John Byrom was born at Kersal Cell, near Manchester, UK on February 29, 1692. He was born the younger son of a prosperous merchant.
Enjoying the benefits of a prosperous family he pursued education at Trinity College, Cambridge and became a fellow in 1714.
He also took to poetry while still a student, penning “Colin to Phoebe”, based on the family of Dr Richard Bentley, the despotic master at Trinity College. It was published in the Spectator.
He then travelled abroad, supposedly to study medicine at University of Montpellier in France, but possibly due to political pressures, since he supported a Jacobite Pretender to the throne, as revealed in his epigram on King and Pretender. He did not graduate and never practiced medicine.
Following his return to London and his marriage to his cousin in 1721, he taught a system of shorthand, which he called “tychygraphy”, to provide his living. He had developed the system while at Cambridge. John Wesley and Charles Wesley both used Byrom’s shorthand in their personal diaries.
In 1740 his elder brother died and he inherited his father’s estate.
His poems were published ten years after his death and he is accounted among England’s poets. His shorthand invention was also published after his death as The Universal English Shorthand in 1767. It was not ultimately successful as it proved to be too clumsy for professional use.
Dr John Byrom was one of the tallest men in England, and, adds his biographer, “one of the queerest looking!” (The Gospel in Hymns, by A. Bailey, page 112). He also possessed a light-hearted and good-natured character which is apparent in his journals.
Although an Anglican, he was friendly toward the Methodist cause then arising. He is regarded by some biographers as a student of religious mysticism, taking interest in writers like Jacob Boehme and Malebranche
Dr John Byrom wrote a Christmas Poem on the morning of December 25, 1749, for his daughter.
It was Christmas morning, 1749, when little Dolly Byrom tripped down the stairs of her home in a state of excitement and anticipation. For a few days earlier her father had promised to write her a poem “as a Christmas present”.
That Christmas poem is counted as his most famous work.
Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn
where-on the Saviour of mankind was born;
Rise to adore the mystery of love
which hosts of angels chanted from above;
With them the joyful tidings first begun,
God incarnate and the Virgin’s Son.
This work survives as “A Hymn For Christmas Day”.
John Byrom died on September 26, 1763
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com