Two Notable Women
The interval of nearly 120 years that stretches between the Royal opening of the Crystal Palace and the present day has the effect of diminishing that glittering and somewhat ponderous ceremonial to the unreality of a puppet stage. It is difficult to feel the once living vitality and human warmth that surrounded it.
There is, however, a written record touching on the occasion, which has a tenderness and warmth that is very appealing, and is like a living voice speaking, clothing the grand occasion with the vitality of human emotions. Perhaps that is so because that verbal record is also the beginning of a love story, one that was to last for nearly 40 years.
On that historic June day in 1854, among the season ticket holders seated in solid rows at the south end of the Crystal Palace, was a young man, not yet 21 years old, who had already made his mark. He was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher with strongly Calvanistic views, who during the preceding months had been electrifying Londoners with his inspired sermons. Now he was witnessing the great occasion with a party of friends. This fact alone might well suggest his good organising ability, when one considers the hectic scramble for seats that took place when the doors were opened.
Seated next to the young preacher was an attractive girl, becomingly dressed, her hair done in the fashionable long ringlets of the day. She was Miss Susannah Thompson, a member of Mr. Spurgeon's congregation, and they had known each other for a few months. Her account of the Crystal Palace occasion, so fresh it is, reads as though that long ago event happened only yesterday. It gives the event the perspective of living people.
"As we sat talking, laughing, and amusing ourselves as best we could, while waiting for the procession to pass by, Mr. Spurgeon handed me a book into which he had been occasionally dipping, and, pointing to some particular lines, said, 'What do you think of the poet's suggestion in these verses?' The pointing finger guided my eyes to the chapter of Marriage in Martin Tupper's recently published Proverbial Philosophy.
" 'Seek a good wife of thy God, for she is the best gift of his providence .... If thou art to have a wife of thy youth. she is now living on the earth; therefore think of her, and pray for her weal !'
"A soft low voice said in my ear - so soft that no one else heard the whisper: 'Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?'
"I do not remember that the question received any verbal answer, but my fast-beating heart, which sent a tell-tale flush to my cheeks, and my downcast eyes, which feared to reveal the light which at once dawned in them, may have spoken a language which love understood. From that moment, a very quiet and subdued little maiden sat by the young Pastor's side, and while the brilliant procession passed round the Palace, I do not think she took so much more of the glittering pageant defiling before her, as of the crowd of newly-awakened emotions which were palpitating within her heart. Neither the book nor its theories were again alluded to, but when the formalities of the opening were over, and the visitors were allowed to leave their seats, the same low voice whispered again, 'Will you come and walk round the Palace with me?'
"How we obtained leave of absence from the rest of the party, I know not; but we wandered together for a long time, not only in the wonderful building itself, but in the gardens, and even down to the lake, besides which the colossal forms of extinct monsters were being cunningly modelled. During that walk on that memorable day in June... and from that time, our friendship grew apace, and quickly ripened into deepest love - a love which lives in my heart today...."
Extract from the Phoenix Suburb Chapter Nine by Alan R Warwick
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5/8/99 Last updated 5/8/99