Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cecil Frances Alexander

Irish hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander died on this day in 1895 (the date of her birth in 1823 is not recorded). Her first published writing was in a series of religious tracts she produced with her friend Lady Harriet Howard. They were both influenced by the Oxford Movement (also sometimes called the Tractarian Movement because its precepts were laid out in a series called Tracts for the Times, published from 1833 to 1841). Harriet and Fanny (as she was known) decided to put out their own tracts in 1842. Harriet supplied the prose and Fanny the poetry, intended to reflect and expand upon Harriet's themes. The tracts attracted much interest and were collected into a book in 1848.

By that time she had already published two collections of poetry: Verses for Holy Seasons (1846) and Hymns for Little Children, and texts from these collections began appearing in hymnals. Several more collections followed, and hymnal editors often contacted her for a new text or two for their books. By the time of her death her hymns were known and loved throughout the world, and many survive into our time.

Here are the blog we have already seen all of her most familiar hymns (click on the tag below), so I found something a bit more obscure for today.

From many a close and crowded place,
From many a lowly room,
Out of the strife of common life,
Out of its toil and gloom,

We come, for strength to keep our hope,
To feed the life we live;
The feast is spread, the cup and bread,
And Christ is there to give.

Each time we seek thy table blest,
Again, again, 'tis dear --
Joy thus to be rememb'ring thee.
And joy to know thee near.

Be with us at thy sweet love-feast,
Still feed us with thy grace,
Till faith's strong might be lost in sight,
And we behold thy face.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 19th cent.; alt.
Scottish Psalter, 1625

Following her death, her husband William Alexander, the Archbishop of All Ireland, published a larger collection of her hymns and poems. Though he included some biographical information in the preface, he did not reveal her birthdate either. Most of the preface tells about Mrs. Alexander's many works of charity and somewhat less about her writing. In a brief personal recollection, writing of their marriage in 1850, he says: it is not the exaggeration of affection which says that she was a singularly attractive person. Perhaps not the most effusive tribute, but he was, after all, an archbishop.

Two Years Ago: Healey Willan

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AuntE said...

The first two verses seem particularly fitting for this day when the Chilean miners are being rescued and brought to the surface after weeks in 'gloom'. Their faith in God is shining bright and clear as they give witness to His sustaining grace through their ordeal. I expect most of them will joyfully participate in Communion at the earliest opportunity!

C.W.S. said...

I was not thinking of those lines while watching the first miner emerge last night, but "a close and crowded place" indeed!