‘Abide with me’ – an answered prayer

51vLEzW1JIL._SX362_BO1,204,203,200_Found – this newscutting from The Times (London 1926) about the origins of the much loved hymn ‘Abide with me’ by Henry Francis Lyte. The reference to Wembley Stadium is slightly  obscure as Wikipedia says the hymn was first sung there in 1927 at the cup final…

AN ANSWERED PRAYER.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.

Sir, – As one of the few living descendants of the author of the hymn “Abide with Me,” which nightly thrills the great audience in the Wembley Stadium, I have been greatly interested in the correspondence in ‘The Times’. It is only those who know the tragic circumstances under which this beautiful hymn was written who can explain the inner meaning of the words “Fast falls the eventide.”

My great-grandfather, the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte, the author of the hymn, was vicar of Lower Brixham, in those days a picturesque little fishing village on the shores of Torbay. He was the author of numerous poems and hymns, some of which are in “Hymns Ancient and Modern.” During the latter part of his life he devoted himself to the service of the humble fisher folk of Brixham, among whom were many of his best friends. His labours undermined his health, but he persisted in his noble work until his health broke down completely under the strain and his doctor told him he must go abroad at once. He was then dying of consumption. He preached his farewell sermon the following Sunday evening in Lower Brixham Church and, after the service, walked slowly home to his house at Berry Head. It happened that on that night  there was one of those glorious sunsets which are sometimes to be seen at Torbay. The sun was setting in a blaze of glory and the purple hills of distant Dartmoor stood out darkly against a flaming sky. In the foreground was Brixham harbour like a pool of molten gold. Several times on the way home  the poet stopped to rest and to gaze on this wonderful manifestation of nature. We can well imagine his feelings. He had just said “Goodbye” for the last time to his parishioners, and he knew that he had only a few weeks at most to live. The setting day reminded him insistently of his life, which was drawing swiftly to its close.

It was during this walk that he prayed that before he died he might be allowed to write one message of consolation to humanity which would endure for ever. On arriving home he went to his study and there and then write the immortal hymn which has enriched our language and brought comfort and consolation to millions. Hi sprayer was, indeed, answered. No one who knows the circumstances under which the hymn was written can sing it without feeling some of the emotion which inspired the poet as he wrote about the eventide of his own life. The final verse, which is, perhaps, the finest and most beautiful of all, represents the triumph of faith and hope over despair: 

“Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes, 

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies,

Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee,

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

Yours faithfully, 

W. Maxwell-Lyte.

37, Onslow Square, S.W.7.

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