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Frances Ridley Havergal: Poet and Hymn Writer

Frances HavergalFrances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879), poet and hymn-writer, the youngest child of William Henry Havergal, by his first wife Jane, was born December 14, 1836 at her father's rectory at Astley, Worcestershire, [England]. From early years she showed exceptional intellectual power, but owing to her delicate health systematic study was discouraged. In 1852 she accompanied her father and his second wife to Germany; studied for more than a year in the Louisenschule at Düsseldorf and in the family of a German pastor at Obercassel; and returned to England in December 1853.

She wrote verses from the age of seven with remarkable fluency, and her poems were soon admitted into 'Good Words' and the best religious periodicals. In 1865-6 she revisited Germany, and took the opinion of' the musician Hiller on her musical talents. Hiller saw talent in her melodies, and highly praised her harmonies.

Her father died suddenly in 1870, and she prepared for the press a new edition of his 'Psalmody.' On her mother's death in 1878, she removed from Leamington to South Wales, near the Mumbles where she died June 3, 1879.

Throughout her life she energetically engaged in religious and philanthropic work. Miss Havergal published collections of her poems and hymns in many separate volumes; the earliest is dated 1870. Among them were 'The Ministry of Song,' published probably in 1870, 5th edition, 1874; 'Under the Surface,' 1874; 'Loyal Responses,' 1878; 'Life Chords,' 1880; 'Life Echoes,' 1883; 'Coming to the King,' 1886. These were finally reissued by her sister, M. V. G. Havergal, in two volumes of 'Poetical Works,' 1884.

Miss Havergal also wrote many small devotional tracts and narratives in prose, all marked by the same earnest and practical piety. Her religious poetry became exceedingly popular in evangelical circles, and her hymns are to be found in all collections. In her poetical work there is a lack of concentration, and a tendency to meaningless repetition of phrase, but some of her hymns are excellent, and will permanently preserve her name. Her autobiography was published in 'Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal, by her Sister, M. V. G. Havergal,' 2nd edition, 1880. The influence of this book has been as remarkable as that of Miss Havergal's poems...

[Letters of Frances Ridley Havergal, edited by Maria Vernon Graham Havergal; Frances Ridley Havergal's Last Week, by Maria Vernon Graham Havergal.]

From Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891.

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