Tomorrow is the anniversary of the passing of James Montgomery, poet and writer of hymns. Frances Rolleston admired him, as did many others, especially those in Sheffield, England where he lived. A number of streets and public buildings are named for him.
Twice Montgomery was imprisoned for "sedition," the first time in 1795 for writing a poem celebrating the fall of the Bastille. The authorities' fear, of course, was that revolution would spread from France to England. Montgomery was imprisoned the next year for criticizing a magistrate for using force to break up a protest. Montgomery managed to profit from this experience by publishing a collection of poems written during the imprisonment.
Montgomery's activities in social issues extended to the anti-slavery movement, and this is how Frances Rolleston connected with him. They were both asked, along with others, to write hymns for an anti-slavery gathering in Sheffield. Montgomery admired Frances' hymn as the jewel of the collection—his own excepted. In appreciation, she wrote a poem addressed to him.* Montgomery wrote 400 hymns, many still in use today. More about Montgomery's hymns.
*This poem is in Appendix C of Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.
As a child, I thought slavery was ended with the American Civil War. As a teenager I read in The Revelation (or, Apocalypse, in the Bible) about the day when merchants would weep and mourn since no one bought their goods anymore. The list of goods, ends with "and slaves, that is, human souls." So I figured that some day slavery would come back.
Little did I know that it never ended. It is a world-wide business, and today human traffickers' profit $150,000,000,000 every year. It is the second fastest growing "business" after illegal drugs.
Frances Rolleston fought slavery in Great Britain and saw it outlawed. But she soon discovered another kind of slavery—that of greedy factory owners who enslaved entire families, including children. She wrote, "The abolition of African slavery which we have lived to see, and in which many of us joyfully labored heart and hand, encourages us to hope that the scarcely less iniquitous factory slave-trade will yield in time to public reprobation."
One source of information about slavery today is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Read about it here.
155 Years ago this month, Frances Rolleston said, "My object now is to make my book known." That book, Mazzaroth, took 50 years to finish. Now Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth is finally finished and on sale, and now it is up to me to make my book known! This is the happiest announcement I have made in a long time! Please read more about the book here.
April 7th, 1840, Frances writes to friends upon learning that they are expecting a child, "in the prospect of which I cordially rejoice, and that even on selfish grounds,—so few of my very dearest friends have little ones for me to love."
She wrote further, "I often regret that all my love of children is obliged to expend itself on the children of strangers." She is referring to the children in the infant schools she has started in various parts of England.
At the time of writing she is enjoying a new school in Kirk Ella while staying with the relatives who took her in as a child when her mother died. They have "built, endowed and entailed" the school for her, she says, and "therefore she is as happy as life in this world of sickness and of death permits."
Frances often mentioned her love of little ones. She suffered terribly when one of them died—and death to babies was frequent in those days. There is a chapter in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth titled "Loving and Losing Infants."
I'm interrupting TODAY BACK THEN to say something current. March 30 is the expected date Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth will be available. I am happy about that but also a bit sad.
The book as I imagined it is not the book that is. Speaking of format and design. I envisioned a hard cover, cream paper, sepia headers and footers, and photos of sepia and muted colors. A book that would be a joy to hold.
Instead, it is paperback, black and white.
To get what I wanted would have made the price over $30. I know that is not uncommon these days. However, prices and people's pocketbooks don't much agree, and it is more important to me that people read this book than that they admire its design. (The cost will be about $13, if you're wondering.)
Keep you eyes open for the announcement!
Today is the anniversary of the 1863 wedding of Edward VII, Queen Victoria's eldest son. Frances Rolleston was apparently lacking in enthusiasm for the celebrations that accompanied it.
For one thing, she was working hard (at age 82) for those suffering in the cotton famine (more about that in an earlier blog) and the celebrations were a distraction:
The outrageous folly of the world about the royal marriage has, I fear, given a great check to what was doing for the cotton sufferers.
She refused to donate toward the celebrations—especially the "fire-works," giving what she could instead to the suffering poor who had no share in the dinner, tea and other doings.
I am just now very much interested in opposing the use of fire-works to celebrate the princely marriage. What, when so many are starving, I say to the Keswickers, will you let the committee lay out, as they talk of, £20 in fire-works? What good do they do? Harm they often do.
She goes on to tell the story of a boy, friend of her brother, who was killed by a fire-work.
When the marriage was actually celebrated with fireworks, Frances was much more interested in the fact that the constellation Orion "shone through and beyond the wedding fireworks."
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:
I do not know where the sculpture in this photo is located, but it well illustrates the topic of this blog.
170 years ago in early February, Frances Rolleston was heavily engaged in doing what she could to save lives in Ireland. Individuals in England were sending money, but it hardly made a dent among the millions starving.
Church congregations collected for their sister congregations in Ireland. Frances' plan was to feed clergymen first—the most devoted and the most distressed—and their families, and send enough—only shillings per week—to provide breakfast to the children in their church school. By feeding breakfast to the children, their mothers would be able to eat as well, and not die among their dying babes. Frances reported that several schools were now reviving.
Frances claimed to have documents that showed that the clergy and their families would be next to die. "One clergyman writes, 'My heart is broken, my daily meal is steeped in tears, I shall die.' His perishing school-children distressed him most.
Another, "sinking almost under his heavy burden; his son dying of consumption in his house, his parishioners of hunger at his door, his family engaged in making 'stir-about,' and handing it out to the famishing crowd."
The British government finally stepped in, but so late.
"Now that Government is sending food, I may say what I always knew, that the largest sum individuals can furnish is lost among the millions of the famished; they are fed today, to die to-morrow; but by supporting the clergy and the schools, something permanent is done."
This last sounds almost utilitarian, yet to save some is worthwhile, even while knowing others will perish.
Famine has never left the world. The earth is plenty large and fertile to feed everyone, but wars, corrupt government and ignorance contribute to poverty and famine.
One day while working on my biography of Frances Rolleston, Clementi was on my mind. I had just heard on the radio a sonatina of his that I had once played. Felix Mendelssohn was also on my mind because I was then reading his biography. So, imagine how interested I was to find a letter written by Frances Rolleston in which she mentions both of these musicians!
What occasioned her mention of Clementi was that a friend sent her a copy of his review of Dante's "Purgatorio," and she responded by telling him that Clementi had once sent her a Roman copy of Dante to get her opinion on a disputed passage. (Sadly, she no longer remembered what the dispute was.) Clementi lived in London for most of the years that Frances lived there. They must have been fairly well acquainted for him to consult her opinion.
Frances was also acquainted with Ludwig Berger, a student of Clementi's, who in turn, was one of Mendelssohn's early teachers. I found Frances' acquaintance with Berger particularly interesting because of a suggested possible romance. However, I will leave that for the biography!