Falling in love produced more initial troubles than joys for renowned minister and hymn-writer John Newton (1725-1807). He was only 17 when he knocked at the door of the home of George and Elizabeth Catlett, dear friends of his mother. Their 13-year-old daughter Mary (known as Polly) opened the door, and John’s life was never the same.
This is a sequel to an article I wrote a few years ago about some marriage proposals by 16th-century Protestant Reformers. Most of those were practical, from Heinrich Bullinger’s (1504–1575) exhortation to Anna Adlischwyler (1504-1564) that God had made her to have children (hence, she must marry), to Edward Dering’s (c. 1540–1576) acquiescent reminder to Anne Locke (1530-after 1590) that, whatever her reply, God’s will would be done and their faith would eventually lead them “both into a happye societie.”
Benjamin Beddome and The Rejection of His Earnest Love
In the 18th-century, love letters became more emotional. One example is the earnest plea by Baptist minister and hymn-writer Benjamin Beddome (1717-1795) to the poetess and hymn-writer Anne Steele (1717-1778). After listing his continued thoughts of Anne and “a disrelish to everything besides” as arguments for the seriousness of his love, he compared himself to the admiring Adam in John Milton’s description of Eve’s first appearance: a creature “so lovely fair, that what seemed fair in all the world, seemed now mean, or in her summed up, in her contained.”
“Would you but suffer me to come and lay before you those dictates of a confused mind which cannot be represented by a trembling hand and pen?” Beddome asked Anne, “Would you but permit me to cast myself at your feet and tell you how much I love you, what an easement might you thereby afford to a burdened spirit and at the same time give me an opportunity of declaring more fully that l am in sincerity, Your devoted servant.”
It must have been hard to say no to such a passionate suitor, but Anne did, as she continued to do with other men – choosing rather to stay single and to devote her life to writing.
Anne Cator’s Overeager Suitor
Some men went overboard in their expressions of love. Before marrying Anne Steele’s widowed father, the diarist Anne Cator (1689-1760) had to deal with one of these overstated proposals from a suitor who threatened he would die if she refused him.
Unruffled, she suggested he stopped talking so flippantly about death. “I am not ignorant,” she said, “of that general faculty belonging to your sex of expressing your selves very extensive on that subject, and therefore pass it by as a thing of corse. ‘Tis an easy thing to talk of doing, but not an easie thing to do, therefore I’d have those who can so rashly and in such small occasions say they wish for Death consider what awful things Death and Judgment are. I’m sure ‘tis that which ought not to be trifled with.”
She went on to say that, since she had not been cruel to him and had not caused him any injury, she didn’t believe she had any obligation toward him, “nor should I suffer my free affections to be captivated. Permit me therefore once more to desire you to divert your tho’ts by placing them on a more agreeable person, for I cannot comply with your desires.”
Thomas Charles’s Love at First Hearing
In 1779, the Welsh minister Thomas Charles (1755 – 1814) surprised businesswoman Sally Jones (1753–1814) with a marriage proposal after they had met only once. In reality, love had sprung in Charles’s heart six years before they even met, from reports he received about her character and her piety. “I immediately conceived an ardent desire, and a secret hope, that my Heavenly Father’s wise and good Providence would so order subsequent events that I should in due time see that beloved person of whom I had formed such a favourable opinion.”
Their first meeting, in the summer of 1778, had only confirmed the truth of those reports. He had wanted to express his feelings then, but didn’t. At that time, he was serving various curacies in Somerset, England, some ways from Sarah’s hometown of Bala, Wales. After unsuccessfully waiting over a year for a new opportunity to visit her, he decided to declare his love in writing.