Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harriet Auber

On October 4, 1773, hymnwriter Harriet Auber was born in Middlesex, England, the daughter of an Anglican priest. She grew up in the Church of England, and eventually published a collection of poetry titled The Spirit of the Psalms, or, A Compressed Version of the Psalms (1829) which included original poems of her own, as well as selections by other authors. Many of her poems were later used as hymns. Even today, a number of modern Anglican hymnals include at least one of her hymns.

O God, our strength, to thee our song
With grateful hearts we raise;
To God, and God alone, belong
All worship, love and praise.

In trouble’s bleak and stormy hour
Thine ear has heard our prayer;
And graciously thine arm of power
Has saved us from despair.

Led by the light thy grace imparts,
Ne’er may we bow the knee
To idols, which our wayward hearts
Set up instead of thee.

So shall the bounties of thy Word
Thy faithful people bless;
For them shall earth its stores afford,
And heav’n its happiness.

Harriet Auber, c. 1829; alt.
Tune: ST. STEPHEN (C.M.)
William Jones, 1789

For many years, Auber lived in the town of Hoddesdon with another "spinster lady," Mary Jane Mackenzie, another writer of religious works. One of Auber's widely-known hymns written during this time has a unique story behind it, as told in Popular Hymns and Their Writers (1944) by Norman Mable.

"There is a story that Harriet Auber was sitting alone in her bedroom, thinking over the sermon she had heard that morning, when the words of Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed came to her mind. As it happened, she was unable to find either pencil or paper to hand, and being anxious to set down the words while fresh in her memory, she took from her finger a diamond ring, and scratched the verses on a window pane.

After her death, a dealer in curios tried to purchase this interesting and peculiar manuscript from the owner of the house, but without success. It were better had he bought it, for not long afterwards the glass was cut out and stolen, and its whereabouts has never been discovered."

There are other stories of hymns and tunes being written on unusual media (remember the asylum wall?) but none quite like this one.

1 comment:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

An intriguing story indeed, and one I had not heard before.

Leland aka Haruo