Remarkable People

ID #5272

David Livingstone 2 Early Years.

David Livingstone was born into a family descended from protestant Highlanders known as Clan MacLea. Born to Neil Livingstone (1788–1856) and his wife Agnes (1782–1865), David was employed in the cotton mill of H Monteith. At age 10 David and his brother John worked 12-hour days as "piecers," tying broken cotton threads on the spinning machines. The mill offered its workers schooling of which David took advantage.

Livingstone's father Neil was a Sunday-school teacher and teetotaller who handed out Christian tracts on his travels as a door to door salesman, and who read books on theology and missionary enterprises. This rubbed off on David, who became an avid reader but also scoured the countryside for animal, plant and geological specimens. Neil Livingstone feared that science would undermine his Christian beliefs and attempted to force David to only read theology. However David's interest in nature led him to investigate the relationship between religion and science. When he read Philosophy of a Future State by Thomas Dick in 1832, he found the rationale needed to reconcile the two.

Other influences were Thomas Burke, an evangelist and David Hogg, his Sunday-school teacher. At nineteen David and his father left the Church of Scotland for the Congregational church where they were influenced by Ralph Wardlaw who denied predestinatarian limitations on salvation. Influenced by American revivalist teachings, Livingstone's reading of the missionary Karl Gützlaff's "Appeal to the Churches of Britain and America on behalf of China" enabled him to persuade his father that medical study could advance religious ends.

Livingstone's experience in Montieth's cotton mill was also important. The work was monotonous but gave him persistence, endurance, and a natural empathy with all who labour, as expressed in the Robbie Burns song: "When man to man, the world o'er / Shall brothers be for a' that" that he used to hum

Livingstone attended the village school along with other mill children but his family’s commitment to study reinforced his education. After reading Gutzlaff's appeal for medical missionaries for China, he began saving money and in 1836 entered Anderson's College in Glasgow and attended Greek and theology lectures at the University of Glasgow. In addition, he attended divinity lectures by Wardlaw, a leader of an anti-slavery campaign in the city. Shortly afterwards he applied to join the London Missionary Society (LMS) and was accepted into missionary training. He continued his medical studies in London and Essex. Despite his impressive personality, he was a poor preacher.

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:23
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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