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Hannah Whitall Smith and Charlotte Mason
My four children played with blocks on my mom’s cramped living room floor in California, while I, sleep-deprived, distracted myself with the titles of the book spines on my mother’s shelves. This one popped out: The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. I asked my mother, “Is this a hokey self-help book?” “No, no,” she said. “It is deep.”
I took that book home to Virginia and read it in snatches, mostly after the house had gone to sleep. Hannah Whitall Smith, mother to seven, speaker, suffragist, and author, wrote it in 1875. I found her timeless wisdom to be refreshing, challenging, and grounding to my soul that teetered on the fulcrum between the eras of modernism and postmodernism.
“The clay is put into the potter’s hands, and then lies passive there, submitting itself to all the turnings and overturning of the potter’s hands upon it … the clay is not expected to do the potter’s work, but only to yield itself up to his working … What can be said about man’s part in this great work but that he must continually surrender himself and continually trust?”
How? She describes a talented missionary whose circumstances required her to unexpectedly be sequestered at home: “she accepted the discipline, and yielded herself up as heartily to sweep, and dust, and bake and sew, as she would have to done to preach, or pray, or write for the Lord.” And by that very training she was prepared for later fruitfulness.
I began to see how yielding and surrendering might be manifest through small but joyful acts of obedience in my life.
At about this time, I attended monthly “Ambleside Evenings” where we read and discussed chapters by Charlotte Mason. Many of her ideas fit “hand-in-glove” with those of Hannah Whitall Smith. For example, which one do you think wrote this? “To be a mother is the greatest vocation in the world. No being has a position of such great power and influence. She holds in her hands the destiny of nations, for to her is necessarily committed the making of the nation’s citizens.” That’s Hannah but could have been Charlotte!
My mother is gone now, her house sold, my children grown, but this year, for the third time, I re-read that now-coverless copy of The Christian’s Secret … I began to wonder if Charlotte Mason had ever met Hannah Smith, who was involved in the Keswick Movement that took place a mere 17 miles from Ambleside, UK. After searching online, I discovered a little treasure in this copy of a letter handwritten by Charlotte Mason to Hannah Whitall Smith — and, yes, the ‘Asbury’ in that link also happens to be the location of a recent renowned revival.
Mason’s cursive is difficult to decipher (she needed a Spencerian practice book!), but below is my attempt at translation. If I could not make out a word, I left a blank: “___.” If I guessed at a word, I end it with “?.” This is open to corrections and additions!
In closing, ponder with me the nature of the interactions and worlds of these two remarkable women …
Feb. 11, 1881,
My dear ___ Smith,
It was a great pleasure to me yesterday to meet you once more in England. How glorious meetings in Brighton where I last met you have borne glorious fruit in my experience and work, and in that of hundreds if not thousands of others.
The devil was never likely to let a movement like that fall unchallenged, and he had no difficulty in finding instruments for his work in timid half-hearted Christians.
But all the hubbub made no difference to me — the Lord revealed himself to me at that time, although I had been a Christian and a worker for years. And the revelation continues “a _____ bright reality” to the ___ his? mind?. But I did not mean low _____ _____ when I ____ my _____ — somehow it has ____ the ____ _____ ____ arose? so I shall not obliterate it.
I want to ask you whether you could come to us D.C.? on Friday March 5th. You will see by the enclosed _____ that we have our all day meeting the first Friday in every month; in the afternoon we have someone to give a little account of the Lord’s work.
Will you kindly come and tell the people about woman’s work in America. English women do so much need to be told the blessings you spoke of yesterday ____ ____ ____ in ___ it all.
Kindly let me know as soon as convenient,
And believe me
very truly yours
in the love of Christ.