Jenny Lind’s Most Glorious Voice

This is the day that … Jenny Lind was born, out of wedlock, in Sweden, in 1821.

Billed as “the Swedish Nightingale”, her singing was praised across the world. Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, London – the crowds came to hear this diva of the operatic stage (Cavalcade of History, by C. Golding, page 801).

It is said that at the age of three she was able to repeat a song that she had heard but once. At age ten she sang on the Stockholm stage. From 12 – 16 her voice lost its sweetness, then returned with full force.

For a year and a half she was the star of he Stockholm opera before attempting studies in Paris. At age 24 she sang for Queen Victoria opening the way for much success in Germany. In 1847 she went to London and was enthusiastically received. Here she sang for the first time in concert.

In 1850 P.T. Barnum, the American entrepreneur, signed her up to appear in 150 “concerts or oratorios” for $150,000 (The Fabulous Showman, by I. Wallace, page 134).

American audiences fell at her feet. The press spoke of her voice as “unrivalled” and so, too, was her popularity.

After two years Barnum released her from her contract – she had given 93 performances and he had made his fortune.

Jenny Lind married Otto Goldschmidt, her pianist, on 5 February, 1852. He was a famous German pianist who had been a pupil of Mendelssohn.

In the years that followed she rarely sang for personal gain.

Irving Wallace tells of one who found her sitting on the beach in the late afternoon – “a Bible on her lap. The friend wondered why she had abandoned her career at its height. Jenny replied, ‘When every day it made me think less of this’ – and she indicated her Bible – ‘and nothing of that’ – and she pointed to the setting sun – ‘what else could I do?’” (page 159).

Jenny Lind died in London on 2 November, 1887.

P.T. Barnum cabled her husband. “So dies away the last echo of the most glorious voice the world has ever heard.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Bishop Ryle’s Legacy

This is the day that …Bishop Ryle heard the Saviour’s “Well done, good and faithful servant!” It was 1900.

Born in 1816 at Macclesfield, England, John Charles Ryle was educated in his native town, then attended Eton and Oxford. It was in 1837, while finishing his Oxford studies that Ryle found faith. He was attending a parish church and, although there was nothing memorable about the sermon or the service in general, the New Testament Bible reading impacted him profoundly. The reader took pains to pause between each phrase of the same truth that so impacted Luther, ‘By grace are ye saved – through faith – and that not of yourselves – it is the gift of God.’ Four years later Ryle entered the Church of England ministry.

In 1880 Queen Victoria appointed him to the bishopric of the newly created Diocese of Liverpool. His evangelical and Protestant stance was soon evident. And the work flourished. Forty-two new churches and fifty new mission halls were opened during his ministry.

But it is as a writer his fame has continued to spread.

Three hundred tracts came from his pen – many of them defending the “glorious truths of the Reformation”. Larger works include his commentary on the Gospels (which is still in print!), Old Paths and Knots Untied … this latter volume often crossing swords with Romanist and Anglo-Catholic teachings.

His Christian Leaders of the 18th Century contains the biographies of some of England’s spiritual giants.

“It has been said,” writes B.C. Mowll, “that few in the 19th century did so much for God, for truth and righteousness, among Englishmen, as Bishop J.C. Ryle.”

Bishop Ryle served as Bishop until he was 83 years old, dying just four months after he retired.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Elizabeth Fry – Prison Reformer

This is the day that … Elizabeth Fry was born, in Norfolk, England, in 1780.

The Gurney family (Fry being her married name) were well to do Quakers who “did not wear the usual garb, nor practise the peculiarities … of that faith.”  On the contrary, they lived “in the gaiety of the world” (Doing Good, by R. Steel, page 285).

But at the age of 17 Elizabeth heard William Savery, an American Quaker, preach for over two hours, and she was awakened to a need of serious commitment.  It was 4 February, 1798.  “Since that time,” she wrote 45 years later, “I have never awakened from sleep, in sickness or in health, by day or by night, without my first waking thought being how best I might serve the Lord” (Great Women, by E. Dean, page 170).

On 19 August, 1800, she married Joseph Fry, and bore him 11 children.  At the age of 31 she was accepted as a minister in the Society of Friends (Quakers).  And there began a remarkable philanthropic work among the female prisoners in Newgate whose conditions were horrendous.  Every day at 9.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. a bell would ring, and the inmates would gather to hear Mrs Fry read the Scriptures to them.  More than that, she also fought for a betterment of prison conditions.  She visited every prison ship leaving London.  She founded a nightly shelter for the homeless (1819), a nurses’ training home (1840), and more!

Both Florence Nightingale and the young Queen Victoria admired Elizabeth for her compassionate exercise outside the home. Yet her determination to expose the inhumane conditions in English prisons also brought her opposition. “We long to burn her alive,” Reverend Sydney Smith wrote of Elizabeth in 1821. He added, “Examples of living virtue disturb our repose and give birth to distressing comparisons.”  (Howard League web article)

Dr Boreham records her deathbed scene:  “The more I think of it,” she murmured, “the more I am touched by the exquisite tenderness of the Saviour’s ministrations – of His tone and manner to sinners …” And with her last breath, “O my dear Lord, help and keep Thy servant” (Temple of Topaz, page 225).

The Bible – the Most Endorsed Book

I’m back looking at the Bible again. And by now you can probably quote my list of accolades about the Bible with your eyes closed. (Try it – if you can’t get it right check the final sentence in this blog posting to see how many you got)

It is no wonder that the Bible is the most Endorsed book in human history. A book of such extensive significance as the Bible holds would certainly be accorded many accolades and would be credited by all manner of people, young and old, from around the world and through the centuries.

The Bible has been endorsed by prince and commoner. Queen Victoria of England asserted that the entire British Empire stood on the teachings of the Bible. Founding Fathers and Presidents of the United States of America gave whole-hearted affirmation of the importance of the Bible. George Washington said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” French Emperor, Napoleon, said the Bible surpassed all other books.

Ghengis Khan, who once ruled China, apparently called for the church to send missionaries to teach the Bible to his nation. The Christians were slow to respond and so Khan passed the call to Buddhist monks, who turned the nation toward Buddhism.

In more recent history men of science declared that it was their confidence in the Bible and what it taught that led them to expect laws of nature and scientific principles on which the world could be understood. Most of today’s scientific facts came from the work of men and women who ardently believed the Bible to be the accurate and reliable basis for all understanding. Scientists from Kepler, Pascal & Boyle to Pasteur, Einstein and Fleming, and through to many thousands of scientists today, happily endorse the Bible as the cornerstone of their life and beliefs.

Recent history’s political and social leaders have also given keen endorsement to the Bible, including Sir Winston Churchill and USA President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan claimed that, “Of the many influences that have shaped the United States into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible.”

The Bible is the most Enduring, Authoritative, Profound, Resilient, Enlightening, Impactful, Endorsed and Significant book in all of human history.

Stability while ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’

At the midpoint of last century George Orwell wrote “1984”, predicting a vastly different world emerging in the following three decades. Orwell’s vision for 1984 wasn’t realised, but great change did overturn much of 1950’s western culture.

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan prophesied the “Change” as an inevitable cultural phenomenon in his 1964 hit song, “The Times They Are A-Changin”.

In 1970 sociologist and futurologist Alvin Toffler wrote his classic book, “Future Shock”, in which he proposed that the rate of change would accelerate. He predicted that the phenomenon of change would even leave people in shock as they struggle to find their feet in a changing world.

In view of Toffler’s prophetic warning take a moment to re-visit the lyrics of Dylan’s 1964 protest cry against that which he and his generation desperately wanted to change. I have made my own observations as to the implications of the song and then quoted from the lyrics.

The current status will be challenged:

“you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone”

Uncertainty prevails:

“And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’.”

There will be a reversal of fortunes:

“For the loser now Will be later to win”

Change must be responded to or else! Old values must be changed.

“For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled”

This is WAR!

“There’s a battle outside And it is ragin’.”

New values prevail, outside your experience:

“And don’t criticize What you can’t understand”

Rebellion is the new rule:

“Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command”

The old is passing away:

“Your old road is Rapidly agin’.”

Bitter confrontation is now in play:

“The line it is drawn The curse it is cast”

Old standards are expiring:

“As the present now Will later be past / The order is Rapidly fadin’.”

A new generation is ready to displace the old:

“The slow one now Will later be fast And the first one now Will later be last”

“For the times they are a-changin’.”

At an anecdotal level we are all aware of change. My mum would scold me at the table with the remark, “My mother would never have let you do that!” Times had changed. The “good old days” are remembered with fondness by many, who recall a safer, more secure and happier time.

So, if we are in Unstable Times is there anything we can do about it? Are we doomed to uncertainty? Or, as Toffler predicts, will we be so assaulted by change that our hearts fail us for fear?

I suggest that it is not change that we need to fear. Diversity has always existed. And much of what we see as change is simply the appearance of that diversity. I enjoy a much wider variety of foods than my parents did. Cross-cultural exposure has opened up a much wider awareness of the choices and styles that can be adopted in life and its processes. Technology advances with a panoply of new gadgets which extend our capabilities. More people are empowered to communicate, learn, be entertained and engage in enterprise than ever before, on a much grander scale.

That kind of change is not a problem for us. There are two experiences of change which are dangerous. One is the increase in evil. When a stable society crumbles into a violent human jungle the change has dramatic and tragic effects for all. However, this is not to say that something “new” has emerged. Rebellion, violence, destruction, theft, murder, immorality and the like have been a part of human history from early times. There is no reason to celebrate the arrival of such things, as Dylan did in the 1960’s

The most significant change, which undergirds the increase of evil in a society, is when the “foundations” are destroyed. Now THAT’S serious change. When moral restraint encouraged by the fear of God is removed from any culture or individual’s life the consequences are evil and ugly, both for the people involved and those they relate to.

King David lamented the situation where the bed-rock foundations of society are removed. In Psalm 11:3 he asks, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

The proven foundations for stable and productive society are not the things which Dylan exalted. Dylan extolled the virtues of rebellion, change, discarding of the old, uncertainty and confrontation. The true foundations, however, are not found in uncertain exploration of the unknown, but in committed grounding upon that which is tried, true and proven.

The Bible is that sure foundation. It has been called “the rock on which our republic rests” and “the groundwork of human freedom”.

Queen Victoria admitted that the Bible was the true foundation for England’s greatness. She is quoted as saying, “That book accounts for the supremacy of England”. An 1863 oil painting by Thomas Jones Barker, of Queen Victoria presenting a Bible to an African leader, is titled, ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’.

United States President George Washington is quoted as saying, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”. United States President U. S. Grant added, “The Bible is the sheet-anchor of our liberties.” Thomas Huxley is quoted as saying, “The Bible has been the Magna Charta of the poor and oppressed. The human race is not in a position to dispense with it”.

Add to those these further statements of the Bible’s importance.

“It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.” (Horace Greeley)

“That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests.” (Andrew Jackson)

(Quotes are drawn from Haley’s Bible Handbook 1965)

Stability in Unstable Times is best achieved by having that “sheet anchor” and “rock” as our foundation. While those around us dissolve into anarchy, deception, rebellion, slavery or the like, there is no reason for change to “shock” us in any way. We know that evil people will do evil things. We know that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth. We know that we will change from one degree of glory to another. We know that we can do exploits. We know that we are in a battle, but that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the victory.

If you fear the future or the shifting sand under our culture, then place your feet on the one who is called the “Rock of our Salvation”. Don’t be tossed about by every wind of doctrine but make firm your commitment to the “more sure word of prophecy” given to us in the Bible.

Change represents “change” and doesn’t have to involve “instability”. Go ahead and keep on changing, enjoy the changes happening around you. Find your sure footing in God and His Word and from that place of stability and strength step out to encounter and change the world for God’s glory.

Endnote: I was once challenged by a disgruntled church member in a suburban church where I was the minister. He accused me of changing in the years I had been there. I readily accepted his charge. I was sure that I had changed and I fully expected to keep on changing. Those changes were the sign that I am alive, but also a sign that I am a Christian being changed by God’s work in my life. The chap didn’t like the direction of my change. But I was absolutely delighted with it. I am pressing on to claim the prize.