Phillips Brooks

13 December 1835–23 January 1893

Phillips Brooks, age 27 (ca. 1862-63), photo by J.W. Black, in Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks, vol. 1 (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1900).

“No man or woman of the humblest sort can really be strong, pure, and good without the world being the better for it, without somebody being helped and comforted by the very existence of this goodness.” The best introduction to our note concerning Dr. Phillips Brooks, the author of this hymn [“O little town of Bethlehem”], is this quotation from one of his own public utterances. The air is hardly still yet which has been stirred by the voices of sorrow more powerfully through all our American communities than for years before. The death of this great and kind man brought his life into review. He was “pure and good,” and he "helped and comforted,” and the world is better for it.

Rev. Phillips Brooks, D. D., was born December 13, 1835, in Boston, Mass. He was a graduate of Harvard College, 1855, and from that institution went to the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va. In 1859 he was ordained and settled as rector of the Church of the Advent in Philadelphia. [In 1862, he became rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia.] He removed to Boston in 1869 to become the rector of Trinity Church, where his real life’s record was to be written. It was not long before his personality became as dominant in the Puritan as it had been in the Quaker metropolis. His superb presence, his captivating graces of manner, his thrilling eloquence, his profound scholarship, won the admiration of the most cultured Bostonians, while his spiritual fervor and the tremendous energy of the whole man made him loved and honored by every one.

There for twenty-two years he preached, and his fame ran over the world. Then in 1891 he was elected Bishop of the diocese of Massachusetts. Heavy work followed; great success was achieved. Then the end came suddenly. At the supreme height of his usefulness and popularity he died January 23, 1893. “Dieu seul est grand!” … The author never had any care of his fugitive pieces, and the world did what it pleased with them. The hymn is beautiful, and the world offers its thanks.

by Charles Seymour Robinson
Annotations Upon Popular Hymns (1893)

Featured Hymns:

O little town of Bethlehem

Collections of Hymns and Poems:

Poems (NY, 1894): WorldCat

Christmas Songs and Easter Carols (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1904): HathiTrust


Phillips Brooks papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University:

Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia:

Related Resources:

Henry C. Potter, The Mission and Commission of the Episcopate: A Sermon Preached at the Consecreation of the Rev. Phillips Brooks (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1892): WorldCat

Charles Seymour Robinson, “Rev. Phillips Brooks,” Annotations Upon Popular Hymns (NY: Hunt & Eaton, 1893), p. 505:

Service in Loving Memory of the Late Phillips Brooks (NY: Thomas Whittaker, 1893):

Edwin Harwood, Phillips Brooks, Late Bishop of Massachusetts: Address Delivered in Trinity Church, New Haven ... Feb. 19, 1893 (New Haven, CT: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1893): WorldCat

William Lawrence, Phillips Brooks: A Memorial Sermon Preached at St. John’s Memorial Chapel, Cambridge, Mass., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 1893 (Cambridge, [J. Wilson & Son], 1893): HathiTrust

Henry C. Potter, The Life-Giving Word: A Sermon Memorial of the Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, D.D., Late Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts (Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1893): WorldCat

Katharine Lee Bates, “The Funeral of Phillips Brooks” [poem], New England Magazine, New Series, vol. 8, no. 4 (June 1893), pp. 506-510: HathiTrust

Duncan Campbell, “Phillips Brooks,” Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, 1898), pp. 175-176:

Alexander V.G. Allen, Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1900-1901).

Vol. 1:
Vol. 2:
Vol. 3:

William Lawrence, Phillips Brooks: A Study (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1903):

Henry Washburn, Phillips Brooks: A Sermon Preached in Trinity Church in the City of Boston on Sunday, December 11, 1927: WorldCat

James Thayer Addison, The Episcopal Church in the United States, 1789-1931 (New York, Scribner, 1951): WorldCat

Raymond W. Albright, Focus on Infinity: A Life of Phillips Brooks (1961)

John F. Woolverton, The Education of Phillips Brooks (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

Phillips Brooks [bibliography], Project Canterbury:

John F. Woolverton, “Phillips Brooks,” American National Biography:

Phillips Brooks,

J.R. Watson & Carl P. Daw, “Phillips Brooks,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: