Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Frances Ridley Havergal

Today is the 180th birthday of hymnwriter and composer Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879).  She was the daughter of William Henry Havergal, a menber of the clergy of the Church of England, who also wrote and composed hymns. Her middle name was given in honor of Bishop Nicholas Ridley (c.1500-1555), an English Protestant martyr who was executed for heresy after the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor became queen (Ridley had supported the brief accession of Lady Jane Grey).

Young Frances was quite a prodigy; her father nicknamed her 'Little Quicksilver.' She began to read at age three, and to memorize the Bible at age four. She learned at least seven languages, including Greek and Hebrew so that she could further her Biblical studies.  At seven, she began to write poetry. She also memorized much piano music of the great composers of her day, sang, and composed music of her own.

As an adult, she was very involved with mission work and other social causes, including temperance and the YWCA.  She founded the Flannel Petticoat Society, which provided clothing to poor children.

Many of her early hymns were first published in pamphlet form, and the first collection of her writings was not published until 1869, only ten years before her death at 46. Over the next few years she became well known for her hymn texts and other religious poetry and prose. One of her famous correspondents was the American Fanny Crosby, and the two sometimes exchanged poems. The Seeing Heart (1872) is a long poem to Crosby by Havergal, from which the phrase "Her heart can see" was taken for the title of a modern biography of Crosby. The poem ends with the following stanza:

Singing for Jesus! Telling his love
All the way to our home above,
Where the severing sea, with its restless tide
Never shall hinder and never divide.
Sister, what shall our meeting soon be
When our hearts shall sing and our eyes shall see?

Most of Havergal's hymn texts and poetry express her deep relationship with Jesus, rarely dealing with the wider variety of themes that many Victorian hymnwriters explored.  Though I have only marked her birthday twice, several more of her texts have appeared here (click her tag below) and a few of her tunes as well. This text was published in Loyal Responses (1878) though it may have been released earlier in a pamphlet.

Christ is with us! He has said it,
In his truth and tender grace;
Sealed the promise, softly spoken,
With how many a mighty token,
Of his love and faithfulness.

Christ is with us! in our living,
Shielding us from fear of ill;
All our burdens kindly bearing,
For our loved ones gently caring,
Guarding, keeping, blessing still.

Christ is with us! with us always,
All the nights and all the days;
Never failing, never frowning,
With his loving-kindness crowning,
Tuning all our lives to praise.

Christ is with us! Our own Savior,
Leading, loving to the end;
Bright'ning joy and light'ning sorrow,
All today, yet more tomorrow,
Lamb of God, our Guide and Friend.

Frances Ridley Havergal, 1878; alt.
Tune: WINDERMERE (Maker) (
Frederick C. Maker, 19th cent.

The meter of this text is a bit unusual and there are not many tunes that fit it - WINDERMERE, by Frederick Maker (composer of ST. CHRISTOPHER) is a compromise.  The score may help you match the text with the words.

Havergal died of peritonitis on June 3, 1879. She had been staying for several months with her sister Maria, who wrote an account of the poet's decline which was published as The Last Week (1879). Family members were with her in her last days, and they sang together several times. Just before she died she sang her own tune, HERMAS, one last time, to the following words by Mary J. Walker:

Jesus, I will trust thee, 
Trust thee with my soul;
Guilty, lost, and helpless,
Thou canst make me whole.
There is none in heaven
Or on earth like thee:
Thou hast died for sinners—
Therefore, Lord for me.

Eight Years Ago: Frances Ridley Havergal

Seven Years Ago: Frances Ridley Havergal

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