Elliott, Charlotte


b Clapham, Surrey (SW London) 1789, d Brighton, Sussex, 1871. The granddaughter of Henry Venn of Huddersfield, in her youth she enjoyed composing light and comic verses; after her conversion her energies were devoted to more specifically sacred themes. Living at Clapham among many evangelical Anglican friends and family, she suffered from poor health from at least her early 30s, particularly after a crippling illness in 1821 which severely affected her faith. But she lived long enough to achieve much and reach many through her writing, surviving for twelve and a half years longer than the 70 her doctor had predicted. 1822 saw the start of a 40-year correspondence with the Swiss evangelical César Malan of Geneva (the century’s leading hymn-writer in French, and to CE ‘the most beautiful Christian character I have ever known’), beginning with an informal private meeting where he directly challenged her with the question, ‘Are you a Christian?’ This encounter led to her best-known and highly-acclaimed hymn (see notes to 704). On family travels in the Alps in her late 40s, partly to escape from English winter fog, she acknowledged ‘the magical effect of the mountain air on my whole frame’. In 1834 she revised and rearranged Miss Kiernan’s The Invalid’s Hymn Book; often reprinted, this included 112 of her own texts. Many of her hymns also featured in a book compiled by her clergyman brother Henry V Elliott, Psalms and Hymns for Public, Private and Social Worship (1838–48). Other collections of her verse appeared in 1836 (Hours of Sorrow cheered and comforted), or Thoughts in Verse chiefly adapted to seasons of sickness, depression or bereavement, 79 items) 1839 and 1869. In her later years she moved to Torquay, and finally to Brighton, by which time she was sometimes too weak even to sit up, with hands crippled with arthritis yet struggling to write letters (particularly for family birthdays) when she could. She was often part of a busy household with many visitors. Her correspondence reveals a humility and sweetness of spirit, not without humour, imbued with touches of the Bible (which she loved and studied with commentaries), the Prayer Book, and the hymns of Watts, Newton and Cowper. She was saddened by the inroads of tractarianism and popery, the desecration of the Christian ‘Sabbath’ (notably by the railways), ‘the dangerous doctrines of the half-Christian teachers who abound in the present day’, the worldliness of many believers and the Free Ch secession or disruption in Scotland, where she had a great friend in Dalkeith. Her love of natural beauty is also evident, but shadows of illness and death are everpresent: ‘This world is the land of the dying, my beloved Jane’.

Her verse too, sometimes approaching Christina Rossetti’s in the next generation, is often sad: ‘Weakness, languor, pain, depression,/ all these ills will pass away’; ‘The thought of death inspires no fear’—the two halves of both these respective fragments typically give weight to both hope and sorrow. Another poem says ‘The plant of Religion best thrives/ in the night of misfortune and grief’; and she could also be firmly resolute (no.880) and cheerfully positive (prefiguring Stuart Townend’s In Christ alone?): ‘Christ is my hope, Christ is my life,/ Christ is my strength, my victory’. After her death her sister Mrs Babington printed Selections from her poems with a memoir (1873), followed by request by a further volume of Leaves from previously unpublished journals, letters and verses. Not all hymnologists are sympathetic to her situation or even very perceptive of it; among those who are, John Ellerton placed her in the ‘front rank’, James Davidson writes warmly in Julian as does Peter Newman Brooks in Hymns as Homilies (1997). 7 of her hymns are found in GH, and 5 in CH (one less in 2004). Charlotte was the aunt (father’s sister) of Emily; see next entry. Nos.704, 880.

Hymns and songs by Elliott, Charlotte

Number Hymn Name
704 Just as I am, without one plea
880 Christian, seek not yet repose