Mrs. Alexander was known to the world as "the Children's Hymn Writer." She was an Irish lady, born in county Tyrone in 1823, and in 1850 she married the Rev. Dr. Alexander, who subsequently became Primate of All Ireland. Although he was a man of great ability, his wife's fame far exceeded his. He himself bears witness to her talent when he dedicated to her his Bampton Lectures, and wrote " To Cecil Frances Alexander, in remembrance of twenty-seven years of helpful love and example, with full assurance that his own estimate of her hymns and sacred songs is that of the Church and of the English-speaking Christians generally."
Among those of her hymns which found the greatest favour is that which she wrote in 1847 - viz., " There is a green hill far away."
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall, Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell, What pains He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us He hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiven ;
He died to make us good, That we might go at last to Heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate
Of Heaven, and let us in.
Oh, dearly, dearly has He loved, And we must love Him too,
And trust in His redeeming blood, And try His works to do.
Mrs. Alexander very much objected to any word or phrase in her hymns being changed when once they were complete, remarking, " You see, what I wanted to say is just so, and not something else"; but, as she always submitted them to her Sunday-school class for criticism, she felt bound sometimes to make exceptions to her rule. For example, in the original manuscript of "There is a; green hill far away," " without " a city wall is written. This word she changed to "outside," because one of her little critics could not be made to understand the original word.
This hymn, together with several others of hers, is well known wherever Christianity is preached, and has been widely translated. A missionary in Central Africa says he has "heard Mrs. Alexander's hymns sung by half-clad Africans in a language she has never heard or known of."
If the influence of her hymns is powerful in the far corners of the earth, what must be their effect upon the childrei. who are swayed through life by what they learn in childhood ? Their minds are so retentive that the impressions they then receive are lasting and powerful even to the end of their lives.
Speaking of "The green hill far away," Gounod said it was the most perfect hymn in the English language, its greatest beauty being its simplicity.
It was set to music by several of the greatest composers of modern times, among others by Saunders, Barker, and Haverfield, but Gounod's setting is the most widely known and popular.
One of Mrs. Alexander's most prized possessions was an autograph copy of Gounod's composition sent to her by himself. Another of her hymns, and second only in popularity to the " Green hill," is "Once in Royal David's city."
The same characteristics may be traced in this as in all her hymns - viz., simplicity, purity, and tenderness, and none ever exercised greater influence over the hearts of children at home or abroad. I give a verse of it here:
Once in Royal David's city, Stood a lowly cattle-shed,
Where a mother laid her baby, In a manger for His bed :
Miry was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.
There is no record as to the conditions under which it was written. There is, however, one of her hymns about which she herself makes a few remarks - viz., "We are but little children weak."
She wrote to the chairman of "Hymns Ancient and Modern:" "This hymn is written exclusively for very poor children at a crowded city Sunday-school. I have endeavoured to alter the first verse to make it more fit for a mixed congregation, but I am afraid I have done it badly."
Mrs. Alexander, the author of "There is a green hill far away" Photo and other well-known hymns. [Elliott & Fry
The alteration was suggested by the.late Bishop Walsham How. The . tunc is by A. Patton.
The hymn runs thus :
1st Verse We are but little children weak,
Nor born in any high estate, What can we do for Jesus' sake,
Who is so high and good and great ?
Last Verse There's not a child so small and weak,
But has his little cross to take, His little work of love and praise,
That he may do for Jesus' sake.
Tennyson said "The Burial of Moses" was one of the poems of living writers of which he would have been proud to be the author, and Lord Houghton says it is the finest sacred hymn in the English language.
Mrs. Alexander was deaf to applause, but when someone wrote to tell her of a great change in heart and life that had come to a worldly man through reading and hearing one of her hymns, she exclaimed, "Thank God ! I do like to hear that!"