In the early 1800s, Wales had experienced a revival of faith, and there was a great need for Bibles. The story is told of fifteen-year-old Mary Jones who saved money for six years, then walked twenty-five miles to purchase a Bible in the Welsh language.
To meet the need, on this day in 1804, The British and Foreign Bible Society was formed in London for the purpose of publishing, distributing, and translating the Bible. Frances Rolleston was one of the group of evangelical friends that established the Society. The group was and is known as the Clapham sect and included such well-known personalities as William Wilberforce, Zachary Macauley and Hannah More.
The British and Foreign Bible Society's influence spread all over the world. The Society inspired others. Within ten years of its establishment, sixty-nine other Bible organizations had formed.
Frances Rolleston made use of the Bible Society herself, as we read in a letter written when 81 years of age. She requested a Danish New Testament be sent to her.
From a letter she wrote February 2, 1863 we learn that Frances was donating copies of her book Canticles to help with the cotton famine.
The book was her translation of and commentary on The Song of Solomon in the Bible, and it departed some from the Authorized Version. She wanted to be sure that William Caddell, to whom she was sending the copies and who would be selling them, was free from any doubt of the correctness of the translation.
He had asked her how she explained the phrase, "His lips are like lilies," which she answered in this letter. Her answer was, "not in colour but in form, as we talk of the lip of a vase or anything that laps over. We talk of the lip of a cup or other vessel, referring to the form in pottery, gold or silver cups; if you look in the concordance you will find it so."
What delights me in Frances' work is her devotion to detail. She believed the Bible to be totally inspired by God, and thus every word important. And I love how her art and poetry contributed to and derived from her love of the Bible.
I've heard people claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. If those people examined it carefully, they would find that this assumption is untrue. The more minutely one studies it, the more beautifully it all fits together.
On this day in 1830, a great celebration was underway—the opening ceremony for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Prime Minister was in attendance. The celebration began with a parade of locomotives: Northumbrian, Phoenix, North Star and finally Rocket. Sadly, the exciting event was marred when a Member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was fatally stuck by Rocket.
In a letter two months later Frances Rolleston mentioned that the day of the accident which killed poor Huskisson (whom she had known), she had consulted her Hebrew teacher to ask if the word carcaroth in her Bible, translated swift beasts, could not be more correctly translated carriages.
She wrote, The word occurring no where else has received the most whimsical interpretations. I said, the Holy Spirit had dictated a new word to express a new thing, the reduplication of the root car expressing intensified rolling round and round, as the wheel of railway cars.
The scripture containing carcaroth is Isaiah 66:20 which speaks of the return of the Jewish people to their land: "And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD."
The oth of carcaroth is the plural suffix; what remains is car car, with the idea of round, the doubling indicating intensity. Frances' conclusion is that even by railway would the Jewish people one day return to their land. She was always alert to compare current events with Bible prophecies.
In a letter dated September 8, 1859, we learn that Frances Rolleston made the decision that many modern writers make:
After long delays in the attempt to find a publisher who would help with expenses, I have resolved, at a considerable pecuniary sacrifice, to print for myself.
The book in question is The Book of Canticles, or, Song of Solomon, according to the English Version, Revised and Explained from the Original Hebrew. It is only 20 pages long with an additional 12 pages for the "Metrical Version of the Canticles to which is added, Psalm XLV."
One might wonder why Frances should make a financial sacrifice for such a small book. She explains in the September 8 letter:
I believe it to be a Missionary service. I have long been made to feel that the translations of the Canticles gave a handle to infidels, and pain to lovers of the Bible. I knew the original was open to no such objections, and though some spiritually minded Christians have found edification in this book, the majority of Christians have passed it over in 'reverential forbearance.' One minister said to another in my hearing, "She has made it what can be read aloud." Only one verse of my translation meets with hesitation from the great Hebraists to whom I have submitted the work, the eighth verse of the sixth chapter; I enclose you a paper concerning it, and would be very glad for your opinion. I have no "authority" for my translation except the Hebrew text lying before me, with the change of one point, an easy corruption.
In a later letter Frances speaks of her hope that this translation of the Canticles will be an evidence of her expertise with Hebrew, thus adding credence to her great work, Mazzaroth: The Constellations.
Frances Rolleston: "I am sorry the good man you hear, preaches such blind doctrine about the 'Day of Grace.'"
It gave my husband a thrill to stand in John Newton's pulpit. Actually, it was not the same pulpit John Newton stood in, but it was a pulpit in the same position in the same church. (His actual pulpit has been moved to a back corner.)
It is wonderful to have those in church history, like Newton, whose lives were transformed by God and who afterwards lived what they preached.
Sometimes when we hear a preacher say things that do not line up with the Scripture, we are tempted to confuse the man with his views and condemn both. But Frances' statement above is the more Christian attitude. She recognized the incorrect doctrine (which she went on to explain) but she continued to see the preacher as a "good man." Good example to us moderns.
Frances Rolleston loved the Hebrew language and read her Hebrew Bible every day. She cared about the Jewish people and expected, according to the prophecies in the Bible, that the Jews would return to their land and once again be a nation.
Eighty-four years after Frances' lifetime, Israel became a nation. Tomorrow is Tu Bi-Shvat, the day the Israeli people celebrate being back in their own land. They have a lovely way of celebrating it. Let me share this blog with you today:
On this day in 1809, according to Frewin's Book of Days, Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born. However, other sources disagree and say it happened on August 6. In spite of that, I will continue with this blog.
Tennyson was made Poet Laureate in 1850. He was popular with the general public, and Frances Rolleston in particular, who stated in 1851 that he would certainly found a school of poetry. She called herself an Anglo-Saxon enthusiast and loved ballads and epic poetry based on legends of ancient heroes. As to that, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, a series of twelve poems telling the story of King Arthur certainly gave her joy. He published the first four in 1859 (the remaining ones not until after Frances had passed away.)
While reading Tennyson's Idylls in late December 1859, Frances was suddenly struck by the idea that "Canticles" (The "Song of Solomon" in the Bible) was the true idyll of the true king. She had recently been engaged in putting poetic parts of the Bible into metrical form and now felt she must do so with "Canticles." The idea was so strong that she immediately began working, continuing even on a Sunday. She normally would not have broken the Sabbath with such work, but "quieted my conscience with the idea that was God's word that had got hold of me."
Although the English Bible read poetically, Frances decided that the poetry in it could only be truly represented in poetry. She spent many happy hours rendering the Psalms, Canticles and other parts of the Hebrew Bible into metrical poetry. Metrical Versions of Early Hebrew Poetry was published before 1867.
By her eighties, Frances had lost all her old friends. The void was partially filled by Mr. Joseph Dallow, a young minister who came almost every day to read Hebrew Bible with her. He was dedicated to the needs of the country people and carried the gospel to places almost inaccessible.
On this day 1861, Frances wrote,
Last Sunday Mr. Dallow, expected home, did not come, and a simple Christian young man did the best he could for the people.* To-day Mr. Dallow has been here, and I found he had done what you and I would have anticipated,—in a poor neighborhood in Kendal a child rushed out of a cottage enveloped in flames and screaming 'Mammy!' he saved its life, rolling it on the ground, but burnt his own hand so badly that he could not travel. The pain, he says, has been dreadful, but no worse effects, and he thanks God he saved its life, and goes back tomorrow to evangelize the people, whose hearts no doubt are touched by his kindness.
What stands out to me in this account is that Frances makes no declaration of Mr. Dallow's heroism. What he did she or her correspondent could have "anticipated" just because that was the kind of person he was. It is daily behavior that shows true character.
*That is, filling in at the chapel where Mr. Dallow preached.
July 18, 1848
FR has just received a magazine in which an article has caught her attention. She immediately writes a rebuttal and encloses it in a letter to her friend Cary Dent.
"It is floundering for the want of Hebrew," she writes, "so do not lose a post in sending the enclosed to Mr. ___." In other words, get this in the mail to him immediately.
I suppose Mr. ___ is the editor of the magazine. Perhaps Cary had clout with him, or perhaps FR just wanted her to have the benefit of reading the correction first.
FR did engage in a number of debates by means of journals and newspapers. In this case, she is not content to inform the editor of the error, she comments further:
"It is a pity to waste so much good paper and printing on the conjectures of a blind man about light, for such must always be, tampering with translations without knowing the original."
FR, as we already know, was enthusiastic about Hebrew, having read and studied it since the age of 14. Reading her Hebrew Bible was a daily habit.
February 27, 1833
I am much amused with your humility about asking a question which no one can answer. No one knows when, or why, these signs were invented.
Frances is deep into research on the signs of the zodiac and names of the stars and constellations. As yet, she has not determined when they were invented and named. That will come later. Meanwhile, she answers her young friend's question in this way:
Sir Isaac Newton thought perhaps the ancient Chiron, if indeed he ever existed and was only a good horseman and not a fabulous monster, might invent them; but Josephus says they were on the stones of the High Priest's breastplate centuries before the Trojan War, and many learned Jewish writer have said that they were borne on the standards of the tribes of Israel.
I have now before me an ancient Rabbinical commentary on the blessing of Jacob, referring most of it to '"King Messiah;" and other Rabbins identify the Bull to Joseph, and the Lion to Judah; the Serpent or Scorpion to Dan, and a Wolf to Benjamin, rest also on ancient Hebrew authorities.
Is it only simple curiosity that spurs her on in her research? No, it is something richer. Her letter continues:
This inquiry has led me to such glorious testimonies of the faith of the ancient Jewish Church in the Divinity and Mediatorial Office of the Blessed Redeemer, that I am fully repaid for years of labour. I find that they attributed all, and even more, of the prophecies to Him, than we have ever done, and their views of "King Messiah" are magnificent.