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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,
Only a word and a motion! Why was the wound so deep ?
Is it an answer already that words to mind are brought,
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 sany 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
Some said · How strange.' And others feltHow sweet.'
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 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 tire 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.'
1 No. 163 in Havergal's Psalmody.
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 5 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 a 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,
That marvellous up-summing
The great transfiguration
And the royal coronation
Then in radiant obedience,
Lights up the vassal-summits and the proud peaks all around;
And a thrill of mystic glory
Quivers on the glaciers hoary,
Crowned with ruby of resplendence,
In unspeakable transcendence,
With rock-sceptres upward pointing
While the glorious anointing
Then a swift and still transition
Falls upon the gorgeous vision,
But the paling of the splendour
Leaves a rose-light, clear and tender,
It is passing, it is passing !
While the softening glow is glassing
Ever faintly and more faintly,
Ever saintly and more saintly,
pure and perfect whiteness !
O mystery of brightness
Like the calm and blessed sleeping
Of saints in Christ's own keeping,
In appreciating Miss Havergal's verse it is not to be forgotten that her life was even purer than her song, and that her existence was not merely a literary existence, but that it was infinitely diffusive and spent itself in many channels. With regard to her lyrics she expressed the dearest wish of her heart when she sang,
Oh! be my verse a hidden stream which silently may flow
Where drooping leaf and thirsty flower in lonely valleys grow. And her life was like her poetry; it was a stream that made glad many waste places and carried the element of refreshment wherever it flowed. Not here and now can we speak of the Young Women's Christian Associations she formed, of the Temperance Societies she organised, or of the abiding success which seemed to wait on her every Christian effort to raise to higher levels the tone of life round about her. Suffice it to say, that hers was a soul filled to the brim with the spirit of philanthropy and self-sacrifice. It touches one to think how the first money she received for literary work—a cheque of ten guineas from Strahan--she spent wholly on benevolent objects.