Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Henry Stanley's Life of Idealism and Self-Sacrifice

I have recently become infatuated with the story of Henry Morton Stanley, the reporter who searched the heart of Africa and found the long-lost African missionary David Livingstone. Upon finding Livingstone on November 10, 1871, Stanley allegedly uttered the immortal words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

I've written on Henry Stanley before, and I am currently reading everything Stanley wrote and every book I can get my hands on that has been written about him

One of the things that strikes me about Henry Stanley is his willingness to live a sacrificial and idealistic life, laying aside temporal pleasures for what he believed to be a greater good. Stanley biographer Tim Jeal, in his superb Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, tells how Livingstone's desire to remain in Africa after being found by Stanley, in order to finish his lifelong missionary work - instead of leaving the continent for personal fame and fortune - had a profound influence on Stanley.
Livingstone’s belief that he had been called to serve Africa made a lifelong impression on Stanley, influencing his own behavior and attitudes. When Livingstone told him, ‘I have lost a great deal of happiness I know by these wanderings. It is as if I had been born to exile,’ Henry felt a bond of fellow feeling. He too believed he had been born to labor and achieve rather than to enjoy his life. In January 1870, Stanley had discussed the purpose of human life with the rich and sybaritic American consul in Cairo, Mr G.C. Taylor. Taylor had argued that, since man was fated to be ‘dust like the beasts’, a life of idealism and self-sacrifice made less sense than a life of pleasure-seeking. Stanley had disagreed. Even if life could be proved to be purposeless, he told Taylor, it would still matter to him personally: ‘for my own spirit’s satisfaction … It is in my nature to toil, as it is in the other’s nature to enjoy.
I had to look up the word sybaritic. It means "loving luxury or sensuous pleasure." People remember the names of Livingstone and Stanley, but few have heard of G.C. Taylor.

It seems to me that a life of idealism and self-sacrifice ultimately is the greatest pleasure of all, but it is only borne from a spirit born-again by the grace of God.


Anonymous said...

"It seems to me that a life of idealism and self-sacrifice ultimately is the greatest pleasure of all, but it is only borne from a spirit born-again by the grace of God."

In your thinking, does this differ from Piper's Christian Hedonism (highest good equals greatest happiness/joy), or is it similar?


Rex Ray said...


Probably Livingstone is the only person that has his heart buried in one country and his body in another. I believe it was RRR that said he had visited the grave of his heart in Africa.

The natives didn’t want to interrupt him while he was in prayer, but after many hours they found him on his knees and he had met who he was praying to.

Speaking of death I noticed Glen Campbell died.


I don’t think it was because we lived at Galveston at one time, but his song “Galveston” was the one I liked best. It’s about a soldier facing death and remembering the good times.

That’s sort of what I and my brother do every time we talk by phone. Yesterday I asked if he remembered him visiting a family that was visitors to their church.

He was sitting on a couch and their three year-old girl got so close to him he thought she was going to kiss him. (Hez never trimmed his eyebrows or anything.) She said, “Why does your nose grow weeds.”

Pege' said...

Wade, This man sounds so cool. I look forward to more insight from you about him. Three of my " Heros's of the Faith", well one is a "SHE-ro" are Mother Theresa of Calcutta and George Mueller and Detrick Bonhoeffer. They too lived a life like these men. I have yearned for a life where God would have called me to serve him as these brothers and sisters have. Alas, he has not burdened my heart with a calling like these people. One thing Mother Theresa has said changed my life though. "WE CAN NOT ALL DO GREAT THINGS, BUT WE CAN DO SMALL THINGS WITH GREAT LOVE." I do daily look for those small things I can do and serve with the love of Christ. I know there are men and women today who serve like Dr. Livingston, Henry Stanley, Mother Theresa and George Mueller, we just have not heard of them yet for no one has written about them. Generations ahead will hear and be challenged as these have challenged us.
* FYI Wade, there is a book by Eric Metaxas called " BONHOEFFER" that is well worth the read.

Wade Burleson said...


A profound question indeed. I am mulling it over.

Wade Burleson said...

Pege, I have read Bonhoeffer! Superb!

RB Kuter said...

"It seems to me that a life of idealism and self-sacrifice ultimately is the greatest pleasure of all, but it is only borne from a spirit born-again by the grace of God."

I don't see it. Pain and suffering encountered as a consequence of obedience in service to God hurts and is miserable and one would do anything possible to avoid it, short of being disobedient. However, I don't believe you are suggesting that it is pleasurable when in the midst of it but rather that once having weathered it there is a very profound sense of gratification in knowing that we were obedient and pleasing to our Father.

It is a very strange phenomenon. I'm sure we're thinking in the same line of reasoning.

Yeah, Rex Ray, that was when we were living in Zambia.

I get some of those weeds up my nose these days and in my ears too, of all places. I get why God gave us some hair in our nose, eyelashes, eyebrows, etc. (filters, I'm guessing), but what's the deal with His engineering us so that our gardens flourish so when we get old? Kind of overkill, ain't it?

prodinov said...

Wade...your past post on Stanley led me to read Stanley by Tim Jeal. There are so many contradictions in this man's life. No matter some of the quoted/documented differences, there are no doubt some deep thought provoking issues surrounding Stanley's life and that which he attempted to accomplish against what King Leopold demanded in conquering and using valuable resources in the Congo region. Tim Jeal does an amazing job remaining neutral and still highlighting this amazing life. Thx for bringing this man to my attention.

Wade Burleson said...


Thank you for the comment!

Jeal's biography is one of the best I've ever read - and I agree with your assessment of his writing style.

In the near future, I'll have another post regarding Stanley and a particularly interesting artifact which I now have (of Stanley's).

Wade Burleson said...


Good point, indeed!

Pege' said...

Wade, Ok I took the bait....What is the artifact? Hmmm ...my guess ....a book.

prodinov said...

Wade...I think one of the issues I took from Jeal surrounded whether Stanley was adopted or not, and the circumstances of leaving England, arriving in US. Your original post resonated with me due to what I deemed "overcoming" hardships and still be "loved" by a family. However, Jeal seemed to question that part of Stanley's history and moved on to some of the defining traits that led Stanley to Africa. Overall, a fascinating read and worth reading from cover to cover.