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Church of Our Saviour
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Cecil Frances Alexander
Hymn Writer / Poet

One of the most sung Easter hymns, 180 - He Is Risen, was penned by Cecil Frances Cecile Frances Alexander("Fanny") Alexander. Her particular goal was to bring religious knowledge to children. "Hymns for Little Children," published in 1848, amplified the Baptismal Promises. Three hymns from this collection are in our hymnal and relate to phrases of the Apostles Creed: "

"Maker of Heaven and Earth" --
405 - All things bright and beautiful

"Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary" --
102 - Once in royal David's city

"Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried" --
167 - There is a green hill far away.

Other Alexander hymns we sing are 550 - Jesus calls us and 370 - I bind unto myself today. The 1916 Episcopal Hymnal containes 11 Alexander hymns; these are available online in text-only format, with link to music.

Go to the Cyberhymnal for links to more of her hymns. You'll find a web page on her Hymns for Little Children, including a hymn that we would not ask our children to sing today. You'll find other general reference at Old Poetry.com, ILovePoetry.com. and Representative Poetry Online.

A short biography may be found at the Cathedral of Belfast website.

The most extensive reference to Alexander and her work is reproduced below from a webpage of the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monoco.

 

 Life
1818-1895 [née Cecil Frances Humphreys; occas. err. Cecilia; pseuds. ‘CFA’; ‘X’]; b. 1818 [var. 1825], Dublin [vars. Co. Wicklow and Miltown Hse., nr. Strabane]; dg. and 3rd child of orig. the former Elizabeth Reed and Major John Humphreys of Norfolk, land-agent to 4th Earl of Wicklow and later to the second Marquess of Abercorn; began writing verse at early age; influenced in religion by Dr Hook, Dean of Chichester, and subsequently by John Keble, who edited her Songs for Little Children; contrib. lyric and narrative poems and French translations to Dublin University Magazine under pseuds. [as supra]; her "Burial of Moses" appeared anon. in Dublin University Magazine (1856) causing Tennyson to profess it one of the few poems of a living author he wished he had written; friendship with Lady [Harriet] Howard while living at Ballykean, Co. Wicklow, collaborated on tracts, published separately and then brought together; Lady Harriet died of consumption; issued Verses for Holy Seasons (1846) The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals (1847), allegory for children; Hymns for Little Children (1848); influenced in religion by the Oxford movement; met Miss Hook and her brother Dr. Hook, who edited her volume Verses for Holy Seasons, while visiting her sister Anne Humphreys Maguire, in Leamington; m. Rev. William Alexander Oct. 1850, Strabane Church, then recorder of Termonamongan, diocese of Derry; six years older than he, causing great family concern, and birthdate deferentially altered accordingly; resided at at Derg Lodge, Termonamongan before moving to Upper Fahan, on Lough Swilly, 1855; lived at Strabane, 1860-67, with trips to France; William appt. bishop of Derry and Raphoe in 1867; much involved with Derry Home for Fallen Women and with the development of a district nurses service; indefatigable visitor to poor and sick; seven of her hymns included in Church of Ireland Hymnal (1873), the first to be authorised after Disestablishment, eighteen contained in A Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern (1889), nine appearing in Church of Ireland Hymnal (1960, 1987 edns.); wrote elegies for Mrs. Hemans, Robert Southey and Kaiser Wilhelm; d. 12 Oct., Derry; her poems posthumously collected and edited by William Alexander in Poems of the late Mrs Alexander (1896), with a "Memoir"; her home in the episcopal residence in Derry is marked by a plaque. CAB DNB JMC TAY DIB DIW RAF ODQ OCIL

 

Works
Verses for Holy Seasons, ed. Dr. Hook (1846), Do., (London: Bell & Daldy, 1858); Hymns for Little Children (1848); 4th edn. 1850; 5th ed., 1852; edns., in 1857, 1862, 1864, 1867, 1878; 62nd edn. 1884; pictorial edn., (London: CKS 1903), in all 69 edns. [infra]; The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals, (1847), [an allegory for children]; Moral Songs, &c. (1849), 2nd edn. [1850], another edn. (1855), another edn., ill. L. Masters (1880), 14 edns.; Narrative Hymns for Village Schools (1853); [var. title], Hymns for Village Schools (1854; Poems of Subjects in the Old Testament (1854; Dublin University Magazine, Vol. XLVII (1856): pp.462-64.; Hymns, Descriptive and Devotional (1958), Do., (J. Masters & Co. 1880; The Legends of the Golden Prayers, and Other Poems (London: Bell & Daldy 1859); Easy Questions on the Life of Our Lord (London: Griffth & Farran 1891); Hymns for Children (London: Marcus Ward & co. [1894]); William Alexander, ed. and pref., Poems of the Late Mrs Alexander ['CFA'] (London: Macmillan & Co. 1896), five pts., with port [with Memoir by her husband]; A. P. Graves. ed., Selected Poems from William and Cecil Frances Alexander (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1930); The Baron's Little Daughter (1838).

Hymns for Little Children (1848) contains "All things bright and beautiful!", "There is a green hill far away" and "Once in Royal David's city".

Church of Ireland Hymnal (OUP 1960; 1987) include her hymns listed as Nos.: 97 ['When wounded sore, the stricken soul / Lies bleeding and unbounded']; 98 ['When my lip confesses / Bitter shame and pride [...]'; 120 ['His are the thousand sparkling rills / That from a thousand fountains burst']; 154 ['The gold gates are lifted / The doors are open wide']; 177 ["James the Apostle" - 'For all they saints, a noble throng']; 202 ["St Columba"; as infra]; 320 ["Eisighim Indiu", attrib. St Patrick ['I bind unto myself today / The strong name of the Trinity']; 392 ['There is a Green hill far away / Without a city wall / Where the dear Lord was crucified / Who died to save us all']; 602 ["All things bright and beautiful!"]; 606 ["Do no sinful action"]; 624 ["Once in Royal David's city"].

 

Criticism
Eleanor Alexander, Primate Alexander: Archbishop of Armagh (London: Edward Arnold, 1914); W. O. Ernest, A Green Hill Far Away: The Life of Mrs. C .F. Alexander (Dublin/London: S.P.C.K. [Assoc. for Promoting Christian Knowledge], 1970); Seán MacMahon, 'All Things Bright and Beautiful,' [Appreciation], Eire-Ireland, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter 1975) [var. 10.3], pp.137-41; David Stevens, 'Religious Ireland (II)', in Edna Longley, ed., Culture in Ireland, Diversity or Division [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1991), p.145; Valerie Wallace, Mrs Alexander: A Life of the Hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-1895 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1995), viii, 198pp., noticed in 'Brief Notes', Times Literary Supplement (27 Oct. 1995), p.33, and by John Kirkaldy, Books Ireland (Sept. 1995), p.218; Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loebber, 'Fiction Available to and Written for Cottages and their Children', in Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy, eds., The Experience of Reading: Irish Historical Perspectives (Dublin: Rare Books Group 1999), p.150.

See also P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (London: Murray 1994); Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland's Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994).

 

Commentary
David Stevens, 'Religious Ireland (II)', in Edna Longley, ed., Culture in Ireland, Diversity or Division [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (Belfast: QUB/Inst. of Irish Studies 1991), p.145; Stevens quotes a hymn by Alexander which was sung in her husband's Cathedral on the day of Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; 'Look down, Lord of heaven on our desolation, / Fallen, fallen, fallen is now our Country's crown, / Dimly down the New year as a Churchless nation, / [?M]ammon and Amalek tread our borders down.' Stevens comments, 'Disestablishment marks the start of Protestant defeat and withdrawal.' (p.145.)

P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (London: John Murray 1994), writes that Tennyson is said to proclaimed "The Burial of Moses" a poem he wishes he had written himself; it was also one of the favourites of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain); there is an account of his response to it in Miss Alexander's memoir (cited more fully in Kavanagh, p.103); note also that Mrs Craik heard the Siege of Derry shortly after it was written, and predicted that it would be as well known as Macaulay's account of the siege in his History of England (which Kavanagh quotes, with emphasis on its lurid anti-Papism). See also article in Times Literary Supplement (16 Feb. 2001), with remarks: Mark Twain was fond of quoting Cecil Alexander's hymn, ‘By Nebo’s lonely mountain/On this side Jordan’s wave/In a vale in the land of Moab/There lies a lonely grave./And no man knows that sepulchre/And no man say it e’er,/For the Angles of God upturned the sod/And laid the dead man there.’ (Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament).

Valerie Wallace, Mrs Alexander: A Life of the Hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-1895 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1995) [1 874675 46 5]; reviewer in 'Brief Notes', Times Literary Supplement (27 Oct. 1995), p.33, remarks: ‘engaging, fresh, and meticulously researched ... sympathetic insight into culture of 19th c. Ascendancy at its most serious’); also reviewed by John Kirkaldy, in Books Ireland (Sept. 1995), p.218.

 

Quotations
"Breastplate of St. Patrick": 'I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity / The three in one and one in three. / Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, / Salvation is of Christ the Lord.' ()

"All Things Bright and Beautiful!": 'The rich man in his castle, / The poor man at his gate, / God made them, high or lowly, / And order'd their estate'. (From "The Burial of Moses"), 'By Nebo's lonely mountain / On this side Jordan's wave, / In a vale of the land of Moab / There lies a lonely grave. / And no man knows that sepulchre / And no man saw it e'er, / For the angels of God upturned the sod / And laid the dead man there.' Also, 'There is a green hill far away, / Without a city wall, / Where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all'.

Church of Ireland Hymnal (OUP 1960; 1987) include among her hymns: Nos. 97 ['When wounded sore, the stricken soul / Lies bleeding and unbounded']; 98 ['When my lip confesses / Bitter shame and pride']; 120 ['His are the thousand sparkling rills / That from a thousand fountains burst']; 154 ['The gold gates are lifted / The doors are open wide']; 177 ["James the Apostle"; 'For all they saints, a noble throng']; 202 ["St Columba", 'In the roll call of god's sons / Sounding sweet and solemn / Name we mid his chosen ones / Ulster's own Saint Columb // Not without his age's taint / Fierce and unrelenting / Stern apostle, weeping saint / Sinful and repenting // Creeds he taught barbaric men / Are our children saying / Prayers he prayed in danger then / Daily we are praying // From his home and kindred skies / Self-exiled for ever / Fond he sought with dying eyes / Foyle his oak-crowned river // King of saints, of whom we hold / Hope of our election? By thy spirit do us mould / To they saints' perfection / Till we see thee evermore / Ransomed by they dying / With the saved on that far shore / 'neath thine alter lying. Amen']; 320 ["Eisighim Indiu", attrib. St Patrick ['I bind unto myself today / The strong name of the Trinity']; 392 ['There is a Green hill far away / without a city wall / Where the dear Lord was crucified / Who died to save us all']; 602 ['All things bright and beautiful']; 606 ['Do no sinful action']; 624 ['Once in royal David's city']. Also, Translation of "Breastplate of St. Patrick", 'I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity / The three in one and one in three. / Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, / Salvation is of Christ the Lord.'

"The Siege of Derry": '[T]hey were soft words that they spoke, how we need not fear their yoke, / And they pleaded by our homesteads, and by our children small, / And our women fair and tender, but we answered: "No surrender!" / And we call on God Almighty, and we went to man the wall.'; further, 'The foemen gathered fast - we could see them marching past- / The Irish from his barren hills, the Frenchman from his wars ... There is none that fighteth for us, O God! but only Thou!' ("The Siege of Derry".)

"Burial of Moses": 'There is a green hill far away, / Without a city wall, / Where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all'.

"St Columba" - 'In the roll call of god's sons / Sounding sweet and solemn / Name we mid his chosen ones / Ulster's own Saint Columb // Not without his age's taint / Fierce and unrelenting / Stern apostle, weeping saint / Sinful and repenting // Creeds he taught barbaric men / Are our children saying / Prayers he prayed in danger then / Daily we are praying // From his home and kindred skies / Self-exiled for ever / Fond he sought with dying eyes / Foyle his oak-crowned river // King of saints, of whom we hold / Hope of our election? By thy spirit do us mould / To they saints' perfection / Till we see thee evermore / Ransomed by they dying / With the saved on that far shore / 'neath thine alter lying. Amen.'

The writer’s wish would be to prolong the child’s love of the glorious Old Testament stories, by throwing round them something of the poetical tinge which is attrqactive to almost every mind in opening youth; and thus to connect associations of quiet pleasure with the examples of holy life, and the doctrines of saving truth, which the Bible contains in such exceeding abundance.’ (Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament, n.d.; quoted in John F. Deane, ed., Irish Poetry of Faith and Doubt, Dublin: Wolfhound 1991, p.12.)

 

References
Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), gives bio-data: b. Dublin, dg. of Major John Humphreys; influenced in religion by Dr Hook, Dean of Chichester, and subsequently by John Keble, who edited her Songs [var. Hymns] for Little Children; her poems collected and edited by William Alexander after her death (Poems of the late Mrs Alexander, 1896); Gounod remarked that the words “There is a green hill far away” were so harmonious and rhythmic that they seem to set themselves to music; “Burial of Moses” appeared anon. in Dublin University Magazine, 1856 and caused Tennyson to say it was one of the few poems of a living author he wished he had written. [... &c.;]

Oxford Literary Guide identifies Derg Lodge, Termonamongan as her home; cites Narrative Hymns for Village Schools (1853).

Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland's Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), gives selection.

 

Notes
Dr. Hook: according to her husband’s memoir, he guided her with ‘masculine influence’.

Alexander Leeper, DD, Canon of St Patrick's, Historical Handbook of St Patrick's Cathedral (1891), employed as an epigram for the chapter on Monuments her lines, 'Amid the noblest of the land/We lay the sage to rest; / And give the bard an honoured place, / In the great Minster transept,/Where lights like glories fall, / And organ rings, / And the sweet choir sings, / Along the emblazoned walls.'

Dinah Craik [see infra] heard Cecil Alexander's ballad "The Siege of Derry" shortly after it was written, she predicted that it would be as well known as Macaulay's account in his History of England. (See P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994.)

 


A portion of the material above was extracted from
Princess Grace Irish Library (Monaco)

http://www.pgil-eirdata.org/html/pgil_datasets/authors/a/Alexander,CF/life.htm


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