Humphrey Smith

Humphrey Smith (d. 1663) was an early Quaker preacher and one of the Valiant jailSixty. He was also an essayist, poet and musician.  Originally an Independent minister, he joined Friends about 1654.  He preached widely in the west and south of England and was known for his eloquence. He was also noted for healing a young woman’s mental illness. In 1655, 1658 and 1661 he was imprisoned for his ministry. During the last imprisonment, in the horrific Winchester Gaol, he contracted typhus and died.

Smith wrote prolifically. He is credited with about 30 tracts of theology, education and polemics, several of them composed in jail. Among them were “The Suffering of the Saints at Evesham”; “Divine Love Spreading Forth Over All Nations”; “Hidden Things Made Manifest by the Light”; “To All Parents of Children”; “For the Honour of the King”; and “Sound Things Asserted”.  “The Vision of Humphrey Smith Concerning London” was a prophecy of the Great Fire of London in 1666.  “To the Musicioners, Harpers, Minstrels, Singers, Dancers and the Persecutors” was an influential attack against music and dancing.  (At the same time, however, he lamented the loss of his music).  He wrote “One Hundred and Forty Four Lines of Secret Inward Melody and Praise to the Lord”, one of the first Quaker poems. Commenting on the poem and reflecting the ambivalence of Friends toward poetry, he noted:

“As I was walking alone in my prison at Winchester upon the 24th day of the 5th month, 1662, in much quietness and inward refreshing by the rising virtue of God’s refreshing love; these lines began to run gently through me, with melody in my heart to the Lord, and when I was free in myself to write, it departed not from me, but came so easy and so fast as I could well write, whereby in a very little part of the aforesaid day this was begun and finished with my own hand; yet would I not have it looked upon to be a great thing, nor a pattern nor example for others to run into the like, for since I came into the life and obedience of truth, I durst not write anything in verse until this time”.

And an excerpt from “One Hundred and Forty Four Lines….”:

Behold His glory shines unto His jewels rare,/He visits them betimes, when they in darkness are./Behold His heart is bent towards His little ones;/His love their hearts hath rent, and in His virtue comes.

(Above is a typical 17th century English jail.  Stools are modern).

December 2016

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