1717–11 November 1778
Anne Steele was the daughter of Particular Baptist preacher and timber merchant William Steele. She spent her entire life in Broughton, Hampshire, near the southern coast of England, and devoted much of her time to writing. Some accounts of her life portray her as a lonely, melancholy invalid, but a revival of research in the last decade indicates she had been more active and social than what was previously thought. She was theologically conversant with Dissenting ministers and “found herself at the centre of a literary circle that included family members from various generations, as well as local literati.” She chose a life of singleness to focus on her craft. Before Christmas in 1742, she declined a marriage proposal from contemporary minister-hymnist Benjamin Beddome.
All the same, some of Steele’s sufferings were very real. She lost her mother at age 3, a potential suitor at age 20, her step mom at 43, and her sister-in-law at 45. She spent many years caring for her father until his death in 1769. For most of her life, she exhibited symptoms of malaria, including persistent pain, fever, headaches, and stomach aches. Caleb Evans, in his preface to Steele’s posthumous Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse and Prose (1780), noted she had been bed ridden for “some years” before her death:
When the interesting hour came, she welcomed its arrival, and though her feeble body was excruciated with pain, her mind was perfectly serene. . . . She took the most affectionate leave of her weeping friends around her, and at length, the happy moment of her dismission arising, she closed her eyes, and with these animating words on her dying lips, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” gently fell asleep in Jesus.
Historically, her most popular hymn has been “When I survey life's varied scene” (and its shortened form, “Father, whate'er of earthly bliss”), a hymn that turns earthly loss or denial into a spirit of thankfulness, published in over 800 North American hymnals since 1792. Not all of her work dealt with personal agony. Her hymns span a wide doctrinal and ecclesiastical range, some crafted and used for her father’s congregation. Her metrical psalms are among the finest of the genre.
Steele’s hymns and psalms were published in two volumes in 1760, Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, under the pseudonym Theodosia, with an additional volume of material published after her death, in Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse and Prose, 1780. Sixty two of her hymns, including new material and some revisions by Steele, were published in a hymnal for Baptists in 1769, A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship, edited by Caleb Evans and John Ash. Forty seven were included in John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors in 1787; the only author with larger representation was Philip Doddridge, with 101. These collections represent the earliest attempts to anthologize Baptist hymns and were vital for bringing Steele’s hymns into wider public worship, where they have been a mainstay for over two hundred years.
by Chris Fenner
The Towers (August 2015)
Collections of Hymns:
Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (by Theodosia)
Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse and Prose (by Theodosia, 1780): PDF
A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship, ed. Caleb Evans & John Ash
1st ed. (1769)
3rd ed. (1778): PDF
The Works of Mrs. Anne Steele, 2 vols. (Boston, 1808): WorldCat
Hymns, Psalms, and Poems, ed. Daniel Sedgwick (London: D. Sedgwick, 1863): WorldCat
Refuge of My Weary Soul: Selected Works of Anne Steele, ed. Alex J. Webster (Shazbaar Press, 2017): Amazon
Life & Hymns:
Richard Arnold, “A veil of interposing night: The hymns of Anne Steele (1717-1778),” Christian Scholars Review, vol. 18, no. 4 (June 1989), pp. 371-387.
J.R. Watson and Nancy Cho, “Anne Steele’s Drowned Fiancé,” British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 28 (2005), pp. 117-21.
J.R. Broome, A Bruised Reed: The Life and Times of Anne Steele (Harpenden, U.K.: Gospel Standard Trust Publications, 2007): Amazon
Cynthia Y. Aalders, To Express the Ineffable: The Hymns and Spirituality of Anne Steele (Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2008): Amazon
Cynthia Y. Aalders, “In melting grief and ardent love: Anne Steele's contribution to eighteenth-century hymnody,” The Hymn (summer 2009), 16-25: HathiTrust
Joseph Carmichael, The Hymns of Anne Steele in John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns: A Theological Analysis in the Context of the English Particular Baptist Revival (2012), dissertation, http://digital.library.sbts.edu/handle/10392/4112
Priscilla Wong, Anne Steele and Her Spiritual Vision (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012): Amazon
Kevin Twit, “Christian Experience in the Hymns of Anne Steele (1716-1778),” Indelible Grace Hymn Book (11 Oct. 2013), http://hymnbook.igracemusic.com/resources/christian-experience-in-the-hymns-of-anne-steele
Michael Haykin, “Anne Steele and her hymns: ‘The tuneful tongue that sung ... her great redeemer’s praise,’” Eight Women of Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016): Amazon
Ruth Bottoms, “Contemporary Baptist congregational singing and the hymnody of Anne Steele (1717–1778),” Baptist Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 4 (2017), pp. 148-158, https://doi.org/10.1080/0005576X.2017.1376534
Find it on Amazon:
Anne Steele, Hymnary.org:
Anne Steele, Indelible Grace:
J.R. Watson, “Anne Steele,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
J.R. Watson, “Anne Steele,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: