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» Ship of Fools   » Community discussion   » Heaven   » the strange lives of hymn-writers

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Source: (consider it) Thread: the strange lives of hymn-writers
mr cheesy
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# 3330

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I've been reading some interesting things about Horatio Spafford, the writer of It is Well With my Soul.

In one sense it is a story about overcoming tragedy - to cut a long story very short, he was to travel to his family to Europe for a holiday but was called away at the last. The ship his wife and kids were travelling on got into trouble and sank on the way, his wife sent back a short telegram from Paris saying "saved alone. what shall I do?"

Horatio set out to join his wife from Chicago and it is said wrote the hymn on the tragic journey as it passed the place where his 4 kids died.

So far, so sad (and possibly how terrible to write those words in that situation), you might think.

But then, the weirdest part of the story is that he moved to Jerusalem to set up a house of refuge called the American Colony - but developed this strange apocalyptic theology which expected the world to end forthwith so abandoned celibacy and the notion of marriage and a bunch of other things.

Various parts of the story exist around the internet, check it out.

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone else know of some "lives of the hymnwriters" you'd like to share which might give some insight into the words we're often singing without thinking.

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my new book: Biblical But Bollocks. Available in all good bookshops.

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Moo

Ship's tough old bird
# 107

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The net hymnal has the kind of information you want.

The name of the site is confusing. Many years ago they were called the CyberHymnal, but they failed to renew their registration and someone else hijacked the name.

Moo

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Adeodatus
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# 4992

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I'm not sure it gives an insight on his hymns, but Sabine Baring-Gould, writer of Onward Christian Soldiers, also wrote The Book of Werewolves, a deep and surprisingly interesting study of werewolf lore.

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"What is broken, repair with gold."

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leo
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# 1458

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It is said that the guy who wrote ‘Cover my defenceless head’ (in Jesus lover of my soul) was doing military watch as he wrote that. It is said that one of the enemy had him in his sights but lowered his gun at this point.

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My Jewish-positive lectionary blog is at http://recognisingjewishrootsinthelectionary.wordpress.com/
My reviews at http://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com

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BroJames
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# 9636

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The author of "Jesu(s) lover of my soul" was Charles Wesley, so the story may be apocryphal.
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mr cheesy
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# 3330

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There are various stories about hymn-singing at the Somme, maybe that's the origin of the story.

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my new book: Biblical But Bollocks. Available in all good bookshops.

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Dafyd
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# 5549

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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
There are various stories about hymn-singing at the Somme, maybe that's the origin of the story.

The story I've heard - Ian Bradley's Penguin Book of Hymns - goes that a sniper in the US Civil War heard a soldier on the other side singing 'Cover my defenseless head' and so didn't fire. The two ran into each other by chance after the Civil War.
The story was told by a 19th Century US evangelist/ preacher. I presume it is therefore about as reliable as most stories used to illustrate sermons.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Trudy Scrumptious

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# 5647

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I used to do a feature on our local Christian radio station about "the story behind the hymn," and some of them are quite predictable and normal but there are some odd ones. I didn't know about Spafford's post-It-Is-Well adventures though; that's an odd twist to the story indeed.

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georgiaboy
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# 11294

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The author of 'Amazing Grace', after a career in the Royal Navy became a slave trader. He claimed his conversion resulted from his being saved from a shipwreck/storm at sea. He wound up as a CofE priest. (I think!)

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You can't retire from a calling.

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leo
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# 1458

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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
There are various stories about hymn-singing at the Somme, maybe that's the origin of the story.

The story I've heard - Ian Bradley's Penguin Book of Hymns - goes that a sniper in the US Civil War heard a soldier on the other side singing 'Cover my defenseless head' and so didn't fire. The two ran into each other by chance after the Civil War.
The story was told by a 19th Century US evangelist/ preacher. I presume it is therefore about as reliable as most stories used to illustrate sermons.

That's the version I was thinking of.

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My Jewish-positive lectionary blog is at http://recognisingjewishrootsinthelectionary.wordpress.com/
My reviews at http://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com

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Jay-Emm
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# 11411

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"Abide my me" was meant to be written by someone terminally ill (reminded of that by the lament songs)

"Now thank we all our God", was allegedly written after a nasty siege in the 30 years war.

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Nick Tamen

Ship's Wayfaring Fool
# 15164

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In it's not really a strange story, but it has one of my favorite tid-bits. Fanny Crosby, who was blind from birth (or soon after), wrote more than 8,000 hymns and gospel songs (lyrics, not music), including "Blessed Assurance," "To God by the Glory," and "(Jesus, Keep Me) Near the Cross." She used over 200 pseudonyms in her writing.

She campaigned for education for the blind, and in that capacity in 1843 became the first woman to speak in the United States Senate, when she recited poetry to a joint session of Congress.

She published books of poetry and wrote cantatas, patriotic, political and popular songs. She and her husband had one child, who died in her sleep as an infant. That prompted Crosby to write "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." In her later years, she was a tireless rescue mission worker in New York City. She was 94 when she died.

The part I particularly love: When she died, her family placed a small gravestone at her grave (she did not want a large gravestone), which reads:
quote:
Aunt Fanny
She hath done what she could
Fanny J. Crosby.

Talk about understatement.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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L'organist
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# 17338

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Jesu, lover of my soul was written by Charles Wesley and has nothing to do with the US civil war.

Henry Francis Lyte, author of Abide with me had chest problems from birth, notably asthma. He wrote AWM during the summer of 1847 during a profound depression at the (as he saw it) desertion of his congregation to "dissenters". He gave up his parish in Brixham that autumn to go to the south of France for his health and died at Nice in the November; his grave is in the Ste Marguerite cemetery in Nice.

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Rara temporum felicitate ubi sentire quae velis et quae sentias dicere licet

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leo
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quote:
Originally posted by L'organist:
Jesu, lover of my soul was written by Charles Wesley and has nothing to do with the US civil war.

I don't think you read the post about the soldier singing it.

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My Jewish-positive lectionary blog is at http://recognisingjewishrootsinthelectionary.wordpress.com/
My reviews at http://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com

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Cottontail

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# 12234

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Jane Borthwick was the translater and versifier of Be still my soul. She was born in Edinburgh in 1813, the oldest daughter of James Borthwick, who practically invented modern accountancy methods, and pioneered the modern insurance industry. James Borthwick spoke fluent German, and like all good Romantics, travelled widely on the continent as a young man, sketching the rugged landscapes. He is supposed to have been one of the first civilians on the field after the Battle of Waterloo, where he is said to have comforted a dying Prussian soldier in the soldier's own language.

James and his wife Sarah Laurie had nine girls and a boy, but only four of the girls survived into adulthood. As the eldest, Jane would have seen the deaths of six little siblings. Her youngest sister, Sarah, later teamed up with Jane to translate a host of hymns from the German. I don't think any of Sarah's are sung nowadays, but Jane's have survived a little better.

Sarah was the only one of the Borthwick siblings to ever marry and have children, and she waited until she was 38 to do so. She married Eric Findlater, a Free Church minister, despite a last-ditch attempt to prevent the marriage. Seemingly a man on a horse arrived at the Borthwick's well-appointed Edinburgh home the night before the wedding, having gallopped across the miles to warn James not to let his daughter marry 'that man'. The reason was Eric's dubious parentage. Findlater Senior was a respectable minister from way up north, but his mother was a bit of a wild one, and Eric had been conceived during a winter when a pirate ship had been stranded at the village by storms. Although it is more likely that the pirate story was itself a cover for Eric actually being the result of an affair with the local laird, who had insisted that the boy be named after himself.

Whatever - none of this was Eric's fault, and the Borthwicks were modern, rational, and pious thinkers, and so Sarah married him anyway. Somewhat to their surprise, they had three daughters, the younger two of which - Mary and Jane Findlater - had considerable success in their time as authors. Mary in particular was a beautiful woman, with fine, dark, Mediterranean features, just like her father! The Findlater sisters were feted in the States as well, and became personal friends of Henry James. They never married, but were somewhat abnormally close for sisters, Mary even breaking off an engagement because she could not bear to be parted from Jane. Mary Findlater died in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, Jane Borthwick continued her father's practice of travel on the continent, and one of her closest friends was the Swiss devotional poet, Meta Heusser. She was fascinated by the Moravian church and a great supporter of its missions to Labrador - so much so, that the Findlater sisters found little left of the Borthwick money by the time it came to them. Jane also wrote edifying books for children about the Moravian missions.

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"I don't think you ought to read so much theology," said Lord Peter. "It has a brutalizing influence."

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Amanda B. Reckondwythe

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Paul Manz, composer of the Advent motet E'en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come, was inspired to write the piece when doctors and nurses attending his three-year-old son, who was gravely ill, gave up on the boy, concluding that his death was inevitable and only a matter of time.

After Manz finished the piece, the boy recovered. He cherished the manuscript of the piece as a family heirloom all the years of his adult life.

[ 09. May 2017, 00:15: Message edited by: Amanda B. Reckondwythe ]

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"We're not in Wonderland anymore, Alice." – Charles Manson

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