Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fanny Crosby

The popular and prolific song writer Frances Jane Crosby (March 24, 1820 - February 12, 1915) was born in the town of South East, NY. Her mother, Mercy, was widowed shortly thereafter, and went to work as a maid to support the family, leaving the infant Fanny in the care of her grandmother, Eunice. She then suffered an eye infection that was treated incorrectly, which led to blindness.

Her grandmother initially oversaw her education at home, and as a child she had memorized the first four books of the Old Testament by the time she was ten. Later, in 1834, she continued her education at the New York Institute for the Blind (still in operation today); after graduating, she returned there as a teacher of English, rhetoric, and American history.

Long before she began writing sacred texts for Sunday school music in 1864, she had already published books of poetry, beginning in 1844, and had collaborated on secular songs and longer works with composers such as George Root (their 1852 cantata, The Flower Queen, can now be seen online) and Lowell Mason.

Later, of course, her gospel songs came to be numbered in the thousands, appearing in hundreds of hymnals and songbooks in the last third of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. In the books of her primary publisher, Biglow & Main, usually around half of the the songs were by Crosby, often under her numerous pseudonyms. Crosby's own records showed that she wrote 5959 texts for Biglow & Main alone, and it's not known how many were written for other publishers. It's estimated that there may have been a few thousand texts written by Fanny that were never published. In 1977, Hope Publishing Company (the successor to Biglow & Main) published 120 of these (a small fraction!) as Fanny Crosby Speaks Again, edited by Donald P. Hustad.

This is one of those texts which was not published in Crosby's lifetime. Hope Publishing has graciously allowed the reprinting of those texts in their 1977 collection even though under current copyright law, they are not in the public domain.

O Love divine, amazing Love,
That brought to earth from heav'n above,
The Son of God for us to die,
That we might dwell with him on high.

For us the crown of thorns he bore,
For us the robe of scorn he wore,
He conquered death and rent the grave,
And lives again our souls to save.

O wanderer, come, on him believe,
His offered grace by faith receive;
Awake, arise, and hear him call,
The feast is spread -- there's room for all!

Fanny Crosby, 1905
Tune: LOUVAN (L.M.)
Virgil C. Taylor, 1850
Words Copyright © 1977 by Hope Publishing Company
Used by permission.

LOUVAN is a tune that Fanny Crosby would probably have known; it appeared in many hymnals of her day (and still a few today).

An early account of Crosby's life was written by Robert Lowry and published in her 1897 poetry collection Bells at Evening (which was dedicated "to all who sing my hymns"). In addition to the outline of her life, he gives some details about the working relationships between her several of the composers who wrote tunes for her texts. Of her many, many songs, he writes:

The time has not yet come when Fanny Crosby's place among the hymn writers of Christendom may be determined, but it is safe to say that, of the many hymns which have come up from the throbbings of her warm heart, there will be found in the ultimate sifting no inconsiderable number which the world will not willingly let die.

Two Years Ago: Fanny Crosby

One Year Ago: Fanny Crosby

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