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William Cowper

1731 - 1800 Author of "O Lord, my best desire fulfil" in Church Book William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper"; b. Berkampstead, Hertfordshire, England, 1731; d. East Dereham, Norfolk, England, 1800) is regarded as one of the best early Romantic poets. To biographers he is also known as "mad Cowper." His literary talents produced some of the finest English hymn texts, but his chronic depression accounts for the somber tone of many of those texts. Educated to become an attorney, Cowper was called to the bar in 1754 but never practiced law. In 1763 he had the opportunity to become a clerk for the House of Lords, but the dread of the required public examination triggered his tendency to depression, and he attempted suicide. His subsequent hospitalization and friendship with Morley and Mary Unwin provided emotional stability, but the periods of severe depression returned. His depression was deepened by a religious bent, which often stressed the wrath of God, and at times Cowper felt that God had predestined him to damnation. For the last two decades of his life Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton became his pastor. There he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties, and the two collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts. Bert Polman ============ Cowper, William, the poet. The leading events in the life of Cowper are: born in his father's rectory, Berkhampstead, Nov. 26, 1731; educated at Westminster; called to the Bar, 1754; madness, 1763; residence at Huntingdon, 1765; removal to Olney, 1768; to Weston, 1786; to East Dereham, 1795; death there, April 25, 1800. The simple life of Cowper, marked chiefly by its innocent recreations and tender friendships, was in reality a tragedy. His mother, whom he commemorated in the exquisite "Lines on her picture," a vivid delineation of his childhood, written in his 60th year, died when he was six years old. At his first school he was profoundly wretched, but happier at Westminster; excelling at cricket and football, and numbering Warren Hastings, Colman, and the future model of his versification. Churchill, among his contemporaries or friends. Destined for the Bar, he was articled to a solicitor, along with Thurlow. During this period he fell in love with his cousin, Theodora Cowper, sister to Lady Hesketh, and wrote love poems to her. The marriage was forbidden by her father, but she never forgot him, and in after years secretly aided his necessities. Fits of melancholy, from which he had suffered in school days, began to increase, as he entered on life, much straitened in means after his father's death. But on the whole, it is the playful, humorous side of him that is most prominent in the nine years after his call to the Bar; spent in the society of Colman, Bonnell Thornton, and Lloyd, and in writing satires for The Connoisseur and St. James's Chronicle and halfpenny ballads. Then came the awful calamity, which destroyed all hopes of distinction, and made him a sedentary invalid, dependent on his friends. He had been nominated to the Clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords, but the dread of appearing before them to show his fitness for the appointment overthrew his reason. He attempted his life with "laudanum, knife and cord,"—-in the third attempt nearly succeeding. The dark delusion of his life now first showed itself—a belief in his reprobation by God. But for the present, under the wise and Christian treatment of Dr. Cotton (q. v.) at St. Albans, it passed away; and the eight years that followed, of which the two first were spent at Huntingdon (where he formed his lifelong friendship with Mrs. Unwin), and the remainder at Olney in active piety among the poor, and enthusiastic devotions under the guidance of John Newton (q. v.), were full of the realisation of God's favour, and the happiest, most lucid period of his life. But the tension of long religious exercises, the nervous excitement of leading at prayer meetings, and the extreme despondence (far more than the Calvinism) of Newton, could scarcely have been a healthy atmosphere for a shy, sensitive spirit, that needed most of all the joyous sunlight of Christianity. A year after his brother's death, madness returned. Under the conviction that it was the command of God, he attempted suicide; and he then settled down into a belief in stark contradiction to his Calvinistic creed, "that the Lord, after having renewed him in holiness, had doomed him to everlasting perdition" (Southey). In its darkest form his affliction lasted sixteen months, during which he chiefly resided in J. Newton's house, patiently tended by him and by his devoted nurse, Mrs. Unwin. Gradually he became interested in carpentering, gardening, glazing, and the tendance of some tame hares and other playmates. At the close of 1780, Mrs. Unwin suggested to him some serious poetical work; and the occupation proved so congenial, that his first volume was published in 1782. To a gay episode in 1783 (his fascination by the wit of Lady Austen) his greatest poem, The Task, and also John Gilpin were owing. His other principal work was his Homer, published in 1791. The dark cloud had greatly lifted from his life when Lady Hesketh's care accomplished his removal to Weston (1786): but the loss of his dear friend William Unwin lowered it again for some months. The five years' illness of Mrs. Unwin, during which his nurse of old became his tenderly-watched patient, deepened the darkness more and more. And her death (1796) brought “fixed despair," of which his last poem, The Castaway, is the terrible memorial. Perhaps no more beautiful sentence has been written of him, than the testimony of one, who saw him after death, that with the "composure and calmness" of the face there “mingled, as it were, a holy surprise." Cowper's poetry marks the dawn of the return from the conventionality of Pope to natural expression, and the study of quiet nature. His ambition was higher than this, to be the Bard of Christianity. His great poems show no trace of his monomania, and are full of healthy piety. His fame as a poet is less than as a letter-writer: the charm of his letters is unsurpassed. Though the most considerable poet, who has written hymns, he has contributed little to the development of their structure, adopting the traditional modes of his time and Newton's severe canons. The spiritual ideas of the hymns are identical with Newton's: their highest note is peace and thankful contemplation, rather than joy: more than half of them are full of trustful or reassuring faith: ten of them are either submissive (44), self-reproachful (17, 42, 43), full of sad yearning (1, 34), questioning (9), or dark spiritual conflict (38-40). The specialty of Cowper's handling is a greater plaintiveness, tenderness, and refinement. A study of these hymns as they stood originally under the classified heads of the Olney Hymns, 1779, which in some cases probably indicate the aim of Cowper as well as the ultimate arrangement of the book by Newton, shows that one or two hymns were more the history of his conversion, than transcripts of present feelings; and the study of Newton's hymns in the same volume, full of heavy indictment against the sins of his own regenerate life, brings out the peculiar danger of his friendship to the poet: it tends also to modify considerably the conclusions of Southey as to the signs of incipient madness in Cowper's maddest hymns. Cowper's best hymns are given in The Book of Praise by Lord Selborne. Two may be selected from them; the exquisitely tender "Hark! my soul, it is the Lord" (q. v.), and "Oh, for a closer walk with God" (q. v.). Anyone who knows Mrs. Browning's noble lines on Cowper's grave will find even a deeper beauty in the latter, which is a purely English hymn of perfect structure and streamlike cadence, by connecting its sadness and its aspiration not only with the “discord on the music" and the "darkness on the glory," but the rapture of his heavenly waking beneath the "pathetic eyes” of Christ. Authorities. Lives, by Hayley; Grimshaw; Southey; Professor Goldwin Smith; Mr. Benham (attached to Globe Edition); Life of Newton, by Rev. Josiah Bull; and the Olney Hymns. The numbers of the hymns quoted refer to the Olney Hymns. [Rev. H. Leigh Bennett, M.A.] --John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) ================ Cowper, W. , p. 265, i. Other hymns are:— 1. Holy Lord God, I love Thy truth. Hatred of Sin. 2. I was a grovelling creature once. Hope and Confidence. 3. No strength of nature can suffice. Obedience through love. 4. The Lord receives His highest praise. Faith. 5. The saints should never be dismayed. Providence. All these hymns appeared in the Olney Hymns, 1779. --John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907) ===================== Cowper, W., p. 265, i. Prof. John E. B. Mayor, of Cambridge, contributed some letters by Cowper, hitherto unpublished, together with notes thereon, to Notes and Queries, July 2 to Sept. 24, 1904. These letters are dated from Huntingdon, where he spent two years after leaving St. Alban's (see p. 265, i.), and Olney. The first is dated "Huntingdon, June 24, 1765," and the last "From Olney, July 14, 1772." They together with extracts from other letters by J. Newton (dated respectively Aug. 8, 1772, Nov. 4, 1772), two quotations without date, followed by the last in the N. & Q. series, Aug. 1773, are of intense interest to all students of Cowper, and especially to those who have given attention to the religious side of the poet's life, with its faint lights and deep and awful shadows. From the hymnological standpoint the additional information which we gather is not important, except concerning the hymns "0 for a closer walk with God," "God moves in a mysterious way," "Tis my happiness below," and "Hear what God, the Lord, hath spoken." Concerning the last three, their position in the manuscripts, and the date of the last from J. Newton in the above order, "Aug. 1773," is conclusive proof against the common belief that "God moves in a mysterious way" was written as the outpouring of Cowper's soul in gratitude for the frustration of his attempted suicide in October 1773. --John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, New Supplement (1907)

John Fawcett

1740 - 1817 Author of "Thy way, O God, is in the sea" in Church Book An orphan at the age of twelve, John Fawcett (b. Lidget Green, Yorkshire, England, 1740; d. Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, 1817) became apprenticed to a tailor and was largely self-educated. He was converted by the preaching of George Whitefield at the age of sixteen and began preaching soon thereafter. In 1765 Fawcett was called to a small, poor, Baptist country church in Wainsgate, Yorkshire. Seven years later he received a call from the large and influential Carter's Lane Church in London, England. Fawcett accepted the call and preached his farewell sermon. The day of departure came, and his family's belongings were loaded on carts, but the distraught congregation begged him to stay. In Singers and Songs of the Church (1869), Josiah Miller tells the story associated with this text: This favorite hymn is said to have been written in 1772, to commemorate the determination of its author to remain with his attached people at Wainsgate. The farewell sermon was preached, the wagons were loaded, when love and tears prevailed, and Dr. Fawcett sacrificed the attraction of a London pulpit to the affection of his poor but devoted flock. Fawcett continued to serve in Wainsgate and in the nearby village of Hebden Bridge for the remainder of his active ministry. Bert Polman =============== Fawcett, John, D.D., was born Jan. 6, 1739 or 1740, at Lidget Green, near Bradford, Yorks. Converted at the age of sixteen under the ministry of G. Whitefield, he at first joined the Methodists, but three years later united with the Baptist Church at Bradford. Having begun to preach he was, in 1765, ordained Baptist minister at Wainsgate, near Hebden Bridge, Yorks. In 1772 he was invited to London, to succeed the celebrated Dr. J. Gill, as pastor of Carter's Lane; the invitation had been formally accepted, the farewell sermon at Wainsgate had been preached and the wagons loaded with his goods for removal, when the love and tears of his attached people prevailed and he decided to remain. In 1777 a new chapel was built for him at Hebden Bridge, and about the same time he opened a school at Brearley Hall, his place of residence. In 1793 he was invited to become President of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, but declined. In 1811 he received from America the degree of D.D., and died in 1817, at the age of 78. Dr. Fawcett was the author of a number of prose works on Practical Religion, several of which attained a large circulation. His poetical publications are:— (1) Poetic Essays, 1767; (2) The Christian's Humble Plea, a Poem, in answer to Dr. Priestley against the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1772; (3) Three hymns, in the Gospel Magazine, 1777; (4) The Death of Eumenio, a Divine Poem, 1779; (5) Another poem, suggested by the decease of a friend, The Reign of Death, 1780; and (6) Hymns adapted to the circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion, Leeds, G. Wright & Son. 1782. They are 166 in number, and were mostly composed to be sung after sermons by the author. Whilst not attaining a high degree of excellence as poetry, they are "eminently spiritual and practical," and a number of them are found in all the Baptist and Congregational hymn-books that have appeared during the last 100 years. The best known of these are, “Infinite excellence is Thine;" "How precious is the Book divine;" "Thus far my God hath led me on;" "Religion is the chief concern;" "Blest be the tie that binds;" “I my Ebenezer raise;" and "Praise to Thee, Thou great Creator." These hymns, together with others by Fawcett, are annotated under their respective first lines. [Rev. W. R. Stevenson, M.A.] In addition the following hymns, also by Fawcett, but of less importance, are in common use: 1. Behold the sin-atoning Lamb. Passiontide. No. 60 of his Hymns, 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines. In several hymnals in Great Britain and America. 2. I my Ebenezer raise. Birthday. No. 102 of his Hymns, in 10 stanzas of 4 lines. Usually given in an abbreviated form. 3. Infinite excellence is Thine. Jesus the Desire of Nations. No. 42 of his Hymns, in 12 stanzas of 4 lines. In several hymn-books in Great Britain and America in an abridged form. 4. Jesus, the heavenly Lover, gave. Redemption in Christ. No. 10 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines, and headed, "The marriage between Christ and the Soul." In Snepp's Songs of Grace & Glory, 1872, it reads, “Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, gave," and stanza v. is omitted. 5. Lord, hast Thou made me know Thy ways? Perseverance. No. 122 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 8 stanza of 4 lines. In the Baptist Hymnal, 1879, No. 451, stanzas iv.-vii. are omitted. 6. 0 God, my Helper, ever near. New Year. No. 108 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 6 stanzas of 4 lines. The New Congregational Hymn Book, 1859-69 omits st. vi. 7. 0, my soul, what means this sadness? Sorrow turned to Joy. No. 111 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines, and based upon the words, "Why art Thou cast down, O my soul?" &c. It is in common use in America, and usually with the omission of stanza ii. as in Dr. Hatfield's Church Hymn Book, 1872. 8. Sinners, the voice of God regard. Invitation to Repentance. No. 63 of his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines on Isaiah lv. 7, "Let the wicked forsake his way," &c. It is in common use in America, but usually in an abbreviated form. 9. Thy presence, gracious God, afford. Before Sermon. No 165 in his Hymns, &c., in 4 stanzas of 4 lines, and a chorus of two lines. In Dr. Hatfield's Church Hymnbook, 1872, No. 126, the chorus is omitted. Fawcett has another hymn on the same subject (No. 79) and beginning, "Thy blessing, gracious God, afford," but this is not in common use. 10. Thy way, 0 God, is in the sea. Imperfect Knowledge of God. No. 66 in his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines on 1 Corinthians xiii. 9, "We know in part," &c. It is in several American collections, usually abbreviated, and sometimes as, "Thy way, O Lord, is in the sea." In this form it is in The Sabbath Hymn Book, 1858, &c. 11. With humble heart and tongue. Prayer for Guidance in Youth. No. 86 in his Hymns, &c., 1782, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines on Psalms cxix. 9. "Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way." It is No. 954 in the Baptist Psalms and Hymns, 1858-80. About 20 of Fawcett's hymns are thus still in common use. Two hymns which have been ascribed to him from time to time, but concerning which there are some doubts, are fully annotated under their respective first lines. These are," Humble souls that seek salvation," and "Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing." -- John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)

Charles Wesley

1707 - 1788 Person Name: C. Wesley Author of "Father, though I have sinned with Thee" in Church Book Charles Wesley, M.A. was the great hymn-writer of the Wesley family, perhaps, taking quantity and quality into consideration, the great hymn-writer of all ages. Charles Wesley was the youngest son and 18th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, and was born at Epworth Rectory, Dec. 18, 1707. In 1716 he went to Westminster School, being provided with a home and board by his elder brother Samuel, then usher at the school, until 1721, when he was elected King's Scholar, and as such received his board and education free. In 1726 Charles Wesley was elected to a Westminster studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1729, and became a college tutor. In the early part of the same year his religious impressions were much deepened, and he became one of the first band of "Oxford Methodists." In 1735 he went with his brother John to Georgia, as secretary to General Oglethorpe, having before he set out received Deacon's and Priest's Orders on two successive Sundays. His stay in Georgia was very short; he returned to England in 1736, and in 1737 came under the influence of Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, especially of that remarkable man who had so large a share in moulding John Wesley's career, Peter Bonier, and also of a Mr. Bray, a brazier in Little Britain. On Whitsunday, 1737, [sic. 1738] he "found rest to his soul," and in 1738 he became curate to his friend, Mr. Stonehouse, Vicar of Islington, but the opposition of the churchwardens was so great that the Vicar consented that he "should preach in his church no more." Henceforth his work was identified with that of his brother John, and he became an indefatigable itinerant and field preacher. On April 8, 1749, he married Miss Sarah Gwynne. His marriage, unlike that of his brother John, was a most happy one; his wife was accustomed to accompany him on his evangelistic journeys, which were as frequent as ever until the year 1756," when he ceased to itinerate, and mainly devoted himself to the care of the Societies in London and Bristol. Bristol was his headquarters until 1771, when he removed with his family to London, and, besides attending to the Societies, devoted himself much, as he had done in his youth, to the spiritual care of prisoners in Newgate. He had long been troubled about the relations of Methodism to the Church of England, and strongly disapproved of his brother John's "ordinations." Wesley-like, he expressed his disapproval in the most outspoken fashion, but, as in the case of Samuel at an earlier period, the differences between the brothers never led to a breach of friendship. He died in London, March 29, 1788, and was buried in Marylebone churchyard. His brother John was deeply grieved because he would not consent to be interred in the burial-ground of the City Road Chapel, where he had prepared a grave for himself, but Charles said, "I have lived, and I die, in the Communion of the Church of England, and I will be buried in the yard of my parish church." Eight clergymen of the Church of England bore his pall. He had a large family, four of whom survived him; three sons, who all became distinguished in the musical world, and one daughter, who inherited some of her father's poetical genius. The widow and orphans were treated with the greatest kindness and generosity by John Wesley. As a hymn-writer Charles Wesley was unique. He is said to have written no less than 6500 hymns, and though, of course, in so vast a number some are of unequal merit, it is perfectly marvellous how many there are which rise to the highest degree of excellence. His feelings on every occasion of importance, whether private or public, found their best expression in a hymn. His own conversion, his own marriage, the earthquake panic, the rumours of an invasion from France, the defeat of Prince Charles Edward at Culloden, the Gordon riots, every Festival of the Christian Church, every doctrine of the Christian Faith, striking scenes in Scripture history, striking scenes which came within his own view, the deaths of friends as they passed away, one by one, before him, all furnished occasions for the exercise of his divine gift. Nor must we forget his hymns for little children, a branch of sacred poetry in which the mantle of Dr. Watts seems to have fallen upon him. It would be simply impossible within our space to enumerate even those of the hymns which have become really classical. The saying that a really good hymn is as rare an appearance as that of a comet is falsified by the work of Charles Wesley; for hymns, which are really good in every respect, flowed from his pen in quick succession, and death alone stopped the course of the perennial stream. It has been the common practice, however for a hundred years or more to ascribe all translations from the German to John Wesley, as he only of the two brothers knew that language; and to assign to Charles Wesley all the original hymns except such as are traceable to John Wesley through his Journals and other works. The list of 482 original hymns by John and Charles Wesley listed in this Dictionary of Hymnology have formed an important part of Methodist hymnody and show the enormous influence of the Wesleys on the English hymnody of the nineteenth century. -- Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) ================== Charles Wesley, the son of Samuel Wesley, was born at Epworth, Dec. 18, 1707. He was educated at Westminster School and afterwards at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated M.A. In 1735, he took Orders and immediately proceeded with his brother John to Georgia, both being employed as missionaries of the S.P.G. He returned to England in 1736. For many years he engaged with his brother in preaching the Gospel. He died March 29, 1788. To Charles Wesley has been justly assigned the appellation of the "Bard of Methodism." His prominence in hymn writing may be judged from the fact that in the "Wesleyan Hymn Book," 623 of the 770 hymns were written by him; and he published more than thirty poetical works, written either by himself alone, or in conjunction with his brother. The number of his separate hymns is at least five thousand. --Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A., 1872.

John Selby

1700 - 1800 Composer of "DEPTFORD"

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