Henry Francis Lyte

1 June 1793–20 November 1847

 

Henry Francis Lyte, in The Strand Magazine, vol. 9 (May 1895), p. 582.

Among her purest, choicest, and most gifted lyric poets, the Church of Christ will ever delight to number Henry Francis Lyte. His contributions to “the service of song in the house of the Lord,” and in the domestic sanctuary, have been numerous and excellent. Could he have known how much comfort they would impart to the people of God, and how much inspiration to a holy life, he could not have written as he did, in his “Declining Days”:

’Tis the thought that I—
My lamp so low, my sun so nearly set,
Have lived so useless, so unmissed should die:
’Tis this I now regret.

It was not in vain that he gave expression to the high and holy aspirations of his gentle and humble spirit, in the fol­lowing beautiful stanzas, in the same sweet poem:

Might my poor lyre but give
Some simple strain, some spirit-moving lay,
Some sparklet of the soul, that still might live
When I was passed to clay,—

Might verse of mine inspire
One virtuous aim, one high resolve impart,­
Light in one drooping soul a hallowed fire,
Or bind one broken heart,—

Death would be sweeter then,
More calm my slumber ’neath the silent sod,
Might I thus live to bless my fellow-men,
Or glorify my God.

Henry Francis Lyte, though of English parentage, was born June 1, 1793, at Ednam, near Kelso, Scotland, some­times called, “The Poet’s Corner of Roxburghshire.” His father, Capt. Thomas Lyte, was an army officer, and died when Henry was an infant. His godly mother, as he him­self testifies, trained him in the paths of holiness:

In early life to thee I was
Consigned by solemn vow.

She, too, was taken from him at an early age, and he was left with very limited means of support. Through the kindness of friends, he was sent, at nine years of age, to a school at Protoro, Ireland; and, in 1812, he was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin. A scholarship, obtained the next year, and the instruction of a few pupils, with the aid of friends, enabled him to prosecute his college course with­out serious embarrassment. Thrice he won the prize for the best English poetry. His ode “To a Field Flower,”—“Hail I lovely harbinger of Spring,” etc.,—was written April 27, 1812, and his “Sad Thoughts,”—“Yes! I am calm, am humbled now,” etc.,—bears date, 1815, and indicates that he had experienced a bitter disappointment in an affair of the heart.

Abandoning his intention to study medicine, he was ad­mitted (1815) to orders in the Episcopal Church. His first Curacy, “dreary” enough, was at Taghinon, in Ireland. Called by a neighboring clergyman to counsel him in pros­pect of death, for which he found himself wholly unpre­pared, Lyte was led to look into the grounds of his own hope, and was convinced that his heart had never been sav­ingly renewed. Together they sought and found the Lord. His friend died in great peace, and he himself lived to serve the Lord in newness of spirit, and with his whole heart, as never before.

His own health gave way, and symptoms of consumption were developed. A trip to the Continent brought relief. On his return, he tried the air of Bristol, and served in two or three Curacies successively. In 1817, he received the ap­pointment of a lectureship in the chapel of ease, in the maritime town of Marazion, just in front of the romantic Mount St. Michael, near Penzance. He now became united in marriage to Anne, the only daughter of the Rev. W. Maxwell, D.D., of Bath. Soon after, he removed to Ly­mington. Here he wrote his charming “Tales on the Lord's Prayer,” published in 1826, and several of his poetic effusions; among the latter, “A few brief moons the babe who slumbers here,” etc., on the occasion of the burial of his infant child, February, 1821.

He next served as Curate of Charlton, Kingsbridge, whence he removed to Dittisham. At length (1826) he was appointed to the Perpetual Curacy of the District Chapel of Lower Brixham, and here, among a seafaring people having but little refinement and education, he spent his remaining days, faithfully preaching the Gospel, and labor­ing for their good. Several of his hymns were written for the express benefit of his Sunday and day schools. “Jesus! I my cross have taken,” etc., was written not later than 1825, and probably dates back to the period of his conversion. It was reproduced in the Home Missionary Magazine, for 1829, in six double stan­zas. In 1833, he gave to the world his Poems, Chiefly Re­ligious, and the following year his Spirit of the Psalms, mostly original, but some of them only modifications of older versions. Many of them have become great favorites.

To his parochial duties he added the work of teach­ing. In 1827, two liberated African youths were committed to his care, to be trained as schoolmasters and catechists for Sierra Leone. Possessed of an extensive library, to which he was continually making valuable ac­cessions, he devoted much time to theological research. At length his health failed, and he was compelled, in 1842, to seek its restoration by travel on the Continent. Again, in October, 1844, he was driven to Italy, where he spent the winter and following year; writing there his “Longings for Home,” his “Thoughts in Weakness,” and his “Czar in Rome.” In 1846, he returned to England, and published the Poems of Henry Vaughan, to which he prefixed a Memoir.

The next winter was also spent in Italy, the spring of 1847 bringing him back to England, greatly de­bilitated. He preached, after long silence, to his beloved people, September 4, 1847, and administered the Lord’s Supper. The same evening, he placed in the hands of a very dear relative, with an air of his own composing, that precious relic of his last days on earth, the sweet hymn, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,” etc. A few weeks after, on his way to Rome, he died at Nice, November 20, 1847, in his fifty-fourth year. His remains were buried there, in the English cemetery.

In January, 1850, The Remains of the Late Rev. Henry Francis Lyte, A.M., Incumbent of Lower Brixham, Devon­shire; Consisting of Hitherto Unpublished Poems, a Few Sermons, etc. with a Brief Prefatory Memoir, appeared from the press of the Rivingtons. A volume was issued by T. & A. Constable, Edinburgh, 1868, containing the Mis­cellaneous Poems, taken from this publication, and the Poems, Chiefly Religious.

by Edwin Hatfield
The Poets of the Church (1884)


Featured Hymns:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide

Collections of Hymns & Poems:

Tales in Verse Illustrative of the Several Petitions of the Lord's Prayer

1st ed. (1826): PDF
2nd ed. (1829): PDF

Poems Chiefly Religious

1st ed. (1833): PDF
2nd ed. (1845): PDF

Spirit of the Psalms

1st ed. (1834): WorldCat
2nd ed. (1834): WorldCat
3rd ed. (1834): WorldCat
4th ed. (1836): PDF
5th ed. (1841): WorldCat
4th ed.? (1858) ed. J.R. Hogg?: WorldCat
2nd ed. (1860) ed. J.R. Hogg: WorldCat
3rd ed. (1864) ed. J.R. Hogg: WorldCat

Remains (1850): PDF

Miscellaneous Poems (1868): PDF

Life and Works:

Anna Maria Maxwell Hogg, Remains of the Late Rev. Henry Francis Lyte (London: Francis & John Rivington, 1850): PDF

Edwin Hatfield, “Henry Francis Lyte,” Poets of the Church (NY, 1884), pp. 391-395: HathiTrust

John Julian, “Henry Francis Lyte,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 706-707: Google Books

The Poetical Works of Rev. H.F. Lyte, M.A. (London: Elliot Stock, 1907): PDF

“Abide with me,” The Musical Times, 1 Feb. 1908 (vol. 49), p. 99: PDF

John Appleyard, Henry Francis Lyte, M.A.: A Short Biography (London: Epworth Press, 1939): WorldCat

B.G. Skinner, Henry Francis Lyte: Brixham’s Poet and Priest (Exeter: University of Exeter, 1974): WorldCat

J.R.Watson, “Henry Francis Lyte: Bicentenary Reflections,” Bulletin of the Hymn Society, vol. 198 (January 1994), pp. 2-11.

Alex J. Webster, Heaven Will Bring Me Sweeter Rest: Selected Works of Henry Francis Lyte (Shazbaar Press, 2018): Amazon

Related Links:

Henry Francis Lyte, Hymnary.org:
https://hymnary.org/person/Lyte_HF

Henry Francis Lyte, Indelible Grace Hymn Book:
http://hymnbook.igracemusic.com/people/henry-lyte

Leon Litvack, “Henry Francis Lyte,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/h/henry-francis-lyte

Leon Litvack, “Henry Frances Lyte,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/17302