A GENTLE SPIRIT, a temperament alive to all innocent joys, to all the harmonies of life and literature, a deep and earnest faith, a loving self-surrender to the Saviour who was the object of that faith–these are the qualities which make Frances Ridley Havergal a character of exceptional interest, not only to professing Christians, but to all who recognize and revere the spirit of the Gospel teachings. For having the gift of expression–a simple and pellucid style through which the soul poured itself out in either prose or verse–the qualities which endeared her to the friends who knew her in person won her a world-wide circle of friends among those who only knew her through her published writings.
Miss Havergal was born December 14th, 1836, and died June 3rd, 1879. She was the daughter of Rev. William Henry Havergal, famous as a writer of sacred music. The story of her life, as revealed to us in the “Memorials” edited by her sister in 1880 seems uneventful enough in incident. Its landmarks are two heavy bereavements, and the changes in outward circumstances ensuing therefrom. One might think that the first of these epoch-marking bereavements was the death of her mother, which occcurred in 1848. Yet Fances herself confesses that this event “did not make at first the impression upon me which might have been expected.”. . .from this period we may roughly date the kindling of that intense religious enthusiasm which burns in all her life and poetry, and which remained unquenched to the last. At that same time, the first poignant and crushing grief that she experienced was the sudden death of her father at Easter, 1870. His widow (for he had married a second time) continued to live at Leamington with the daughers; and the main support of the family devolved upon Frances, who had already won wide fame as a hymn-writer. In 1878 the death of Mrs. Havergal broke up the little circle, and Frances, with her sister Maria, afterwards her biographer, removed from Leamington into Wales, but she outlived her beloved second mother only a little over a year.
This life–tranquil as it seems on the surface–was disturbed in its inner depths by many conflicting currents of religious feeling. “I am quite sure,” she tells us in her Autobiography, “that nothing in the way of earthly and external trials could have been to me what the inner darkness and strife and utter weariness of spirit, through the greater part of these years have been. Many have thought mine a comparatively thornless path; but often when the path was smoothest, there were hidden thorns within, and wounds bleeding and rankling.”
Through a life of the utmost purity and even sanctity, a life devoted to good works, to philanthropical endeavors of all sorts, she was disturbed by the sense of continual back-slidings. “I remember,” she tells us again, “I remember longing to be able to say ‘O God, my heart is fixed’ in bitter mourning over its weakness and wavering.”
It is pleasant to know that these dark shadows were eventually lifted. In her maturer years, the early disquiet was succeeded by a calm trust and confidence, thus faithfully mirrored in the prelude to “Under His Shadow.”
So now, I pray Thee, keep my hand in Thine
And guide it as Thou wilt. I do not ask
To understand the “wherefore” of each line:
Mine is the sweeter, easier, happier task
Just to look up to Thee for every word,
Rest in thy love and trust and know that I am heard.
In [her] prose writings, even more than in her poems, Miss Havergal has shown us her best and truest self. Simple and direct as they are in method, they go straight from the heart to the heart. The author’s tenderness, reverence and humility, her ardent love for her Lord and for her neighbor are all reflected in her prose. Independently of their religious value, these writings have a distinct literary interest in revealing the inner workings of a unique and winning personality.
Frances wrote verse and prose from the age of 7 and authored several books including:
The Royal Invitation
Royal Bounty and
She is best known for her work Kept for the Master’s Use. Frances also authored several famous hymns:
I Am Trusting Thee Lord Jesus
Take My Life and Let It Be
Who Is On The Lord’s Side?
Thy Life Was Given for Me and
Like A River Glorious.
Though she died at age 43, Frances Ridley Havergal was known as “the consecration poet” and is remembered for her life being fully surrendered to Christ, her King. Frances said, “There cannot be full blessedness until there is full surrender.” This she did whole-heartedly during her lifetime. . .it was all for Jesus, loving all along.
Excerpts from MY KING AND HIS SERVICE, Frances Ridley Havergal