Finding a Useful Wife
Although romance was far less a factor in marriage for nineteenth-century couples than it is today, the unmarried Livingstone seemed even less romantic than most.
Before he married, he prided himself on his celibacy and singleness. When his London Missionary Society (LMS) application asked simply for his marital status, for example, Livingstone wrote a mammoth reply: "Unmarried; under no engagement related to marriage, never made proposals of marriage, nor conducted myself so to any woman as to cause her to suspect that I intended anything related to marriage."
Livingstone was not against marriage as an institution. He simply believed it was something best left to others. The only reason he would marry, he wrote a friend, would be to further his cause. "But whether my usefulness will be augmented by getting a wife," he wrote, "I really don't know."
Pressed to marry
While he lived in a missionary community, however, the issue refused to be left alone. Letters from friends back home pressed him to marry and were often accompanied by baby clothes!
One missionary couple tried to get Livingstone interested in their daughter, but he showed no interest. Unsatisfied and incredulous, the couple zealously gathered information about his female correspondents, going so far as to open his mail. They were particularly concerned about a Mrs. Sewell, whom they suspected was a young widow hoarding Livingstone's affections, and withheld his letters to her. In truth she was an elderly woman who ran the London boarding house Livingstone had stayed in.
Though single male missionaries were often suspected by married ones of "carrying on" with the natives, Livingstone persisted in singleness, even more so given what he felt were his options.