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The Life of James Stewart
On the Way

FROM GLASGOW TO CAPE TOWN, July—November 1861.

A Journal Intirne—At Sea—In Cape Town—Discouragements—Self-examination—Preaching - Determination.

‘I have no other fear in the world but that I may not know my whole duty or fail to do it. ‘—Epitaph on a Lady’s Tomb.

‘He goes farthest who does not know how far he means to go.’ —African Proverb.

‘Prudence ‘eans to the other side,
But deeds condemned by Prudence oft have sped.’
—Lines affixed by Dr. Stewart to the first page of his Journal.

‘Travel in the younger sort is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. ‘—Bacon.

STEWART left a large and carefully written Journal, which is a mirror of his soul, between 1861 and 1863. The greater part of the information in this and the three following chapters has been gleaned from this Journal Intime, in which he seems to have collected materials for a book on Africa and its missions.

I am also indebted to Dr. Stewart’s Dawn in the Dark Continent; Livingstonia, its Origin; and four Articles in the Sunday Magazine of 1874 and 1875 on ‘Recollections of Dr. Livingstone and the Zambesi’; The Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, by David and Charles Livingstone; and Dr. Blaikie’s Personal Life of Livingstone.

On 6th July, i86r, Mrs. Livingstone and James Stewart sailed from Southampton in the Royal Mail Steamer Celt.

He writes: ‘What shall be the result of this long journey I know not. I feel already the weight of the many difficulties that lie before me, and yet I hardly feel as if all this will go for nought. The Lord alone knoweth. Let me be less anxious about success than about being faithful. I will commit my way to Him. He will bring it to pass in His own time. I will stay myself on God, for in a journey like this there cannot be any other security, any other source of success.’

‘Friday,July 12.

‘O God, give Thou the wisdom—the guidance I need. Thou hast led so far, lead me the rest of the way, and let such work be done as shall be to the praise of Thy name and Thy grace, and such as shall make known also Thy purposes of grace and mercy to men on earth.’

‘July 18.

‘Yesterday I began to see that if my spiritual life is to be altered in any way for the better, I must be a "Methodist" in my religion: I must observe rule and method. I must watch and pray. I must read at stated times, and of a certain quality.’

‘July 26.

‘To-day we crossed the line—that momentous passage in all sea-voyages. Shall I live to cross it again and again, to run to and fro on my Master’s work. Spare me, 0 God, for this if it be Thy will. Give me days to do Thy work on earth—worthless, wild, and wayward though I be. . . . This evening we commenced worship in the aft end of the saloon. It is true we had to break up a card party to get at it, even though it was half-past nine. It has been a cause of satisfaction to most that this step has been taken. It required a good deal of careful survey of the ground previously. . . . I discovered among the many papers at the end of my Bible a motto in my mother’s handwriting. Her affection to me was strong as death. Lest that precious little fragment should ever be lost, let me here transcribe it:

"Thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life."’

‘August 2.

‘The conversation at the upper end of the table still continues to be the most wonderful prattle that grown men with beards can indulge in. It is most wearisome indeed to listen to.’

Prayers were read on the morning of Sunday, and Mr. Stewart had a service with the sailors in the forecastle. He prepared for these services very carefully. On 13th August, 1861, he reached Cape Town. The following is the entry in his Journal for that day

‘August 13

‘This should be a red-letter day. To-day I first sighted African land—the probable, or at least the possible, future land of my labours.’

During this voyage he read books of travel, theology, and general literature. He also studied missions, especially those of the Moravians, and was attracted by the idea of a self-supporting mission. He had an eager eye for everything that might help him in mission-work. Now and again he wrote perdidi diem and dies non.

Mrs. Livingstone and Mr. Stewart had to wait fully three months in Cape Town before they could arrange for their voyage to Durban. These three months were in many ways extremely trying to him, for they brought many bitter experiences. He kept himself occupied in many ways. He seems to have been almost daily at the Dispensary and the Hospitals, increasing and using his medical knowledge. One of his amusements was to practise at the shooting-range. His prophetic spirit whispered to him that he would need skill as a marksman. He preached in all the Protestant churches, except the Episcopal, and took part in many public meetings. His services and addresses were carefully prepared and often written in full. He thus refers to them:— ‘In future put less matter in my sermons and come sooner to the practical application. Let there be less thought and more feeling, more home-thrusts to the conscience.’


‘The criticism of the Mail is exceedingly friendly, but would to God it were intellectual and spiritual fervour instead of "intellectual fervour" alone. But my motive is pure and there I must leave the matter. I would rather have one conversion than any amount of praise, even of the most public kind. But if I cannot do all things, I can at least do my best.’

‘September 29.

‘This evening I preached to a not very large congregation. I was very thoroughly awake myself but at present I am in doubt as to the effect produced. The attention was very marked and the silence considerable. O that God would bless the word. May I serve Him, soul and body.’

On leaving Cape Town he wrote: ‘I have also gained some confidence in myself, and some experience in the way of speaking, and also some experience medically, and some knowledge of my own folly and weakness. There have been drawbacks. I might have done very much more, if I had lived more carefully, if I had improved my time more conscientiously.’

Like Livingstone, he refreshed himself by the study of Botany and Natural History. He often studied the plants in the Gardens and explained them to Mrs. Livingstone. ‘I went, according to my wont when bothered, to the Botanic Gardens to try the cooling effect of a little Botany. I am glad I have this study to take to at times.’

He was astonished to find in the educational room of the Library a copy of his Botanical Diagrams. ‘What would my good mother have said, had she known that these would travel to the Cape before me.’

Memories of home often rushed in upon him. ‘This is the memorable 20th of August. What memories and associations cluster round the day. O my mother, had I better known the priceless value of that affection, how different it might have been. The 20th of August last year too. Does it not seem as if God so far were looking favourably on the enterprise. With what fear and doubting and with how little knowledge of the way was I then groping for light. Perhaps another year will have dispelled much of the present darkness and shown things in a clearer light.’

In Cape Town all sorts of discouragements assailed him at once. His friends thought that he was likely to die soon of consumption, and his figure and complexion were then fitted to suggest such a danger. ‘To-day Mrs. L. spoke of the opinion of some of my friends in Edinburgh, who thought I should die of consumption before I get back. I hope, however, I shall live to return to Scotland.’

‘About myself I learned that the opinion of Cape Town is that my health will not stand the work I have undertaken. . . . Kirk had heard before he came ashore of "Mr. Stewart, who was tall and slight and with hollow cheeks," but what an excellent preacher! I get my share of public notice.’

A brig had been hired to convey from Durban a mission party to Bishop Mackenzie’s Universities’ Mission on the Shire, and it had been arranged that Mrs. Livingstone and Stewart should get a passage along with them. Very great efforts were made to prevent Stewart from reaching the Zambesi. He was assured that he could not gain entrance to Zambesiland, and he was told that Livingstone would not welcome or help him. The Bishop of Cape Town urged these views and offered him a free passage to England. Efforts were made to persuade Mrs. Livingstone to separate from Stewart, and to proceed to the Zambesi with the Episcopal party; but she declared she would not go one step unless he accompanied her. He writes: ‘Mrs. Livingstone spoke in a way not to be mistaken—assuring L— that if I did not go on, she would not stir from Cape Town. Here she stood bravely by me. I will remember her words and how she came to the rescue.’

But for her resolution, he should probably have been stranded at Cape Town. The Episcopalians did not wish him to reach the Zambesi, as they thought that priority of occupation gave them a right to the whole of Zambesiland, which within a few months they were to abandon. Stewart had then his first experience of that amazing arrogance which many churchmen mistake for catholicity. The Portuguese Consul in Cape Town spread a rumour that he was a hypocritical trader in the guise of a missionary, and that he had vast quantities of beads which he wished to sell among the natives. This monstrous lie found favour in some quarters, though he was not aware of its existence till he reached Durban. Others further injured his reputation by circulating scandalous stories about him.

His financial experiences when laying in his stores were also very unhappy, and suggested the following entry in his Journal: ‘Let me try every day to be on my guard, to take, though it is against my nature sadly, every man for a rogue till I find him an honest man. Remember also that more is gained in this world by dexterity than by strength.’

The endless delays were wearing out his spirit, and his money was melting away. The sorest trial of all was the fact that from the time he left Scotland till he reached Livingstone, not one single individual gave him the slightest encouragement. Even the friends of missions thought that his quest could bring only failure and disaster. One esteemed friend frankly declared that he ‘would have nothing to do with such a scheme,’ and that the whole thing ‘was a matter of moonshine.’ Mrs. Livingstone agreed with them in thinking that the obstacles were insuperable, and that he should abandon the attempt. Livingstone was the first man who gave him hearty encouragement, though the friends in Cape Town had filled his mind with fears about Livingstone’s attitude to him.

Is it possible that any pioneer missionary has ever had greater discouragements than these? He dived into his own heart and thoroughly examined his motives; he faced all the facts; he devoted himself afresh to the work, and resolved to go forward without hesitation. His Christian heroism was sublime, and his Journal and his actions reveal the man, his intense struggles and his victories. We turn again to his Journal: ‘I do not see how an entrance is to be made into the interior. I do not see where the door is to be opened. And yet at this time last year, surely the prospects of the missions were black enough. No man stood by me. And oh! these miserable weeks. And yet I must confess that it is by faith only that I can see my way even now. What a whole host of difficulties lie in the way! "Hell’s empire vast and grim" is well defended by all manner of outpost and fortified positions.

‘In talking with Mrs. Livingstone I said that even to myself my life is an enigma. I am not such a fool surely as to throw away, or to have already done so, chances which may never occur again. I might have been comfortably settled by this time with a snug income and regular work befitting my taste and agreeing with me. And yet how difficult is my position! What difficulties I am about to encounter, what disgusts to become acquainted with, what disappointments to meet. I cannot say anything till I have seen further into the scheme. Meantime let me go on in faith. If I had not very much of this I could not go on. I feel safe in the path until my work in it is done. I have a firm belief in the guiding providence of God.

‘In talk with Mr. —, I find the very same wise, significant look, "We know, we would, etc.," which is intended to signify that my errand is a wild goose chase, that the results are too far distant, that we shall all be dead men before any fruit appears, and that there is little to be expected, even after fifteen or twenty years’ work. [His feelings were like those of his friend General Gordon when on the White Nile. He thought that the storks in the islands were laughing at and mocking him, as if highly amused at the idea of any body hoping to do good at Gondokoro.] Let me do this work as for Christ, let me do it with all my might. So help by the Spirit of grace and wisdom, my great Master, my blessed Saviour, Lord Jesus. What is there I cannot do if Thou wilt help me and give me grace to be faithful? In God’s strength I will go humbly on, resolved to succeed or to lose all in the attempt.

‘But let me not grumble. It is all the better that I rise above men and know no master save one, Jesus Christ. Let me strive and watch till I awake satisfied with His likeness. To-day I have been feeling the isolation and loneliness of my position very much. As I sat drawing, I was startled at my own audacity. What! you, J. S., to move the whole Free Church or even the whole of Presbyterian Scotland to found a mission in Central Africa, having for its object the enlightenment of a great part of the east of the Continent! I have been, and am at this moment, obliged to fall back on my primary supports. I need to look at my purpose in all its greatness to obtain the necessary standing. My position is this. The country is undeveloped; I am waiting here for an opportunity of proceeding, and wait long. Delay is sickening. It seems as if there were no need. Why not wait till the country is developed? Against this let me place the fact that if once the boundaries are extended, they will be filled up. it must be done by some man. I mean the old frontiers must be extended. If it is to be my lot—and it seems to be very clearly—let me take my work like a man. Let me do it though I die. To-day I have been obliged to fall back on some strong and never-failing aid. This evening I had to seek a verse wherewith to fortify myself. I found it. "Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass." When I read a little and pray, I receive new strength, and the burden becomes perceptibly lighter. Let me not forget this, but often practise it, for, J. S., you will yet have great need.

‘But is there not some very considerable advantage in thus feeling myself charged with the whole responsibility of this stupendous piece of work? Aye, surely. If I had not many times felt that on my own shoulders I carried the fate and fortunes of a possible mission, I should not have been here today. God give me strength and power for all my work, whatever that may be.’

Writing of many discouragements, he says: ‘If my aim and purpose were sustained by an earthly motive, or were it for an earthly master, long since should my purpose have failed. But I look higher, to the wants of a great proportion of the race and to the will of Christ. . . . It seems that some appalling charges are about to be brought against me. I went to bed as one stunned and confounded. . . . I feel still as if some strange nightmare were Oppressing me. . . . But the conclusion to which I have come is this - I must do my work without minding what any One says. I shall let them all alone. I am Sufficient in myself. . . . The best thing for me to do is to go on calling no man master. My trust must be in the fact that, so far as I can perceive, I am in the way of duty, and that my life is worth only so much as it is worth to the cause. I may therefore, and ought indeed to school myself to become perfectly without fear, be as cool in the surging bar of the Kongoni, as if I were in my bed here or in Grove Street, Edinburgh. Let me seek after this to face death as a likely thing every day, and fear will depart. I cannot say that even as it is I am much troubled. Still let me ever drill myself to that—if I must part with life, good and well. Its fever will be over. I will then enter into rest, which I have not known on earth, though I have often longed for it. . . . But it is enough for me that I look forward to the rest I shall find when my soul is received by God my Father into the peace and purity of the other life. If I can but find when I enter His presence at the moment of departure from this life, that all my sins are eternally forgotten by Him, that He receives me as a son returned to His father from his wanderings in the sin and folly of Time to be eternally with Him, never once to offend or grieve Him, always to serve Him as I wish to serve Him, but cannot by reason of the evil that lives within me. I have not for long felt more willingness to leave life whenever He shall call me. No doubt some of this is due to weariness and depression, but not all. Oh, surely heaven will be rest indeed when I read in my Father’s face the signs of full and perfect forgiveness, and am sure that He will never cast me off, when He receives me as a son whom He will keep for ever in the light of His presence. Give me strength and grace to be faithful.’

To one of his fellow-clubmen he wrote, ‘I got your letter before I left Cape Town. Like a draught of water from some cool fountain hidden in the shadow of a great rock, to the wearied traveller who has been toiling through burning sands and under a blazing sun, was that draught of old friendship to my soul.’

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