Literature of Missionaries in the Nineteenth Century
Literature of Missionaries in the Nineteenth Century
The writings produced by Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century are a vast and diverse body of texts made up of tracts, letters, journals, memoirs, and anthropological descriptions. Missionaries worked around the world, reaching out to those they saw as potential converts to their faith, primarily non-whites of Africa and South and East Asia. The Church of England founded its first missionary organization, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in the early eighteenth century. The London Missionary Society, a joint effort of the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Independent Churches, formed in 1795 as the Missionary Society, adding London to its name in 1818. Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists all formed their own missionary societies in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. To some extent the history of English missionaries follows the history of colonialism, with activity peaking in the late nineteenth century and subsiding by the Second World War, when many European colonies gained independence. Like some English missionaries, many missionaries in America were inspired by the abolitionist movement. The American Missionary Association was formed in 1846 as an outgrowth of the defenders of the mutinous Africans aboard the slave ship La Amistad. Other American missionary organizations active in the nineteenth century include the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Home Missionary Society, and the American Bible Society.
In addition to evangelizing, missionaries performed important cultural work at home and abroad. As some of the first whites to visit the remote areas of other continents, missionaries were often considered heroes at home, and their accounts of adventures in strange lands were widely read. Missionaries' depictions of the people they encountered were generally accepted as authoritative and provided the basis for Western understandings of racial and cultural difference. Opinions varied widely on the reasons for the apparent superiority of whites to darker people, although that superiority was almost always assumed. Missionaries who acted as the earliest ethnographers—a science just emerging in the nineteenth century—offered descriptions of native behavior and intelligence that at times supported and at other times contradicted the assumption that non-whites were biologically inferior. In some cases, the sympathy of the missionaries, mixed with a desire to maintain a sense of difference, created an attitude of paternalism, or the obligation of the civilized Christian to raise up his heathen brethren from their current infantile state. Civilization, or “culture,” was thought to develop along a single, continuous path: Africans, Indians, and Native Americans had not progressed as far as Europeans along this continuum, but with the assistance of Christianity they could fulfill their human potential. Many scholars suggest that although missionaries sometimes argued for the eventual assimilation of non-whites into Western society, the ethnographies they produced often drew clear distinctions between white Christians and the “Others” they described. Considerable critical attention has been given to the missionaries conception of the “Other,” meaning virtually any non-white outside the Euro-American cultural network, and how the resulting dichotomy between those within and outside the cultural paradigm reflects on both groups. As another aspect of spreading civilization, missionaries paved the way for greater trade and other forms of economic relations. Among the proponents of “Christianity and commerce” was David Livingstone, perhaps the best known of nineteenth-century missionaries. The promotion of an ideological confluence between economics and religion was short-lived, but the movement has proven to be useful to critics studying the intersection of imperialistic, religious, and economic impulses in colonial cultures.
Missionary work offered special opportunities to women who were otherwise quite restricted. Such an opportunity was offered to the title character in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre: St. John Rivers offers to marry her and take her to work in India where several missionary wives had worked to advance the cause of women's education. Married women who accompanied their missionary husbands found that they had easier access to native women than their male counterparts, especially when cultural taboos or traditions limited social interaction between women and men outside their families. Women in China, for example, were strictly forbidden to discuss Christianity with men. Single women were eventually considered for missionary work as well. Early colleges for women, such as Mount Holyoke Seminary, sent young women to Turkey, India, China, South Africa, Hawaii, and Persia, though they were considered assistant missionaries by formal organizations until 1900. The accounts of female missionaries reveal a variety of perspectives on their role in bringing Christianity to other cultures. For some women, modeling a Christian family life and fulfilling the traditional roles of a wife and mother were an important part of their work. Many, however, suggested openly that the path of the missionary would allow them to advance the status of women not only in the countries they visited but also in their homelands. Letters from such missionaries often depict native women in the most degrading circumstances, reduced to prostitution as a result of their forced ignorance or slavery. While the authors of these letters thank God for their freedoms in Western civilization, they also acknowledge that some of these freedoms are available only through missionary life.
Thomas Fowell Buxton
The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy (essay) 1840
The Utility of Missions Ascertained by Experience (essay) 1816
The Past and Prospective Extension of the Gospel by Missions to the Heathen (lectures) 1844
Joseph John Gurney
Familiar letters to Henry Clay of Kentucky, Describing a Winter in the West Indies (letters) 1840
Marilla Marks Hills
Reminiscences: A Brief History of the Free Baptist India Mission (history) 1885
Mary Anne Hutchins
The Youthful Female Missionary: A Memoir of Mary Ann Hutchins (letters) 1840
African Lessons (memoirs) 1823
G. W. H. Knight-Bruce
Memories of Mashonaland (memoirs) 1895
James D. Knowles
Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson (memoirs) 1829
Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (journal) 1857
Dr. Livingstone's Cambridge Lectures (lectures) 1858
Lucy T. Lord
Memoir of Mrs. Lucy T. Lord of the Chinese Baptist Mission (memoirs) 1854
J. B. Marsden
Memoirs of the Life and Labours of the Rev. Samuel Marsden (journal, letters) 1858
Missionary Labours and Scenes in Southern Africa...
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Criticism: History And Development
SOURCE: Christophers, Brett. “Redemption.” In Positioning the Missionary: John Booth Good and the Confluence of Cultures in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia, pp. 19-40. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1998.
[In the following excerpt, Christophers argues that the work of missionaries often came into conflict with the work of secular imperialism. Tracing the scriptural origins of evangelism, Christophers distinguishes the universalist rhetoric of Christianity from the nationalist tendencies of a specifically national religion such as Anglicanism.]
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Most discussion of nineteenth-century colonial discourse has focused on its ‘codification of difference.’1 Scholars have charted the manifold ways in which Europeans distinguished themselves from non-Europeans, showing that such distinctions often buttressed and coloured colonial practice. Homi Bhabha offers a useful synopsis of these findings. ‘The objective of colonial discourse,’ he claims, ‘is to construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction.’2 Although, clearly, colonial discourses were not all of a piece, most appealed to some...
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Criticism: Sociopolitical Concerns
SOURCE: Porter, Andrew. “‘Commerce and Christianity’: The Rise and Fall of a Nineteenth-Century Missionary Slogan.” The Historical Journal 28, no. 3 (September 1985): 597-621.
[In the following essay, Porter examines the connection between commerce and Christianity popularized in the mid-nineteenth century by missionaries such as David Livingstone, who wrote that the two were “inseparable.” Porter argues that this sentiment was relatively short-lived and not reflective of the whole of nineteenth-century missionary thought.]
‘“What,” some simple-minded man might say, “is the connection between the Gospel and commerce?’”1 Speaking in Leeds in May 1860 on behalf of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was characteristically robust with his rhetorical question and no less direct in furnishing the answer. ‘There is a great connection between them. In the first place, there is little hope of promoting commerce in Africa, unless Christianity is planted in it; and, in the next place, there is very little ground for hoping that Christianity will be able to make its proper way unless we can establish a lawful commerce in the country’. Britain's part in forging the connexion was abundantly clear. It was
the intention of God to make it the interest of this, the most active, the most ingenious, and the freest...
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SOURCE: Hall, Catherine. “Missionary Stories: Gender and Ethnicity in England in the 1830s and 1840s.” In Cultural Studies, edited by Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler, pp. 240-70. New York: Routledge, 1992.
[In the following essay, Hall describes the manner in which British missionary rhetoric, sympathetic to black converts, revealed anxiety about English national identity.]
In the 1990s nationalisms and national identities have become key political issues.1 The collapse of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, the re-mapping of Europe, and the planned increased economic and political integration of EEC member countries in 1992 all raise critical questions about the nation-state, national sovereignty, national “belonging,” and forms of citizenship. In this context national identity has emerged as a crucial issue in British politics.
But what does it mean to be British? National communities are, as Benedict Anderson (1983) has argued, “imagined communities.” Whilst sometimes appearing natural they have always been constructed through elaborate ideological and political work which produces a sense of nation and national identity, but a sense which can always be challenged. For there is no one national identity—rather competing national identities jostle with each other in a struggle for dominance. “Britishness” and...
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SOURCE: Peterson, Linda H. “‘The Feelings and Claims of Little People’: Heroic Missionary Memoirs, Domestic(ated) Spiritual Autobiography, and Jane Eyre: An Autobiography.” In Traditions of Victorian Women's Autobiography: The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing, pp. 80-108. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.
[In the following excerpt, Peterson compares Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre to the nonfiction missionary writings of nineteenth-century women. Peterson suggests that Brontë's allusion to the missionary memoir raises broader questions about the life, education, and career path deemed proper for women.]
When Charlotte Brontë read Harriet Martineau's Household Education (1849), she was astonished by the autobiographical passages that seemed so uncannily to recount her own childhood experiences. She told Martineau that “it was like meeting her own fetch,—so precisely were the fears and miseries there described the same as her own, told or not told in ‘Jane Eyre.’”1 Similarly, when Martineau read Jane Eyre, she recognized the correspondences between her early life and that of Brontë's heroine: “I was taxed with the authorship [of Jane Eyre] by more than one personal friend, and charged by others, and even by relatives, with knowing the author, and having supplied some of the facts of the first volume from my own...
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Criticism: Uses Of Ethnography
SOURCE: Lindeborg, Ruth H. “The ‘Asiatic’ and the Boundaries of Victorian Englishness.” Victorian Studies 37, no. 3 (spring 1994): 381-404.
[In the following essay, Lindeborg examines the writings of Joseph Salter, a missionary to Africans and Asians in the ports of London, suggesting that Salter's memoirs of his missionary work reveal anxiety about the penetration of non-Europeans into English society as well as an early anthropological perspective.]
Didn't dislike foreigners, for he never saw none. What was they?
—Ragged school pupil in London, late 1850s, Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (1861)
Joseph Salter, a London City Missionary, begins his second memoir, The East in the West; or Work Among the Asiatics and Africans in London (1895), by invoking the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson as a model of missionary practice. Delving into London's “plague spots of Oriental vice” in the 1820s and 1830s, the Clarkson of Salter's description must marry the skills of foreign exploration with the goals of social reform. For “amongst the alleys of Shadwell” (14), Clarkson is suddenly in alien territory:
In the warehouse itself, as well as in the yard, he found a large number of Asiatics, who were all alike under the mastery of a man who ruled his subjects like a...
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SOURCE: McAllister, Edwin J. “‘Our Glory and Joy’: Stephen Riggs and the Politics of Nineteenth-Century American Missionary Ethnography Among the Sioux.” In Christian Encounters with the Other, edited by John C. Hawley, pp. 150-65. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, McAllister describes Riggs's ethnology in the context of contemporary thought about human civilization and racial difference. McAllister suggests that while Riggs's writing demonstrates a lack of modern respect for Native American tradition, it also reflects his belief that Native Americans were not biologically inferior to Whites and therefore incapable of “civilization.”]
Stephen Return Riggs (1812-83) was a Presbyterian missionary to the Dakota Sioux Indians from 1837 until his death. Like countless other American missionaries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Riggs took up the pen to describe for Christians at home the people among whom he lived and worked. The works of these missionaries were widely read, and in a culture that valued Christian piety and self-sacrifice, their words had tremendous authority. Consequently, their effect on American attitudes toward Native Americans and dark-skinned foreigners carried tremendous weight and performed a powerful type of cultural work.
Rigg's representations of the Dakota in many ways exemplify the agendas and...
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Criticism: David Livingstone
SOURCE: Ross, Andrew. “David Livingstone: The Man Behind the Mask.” In The London Missionary Society in Southern Africa, 1799-1999: Historical Essays in Celebration of the Bicentenary of the LMS in Southern Africa, edited by John de Gruchy, pp. 37-54. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Ross attempts to revise Livingstone's image as a paternalist, arguing that Livingstone saw the Africans as equals, though he considered their culture in need of Christian influence.]
William Monk, editor of David Livingstone's Cambridge Lectures, headed a subsection of the appendix he wrote for the second edition, ‘The unity of the human race further proved by Dr Livingstone's researches in South Africa.’ In this section he declared
Differences in colour, speech, natural characteristics, religious belief, moral, social and intellectual condition, may stagger some about the unity of the race; but be it remembered that these diversities are mostly referable to external circumstances … The same pleasures, anxieties, crimes, virtues, vices, noble or mean actions and influences, affect alike in many instances the soul of the most cultivated philosopher and of the most uncivilised savage.1
Dr Monk asserted the oneness of humanity so firmly because it was being denied by so many of the thinkers of his day; thinkers...
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Ashton, Susanna. “Compound Walls: Eva Jane Price's Letters from a Chinese Mission, 1890-1900.” Frontiers 17, no. 3 (1996): 80-94.
Discusses the physical and cultural boundaries created by missionaries in China and the ways in which those boundaries were breached, intentionally and otherwise.
Barnett, Suzanne Wilson, and John King Fairbank, eds. Christianity in China: Early Protestant Missionary Writings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985, 237 p.
Collected essays on individual missionaries and specific projects in China.
Erlank, Natasha. “Jane & John Philip: Partnership, Usefulness & Sexuality in the Service of God.” In The London Missionary Society in Southern Africa, 1799-1999: Historical Essays in Celebration of the Bicentenary of the LMS in Southern Africa, edited by John de Gruchy, pp. 82-98. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.
Examines the role of the missionary wife in theory and practice and suggests a dissonance between Philip's public statements and his private life.
Inness, Sherrie A. “‘Repulsive as the Multitudes by Whom I Am Surrounded’: Constructing the Contact Zone in the Writings of Mount Holyoke Missionaries, 1830-1890.” Women's Studies 23 (1994): 365-84.
Analyzes the discourses of femininity and...
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