For a certain young couple it was their first Christmas together - or it would have been if it had not been for work committments.
William Booth had only met Catherine Mumford earlier that year, but within weeks they had become engaged to be married. They were head-over-heels in love, but although Catherine had dreams of an imminent marriage - she secretly hoped that she might soon become a wife and had already privately decided that her next birthday on January 17 in the New Year might be a good moment - they were still some years away from a wedding date.
William, who for years had longed to become a Christian evangelist travelling the country spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, had at last secured a job. Which meant that at Christmas the young couple were separated. Catherine at home in London and William north in Lincolnshire, where he had recently begun work as a Reformed Methodist regional preacher.
Later, of course, the couple would go on to start the international Christian movement, church and charity which is The Salvation Army and which today has church members and charitable work in more than 125 countries across the world.
Today their legacy is a Christian movement which benefits millions of people every day but at Christmas 1852 they were just two young people, missing each other desperately and communicating in the only way which was possible at the time - through letters.
In my book - 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch Books Sept 2013) - there's a brief glimpse of a Victorian Christmas through Catherine's own words, penned to her beloved. The letter shows us her heart, as well as a little of the minutiae of everyday life. But, as with all the correspondence which the couple exchanged over 40 years, this not just a love letter. As deeply committed Christian individuals, who each put God even above the other, their words of love were naturally interspersed with spiritual thoughts and ambitions.
Monday December 27th /52
My dearest William,
As I did not feel in writing tune either yesterday or on Xmas day, I will this evening give you a sketch of our Christmas enjoyments. Father dined at home & tho’ our number was so small we enjoyed ourselves very well.
Your representative on the wall seemed to look down on our sensual gratification with awful gravity, manifesting an indifference to the good things of this life, not at all characteristic of the original. I thought about you very, very much through the day. I could not but contrast my feelings with those of last year. Then my anxieties & affections were centered in objects whose love & care I have experienced through many changing years. Then I knew no love but that of a child, a sister, a friend, and I thought that love deep, sincere, fervent; perhaps it was; nay, I know it was.
But since then a stranger, unknown, unseen, till within the last short year, has strangely drawn around himself the finest tendrils of my heart & awakened a new absorbing affection which seems, as it were, to eclipse what I before deemed the intensity of love. Then my anxieties were almost confined to home; now this same stranger like a magnet draws them after him in all his wanderings, so that they are seldom at home. What a change in one short year! Can you solve the mystery? Can you find the reason?
But I am forgetting to detail the day’s pleasures, etc. After dinner we all went on a walk, talked about you, my dear brother, the changes which have taken place in a few years, the changes which probably will take place in a few more, etc. My dear father seemed kinder and more comfortable than usual; he is still a teetotaller & is abstaining altogether from the pipe; there is a change for the better in many respects. Don’t forget him, my love, at a throne of grace. Help me & my dear mother to pray for him… Oh, for a Christ-like sympathy for souls, such as I used to feel when I have sat up half the night to plead for them. My dearest love, this is the secret of success, the weapon before which the very strongholds of hell must give way. Oh, let us try to get it again; let us make up our minds to win souls, whatever else we leave undone.
But to return again, we spent a very pleasant evening together. I lay on the sofa, working a little watch pocket for the use of that stranger I have been speaking of, which I hope he will use for my sake, even tho’ he may be provided with one already. I hope he will not consider it murdered time. It did not take me long. My dear mother & myself enjoyed a good season in prayer & then retired to rest. Yesterday we heard Mr T[homas] in the morn’g; liked him much. School in the afternoon; got on well; children gave signs of serious interest. The evening spent alone, thinking about & praying for your preaching, etc. Today have been practising music, short hand, reading, working, etc.
Good night! I am very tired, or I would not send such scrawl. I long for a letter to hear you have enjoyed yourself and all particulars.
This is an extract from the correspondence of Catherine Mumford (later Booth) and William Booth held in the British Library (Booth Papers Vols 1-1v MS 64799 - 64802) which is included in Chapter 5 of 'William and Catherine - the love story of the Founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' - published Sept 2013 by Monarch Books (Lion Hudson plc) by Cathy Le Feuvre