Often known as “the Sweetest Voice of Hymnody”, Frances Ridley Havergal was an esteemed English religious poetess, hymnwriter and singer. Some of her best-loved hymns are: Take my life and let it be, I gave My life for thee, Like a river glorious and Another year is dawning. In her writing and singing, Frances’ chief objective was to win souls to the Lord. Besides composing, Frances also wrote hymn melodies, tracts, and books for children.
Frances’ life was characterised by a deep devotion to God; this spirit of consecration was often reflected in her hymns. When writing her hymns or poems, she depended wholly on the Lord to guide and help her. It is said that “she never wrote a single line of verse without first fervently praying over it, and then she gave God all the credit for its composition: ‘I believe my King suggests a thought, and whispers me a musical line or two, and then I look up and thank Him delightedly and go on with it. This is how my hymns come’” (101 More Hymn Stories – Kenneth W Osbeck).
o Early years
The youngest of six children, Frances Ridley Havergal was born in Astley, Worcestershire, England on 14th December 1836 into a cultured, religious family.
Frances’ father, William Henry Havergal, an influential Anglican clergyman, was known for his fine preaching skills. One church member commented: “Nobody preaches like Mr Havergal; he teaches me what I want. I tell you what he does: he takes it all to pieces, and shows us what is inside it, and then makes us feel it” (www.cslewisinstitute.org/Frances_Ridley_Havergal). Mr Havergal was himself a noted poet and an accomplished musician and composer of sacred music.
Because Frances was a bright, lively and happy child, her father used to call her his “Little Quicksilver”. Passionately fond of music from her infancy, Frances began singing almost as soon as she could walk. A godly atmosphere pervaded the Havergal home. Frances wrote later: “Besides the rich chords and tuneful songs in our home, there were wise and holy influences. Our parents’ prayers and their fine example for living which they gave us were the keynotes of our childlife” (Ten Girls Who Became Famous by Basil Miller).
Frances excelled in her studies. A natural linguist, Frances quickly picked up languages by listening to the tutorials of her five siblings. At the age of nine, she helped to teach a Sunday School class for young children.
When she was thirteen, she went to a private school for girls in London. “There she perfected her French, learned Italian, and studied music, art and the Bible, large portions of which she memorized” (www.cslewisinstitute.org/Frances_Ridley_Havergal). She completed her formal schooling in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was in Germany that she learned German, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
o Mother’s death
When Frances was eleven, her mother died. Before her death, her mother had urged her to surrender herself and her talents wholly to the Lord. Expressing her deep concern for her “youngest little girl”, her dying mother reminded her that “nothing but the precious blood of Jesus can make you clean and lovely in God’s sight”. Frances later wrote “of the grief she suffered watching from the window the funeral procession passing through the front gate, turning toward the church and the anguish she felt in her little heart”.
Frances was first convicted of her sin when she was six, after hearing a sermon on the terrors of hell and judgement. Sadly, the assistant pastor she spoke to about her soul did not take her seriously; he merely advised her to “be a good child and pray”. For the next few years, the sermon haunted her but she kept the disturbing matter of her soul in her heart.
It was only when she was fifteen, that she came to trust in Christ as her Saviour. Of her conversion experience, she said: “I committed my soul to the Saviour, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment” (http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhavergal3.html).
After a brief sojourn in Germany, Frances returned home and was confirmed in her faith at Worcester Cathedral on 17th July 1853. Kneeling before the bishop, she carefully followed his words, “Defend, O lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace, that she may continue thine for ever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit, until she come into thy everlasting kingdom.”
Frances wrote, “If ever my heart followed a prayer, it did then, if ever it thrilled with earnest longing not unmixed with joy, it did at the words ‘Thine for ever’.”
(… to be continued)
(Unless otherwise stated, all other quotations are from https://havergal.wordpress.com/).