June 10, 1854, was a day of fanfare in London with the re-opening of the Crystal Palace. The Palace, crafted from iron and glass, was the genius of the famed designer Sir Joseph Paxton and an architectural marvel. It had originally been built at London’s Hyde Park as a temporary hall for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Constructed in less than a year, it was dismantled six months after the Exhibition and moved to a permanent location in the south London suburb, Sydenham Hill. (1) Beyond the magnificent building itself, the palace was surrounded by stunning grounds, with gardens, fountains, and numerous models of extinct animals. In the midst of the excitement of the Palace’s grand celebration a similarly impressive love story was unfolding. GET SUSIE: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF SUSANNAH SPURGEON
Charles Spurgeon and Susannah Thompson were seated together with friends from the New Park Street Chapel. The crowd was anxiously anticipating the Palace’s opening ceremony when Charles handed a copy of Martin Tupper’s volume Proverbial Philosophy to Susannah. The book was opened to a section titled “Of Marriage.” In that poem Tupper wrote that a man should prayerfully seek a wife from God. Spurgeon pointed to Tupper’s words and whispered to Susannah, “Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?” Recalling that day, Susannah later wrote:
I do not remember that the question received any vocal 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 note of the glittering pageant defiling before her, as of the crowd of newly-awakened emotions which were palpitating within her heart. (2)
Charles and Susannah left the building and took a walk around the Palace gardens.
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, beside which the colossal forms of extinct monsters were being cunningly modeled. During that walk, on that memorable day in June, I believe God Himself united us to each other forever. From that time our friendship grew apace, and quickly ripened into deepest love. (3)
Susannah said of the Crystal Palace that it “was a favorite resort with us.” She declared, “It possessed great attractions of its own, and perhaps the associations of the opening day gave it added grace in our eyes.” (4) Both Charles and Susannah had season tickets and met at the Palace weekly to walk, talk, and relax. (5) The Palace with its colorful gardens provided a helpful context for their love to grow. Charles and Susannah were married on January 8, 1856.
Though the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936, remnants of its former glory remain, including the dinosaur models. My wife and I recently saw the ruins of the Crystal Palace, walked the grounds, visited the lake, and observed the representations of the extinct creatures that Susannah wrote about. We imagined Charles and Susannah exiting the great Palace, stopping by the fountains, walking the path to the lake, and viewing those same models. Though it was a moving experience to walk in the steps of Charles and Susannah, the greater opportunity is to now follow the imprints of their marriage.
In 1865 Charles wrote a love song to Susannah that provides a glimpse into their happy relationship. He titled the song “Married Love” and addressed it “To my wife.” One stanza reads:
As the river never forgets the sea,
But lashes to the oceans’ breast,
My constant soul flows onward to thee,
And finds in thy love its rest. (6)
Charles and Susannah’s love blossomed at the Crystal Palace and became a lovely bouquet that lasted throughout their life together. Their marriage deepened through both joys and sorrows and the flame of their godly marriage continues to illuminate through their legacy. The Spurgeons’ marriage is imitable for those students who will examine their relationship today. Charles displayed thoughtful creativity in revealing his intentions to Susannah. Through Tupper’s poem Spurgeon was not only able to unveil his feelings for Susannah, but he also displayed how they both needed prayer to God for their relationship to prosper. For Spurgeon, prayer was a matter of true spirituality. His letters to Susannah are ripe with injunctions to prayer. Tom Nettles argues that Spurgeon’s correspondences with Susannah, “always exhibited an indivisible solution of ardent spirituality, intense love for her, deep desire for greater usefulness, unfettered love of God and the gospel along with a consciousness of the need for more purity and single-mindedness in his love for Christ.” (7) Spurgeon’s genius of romantic expression towards Susannah was first manifested on a summer’s evening in 1854 at the Crystal Palace, and Susannah was convinced that it was God who had brought them together.
1. Gili Merin, “AD Classics: The Crystal Palace / Joseph Paxton” 05 Jul 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 02 Jun 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=397949>
2. C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife, and His Private Secretary (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1897–99; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1992), 2:8.
3. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:8.
4.Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:13.
5. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:13-14.
6. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:298.
7. Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 86.
This article originally appeared at the B&H Academic Blog
Ray Rhodes, Jr. is author of Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon. Ray is a pastor and conference speaker and author of numerous books and articles.