William H. Havergal (1793-1870) was educated at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford and became a deacon in the Church of England in 1816 and a priest in 1817. Not long afterward, a carriage accident forced him from his clerical duties for a number of years. He returned to active church work in 1842. He reprinted Thomas Raverscroft’s Whole Book of Psalms (1845), compiled Old Church Psalmody (1847), wrote A History of the Old Hundredth Psalm Tune (1854) and compiled A Hundred Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1859). He arranged or harmonized many of the tunes in his publications. Some we sing today, especially of note is the tune Franconia, in many hymnals as Lord of Our Highest Love.

Though he never wrote any original lyrics, his greatest contribution to our musical heritage was his daughter, Frances. She was born in the rectory at Astley, Worcestershire, England in 1836 when her father was 43 years of age and the rector of Astley. She was educated in Mrs. Teed’s school while her father was rector at St. Nicholas in Worcester but because of her frail health, she received little formal education. Her mother died when Frances was eleven. Teaching herself, she mastered several modern languages and at the age of fifteen, gave her life to Christ.

Because of her poor health, her education suffered. Her father tried to make up by having her travel to where history wrote its pages. While visiting Düsseldorf, Germany in 1858 when she was about twenty-two, young Frances grew tired while on a tour of the art museum and sat down opposite a painting entitled Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Domenico Feti. The depiction was of the thorn-crowned Christ. The inscription above read, “I have done this for you; what have you done for me?” She wrote down a few words and later back at her host’s home worked on them until the start of the poem we now know as I Give My Life for Thee was formed. She wasn’t pleased with it, however, and threw it in the burning fireplace, only to have it bounce out after hitting the grate. Considering it a sign, she kept the paper. Several months later when back in England, she showed her father the words. He encouraged Frances to add more stanzas to make her poem complete. He later added a tune for the words. The tune didn’t survive but the words have penetrated the hearts of many over the years as we sing it to the Paul Philip Bliss tune entitled Kenosis. Thus began one of the most brilliant careers in hymnology.

Lesser known but still sung by many is her song Another Year Is Dawning. It was written near the end of 1873 for the upcoming new year. It is sung to Samuel S. Wesley’s familiar tune Aurelia.

    Another year is dawning: dear Father, let it be,
    In working or in waiting, another year with Thee;
    Another year of progress, another year of praise,
    Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

That same year after reading a small book entitled All for Jesus, Frances consecrated herself to Christ. She looked for opportunities to act out what she was writing in her poems. Take My Life and Let It Be was written the next year. As she later pondered the words “Take my voice and let me sing, Always only for my King”, she decided to give up singing with the Philharmonic and for other secular concerts. On another occasion, pondering the words “Take my silver and my gold, Not a mite would I withhold”, she decided to give all you sizable jewelry collection to the Church Missionary Society, only keeping two pieces that held family significance.

In 1876, while on vacation in Wales, Frances caught a severe cold and many thought she would die. After recovering, she wrote Like a River Glorious, expressing “God’s perfect peace”. Three years later while meeting some boys to talk with them about the Lord, she caught cold again and at the age of forty-two died. While on her death bed, she astounded her friends by saying, “Splendid to be so near the gates of heaven!”

Until her death in 1879 she would write hundreds of poems, most filled with the joy of salvation in Christ. Just by looking in the Paperless index file will show that her impact on our worship is significant with over twenty songs listed. The Paperless Hymnal has so far published eight of her poems put to music, though a couple have multiple tunes. A few of her other better known songs are: Is It for Me, Dear Savior; Lord, Speak to Me; True Hearted, Whole Hearted; and Who Is On the Lord’s Side.

Though Astley had only been their home for a few years, her father’s body had been returned there to be buried in the church yard. So too was the body of Frances Havergal, to be laid next to her father. I took this picture of her grave while there in 2011.

For other pictures of the building and grounds at Astley, go to:

A Hymn is Born - Bonner / Broadman Press 1959
Hymns & History - McCann / ACU Press 1997
Then Sings My Soul - Morgan / Thomas Nelson Publishers 2003
A Literary & Hymn Pilgrimage - Dr. Jerry Rushford 2011