Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anne Steele

Today we mark the anniversary of the death of Anne Steele in 1778 (born sometime in May of 1716 in Hampshire), the first widely-known and sung woman hymnwriter. During her lifetime she wrote under the pen name of Theodosia (meaning "gift of God"), publishing her first collection, Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional in 1760.

Her hymns received wider recognition in 1769 when the fourth edition of A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship appeared with sixty-two of her hymns, quite a large number for a "newcomer." This Baptist hymnal was compiled by Caleb Evans, a minister and hymnologist who later wrote a memoir of Steele and greatly admired her verse.

Today's hymn was perhaps not intended by Steele for congregational singing, as she originally wrote it in thirty-nine stanzas. John Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology (1892) lists five different arrangements of stanzas which had appeared in hymnals up to that time; this is a sixth.

Come, heav'nly Love, inspire my song
With thy immortal flame,
And teach my heart, and teach my tongue
The Savior's lovely name.

The Savior! oh, what endless charms
Dwell in that blissful sound!
Its influence ev'ry fear disarms,
And spreads sweet comfort 'round.

Oh, the rich depths of love divine!
Of grace, a boundless store!
Dear Savior, let me call thee mine;
I cannot wish for more.

On thee alone my hope relies;
Beneath thy cross I fall
My Love, my Life, my Sacrifice,
My Savior, and my All!

Anne Steele, 1760; alt.
Phyllis Skene, c. 1902

Julian noted that the different versions of Steele's hymn sometimes had different opening lines; the original (as seen here) was altered in these ways:

Come, heav'nly Dove, inspire my song

Come, Holy Ghost, inspire our songs

Come, Holy Spirit, guide my song

Anne Steele's hymns remained popular through the nineteenth century but mostly have not survived into our time. Her complete works, finally collected and published in 1863, were republished by the Gospel Standard Baptist Trust of London in 1967, but did not, apparently, inspire a new generation of hymnal editors to reexamine her work.

Two Years Ago: Anne Steele

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