Friday, November 11, 2016

Anne Steele

November 11 marks the anniversary of the death of Baptist hymnwriter Anne Steele (1716-1778), the first prolific female writer of hymns in English. Following the cultural practice of the eighteenth century, her hymns, psalm paraphrases, and poetry were originally published under the pseudonym of "Theodosia." The books above are well-preserved first editions of her Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (1760), acquired last year by the Boyce Centennial Library Archives at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

New research on Steele's life over the last decade has cast doubt on some long-reported incidents in her biography, which you can read about here.  Also apparent from that site is that her hymns, no longer as numerous in hymnals of today as they were a century ago, have been taken up by the retuned hymns movement in several instances.

Today's hymn is Steele's version of Psalm 119, which is a long psalm of 178 verses, boiled down into fourteen stanzas by her, and further reduced and rearranged here into five stanzas (a bit more likely for modern congregations, who still might cut a stanza or two).

Blessed be God, our Strength, our Shield,
Amid the dangers of the field;
God's constant love and saving pow'r,
Is our defense, a sacred tow'r.

O let your mighty arm control
These threat'ning waves that round us roll,
Then shall our children, 'neath thy care,
Grow up like plants erect and fair.

Then plenty shall our stores increase,
Plenty, the lovely child of peace;
No more shall cruel plunder reign,
Nor want nor misery complain.

Your Name shall then new songs inspire,
And wake to joy the sounding lyre,
And ev'ry tuneful string shall raise
In various notes, our grateful praise.

O happy people! favored state!
Whom such peculiar blessings wait;
Happy! who on God's pow'r depend,
Our God, our Guardian, and our Friend.

Anne Steele, 1760; alt.
Tune: SHARON (L.M.)
Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, 1875

In the final stanza we find the word "peculiar," which may remind you of Jesus shall reign by Isaac Watts (unless your modern hymnal has altered that line). Of course, in the eighteenth century, people understood the word to mean "unique," but you can also read a discussion of how it might still mean "strange" in a Christian context.

Eight Years Ago:  Anne Steele

Six Years Ago:  Anne Steele

Four Years Ago: Anne Steele

One Year Ago: Anne Steele

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