David Livingstone, missionary and African explorer, colonial theoretician and prophet, was one of the most remarkable...



David Livingstone, missionary and African explorer, colonial theoretician and prophet, was one of the most remarkable success stories of Victorian England. Beginning as a child menial in the Blantyre Cotton Mills, Livingstone became a national hero, a great evangelist for British capitalism and entrepreneurship. The trans-African treks that led to the discovery of Lake Nyassa, Victoria Falls and the navigation of the Zambesi ""opened"" the African vista to a generation of English missionaries, traders and colonizers; the unique blend of Christ and commerce which he offered as a balm to the conscience of ""godly industrialists"" became, after his death, the rationale for Britain's African Empire. To date Livingstone's biographers (mainly clergymen) have focused on his religious vocation, thus missing most of the paradoxes of this rash, ruthless and complex man. Jeal, who is as interested in ""what he came to represent"" in the Victorian psyche as he is in Livinstone's actual accomplishments, has managed to produce a major biography of both the man and the legend he ill-fitted. Jeal shows Livingstone for what he was: a disastrous failure as a conventional missionary, inordinately ambitious, incapable of sharing leadership, guilty of gross duplicity in his dealings with The London Missionary Society, an insensitive husband and father, a man less interested in the gospel than in exploration for the sheer lust of it. Livingstone understood instinctively that only a society in disintegration would prove responsive to alien religion; his ""rash expansionist ideas"" were developed with the deliberate intent of destroying African tribalism, itself the greatest obstacle to the penetration of Christianity. At the same time, unlike his fellow missionaries Livingstone had an anthropological turn of mind and a genuine appreciation of native culture and institutions -- he seemed to feel at home only in Africa where he spent some 30 years. An achievement of historical insight and tempered judgment -- it should be the standard biography for a long time to come.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1973

ISBN: 0300091028

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1973