James Montgomery, born today in 1771, was orphaned at a young age when his missionary parents died in the Caribbean. Young James had been left in the care of the Moravian community in Ireland and he attended their school. Later, intending to study for the ministry at the Fulneck Seminary near Leeds, he was expelled because he spent too much time writing poetry, and was apprenticed to a baker.
Apparently determined to write and not to bake, he ran away in 1787 and eventually traveled to London, looking unsuccessfully for opportunities to publish his poetry. In 1792 he was hired as the assistant to Joseph Gales, who published the Sheffield Register newspaper. Two years later Gales fled the country to avoid prosecution for publishing inflammatory political articles, and Montgomery took over the paper. He renamed it the Sheffield Iris and ran it for the next 33 years. Montgomery further followed in Mr. Gales's footsteps by being prosecuted twice; once for publishing a song in praise of the fall of the Bastille, and again for an article about a riot in Sheffield, which criticized the actions of the police.
His later interest in hymnwriting may have been increased through his friendship with Thomas Cotterill, the vicar of St. Paul's Church in Sheffield. Cotterill also wrote hymns, and had compiled a hymnal for use in his church which was forbidden by his bishop. The controversy over the hymnal lasted for some time, and Montgomery supported Cotterill in his efforts to encourage congregational singing. Cotterill's Selection of Psalms and Hymns, for Public and Private Use, Adapted to the Festivals of the Church of England was finally approved for use in worship in 1820.
Montgomery's own hymns, approximately four hundred (only a fraction of which can be seen here), were published after this time, largely in three books: Songs of Zion, The Christian Psalmist, and The Christian Poet, and were later collected in one volume, Original Hymns for Public, Private and Social Devotion (1853). Several of his hymns are still sung today, most of which we have already seen here (click on the tag below). This lesser-known text is his paraphrase of Psalm 23.
Thou, Lord, art my Shepherd, no want shall I know;
I feed in green pastures, safe folded I rest;
Thou leadest my soul where the still waters flow,
Restor'st me when wand’ring, redeem'st when oppressed.
Through valley and shadow of death though I stray,
Since thou art my Guardian, no evil I fear;
Thy rod shall defend me, thy staff be my stay;
No harm can befall, with my Comforter near.
In midst of affliction my table is spread;
With blessings unmeasured my cup runneth o’er;
With perfume and oil thou anointest my head;
O what shall I ask of thy providence more?
Let goodness and mercy, my bountiful God,
Still follow my steps till I meet thee above;
I seek, by the path which my forebears hath trod,
Through land of their sojourn, thy household of love.
James Montgomery, 1822; alt.
Tune: CRADLE SONG (184.108.40.206.)
William J. Kirkpatrick, 1895
I suppose not everyone will want to sing this text to CRADLE SONG by William Kirkpatrick, better known as one of the tunes used at Christmas for Away in a manger. An alternative is the tune assigned by the Cyber Hymnal, GOOD SHEPHERD by Joseph Barnby, but in this case I like the more familiar tune.
Two Years Ago: James Montgomery
Another Birthday Today: Augustus Montague Toplady