour and strength. After a time it was evident that this was not so. The old fires still burned clear and bright, lighting up his eyes with their glow and warmth; but the figure was a little more bent, the step a little slower, his manner more gentle. Now and again he was seen to rest by the wayside; he had even been found sitting on a mound by one who told the tale. In Africa it is not a wonderful sight to find one sitting waiting, but it was passing strange for the ever active head of Lovedale to rest on any errand of his. And men knew that his threescore years and ten, with all their fulness of service, and wealth of devotion to duty, had not left him untouched in their passing.’

In July 1904 the First General Missionary Conference in Africa was held at Johannesburg. All the Protestant missions were represented. Dr. Stewart was unanimously chosen President, and conducted the meetings to the entire satisfaction of all the members. He had then several interviews with Lord Milner, and obtained his support for the cause of the Higher Education of the Natives.

In November 1904 he gave his evidence before the Native Affairs Commission in Cape Town. His mind then seemed as active as ever, and he displayed very great ability in setting forth his plans, and meeting all sorts of objections.

He also then interviewed the Governor and the other ministers of State about the decision of the House of Lords in the Scottish Church Case. He then received their promise that they would not allow Lovedale to pass into the possession of the minority. The final decision in such a case lay with the Cape Government. The Governor communicated his decision to the Home Government.

In January 1905 he was again in Cape Town in the interests of Education and the natives. That was his last journey from home. His friends believed that it greatly weakened him. It was then less than a year before his death, and the effort was a remarkable triumph of the soul over the body.

It must be sorrowfully recorded that his last years were darkened by three very sore disappointments - Ethiopianism, the Mzimba Case, and the Church Crisis in Scotland. The first and second of these trials have been described in Chapter xxvii. Mzimba was one of the most promising, trusted, and favoured of the Lovedale pupils. His secession and the accompanying circumstances gave Stewart a keen sense of bereavement.

Wave pressed upon wave and the billows went over his soul. Before the Mzimba trouble had passed away, a fresh catastrophe faced him. The decision of the House of Lords in the case of the Free Church versus the United Free Church of Scotland fell upon Lovedale as a bolt out of the blue. [In May 1905 I addressed a native congregation not far from Lovedale. At the close a stalwart Kafir came striding up and asked me through the interpreter what I thought of the Twenty-four. That was their name for the small minority in the General Assembly who had voted against union. The native newspapers were then rousing into activity the latent sympathies with Ethiopianism and all other forces of insubordination, and fostering the hope that the natives might gain possession of the properties and endowments at Lovedale and elsewhere.] The Legal Free Church claimed everything belonging to Lovedale. The surprising events in the Home Church created anxiety about the future of the mission. A large sum had been collected for extensions, but an arresting hand was at once laid upon all the cherished plans. Stewart had to contemplate the possibility of the Legal Free Church appropriating all the fruits of forty years’ unceasing efforts, though they had not one missionary, and could not possibly carry on the mission. A friend writes: ‘The burden of this last sorrow hastened the end. Though he lived to have the burden lightened, and to feel assured that the worst he anticipated could not happen, Dr. Stewart’s splendid physique had been overstrained, and signs of heart-failure began to appear.’

In 1905 I spent three days with him at Lovedale, six months before his last call came to him. [I was soon reminded of the extent of Lovedale. Towards evening I said to Mrs. Stewart, ‘I will take a walk round the buildings and grounds.’ ‘You cannot do that before dark,’ she replied, ‘but I will get the horses inspanned and drive you round.’ ] Dr. Stewart had then in his body the ‘secret token’ that the King was about to send for him. He knew that he must die soon and that he might die any day. If it were the will of God, he would have wished five years more, that he might set in order the things that were wanting at Lovedale, and see the Native College established. About this scheme he was hopeful, as several of the leaders in that movement had privately intimated their intentions and wishes, but nothing must be said about it in the meantime. For the sake of the natives he hoped that every department of his work might be preserved. His spirit was saintly and chastened, and he bore himself patiently and bravely. The bitter experiences in recent years had left in him no trace of bitterness, but his strenuous life had deepened the thought-lines on his strong face, and his frame had lost a little of its palm-like uprightness. His convictions about disputed matters were as strong as ever, but he did not say a hard word against anybody. Student days and many of his experiences were very genially recalled, but no word that could suggest self-praise escaped his lips.

Like John Knox, be could ‘interlace merriness with earnest matters,’ for he believed in heart-easing mirth. [He mentioned that a few weeks ago there had been a fire in one of the buildings, and he had rushed out to help in extinguishing it. ‘This did me harm,’ he said, ‘but I had a "nicht wi’ Burns"—a Scottish phrase for an evening’s entertainment with the songs of Burns. Fun with him was the holiday of the mind, and practically the only holiday he ever took since his student days. He could laugh tears.] Often the fine smile of his youthful days lighted up his face.

Though he had to keep in bed till noon, several hours daily were spent in the office. Appeals from family and friends could not avail: it was best, he said, that he should keep at his post to the end. Though then always weary in the work, he was never weary of it. He believed that the labour we delight in physics pain, and his body, as a well-trained slave, had learned to obey at once the behests of the masterful will. But the bow so long unslackened had almost lost its spring.

He took a very humble view of his work, but said emphatically that if he had life to begin over again, he would not wish to spend his energies in another way or sphere. His tones as well as his words showed how deeply he was touched by the pathos of parting. The consolations of Jesus Christ were equal to all his needs.

Heedless of my many protests, he must gather together all his staff in the evening, preside, and give words of welcome to his fellow-student. His was the fine, self-sacrificing, old-world courtesy of the Highland chieftain, who must rise from his death-bed to show hospitality to his guest. He must stand up and speak, although he had to lean hard on the back of his chair, while his pale face and quick breathing revealed the great effort he was making. The occasion had all the sacredness which belongs to last things. It was his last address to a company.

After that evening, he left his bedroom only twice, but he did not leave off his work till within a fortnight of his home-going, when his hand refused to hold the pen.

His taper burnt clear to the close. Surrounded by his wife and children, he departed this life on the evening of December 21, 1905, in his seventy-fifth year. Then was fulfilled his favourite text—’ It shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.’

The funeral was on Christmas Day. All races and denominations in South Africa were represented in the throng. The text was from 2 Samuel iii. 38, ‘Know ye not there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?’

A vast procession of men and women on foot, with a long line of vehicles and horsemen following the bier, wended their way through the valley of the Tyumie, and up the slopes of Sandili’s Kop, a rocky height about a mile and a half east of Lovedale, and facing the College. The far-extending buildings of Lovedale are visible from the grave. The South African Scot thus describes the burial: ‘The scene at Sandili’s Kop on Christmas Day was a fitting close to the career of a great leader and missionary. The grave was carved out of solid rock, and can be seen from any point of the valley where Lovedale is situated. Round the grave were gathered representatives of the United Free Church of Scotland, the South African Presbyterian Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Church of England, the Wesleyan, the Congregational, and the Baptist Churches. Though a Presbyterian by training and Conviction, Dr. Stewart belonged to the Church Catholic, and all the Churches claimed him as their own. The great gathering of black and white, many different races and nationalities, stood in serried ranks around the Kop. The Rev. J. Lennox, his senior missionary assistant, spoke briefly and eloquently of his magnificent powers of mind and heart, and of his complete devotion to the well-being of the natives of South Africa. The hymn, "O Love that wilt not let me go," was sung. Then a Kafir hymn and a prayer in Kafir, in which it was said that God had "dried up the fountain from which they were accustomed to drink." When the grave was closed, it was covered with flowers sent by representative men and women from all parts of South Africa. With a feeling of deep sadness that the earthly career of a great and good man had closed, and with a deep assurance that the life he lived will tell on the history of the country for generations, the crowd slowly dispersed.’

At the close of the service, they sang a hymn which Dr. Stewart often used—’ Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.’ It was thus that devout men carried him to his grave and made great lamentation over him. The only inscription on the grave is ‘James Stewart, Missionary.’

There is a close parallel between the burial of James Stewart and that of Cecil Rhodes. Both the tombs are on a hill-top, both were blasted out of the solid rock, and both are near the scene of great achievements. We find the explanation of this similarity, not in the notion of imitation, but in the fact that these men, or their friends, were in similar circumstances and swayed by similar motives. [Dr. Stewart expressed no wish whatever about his grave. Sandili’s Kop was chosen by Mrs. Stewart with the approbation of the Lovedale staff. Some suggested the Matoppo where Rhodes was buried, and which he had set apart as a South African Waihalla, or open-air Westminster Abbey, the resting-place of those who had served their country nobly. Rhodes had a high appreciation of Stewart’s aims. In his interview with General Booth, he said: ‘Ah, General, you are right, you have the better of me after all. I am trying to make new countries, you are making new men.’ ‘That is my dream—all English,’ said Rhodes, sweeping with his hand the map from the Cape to the Zambesi.] The traveller at Rhodes’s grave, amid the fantastic castled crags of the Matoppo Hills, looks down on the site of the historic meeting of Rhodes with the Matabele Indunas. With supreme bravery he there took his life in his hand, went unarmed and unescorted into the stronghold of his enemies, and brought to a close the second Matabele war. As he returned he said that the scene of that day was ‘one of those things that make life worth living.’ It was natural that he should desire to be buried near that spot. Lovedale was to James Stewart at least all that the Matoppo Hills were to Cecil Rhodes. Both were great dreamers and realisers of dreams, though with different ideals both devoted their lives to the land of their adoption; both gratified the natives by choosing a grave among them; both were far-seeing, imaginative, and self-sacrificing imperialists who had a warm mutual regard; both were mourned by natives and whites alike; and it is fitting that the dust of each should repose near the scene of his noblest actions. The visitor at either grave may remember the words, ‘If you wish a monument, look around.’ Surveying Lovedale from Sandili’s Kop, the visitor may say, ‘That is Dr. Stewart’s monument.’ His noblest monument is in the hearts and careers of those to whom he devoted all his powers.

A coloured ex-pupil of Lovedale wrote: ‘It seems to me that the Doctor has honoured us coloured people by choosing that spot in the veldt for his last resting-place, not among the high and honoured, but far away, as if to have his rest more perfect, and make his grave free for us all to visit.’

On the 28th of December, exactly a week after his death, one hundred and thirty-two delegates, representatives of one hundred and fifty thousand natives, who owe all they are to missionaries, held a memorial service at Dr. Stewart’s grave, in connection with the ‘Lovedale Native Convention.' [On his death-bed Stewart had made all the arrangements for the comfort of the delegates.] They had come together to consider the establishment of an Inter-State Colonial College for the higher education of the natives of South Africa. Lovedale was the right trysting-place for them, for its success had inspired the idea of a native central college. They unanimously resolved to urge the States to establish such a college, and to establish it at Lovedale, and they agreed to raise a sum of money for its support. [It has since been stated that the natives are likely to raise $50,000 for this object. When he began in 1866, the Christian education of the natives was considered by many an enterprise of a dangerous and Utopian character.] To live thus in the hearts of men is not to die. One of the resolutions adopted at the Native Conference was: ‘That your petitioners further desire to express their strong conviction that it is essential to the success of the proposed college that these missions, to whose efforts in the past the natives owe all the education they are now receiving, should be represented on the governing body of the college.’ This was a remarkable climax to a remarkable career.

‘When the biography of your late husband is written,’ writes Mr. E. B. Sargant, Resident Commissioner of Basutoland, ‘no one who reads it can fail to be struck with the wonderful manner in which his work began, as it were, a new life, with the meeting of that Convention, a few days after his death.’

The grand vision of his youth and of his whole life had not been a mocking mirage. For he was not permitted to see death till he had almost seen the realisation of his boldest dreams. He was thus felix opportunitate mortis, favoured in the moment and manner of death. Very rarely in history has any ‘great pioneer had such a remarkable success. Like the runner in classic story, he had fallen, but fallen with his outstretched hand on the goal. [His dreams were very bold, for he had hoped that even Livingstonia would be in alliance with the Native College.]

So far as the visible part of his life is concerned, we have no need to raise over his grave the pagan symbol of a broken, uncompleted pillar. The fitting monument for him is a column carried up to its full height and crowned with its capital.

Enlarger of the Kingdom (Melirer des Reiches) is a title of the highest honour, which the Germans give only to a very few of their greatest warriors and statesmen. It can be given to ‘James Stewart, Missionary.’


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