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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Sarah Flower Adams (1805–1848)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
THIS English poet, whose hymn, ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee,’ is known wherever the English language is spoken, was born at Great Harlow, Essex, England, in 1805. She was the daughter of Benjamin Flower, who in 1799 was prosecuted for plain speaking in his paper, the Cambridge Intelligencer. From the outcome of his trial is to be dated the liberty of political discussion in England. Her mother was Eliza Gould, who first met her future husband in jail, whither she had gone on a visit to assure him of her sympathy. She also had suffered for liberal opinions. From their parents two daughters inherited a distinguished nobility and purity of character. Eliza excelled in the composition of music for congregational worship, and arranged a musical service for the Unitarian South Place Chapel, London. Sarah contributed first to the Monthly Repository, conducted by W. J. Fox, her Unitarian pastor, in whose family she lived after her father’s death. In 1834 she married William Bridges Adams. Her delicate health gave way under the shock of her sister’s death in 1846, and she died of decline in 1848.  1
  Her poetic genius found expression both in the drama and in hymns. Her play, ‘Vivia Perpetua’ (1841), tells of the author’s rapt aspiration after an ideal, symbolized in a pagan’s conversion to Christianity. She published also ‘The Royal Progress,’ a ballad (1845), on the giving up of the feudal privileges of the Isle of Wight to Edward I.; and poems upon the humanitarian interests which the Anti–Corn-Law League endeavored to further. Her hymns are the happiest expressions of the religious trust, resignation, and sweetness of her nature.  2
  ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee,’ was written for the South Place Chapel service. There are stories of its echoes having been heard from a dilapidated log cabin in Arkansas, from a remote corner of the north of England, and from the Heights of Benjamin in the Holy Land. But even its devotion and humility have not escaped censure—arising, perhaps, from denominational bias. The fault found with it is the fault of Addison’s ‘How are thy servants blessed, O Lord,’ and the fault of the Psalmody begun by Sternhold and Hopkins, which, published in Geneva in 1556, electrified the congregation of six thousand souls in Elizabeth’s reign,—it has no direct reference to Jesus. Compilers of hymn-books have sought to rectify what they deem a lapse in Christian spirit by the substitution of a verse beginning “Christ alone beareth me.” But the quality of the interpolated verse is so inferior to the lyric itself that it has not found general acceptance. Others, again, with an excess of zeal, have endeavored to substitute “the Cross” for “a cross” in the first stanza.  3
  An even share of its extraordinary vogue must in bare justice be credited to the tune which Dr. Lowell Mason has made an inseparable part of it; though this does not detract in the least from its own high merit, or its capacity to satisfy the feelings of a devout soul. A taking melody is the first condition of even the loveliest song’s obtaining popularity; and this hymn was sung for many years to various tunes, including chants, with no general recognition of its quality. It was Dr. Mason’s tune, written about 1860, which sent it at once into the hearts of the people.  4

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