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She would open now
Her window, like wise Daniel, and would set
Neither would she attempt anything great, but whilst she would leave the building of the temple to others, she was still confident she could polish some little stone of it with care, or perchance help to work some rich mosaic on the pavement of its courts.
Master, to do great work for Thee, my hand
Is far too weak! Thou givest what may suit-
And make a life-work of the great design
Which thou hast traced; or, many-skilled, combine
The work she found lying to her hand might be lowly work, under the surface and in obscure places, but still she would do it with care and spend on it her best energies. Her poetry might not be ambitious, but still she would put all her heart in it, and every time she wrote she would write her very best. Making Poetry' is a poem of importance, as it shows the sterling spirit she carried into all her literary work, and as it collects, in short compass, a great number of her ideas about poetry scattered loosely here and there throughout her volumes :
Little one, what are you doing,
Balancing with swinging feet.
Think you, darling, nought is needed
There's a secret-can you trust me?
All its agony and bliss.
Poetry is not a trifle,
Lightly thought and lightly made;
Then as gaily left to fade.
'Tis the essence of existence,
Rarely rising to the light;
With your life-blood you will write.
There must be the slightest tension
Which reflects the purest blue.
Every lesson you shall utter,
If the charge indeed be yours,
you seek it? Will you brave it? 'Tis a strange and solemn thing, Learning long before your teaching, Listening long before your preaching, Suffering before you sing.
The publication of the Ministry of Song,' in 1869, made it distinctly apparent that the days of the great English hymn-writers were not passed away without hope of recall, but that there was even then in the country a spirit capable of paying worthy contributions to the national religious antiphony, capable of translating into a language that could really help the devotions of educated men and women, the best and highest aspirations of their spiritual life. No task is more easily degraded than that of the hymn-writer, and no form of literature sinks so rapidly as the popular hymn of the day. It had begun to show not merely a marked want of literary power, but a frequent coarseness and vulgarity of conception. Moody and Sankey' helped to debase not merely popular theology but popular hymnology. In Miss Havergal's sacred lyrics a higher note reaches us everywhere, and we see how even an ardent theology and the most glowing spiritual enthusiasm may be combined with the most perfect taste and a fine, pure, and high-toned feeling.
The Ministry of Song,' however, showed that Miss Havergal was not merely a writer of devotional lyrics, but a close observer of human life and character. If the book made it apparent that a new lyrist had arisen, it made it also distinctly apparent that one was moving in society who, having meditated a great deal on various problems of
human life, was industriously taking notes of all she heard and saw therein. Her secular pieces bring us into direct contact with those subtle and hidden forces which go to the moulding and upbuilding of character; they also give language to those great unseen griefs and those terrible unuttered agonies that lie immediately below the surface of apparently tranquil lives. To this class of her writing belongs her fine poem Wounded.' Although it is only the record of a drawingroom experience, yet it is impossible not to be struck by its inimitable literary precision, its animated force, and its truthful picturing of a too common incident.
Only a look and a motion that nobody saw or heard,
Past in a moment and over, with never the sound of a word;
Guesses the hand that gave it hardly a tithe of the smart,
They must be merry without me, for how can I sing to-night?
Only a look and a motion! yes, but we little know
Only a word and a motion! Why was the wound so deep?
Ah! I would smile it away, but 'tis all too fresh and too keen;
Is it an answer already that words to mind are brought,
Floating still on my heart, while I listen again and again,
In April 1870 Miss Havergal lost her father. On Easter Eve he
was unusually well, and after walking out he sat down to his harmonium and played and sang a tune which he had composed in the morning. Next day being Easter Day, he rose early as was his wont, but being suddenly seized with apoplexy, after forty-eight hours of unconsciousness he passed away. He had made himself an honourable name as a composer of cathedral music; and his daughter's allusions both to his life and work are many and everywhere graceful and tender. In one poem she says
He sang of one who listened from above,
He cast his songs at his belovëd feet ;—
Some said 'How strange.' And others felt How sweet.'
In another, again, she writes he sang
Enrobed in grand sweet harmonies
Without one thought or care for this world's vain applaud.
Immediately after her father's death Miss Havergal betook herself in earnest to the preparation of Havergal's Psalmody,' afterwards largely used in connection with Snepp's Hymnal.' The work was arduous and she missed much her father's advice; but musical composition being not the least remarkable of her many accomplishments, she was able after considerable toil to bring her labour to a satisfactory termination. So great were her musical acquirements that she seriously thought at one time of making music the exclusive study of her life. Before, however, taking such a serious step, she repaired to Cologne and consulted Ferdinand Hiller, a Jew, and then considered by the Germans the greatest musical authority of the day. Hiller subjected her to a severe musical examination, and encouraged her to devote herself exclusively to its study. How she did not adopt the advice of the musical authority does not appear, but further than now and again writing an occasional tune, she did not specially cultivate her gift of harmony. In all her poetry, however, there are to be found most distinct traces of her musical spirit. Her scanning is simply perfect, and never did dactyls and spondees render to poet a more willing service than they did to her. This gift, strange to say, while it is the strength and most distinguishing feature of her poetry, is often also its peculiar weakness. The critic of her poetry has to remark here and there an almost fatal facility of versification and passages that apart from their rhythmical cadences are of trivial merit as regards the substance of their thought. Amid ' her whirlwinds of fancy and counter-gusts of thought,' there are also euroclydons of pure melody and zephyrs of sweetly sounding vocables. But, upon the whole, we may judge of such versification lightly, as occasional composition of such a kind was only to be expected of one
1 No. 163 in Havergal's Psalmody.
who confessed that from time to time she was visited with curious musical visions in which she heard strange and very beautiful chords, generally full, slow, and grand, succeeding each other in most interesting sequences.' On one occasion, as she mused in a railway train, the musical fire burned; and in a letter to a friend, we find her thus describing her reverie: I seemed to hear depths and heights of sound beyond the scale which human ears can receive, keen, far-up octaves, like vividly twinkling starlight of music, and mighty slow vibrations of gigantic strings going down into grand thunders of depths, octaves below anything otherwise appreciable as musical notes. Then all at once it seemed as if my soul had got a new sense, and I could see this inner music as well as hear it; and then it was like gazing down into marvellous abysses of sound, and up into dazzling regions of what to the eye would have been light and colour, but to this new sense was sound. It lasted perhaps half an hour, but I don't know exactly, and it is very difficult to describe in words.'
In the last decade of her life Miss Havergal changed her residence frequently. Pyrmont Villa, Leamington, Oakhampton, and Winterdyne, were the places where, however, she spent the greater part of her concluding years. But her English life was frequently varied by continental journeys. It was during one of these excursions that she met the Countess Helga von Gramm. This was a most fortunate meeting for both poetess and artist, as the casual acquaintanceship ripened into a sincere and tender attachment. It must be said that although this meeting had produced nothing more than that beautiful illuminated edition of Miss Havergal's poems and hymns-a volume of which is now lying before us as we write-with its richly coloured plates, and the letterpress of every page looking out from frameworks of ivy and foxgloves, of passion-flowers and oak leaves, it would not have been without a result the most important. The friends both loved Alpine scenery very dearly, and what they both saw the one painted and the other sang. Miss Havergal has many casual references to the wild prospects of the continental highlands; but in the 'Mountain Maiden's Cantata' she gives her fullest representation of Alpine life and landscape. We should think a sunset on the Bernese Oberland was enough to test what stuff poet was made of! A few verses from her Sunset Chorus,' however, will show how Miss Havergal's imagination could handle such a splendid theme
It is coming, it is coming,
Of the loveliest and grandest all in one :
The great transfiguration
And the royal coronation
Of the monarch of the mountains by the priestly Sun.
Then in radiant obedience,