Sunday, 12 June 2016

Fantasing About Being a Victorian Hymn-Writer

I must start with a plug about the ACW Today's Good Samaritans competition, run in association with Street Pastors?  Deadline is Sunday, 31 July.  More details in Christian Writer, page four, and on ACW website.  Good.  Plug over.  Our next (not yet launched) will be a poetry competition.  Watch out for autumn edition of CW.

Flowery cupMany of our well-known hymns started their lives as poems, the tunes being added later.  When I’m in church, supposedly singing the hymns,   I picture in my mind a comfortable Trollopian cleric in a frock coat, and his wife wearing a capacious black dress and a white lace cap, both of them writing beside a blazing, crackling fire, in a high-ceilinged vicarage, with the rain lashing the window panes outside.  The maid brings tea on a tray, the teapot inside a tea-cosy, minute flowery china cups and a hot water jug.  “Thank you, Violet.  That will be all,” says Mrs Vicar, as The Rev writes “I hunger and I thirst…”
flicking through Ancient and Modern Revised during the hymns in church, I'm always struck by the longevity of hymn-writers... seventy, eighty…

Hymn-writers, however, were real human beings.  The most prolific of all, American Fanny Crosby, penned over eight thousand hymns and gospel songs (none known to me).  She lost her sight as a baby, but is reported to have said "had it not been for her affliction she might not have so good an education or have so great an influence, and certainly not so fine a memory".  Bing Crosby was a descendent.

Country Scene - nothing to do with this post.
While drafting In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rosetti would’ve stepped over her artist brother, Dante’s, partially-clad models.  Jan Struther (Lord of All Hopefulness) is also author of the Mrs Miniver series. 

The British hymn champion, Mrs C F Alexander, wrote four hundred hymns including 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘There is a Green Hill’.  When she married an Irish bishop six years her junior, her relatives were so worried about the age discrepancy that they adjusted her date of birth on the register.  In the verse four of Within the churchyard, Mrs C F wrote these lines, which are truly amazing in every way!

They do not hear when the great bell
Is ringing overhead;
They cannot rise and come to church
With us, for they are dead.

Try taking that to your writers’ group! 

Country Scene - nothing to do with this post.I wrote part of this blog post on my iPhone, in the car, as I was waiting for church to start this morning.  I meant to write my post yesterday, but ended up spending longer than I’d anticipated putting together a lesson plan for my teaching observation next week.  Not everything in olden days was rosy, of course but Victorian teachers didn’t have to be ‘observed’ and Mrs C F was allowed to pour out her soul, in doggerel, without having to worry about all the ‘rules’ that are imposed on we writers nowadays. 

Will I reach eighty?

Rosemary Johnson writes under the pen-name Charlie Britten and blogs at  She has short stories published in various print and online magazines, including The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  She has a particular interest in historical fiction.


  1. This is a very interested post, Rosemary. For anyone interested in hymn writers, I am posting a link to a book by an ACW member about another hymn writer.

  2. What an absolute net resting and enjoyable post. They were certainly prolific

  3. Glad you found it enjoyable and interesting. I will look up Carol Purves's book.