Above: Flag of England
Image in the Public Domain
JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON (CHRISTENED DECEMBER 18, 1808-DIED NOVEMBER 18, 1881)
English Hymn Writer
We know little about the life of this saint. In fact,some sources in the field of hymnology contradict each other regarding the years of her life and death. I have read, for example, of her birth occurring in 1807, 1808, or 1809. And I have read of her death happening in 1881 or 1882. Hymnal companion volumes, which I collect and use as main sources of information for profiles of hymn writers, have provided all of this conflicting information. I have chosen to follow the lead of hymntime.com, an Internet source I consult frequently, with regard to the dates for Leeson’s life. If I am mistaken, at least I am not far off the mark. Also, some sources give her name as “Jane Eliza Leeson” and others as “Jane Elizabeth Leeson.” I even found one listing of her as “Jane Euphemia Leeson.” I respect a person’s wish to keep his or her private life out of the spotlight, but I wonder why basic details, such as the year of birth and the year of death, for Leeson seem uncertain. Did not churches and governments keep such records in England in the 1800s?
According to hymntime.com, the christening of Jane Leeson occurred at the (Anglican) Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Nottingham, England, on December 18, 1808, soon after her birth (in 1808) at Wilford, Nottinghamshire. Eventually she joined the Catholic Apostolic Church (hereafter the CAC in this post). The CAC started with John MacLeod Campbell, an English Presbyterian minister who, in 1828, began to notice unusual happenings in his congregation. Some of his parishioners had death-bed conversions, reported heavenly visions, spoke of the imminent return of Christ, and began to prophesy and to speak in tongues. Edward Irving, another English Presbyterian minister, published approving accounts of the charismata, prompting the Presbyterian Church to defrock him circa 1831 and many to call members of the new CAC “Irvingites.”
The new denomination moved away from its Presbyterian roots quickly. It agreed with the Church of England doctrinally much of the time, adopted a vernacular-language liturgy with Roman Catholic influences, and affirmed the necessity of all the charismatic gifts. In 1832, as part of the process of preparing for the supposedly imminent return of Christ, the CAC named twelve apostles. The death of the last of these apostles in 1901 ended all ordinations in the CAC. The denomination divided in 1863, resulting in the formation of the New Apostolic Church (hereafter the NAC in this post), which has chosen new apostles to replace deceased ones since its beginning. The offshoot claims millions of adherents worldwide in 2014, but the parent body is, as far as I can tell, defunct. Some Internet sources, I think, have confused the NAC for the CAC. I trust my reference books more than certain websites in this matter. Also, several extant groups with “Catholic Apostolic Church” in their name have no historical relationship to the Irvingites.
Leeson, a longtime member of the CAC congregation at Gordon Square, London, wrote hymns and published volumes of them. The main audience for these texts consisted of children. Our saint, who contributed nine hymns and translations to the CAC hymnal, wrote her hymns in a state of prophetic utterance, consistent with the theology of her chosen denomination.
Leeson’s hymntime.com page lists fifteen hymns and translations of hymns. My research via my hymnal collection has yielded four especially fine texts, three of which I have added to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog in preparation for this post. A fourth (from 1842), which I found in The Church Hymnary–Third Edition (Presbyterian, 1973), follows:
A little child may know
Our Father’s name of “Love;”
‘Tis written on the earth below,
And on the sky above.
Around me when I look,
His handiwork I see;
This world is like a picture-book
To teach His Name to me.
The thousand little flowers
Within our garden found,
The rainbow and the soft spring showers,
And every pleasant sound;
The birds that sweetly sing,
The moon that shines by night,
With every tiny living thing
Rejoicing in the light;
And every star above,
Set in the deep blue sky,
Tell me that our God is Love,
And tell me He is nigh.
A partial list of Leeson’s published works follows:
- Infant Hymnings (1842);
- Hymns and Scenes of Childhood (1842);
- Lady Ella, or the Story of Cinderella (1847);
- Christian Child’s Book (two parts, 1848);
- Songs of Christian Chivalry (1848);
- The Child’s Book of Ballads (1849);
- Chapters on Deacons (1849);
- The Wreath of Lilies: A Series of Simple Comments for Children, on the Events in Our Lord’s Life (1849);
- The Ten Commandments Explained in Easy Verse for Children (1850);
- Margaret, a Poem (1850);
- The Story of a Dream (1850); and
- Paraphrases and Hymns for Congregational Singing (1853).
Our saint converted to Roman Catholicism late in life. In that communion she died at Warwickshire, England, on November 18, 1881. Her literary legacy has survived, fortunately.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
OCTOBER 4, 2014 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI, FOUNDER OF THE FRANCISCANS
THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISTS
THE FEAST OF JOHN ERNEST BODE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
Jane Eliza(beth) Leeson and others, who have composed hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH