Abide with me
Text. On 25 August 1847, Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847) wrote a letter to family friend Eleanora Julia Bolton describing his failing health and his intention of heading south toward warmer climates:
Such is a sketch of my plans. How small a part of them may we be permitted to carry into execution! And yet it is right to form them, while we leave the rest to Him who does for us better than we could for ourselves. O for more of entire dependence on Him! entire confidence in Him! Not, I hope, that I am quite without these, but I want to feel them more a living principle of action. Conformity to the will and image of the Lord is no easy attainment, and it takes much hammering to bend us to it. I send you while on this subject a few lines which may interest you, as my latest effusion.
His “latest effusion” was the hymn “Abide with me,” included in the letter. A portion of the manuscript letter and hymn were reproduced in The Times, 1 Nov. 1947, in an article by Lyte’s great-grandson Walter Maxwell-Lyte (Fig. 1). Eleanora later married Henry Lyte’s son Farnham in 1851.
Lyte’s daughter, Anna Maria Maxwell Hogg, gave more context for the composition of this hymn in the preface of the Remains of the Late Rev. Henry Francis Lyte (London: Francis & John Rivington, 1850), pp. li-lii:
The summer was passing away, and the month of September (that month in which he was once more to quit his native land) arrived, and each day seemed to have especial value, as being one day nearer his departure, his family were surprised, and almost alarmed, at his announcing his intention of preaching once more to his people. His weakness, and the possible danger attending the effort, were urged to prevent it; but in vain. “It was better,” as he used often playfully to say, when in comparative health, “to wear out than to rust out.” He felt sure he should be enabled to fulfil his wish, and feared not for the result. His expectation was well founded. He did preach, and, amid the breathless attention of his hearers, gave them the Sermon on the Holy Communion, which is inserted last in this volume. He afterwards assisted at the administration of the Holy Eucharist, and though necessarily much exhausted, by the exertion and excitement of this effort, yet his friends had no reason to believe it had been hurtful to him. In the evening of the same day he placed in the hands of a near and dear relative the little hymn, “Abide with me,” with an air of his own composing adapted to the words.
The sermon mentioned here was delivered on 4 Sept. 1847, based on 1 Corinthians 11:16, and was included in the Remains, pp. 281-292. The hymn itself was inspired by Luke 24:29 (“But they constrained him, saying, ‘Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And he went in to tarry with them.” KJV).
The hymn was printed as a leaflet in September 1847. Lyte died a few weeks later at Nice, France, on 20 November 1847. The text of the hymn was included in Lyte’s Remains (1850 | Fig. 2), in eight stanzas of four lines, without music.
Fig. 2. Remains of the Late Rev. Henry Francis Lyte (London: Francis & John Rivington, 1850), pp. 119-121.
One of Lyte’s handwritten manuscripts (different from the letter to Eleanora) was printed in facsimile in the front of The Poetical Works of Rev. H.F. Lyte, M.A. (London: Elliot Stock, 1907 | Fig. 3a), and its transcription appeared in that edition on pp. 35-36 (Fig. 3b), again without music. This version differs slightly from the version in Remains, including the second line of the first stanza, “the darkness thickens,” and the first two lines of the last stanza, “Hold Thou Thy cross,” and “Speak through the gloom.”
Fig. 3. The Poetical Works of Rev. H.F. Lyte, M.A. (London: Elliot Stock, 1907).
Tunes. Lyte’s text and tune were published together as sheet music in 1863 (Bristol: John Wright & Co.). This edition seems to be lost, but the tune was reprinted in The Musical Times on 1 Feb. 1908 (vol. 49, p. 99 | Fig. 4).
Fig. 5. Hymns Ancient & Modern (London, 1861).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
18 July 2018
rev. 13 December 2018
John Julian, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 7: Google Books
Louis Benson, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,” Studies of Familiar Hymns (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1903), pp. 169-178: Archive.org
Walter Maxwell-Lyte, “A famous hymn: New evidence on date of ‘Abide with me,’” The Times (1 Nov. 1947), pp. 5-6.
Erik Routley, “Abide with me,” Hymns and the Faith (Greenwich, CT: Seabury Press, 1956), pp. 169-173.
Frank Colquhoun, “Abide with me,” Hymns that Live (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), pp. 163-170.
J.R. Watson, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,” An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: University Press, 2002), pp. 273-275.
Leon Litvack, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
“Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,” Hymnary.org:
“Abide with me,” with tune by Justin Smith, Indelible Grace Hymn Book: