Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Boy wonder

What's up, Doc?
There are many extraordinary and inspiring stories about Dr David Livingstone. Here’s one that has nothing to do with Africa or exploration: the story of his childhood.   

Livingstone was born in the small industrial town of Blantyre, near Glasgow, two hundred years ago today. His family was pious and poor, seven of them living together in a single-room factory tenement. By the age of ten, David was working in the local mill, 6am till 8pm, six days a week. His sole day off was Sunday, much of which was spent at chapel.

Few children who endured such harsh upbringings at that time ever broke free from their lives of drudgery. Barely one in ten learned to read. Many were left bow-legged and broken by the long days spent clambering over and under dangerous machinery.

But even at an early age David Livingstone showed himself to be special. After clocking off from his gruelling 14-hour shift each night, he would study for a further two hours at the mill school. Back at home he then continued his reading till midnight. He studied Latin, theology, botany and maths. He never played. He even read at work, balancing his textbooks on the loom and earning the mockery of his fellow child-workers for his pains.

But it paid off. By his mid-twenties, the poor boy from Blantyre who would one day walk across Africa was studying medicine at Glasgow, working during his vacations to pay for classes. Training with the London Missionary Society followed. In November 1840, aged 27, he qualified as a physician. A few weeks later Dr Livingstone was ordained as a protestant minister in London.

If he had died that day, if he had never gone to Africa, Livingstone’s accomplishments would have still been mind-boggling. The chances of a working-class factory lad becoming a professional missionary-doctor in the mid-nineteenth century were virtually nil. Historian Tim Jeal calls his achievement “grotesquely improbable”. Put simply, David Livingstone was a boy wonder. “Sometimes,” Jeal writes, “it is hard not to be chilled by his resilience and almost inhuman perseverance.”

* Two biographies worth a read - Tim Jeal’s  “Livingstone” and Andrew Ross’s “David Livingstone”

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating and inspiring episodes - These should shine out from the mists of time like lights to guide us through the fog of our present day lives. I'm really surprised to see no comments on these stories you've researched - but I hope others have discovered these articles - reading them I'm sure they cannot fail to be inspired and reinforced in their own lives.