Introduction to the Hymns of
Maria de Fleury
Maria de Fleury (1752/3-1792) succeeded Anne Dutton as England's primary defender for Calvinist doctrines. Doctrinally, de Fleury was a Particular Baptist (she published a set of hymns in honor of believer's baptism by immersion), though in the last years of her life she became a regular attendant at John Tower's Independent congregation in the Barbican, London, and probably attended Timothy Priestley’s Independent congregation in Jewin Street. An ardent anti-papist (indicative of her Huguenot roots), De Fleury’s earliest poems appeared in the short-lived Protestant Magazine in 1781 and 1782, a magazine that was inspired by the controversy surrounding Lord Gordon and members of the Protestant Association and their conflict with the London authorities in 1780. De Fleury published several poems in defence of the Protestants, especially Gordon, and one poem defending Gordon and his followers against Charles Wesley's printed attack. Like Dutton, de Fleury vigorously defended her right as a woman to write on matters of religious doctrine, even challenging the controversial antinomian preacher William Huntington in a bruising pamphlet war (1787–91). Among de Fleury’s works are Poems Occasioned by the Confinement and Acquittal of the Right Honourable Lord George Gordon (1781); Hymns for Believer’s Baptism (1786); British Liberty Established, and Gallic Liberty Restored; or, The Triumph of Freedom […] Occasioned by the Grand Revolution in France (1790); and Divine Poems and Essays on Various Subjects (1791). De Fleury’s defence of her public writing appears in An Answer to the Daughter’s Defence of her Father, Addressed to her Father Himself (London: T. Wilkins [and others], 1788), 6–18, one of five pamphlets she wrote during her controversy with Huntington and his followers.
John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (1787) included a section of 30 hymns on Baptism by such popular hymn writers as John Rippon's Benjamin Beddome, Doddridge, Stennett, John Ryland, Jr., Benjamin Francis, and James Newton, but none by de Fleury. Soon after her death in 1792, however, de Fleury’s fame among English Baptists was derived primarily from her religious poetry, especially her hymns, four appearing in Poems, Occasioned by the Confinement and Acquittal of the Right Honourable Lord George Gordon, President of the Protestant Association (1781) and two more in the Protestant Magazine (1782). Fifteen hymns appeared in de Fleury's Hymns for Believer's Baptism (1786), of which five were published in Joseph Middleton’s Hymns (1793) (hymns 1-5 below), two in W. B. Collyer’s Hymns, Partly Collected and Partly Original (1812), one in Edward Bickersteth’s Christian Psalmody (1833), and one in C. H. Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book (1866). According to Cleghorn, one of her hymns found its way into the Presbyterian Hymnal (1901) as well as a Moravian hymnal (69).
Her two most popular hymns, “Ye angels who stand ‘round the throne’” and “Thou soft flowing Kedron, by thy silver stream” initially appeared in Divine Poems and Essays on Various Subjects, a work republished in America in 1803 and 1804 (taken from 1791 London ed., pp. 95-97). Of more particular interest to Baptist history, however, is her volume of 15 hymns titled Hymns for Believers’ Baptism (1786), a title that, when joined with her staunch Calvinism, places her solidly among the Particular Baptists at that date, when she appears to be attending chapels in Rose Lane or Red Cross Street. These hymns celebrate the solemn act of baptism by immersion through poetic arguments for its doctrinal accuracy and experiential power. Thy were composed to be sung at any baptismal service among the Baptists, and not a particular event. Thus, they are “occasional hymns” in that regard but they were not dated or affixed to any particular occasion of baptism at a particular congregation. She also added two hymns on “Offering Up” and “Presenting” of children at dedicatory services (not a christening) and one for the admission of new members to the congregation, all composed as generic hymns fitting for services in any Baptist congregation. Anne Steele did not compose any hymns on the ordinance of baptism, but one fragment, titled “Devotion to Christ in his Ordinance of Baptism,” has survived in the Steele Collection, 3/1/4, no. 1 (Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 2, p. 208).
Fear not, ye Followers of the Lamb,
Your Saviour leads the way;
You love his Word, you love his Name,
And those who love obey.
’Twas thus your glorious Master sought 5
The wat’ry Grave for you;
His sacred Steps (divinely taught)
With chearful zeal pursue.
Thus in the cold embrace of Death
Your blessed Saviour lay;
Thus he again resum’d his breath,
And rose to endless Day.
Thus you profess a death to Sin,
And . . .
W. T. Whitley, the eminent Baptist historian, thought enough of de Fleury to include a substantial quotation from one of her poems in his History of British Baptists (1923, p. 231). She may be the only Baptist woman to publish hymns on baptism in the 18th century.