Anne Ross Cousin: 1824 - 1906
Anne Ross Cundell Cousin was born in England, the only daughter of Ann and David Ross Cundell. Dr. Cundell was a surgeon who served at the Battle of Waterloo. He died when Anne was three, whereupon she and her mother resettled in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1847, Anne married William Cousin, a Scottish minister in Chelsea, London. They moved back to Scotland where their five children were born.
Around 1856, Mrs. Cousin was meditating on the letters of Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish Covenanter of the 1600s. While sewing, she would scribble down lines of poetry, ultimately weaving together expressions from thirty-six of his letters and his final words to create a poetic tapestry from which "O Christ, He Is the Fountain" derives.
Mrs. Cousin continued to published poems, hymns, and books. She died in Edinburgh at the age of eighty-two.
The Father bade his sword awake;
O Christ it woke gainst thee.
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake
Thy heart its sheath must be.
All for the sake my peace to make
Now sleeps that sword for me
Dumb darkness wrapt Thy soul a space,
The darkness due to me,
But now that face of radiant grace,
Shines forth in light on me.
A Time of Cultural Change
Mrs. Cousin wrote her delightful hymn at a time when Scotland was pulsating with social, economic, and religious change. There was more gentility among the people, with entertainments becoming more refined, cultured, and less boisterous and rowdy. Women were heartily accepted as contributors to the arts, including literature and music. This opened the door for Anne Ross Cousin to write and publish her books and poetry, including her delightful hymn, "O Christ, He is the Fountain."
On the other hand, there were changes that were disturbing and unsettling. Scotland was experiencing a growing chasm between the rich and the poor. While there had long been sharp class distinctions, the rich, who had earlier lived among the poor, had now moved out of the urban areas and had little contact and sympathy with the daily grind of those in poverty.
The Residue of War
After the Napoleonic wars, an economic depression and the potato famine occurred and increased the misery index. Those in the older part of Edinburgh were described as "a deep pool of struggling, jostling humanity." Due to England's wars of colonization, most men were involved in some manner with the military, and military uniforms were pervasively seen on the streets. War made many families fatherless.
A Reminder of Spiritual Roots
Also disturbing were modernistic trends in the church with new teachings that threatened the hard-fought advances of the Reformation. Besides this, Christians seemed to be much less ardent than their ancestors, and worldliness weakened the consecration of many. It was in this context that Mrs. Cousin's Christ-centered hymn was so well received, reminding many of their spiritual roots, and calling them to a more experiential walk with the Savior.
Caring Provision: Military Service
Dr. David Ross Cundell was a military surgeon from Leith, Scotland, who, after serving for a time in America during the War of 1812, became an assistant surgeon in the Thirty-third Regiment of the British Army and was present at the battle of Waterloo in June of 1815 when Napoleon was defeated.
After the peace of 1816, Dr. Cundell came back home to Leith to practice medicine. In January of 1820, he married Ann Parker, a lady from Yorkshire, England. Their only child, Anne, was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, England, on April 27, 1824. Unhappily, when Anne was only three years old, her father died. Mrs. Cundell, left to care for her daughter alone, felt it best to move into Edinburgh.
A Thorough Education
Anne was educated at home under the supervision of her mother, who enlisted "Mr. Wyer, afterwards Episcopal clergyman at Peebles" as her tutor. Under his instruction, Anne become fluent in French and Italian. Later, she learned German and enough Greek to read the New Testament in the original.
In addition, Anne also became an excellent pianist under her teacher Mr. John Muir Wood, the founder of the "music sellers" firm of "Wood and Co." Moreover, she became well versed in the fine arts.
Anne's mother, Mrs. Cundell, was known as a "remarkably vivacious and interesting conversationalist, and had in her youth mingled in the gay upper class society to which her family belonged, but while giving her daughter a thorough education, she did not introduce her to the society she herself had formerly mingled in."
Of Spiritual Things: Deeper Teaching
Although Mrs. Cundell was an Episcopalian, she and Anne attended the chapel services connected with the Church of England where D.T.K. Drummond was ministering. It was under his teaching that they "received deep impressions of spiritual things."
Later, Anne experienced further instruction under Dr. Moody Stuart, a leader in the Free Church of Scotland. While there, she also had the opportunity to benefit from the ministry of his invited speakers such as the Bonars, Dr. Somerville of Glasgow, and other leaders of the Free Church. In 1845, when Anne was just twenty-four, she began contributing anonymously to the Christian Treasury.
A Life of Service
In Gospel Service: Anne's Future Husband
On October 29, 1812, William Cousin was born to John C. and Isabella Paterson Cousin in Leith, Scotland. Through his father, a builder in Edinburgh, William was a descendant of a Huguenot family that had left France when Louis XIV revoked the Edit of Nantes in October 1685.
William was educated at the University of Edinburgh and was ordained in March of 1840. He began serving in the ministry at Duns in Berwickshire, Scotland:
He was a fervent Evangelist, a disciple of Andrew Thomson and Thomas Chalmers, and he had the blessed gift of spiritual power. He was the first in that region to hold a series of evangelistic services.... Duns then witnessed a genuine revival..., which was a part of that great spiritual quickening throughout Scotland in which the Free Church was cradled.
A Tribute to Gospel Fervor
The following tribute to William Cousin displays his loving availability to the young people of Duns:
His coming to my native town in 1840 was an era in the spiritual history of the place.... Many of us young people received a great spiritual impulse. Mr. Cousin was the first minister to whom I ever ventured to speak personally and directly about the way of salvation; and I well remember the time, while yet a mere boy, when as a timid and trembling inquirer I knocked at the door of the young minister's lodging, and hesitatingly asked the question, "What must I do to be saved?"
It was said of William that "he moved in the same ... circles as Moody Stuart and the Bonars." We can only wonder if, upon visiting the very services in Edinburgh where Anne attended, William became acquainted with this young poetess.
Marriage and Family
In 1847, Anne married William Cousin, who was at that time a minister in Chelsea, London. On February 13, 1849, they were blessed with the birth of their first son, John William, who was later known as the author of A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature.
The following year, they returned to Scotland to serve in Irvine, Aryshire. Their second son, David Ross, was born on September 5, 1851, and on January 5, 1854, their first daughter, Anne Parker, was born. Almost four years later, on October 13, 1858, their third son, George, was born. Mrs. Cousin called this time in Irvine "the idyllic period of her life."
The Letters of Samuel Rutherford
Around 1856 while living in Irvine, Mrs. Cousin-a busy mother with her first two young children-studied the letters of Scottish Covenanter Samuel Rutherford, who had struggled to maintain the progress of the Reformation two centuries earlier.
As she reflected upon Samuel Rutherford's letters while sewing, she wove lines of poetry together, using beautiful and Christ-like expressions from thirty-six of his letters and his final words to create a poetic tapestry "reflecting a warm evangelical piety" of nineteen verses entitled "The Sands of Time Are Sinking." This work was later condensed into a hymn called "Immanuel's Land" or "Rutherford's Hymn" and published in The Christian Treasury in 1857.
A Final Appointment
In 1859, the Cousin family moved to Melrose, Roxburghshire, the county from whence Samuel Rutherford came. Mr. Cousin ministered in the Free Church of Scotland there at Melrose for nearly twenty years, which was his final appointment. While there, they had their two youngest children: William Victor was born on November 9, 1860, and Isabella Wilhelmina was born August 3, 1864, when Mrs. Cousin was forty years old.
A "Time of Mellow Light": Author and Poetess
While serving with her husband at Melrose, Mrs. Cousin published a collection of 107 of her hymns and poems in Immanuel's Land and other Pieces by A.R.C. in 1876. Another of her best-loved hymns is "O Christ, What Burdens Bow'd Thy Head." She also wrote Memorials of Scottish Martyrs and Confessors of the Seventeenth Century and The Last Words of Rev. Samuel Rutherford: With Some of His Sweet Sayings. It was later said of her, "Mrs. Cousin, indeed, might well be termed a Scottish Christina Rossetti, with a more pronounced theology."
A Time of Suffering
In 1878, when Mr. Cousin was sixty-six years old, he became the senior minister at the church in Melrose and retired with his family to Edinburgh. Within four years, Mrs. Cousin was to suffer the early deaths of her son George, who died at only age twenty-two, and her husband, who died before he reached his seventy-first birthday. Moreover, in May 1896 Mrs. Cousin lost her youngest daughter, Isabella, who died in her thirty-second year, sadly, after having only been married less than six years.
But through it all, God graciously answered the prayer Mrs. Cousin wrote in her last days:
May our own God but grant to me
An evening-time of mellow light...
Anne Ross Cousin enjoyed reasonably good health and maintained her interest in life until her final weeks. She died on December 6, 1906, at her Edinburgh home at the age of eighty-two.