Field Stone Cottage Blog

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Fanny Crosby Biography

I recently finished reading Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby written by Edith L. Blumhofer, a professor of history at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. I thoroughly enjoyed the book! Biographies and history are two of my favorite kinds of books to read and this was a combination of the best of them. The book is well-written and well-researched. It is as much a history of American Protestantism in the 19th century as it is a recounting of the life of American's most prolific hymn writer. Her Heart Can See portrays Fanny Crosby in a completely unsentimental manner and effectively places her in the context of her times and the influences on her thinking and her work. Ms. Blumhofer begins by exploring Fanny Crosby's Puritan background but, in the course of the book, the reader becomes familiar with the social, political and religious climate of the times and the changes it underwent over Ms. Crosby's long lifespan of almost 95 years. The reader is particularly introduced to the other major figures of Protestant evangelicalism who effected Fanny Crosby's work. In addition, the author develops an understanding of how her blindness influenced the life that Fanny Crosby led, especially because of the long period of time she spent at the New York Institution for the Blind, first as a student and later as a teacher.

Many of Fanny J. Crosby's hymns were written for use in revival meetings and the new (at the time) Sunday schools. They were intended to convey the gospel in song, a simple statement of the message of salvation in Jesus Christ and the joy experienced through it, to be sung to a "catchy" tune and thus more easily remembered. Some have been dismissive of her simple hymns and many of those hymns have been forgotten but many, maybe even many of the now forgotten ones, have achieved their purpose in bringing the gospel message to those to whom it was needed, even those to whom it was not new. As Edith Blumhofer says of Fanny J. Crosby, "She sang of faith in an age of doubt, and millions grasped for certainty by joining her song." In that sense, Fanny Crosby's hymns are as relevant and needed today as they were in her time.


Kim from Hiraeth said...

I've been looking forward to your review! It DOES sound like an excellent biography of a remarkable woman of God.

I'll have to put it on my 'must read' list.

AuntE said...

You know how sometimes you hear of something once, and then again - not always by coincidence I am sure! I read about this bio and I think it was at Semicolon's blog. Now you're writing about it Dorothy, and giving it a good review. Must be time for me to search it out. :)

C.W.S. said...

I'm glad you liked the book so much. I thoroughly concur with your review (I was a little crabby with someone at Semicolon who said the book was boring and not inspiring).

Willow said...

Thanks for this review of Crosby's life. Very interesting. I remember teaching a little about the revivals in the 19th C. when i was a high school history teacher in a Christian school. We did not study them in depth, just in survey form, so reading a little more here was very helpful.

BTW, are you going to go to the Fiber Festival that is going to be held in your town? My sil mentioned it to me in an email recently. (She lives east of you)

Elle said...

Fanny Crosby is my favorite female hymn writer. Her life and faith expressed through her writing is sweet and pure. Thanks for your review. I'll be sure to look for this book.