The old voortrekkers who emigrated from the Cape Colony all belonged to the Dutch Reformed Protestant persuasion. With very little learning, the Bible, catechism, and the orthodox "psalm and hymn-book" constituted their sole means for building up their faith. The scope of their education was likewise limited to these simple aids during their chequered wanderings for nearly twenty years, proving ample, however, in preserving themselves and children from the tendencies of receding into barbarism. The Bible was the recognised reference and guide in private and public affairs, and it is so still. It is, indeed, notable with what wisdom and prudence those simple people managed to frame their treaties with native potentates, their conventions with the Portuguese and the British Governments, and, finally, in compiling their own constitutions. Their experiences teem with incidents of extreme sufferings, dangers, and reverses, and also with many signal deliverances, which all operated in deepening religious fervour and dependence upon the Almighty.
Their vicissitudes led them to make analogous comparisons with ancient Jewish history. This practice resulted in some erroneous conceptions, notably in regard to their relations with aborigines and general native policy, as referred to in previous chapters. It also imperceptibly fostered sentiments confounding legality with grace, and the by-product of that subtle corrupting leaven which is apt to see a splint in the eye of another whilst unmindful of the beam in one's own.
Upon the whole, the religious status of the Boers may be fairly compared to that of the old American pilgrim fathers, only much less intolerant, fairly strict sabbatarians, and jealous in maintaining national and individual morality. About forty years ago a small group seceded from the Dutch Reformed Church and formed a separate connection under the name of "Enkel gereformende Kerk" (simply reformed Church), more generally known under the sobriquet of "Doppers." This cult is identical with the parent Church, and differs only in a somewhat stricter church discipline and the rejection of the hymns from the common psalm and hymn-book upon the ground that many of them are tainted with dangerously anti-scriptural doctrine. These Doppers are really very worthy people, but noted for their strong conservatism and adherence to old habits and customs, even in the matter of dress. President Krüger is one of their prominent members and so is General Piet Cronjé.
The devotional habits of the Boers form one of their national characteristics. The family collect at dawn for morning worship, led by the parent or else by the tutor—it consists of a hymn, Scripture-reading, and prayer—similarly before retiring at night, devout grace before and after each meal. These practices are not relaxed when travelling with their wagons or when in the field. On Sundays an extra (forenoon) service is added. Strangers and travellers receiving hospitality are always courteously and unostentatiously admitted to those family devotions. One may thus meet with one or more wagons camped in the wilderness and find a cluster of men, women, and children engaged in happy devotions and singing psalms or hymns in the familiar old "Herrenhut" melodies, or one may come upon a scene where men just returned to camp, begrimed and still perspiring from a day's hunt or battle, join with husky voices an already assembled group in the customary service.
Such practices of piety cannot fail to have a salutary effect upon the young, nor can it be with justice said that the bulk of the people are inconsistent in their conduct, though formality and insincerity are sadly frequent enough, and in late years a decadence in seriousness and an increase of frivolity instead have marked the present epoch, especially among those who are exposed to the pernicious influences and contaminations incidental to town life. The old Free Stater mentioned before expressed the expectation that the present war and trials will tend to check that declension, and in that way prove to have a compensating character for good. During my frequent travels it had been my privilege as a guest to make the acquaintance of numerous truly Christian Boer families, both well-to-do and poor. On one occasion I had to accept the hospitality at a farmhouse of one named Brits, nicknamed "vuil" or dirty Brits. This was an old blind widower; his household was composed, besides himself, of an old brother, also a widower, and the family of a son-in-law. After the evening meal the service was led by the blind man, the daughter reading some chapters in the Bible indicated by him. The two old men and I occupied separate cots in one small side room. Happening to wake up at dawn the following morning, I saw those old men sit up facing each other, with their feet upon the floor, and begin their morning hymn of praise, after which the house resounded with younger voices from the other end with a similar song. I do not call to mind any special untidiness at that poor blind man's house to warrant his sobriquet; my recollections are, on the contrary, of the happiest, and I mentally called him clean Brits, clean every whit. In another part of the country I was privileged to meet with a family, which included a grown-up blind daughter,' who had St. John's Gospel in raised letters. While reading with her fingers her upturned face would shine with joy when repeating some of the salient, consoling, and sustaining verses. And how common are the records among those simple Boers of happy and triumphant death-bed scenes of old and young, softening the grief of the bereaved believers. Frivolous education and advanced surroundings are accountable for a certain waning of the original habits of serious piety; this is to some extent more the case among the Cape Colonial and Orange Free State Boers, the declension appearing greatest with those residing in or in close proximity to towns. Among the men of exemplary and consistent piety in the Transvaal are conspicuous: President Krüger, State Secretary Reitz, Commandant-General Joubert, General Piet Cronjé, and others holding highest positions, and also many of the Volksraad members, including the late General Kock.
Upon the occasion when the Transvaal Executive, with the assembled Volksraads, finally determined upon war, and the momentous matter had been considered of handing over the passports to Mr. Greene, the British agent, just before signing them, President Krüger was observed occupied in silent prayer for a few moments, while many of the others bowed their heads similarly engaged, after which the documents were firmly completed. When the first commandoes were about to depart for the field, the President addressed a farewell to the burghers, assuring them that God's aid could confidently be implored for their just cause; he also quoted part of the Verse, "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it," intending it as an exhortation for the timorous, warning them of the greater danger incurred by retreat or flight than when maintaining a manful stand. (The reader will know that the above quotation does not complete the verse, the rest being, "But whosoever shall lose his life for my sake or for the Gospel shall preserve it.")
It points to the operation of most persevering and subtle agencies and potent illusions that could mislead and carry away the chief men and the most intelligent of the Boer nation so far as to engender the erroneous convictions which caused them to court the present war and to consider it just. As to the bulk of the people, they are in turn led astray by their leaders' example and opinions as victims of the general delusion.
These convictions, together with the acceptance of Afrikaner Bond doctrines, have developed into quite a national infatuation, a kind of Boer Koran, invested with similar fanaticism. Analogies are assumed as existing between the case of the Israelites brought by Moses through the wilderness, and led by Joshua into the conquered possession of their promised Canaan. Following those prototypes, Paul Krüger is held as having guided the Boer nation thus far through the mazes of political troubles, and so also is General Joubert, now their leader in the conquest, South Africa in its entirety being considered as rightfully belonging to them. The Orange River stands for Jordan, dividing as yet the possessions of the people, and the analogy only needs completion by a Pisgah for President Krüger. That such hallucinations have taken deep root appears from the fact that the wife of President Krüger dreamt of the accomplishment of such a typical history, and that her husband had died at an early stage of the conquest. Such complete faith is attached to the prophetic import of that dream that the President was prevailed upon to permit its publication in full detail some time in November last. The President's death was anticipated within two months after. (I am far from referring to those incidents in a mocking mood, but rather to show the intense sincerity of Boer convictions, confounding the Christian's exalted calling with one which is temporal; and I fancy that those very Boers, if equally well instructed, might sadly eclipse some of us who have the privilege and also the responsibility of enjoying correct teaching.)
The writer has endeavoured to represent in a true light both the character of the Boer nation and its responsibility in regard to the origin of the present deplorable war. The reader will be able to judge whether that people is wilfully guilty, or whether the circumstances admit of generous, mitigating condonement, always considered apart from that horrible Hollander element which has been the root and instigating cause of all the evil.
15. Some readers will recognise the significance, the protective competence, the keen and reliable instinct which enable untutored believers to discern and detect doctrinal leaven insidiously concealed in the garb of worship.
16. At Modder River, on the road between Bloemfontein and Kimberley.
17. At the time, December, 1899, when this was intended for publication.