Mary Lathbury, born today in 1841, will always be remembered for two simple hymns that she wrote for the Chautauqua Institution: Break thou the Bread of Life and Day is dying in the west. Charles Sumner Nutter, author of Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church (1905).wrote:
It could be wished that we had a
dozen or more hymns from her pen in our
Hymnal if all of them could be as poetic
and devotional as these two beautiful lyrics.
Nutter's book was specifically about hymns and their writers which were contained in the Methodist Hymnal of 1905, which did not, in fact, contain any more of Lathbury's hymns, though she wrote many more.
Today's hymn comes from a collection called Crystal Songs (1877), which contains many texts about water, used in various metaphorical ways.
O river of the Life of God,
Foreseen by saint and seer
No witness of thy glory tells
Thy coming drawing near,
The rising of the tides we feel,
The living floods we hear.
Beyond the waters, crystal clear,
The Holy City lies.
Its glory groweth day by day
Upon our raptured eyes
Who watch upon the shore until
The sacred river rise.
Then rise, O holy waters, rise,
Till waste and wilderness
Shall feel the overflowing tide;
And truth and righteousness
Shall spring, a miracle of bloom,
The whole round earth to bless.
Mary A. Lathbury, 1877; alt.
Tune: BROTHER JAMES' AIR (18.104.22.168.8.6.)
James Leith Macbeth Bain, 1915
Water was often a sort of code word used in hymns and songs on the topic of temperance in the late nineteenth century and some of the material in Crystal Songs reflects this. Though Lathbury did write more overtly pro-temperance songs, this does not appear to be one of them. Frances Willard, one of the founders and later president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union was a close friend of Lathbury, and wrote of her:
A high courageous faith, a loyalty to the best ideals, and a devotion to the truth that gave inspiration to all with whom she came in contact, characterized 'our Mary.'
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Three Years Ago: Mary Artemesia Lathbury