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Historical Fiction / Church History / Who was Emma Leslie?

Who was Emma Leslie?

We have put much time and effort into researching Emma Leslie; unfortunately there is only limited information available on the details of her life. What we do know is that her actual name was Emma Dixon and that she lived from 1837-1909 and made her home in Lewisham, Kent, in the south of England. She was a prolific Victorian children’s author who wrote over 100 books. Emma Leslie’s first book, The Two Orphans, was published in 1863, and her books remained in print for years after her death. She is buried at the St. Mary’s Parish Church, in Pwllcrochan, Pembroke, South Wales. Emma Leslie brought a strong Christian emphasis into her writing and many of her books were published by the Religious Tract Society. Her extensive historical fiction works covered many important periods in Church history. Her writing also included a short booklet on the life of Queen Victoria published in the 50th year of the Queen’s reign.

Even though we do not know very much about Emma Leslie’s life, her writing reveals much about what kind of a person she was and where she stood on matters of faith. In 1874, she wrote the following Preface to Glaucia the Greek Slave, the first title in her Church History Series, which gives insight into her purpose in writing this series, her perspective on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the serious research she did in preparation for her writing:

Preface to Glaucia the Greek Slave
by Emma Leslie

In the pages of the following tale I have endeavored to show some of the many difficulties with which Christianity had to contend, on its first introduction to the centers of civilization, not only from paganism and philosophy, but from every mode of life and the whole tone of thought then prevailing. It was an age at once of atheism and superstition; of boundless wealth and the most abject poverty; of reckless luxury and selfish cruelty; and against all these, with the long train of evils they bred and fostered, the simple Gospel story of the life of Jesus, as told by a few fishermen, was all this new power could boast.

That it would make any progress in such a world of corrupt, luxurious, cruel pleasure-lovers, or proud, self-satisfied, disdainful philosophers, seemed impossible; for what chance had a religion whose whole teaching ranged itself against everything that the popular mind accounted as worthy of notice? It had no gorgeous ritual, there were no feasts or games in its service, it held out no hope of wealth or power; but, on the contrary, was despised, sneered at, and contemned by the rich and powerful, and yet, in spite of all the abounding corruption on the one hand, and the proud disdain of Jews and philosophers on the other, this “grain of mustard-seed” grew so mightily, that before its first founders had passed away its branches had spread into many lands, and weary souls were resting beneath their shadow.

In Glaucia I have endeavored to give a slight sketch of the manners and customs prevailing at this time, introducing a few personages mentioned in the New Testament, as Dionysius of Athens, Phœbe the deaconess of Corinth, and Paul the prisoner at Rome. For the necessary information in preparing this work, I am under deep obligations to Howson and Conybeare’s Life of St. Paul, Stanley’s Sermons and Essays on the Apostolical Age, Kitto’s Bible Cyclopedia, Neander’s Planting of the Christian Church, Mosheim’s History of Christianity, Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, as well as other works.

In the remaining volumes of this set of books on Church history I shall endeavor to present the most striking epochs and well-known historical characters in such a way as to link the apostolical age of Paul to that of his successor Luther, thus throwing light upon many dim pages of Church history, and noting the rise and progress of those errors that gradually crept in, so that Rome rivaled paganism in its evil and corruption, until Luther arose, and by his mighty voice awoke slumbering Europe to its need of a reformation.

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