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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836–1879)

FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL was born at Astley, in Worcestershire, on the 14th of December, 1836. Her father, the Rev. W. H. Havergal, himself a writer of hymns as well as a distinguished Church musician, was at this time rector of Astley, and afterwards successively rector of St. Nicholas’, Worcester (1842), and Shareshill, near Wolverhampton (1860). In 1850 Frances entered a school kept by Mrs. Teed, and under the favourable influences of her surroundings consecrated her life and talents to religious exercise and work. On the removal of her father from Worcester she resided at different periods at Leamington and Caswell Bay, Swansea, at which latter place she died on the 3rd of June, 1879.

Much of Miss Havergal’s verse was first published in leaflet form; but from time to time her poems were collected and published with others in volumes bearing titles as follows: “Ministry of Song” (1869); “Twelve Sacred Songs for Little Singers” (1870); “Under the Surface” (1874); “Loyal Responses” (1878); “Life Mosaic” (1879); “Life Chords” (1880); “Life Echoes” (1883). Miss Havergal’s verse owes its popularity more to its religious teaching than to its poetic merit—teaching which has been aptly described as “mildly Calvinistic without the severe dogmatic tenet of reprobation.” Without making any pretensions to the role of a poet, she gave lyrical expression to her own spiritual experiences and aspirations, and in doing so voiced the feelings and desires of others less able to express themselves. In this, though it cannot be said that she showed any marked originality of thought or felicity of expression, she at least fulfilled one of the offices of poetry. Many of her hymns have become widely popular, and have been included in various hymn-books in England and America. Her “Consecration Hymn,” beginning

  • Take my life, and let it be
  • Consecrated, Lord, to Thee,
  • has been, as we imagine she would have desired it to be, one of the most popular. Whatever qualities her verse may lack, there can be no doubt as to its sincerity; and this is a quality not always found in religious verse. The entire consecration she sought to make included her powers of versification; and had they been much greater than they were, they would doubtless have been devoted as unreservedly to Christian service.