Publication information
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Source: Musical Times and Singing-Class Circular
Source type: newspaper
Document type: news column
Document title: “Church and Organ Music”
Author(s): anonymous
City of publication: London, England
Date of publication: 1 October 1901
Volume number: 42
Issue number: 704
Pagination: 672-73 (excerpt below includes only page 672)

“Church and Organ Music.” Musical Times and Singing-Class Circular 1 Oct. 1901 v42n704: pp. 672-73.
hymns (“Nearer, My God, to Thee”).
Named persons
Sarah Flower Adams; William Bridges-Adams; John Bacchus Dykes; Eliza Flower; J. T. Fowler; W. J. Fox; Richard Garnett; William Walsham How; John Julian; William McKinley; John Sharp; Arthur Sullivan.


Church and Organ Music [excerpt]



     The words of this widely-known hymn were amongst the last utterances of President McKinley, whose tragic death, in common with all English-speaking people, we greatly deplore. The hymn was written by Mrs. Sarah Adams (née Flower), born at Harlow, Essex, February 22, 1805, and died, London, August 14, 1848. She married, in 1834, Mr. William Bridges Adams, an eminent civil engineer. ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’ made its first appearance sixty years ago in a collection entitled ‘Hymns and Anthems’ (1841), edited by the Rev. W. J. Fox, minister of the Unitarian Chapel in South Place, Finsbury, of which congregation Mrs. Adams was a member. The hymn has been translated into many European and other languages, and is often sung. Dr. Garnett says of it: ‘which as a simple expression of devotional feeling at once pure and passionate, can hardly be surpassed.’ The lyric has not, however, escaped being ‘improved,’ according to some lights. The late Bishop Walsham How re-wrote it ‘as expressing more definitely Christian faith, and better adapted for congregational worship’! The Rev. Dr. Julian, editor of the ‘Dictionary of Hymnology,’ in commenting upon this version, says, with subtle irony: ‘although in somewhat extensive use, it is the least musical of Bishop How’s hymns.’
     ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee,’ which has found its way into many hymnals, is an instance of the catholicity of worship-song. Written by an Unitarian, it is sung by all sections of the Christian church, and has touched the hearts of millions of worshippers. An elder sister of Mrs. Adams—Miss Eliza Flower—is well-known as the composer of ‘Now pray we for our country.’
     The tune to which the words are invariably sung is that by the late Rev. J. B. Dykes, named ‘Horbury.’ It made its first appearance in ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ (1861), and has been reprinted in many collections. An extract from ‘The Life and Letters of John Bacchus Dykes’ (John Murray, 1897), throws an interesting light upon the composition of the tune and furnishes the origin of its name. His biographer, the Rev. J. T. Fowler, says:—

     On June 1st [1859] he visited the Rev. John Sharp, at Horbury, and preached there. The special object of this visit was to make his first confession. The hymn-tune which he named ‘Horbury’ was written at this time, to the words—

“Nearer, my God, to Thee,”

and it was, to him, a perpetual reminder of the peace and comfort he found there.

     Horbury is a manufacturing village, of some five or six thousand inhabitants, four miles south-west of Wakefield. Another well-known hymn-tune setting of Mrs. Adams’s words is Sullivan’s Proprior Deo, which he originally contributed to the ‘Hymnary.’


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