Above: Sarah Flower Adams
SARAH FLOWER ADAMS (FEBRUARY 22, 1805-AUGUST 14, 1848)
English Unitarian Hymn Writer
ELIZA FLOWER (APRIL 19, 1803-DECEMBER 12, 1846)
English Unitarian Composer
Once upon a time there was a man named Benjamin Flower (1775-1829), a Unitarian and a political radical. He defended the French Revolution–something quite risky and illegal in the United Kingdom in the 1790s. Flower published a criticism of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff (1782-1816) which led to a six-months-long prison term (officially for libel) in 1799-1800. During the prison term schoolmistress Eliza Gould (died 1810) visited him. Flower and Gould married in 1800, after his release. She died ten years later; their third child did not survive either. But their first two children, Eliza Flower (1803-1846) and Sarah Fuller Flower (later Adams) (1805-1848) lived to adulthood.
Sarah wrote prose and poetry. She submitted works to The Repository, edited by the Reverend William Johnson Fox (1786-1864), a family friend and a Unitarian pastor in London. He was also a journalist, an orator, a philanthropist, and, from 1847 to 1862, the Member of Parliament for Oldham, serving as a member of the Liberal Party. When Benjamin Flower died in 1829, Fox became the guardian of Sarah and Eliza.
Eliza composed music. Her first published work was Fourteen Musical Illustrations of the Waverly Novels (1831). Three years later she published Songs of the Seasons. And, in 1834, she began a platonic relationship with Fox, who had left his wife.
In 1841 Fox edited Hymns and Anthems, the Words Chiefly from the Holy Scripture and the Writings of the Poets. Eliza edited the music, wrote sixty-three of the 150 tunes, and arranged and adapted others. Sarah wrote thirteen of the hymns. Among them was “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”
Sarah had married inventor and railroad engineer William Bridges Adams in 1834. He also contributed political articles to The Repository, thus holding up his end of the political-literary salon which his wife and sister-in-law maintained. They knew Robert Browning (1812-1899), who called Eliza
the incarnation of a poet’s dreams
a very remarkable person.
In 1841 Sarah published Vivia Perpetua, a five-act poem about early Christians. Part of that work has become a hymn:
Part in peace: Christ’s life was peace,
Let us live our life in Him;
Part in peace: Christ’s death was peace,
Let us die our death in Him.
Part in peace: Christ promise gave
Of a life beyond the grave,
Where all mortal partings cease;
Brethren, sisters, part in peace.
She wrote her hymns spontaneously, out of the conviction that the Spirit of God moved her.
In 1845 Sarah published The Flock and the Fountain, a children’s catechism with hymns.
Eliza contracted tuberculosis, dying of it in 1846. Sarah, who had nursed her ailing sister, died of the same disease two years later.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MAY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA
THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER
THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN
THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME
For Further Reading:
Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.
Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.
Help us, like your servants Sarah Flower Adams and Eliza Flower,
to work for justice among people and nations,
to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60