Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper the hymnwriter (as opposed to the more well known artist) was born on February 17, 1818 in New York City. His mother came from an old Huguenot family and his father was a successful merchant. He was first educated at the Nash & Mann School on Bleecker Street (then considered "uptown"), and later graduated from New York University and Union Seminary.

He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1843 and served a few congregations in New York and Long Island. In 1870 he came to the Church of the Sea and Land, located in lower Manhattan at Market and Henry Streets, with a special ministry to sailors, where he remained until his death in 1888.

This familiar hymn, using the language of his congregation, first appeared anonymously in the Sailors' Magazine in 1871, and later that same year in the Baptist Praise Book (apparently without Hopper's knowledge).

Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boisterous waves obey thy will,
When thou sayest to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar’
Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on thy breast,
May I hear thee say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

Edward Hopper, 1871
Tune: PILOT (
John E. Gould, 1871

Hopper originally wrote six verses in the magazine; the Baptist Praise Book printed four, but these three verses, originally the second, third, and fourth, have generally not been used in hymnals:

While th’Apostles’ fragile bark
Struggled with the billows dark,
On the stormy Galilee,
Thou didst walk upon the sea;
And when they beheld thy form,
Safe they glided through the storm.

Though the sea be smooth and bright,
Sparkling with the stars of night,
And my ship’s path be ablaze
With the light of halcyon days,
Still I know my need of thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When the darkling heavens frown,
And the wrathful winds come down,
And the fierce waves, tossed on high,
Lash themselves against the sky,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea.

In 1880, Hopper was asked to write a hymn for an anniversary of the Seamen's Friends Society. Rather than a new text, he brought this one, and his authorship was finally revealed. Though he wrote other hymns, they seem to be mostly unknown today, perhaps because he also published them anonymously. He was working on a hymn text about heaven when he died on April 22, 1888.

A few years after Hopper's death, the Church of the Sea and Land (pictured below) went through a period of instability, and was nearly closed and the building sold by the Presbytery of New York, according to a few articles in the New York Times. Apparently the sale never happened, as the building is still intact, and is now the home of the First Chinese Presbyterian Church (the Sea and Land Church finally closed in 1972, after sharing the building with the Chinese congregation for more than 20 years).


timiriam said...

Thank you so much. I had almost despaired of finding anything about THIS Edward Hopper, and then I found your site. It's very interesting!

C.W.S. said...

Happy to help out. As you can see, there is much more information about hymn writers and composers here compiled from many diffeent sources.

Hope you will come back again.

Vic said...

Thank you for also sharing all the verses, even those not well known. I heard this song a few days ago for the first time and just HAD to find out more about the author. His hymn has been blessing people for almost 125 years.

C.W.S. said...

I always like to hear that older hymns like this are still being newly-discovered today. Thanks for stopping by, Vic.

Anonymous said...

Is there any relationship between this Edward Hopper and the artist, Edward Hopper?