John Samuel Bewley Monsell Hymnwriter

John Samuel Bewley Monsell was born on March 2, 1811, at St Columb’s, Londonderry, Ireland. His father was the Archdeacon of Londonderry, and young John followed into Clerical ministry in his footsteps.

Monsell attended Trinity College in Dublin, gaining his BA in 1832 and LLD in 1856.

He was ordained in 1834 and following his holy orders he ministered in Surrey and Guildford in England. During the latter ministry, as Rector of St. Nicholas, Guildford, he was accidentally killed during renovations to his church.

Monsell was a prolific poet and hymn-writer. He published 11 volumes of poems, of which almost 300 were hymns which came from his pen.

“We are too distant and reserved in our praises,” he wrote.  “We sing not as we should sing to Him and of Him who is Chief among 10,000, the Altogether Lovely.”

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Among his best known contributions to the world of hymnody are … “O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness” and “Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might”.

One of Monsell’s hymns, ‘Awake, glad soul, awake, awake” was written according to the preface to his ‘Spiritual Songs‘, “amid the orange and olive groves of Italy during a winter spent (for the sake of his health) upon the shores of the Mediterranean Sea”.

In the title page and introduction to the 1864 Fourth Edition of ‘Spiritual Songs’, Monsell identified himself as Vicar of Egham, Surrey and Rural Dean, and Author of ‘Parish Musings’. The collection provided a poem for each of the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the year. Monsell saw this English Ritual of the liturgical religious calendar as an expression of the “mind of Christ”.

A distinction among hymns, which can be seen in Monsell’s music, is between the hymn and the Processional. The inclusion of a repetitive chorus was a feature of Processionals, and so Monsell modified some of his hymns to create a chorus for processional use, such as using the first four lines of the first verse as a chorus for the other verses. Hymns with choruses became the principal style of hymn in the twentieth century.

Monsell’s death occurred on 9 April, 1875 when he fell from the roof of the church as it was being rebuilt.

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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:

Rudyard Kipling Pens Lest We Forget

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, on December 30, 1865, and many of the stories for which he later became famous bear the marks of that Indian background.

His father was a teacher of arts and crafts and Rudyard was raised by a maid who taught him Hindustani as his first language. However, at age six he was taken to and left in Swansea, England for five years at a foster home. There he confronted English discipline, including beatings, for which he was ill prepared.

At age thirteen he entered United Services College to prepare him for a life of military service. This ambition was thwarted by his short-sightedness. At that time his family connections with pre-Raphaelites influenced his writing.

When he returned to India in 1882 he pursued a career in journalism, to suit his bookish interests. He wrote many short stories which were well received in England where he was hailed as a literary luminary.

“Ruddy”, as he was know in younger years, glorified the English soldier in various situations and overseas duties in the British Empire, particularly India and Burma. He wrote mostly for or about military personnel.

He also wrote wonderful stories for children, including The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book.

In 1892 he married Caroline Starr Balestier, the sister of an American publisher with whom he collaborated. The marriage was apparently not an ideal one, as Caroline struggled with some of his character qualities. Kipling became a more difficult man to live with after the death of his daughter when they lived in Vermont, USA.

His son, John, who also had short-sightedness, managed to get into the military, but was killed in World War One, at the Battle of Loos, at age 18.

Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, and was the first Englishman to receive that prestigious award.

Certainly there is no Christian message in his books, although the heroes are always men of high ideals. Nor is there any indication that Kipling was ever converted. An active Freemason, he is sometimes spoken of as the Masonic Poet. His stories express a sense of Imperialism and pride in the prominence of the British Rule, as if it were by divine mandate. He did not question the quality of that rule or its implications.

But in 1897 he wrote a hymn for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – a hymn still to be found in most hymnals and often sung on patriotic occasions:
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line –
Beneath Whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget.

Australians will recognise the words “Lest We Forget”, since they are invoked each Anzac Day, April 25, in memory of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in battle. The hymn is most likely to be heard on Anzac Day. The words also adorn the Returned Soldiers’ League (RSL) buildings.

Rudyard Kipling died in London of a cerebral haemorrhage on January 18, 1936, aged 70. He was buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

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:

Dr John Byrom Wrote his Christmas Poem

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:

Christina Georgina Rossetti the Spinster Poet

Christina Georgina Rossetti was born in London, UK, on December 5, 1830, to Gabriele and Frances Rossetti.

“An exceptionally brilliant family” is how one biographer describes them … her father was a professor of Italian at King’s College, London; her brothers achieved fame in the world of art, and Christina shone brightly in literary circles. Christina is described as one of England’s most important nineteenth-century women poets.

She was educated at home, by her mother, and took an interest in poetry. She is described as “deeply religious and serious minded”. In 1848 she became engaged to James Collinson, one of the minor Pre-Raphaelite brethren with whom her brother kept company. However this engagement was terminated when Collinson turned to Roman Catholicism.

More than a decade later she held affection for one Charles Cayley but would not consent to marry him because he was not a Christian.

She gave us playing chess, as an act of devotion to God, since she enjoyed it so much, especially winning at chess.

It is said that “much of her poetry has a wistful, spiritual quality but displays a high level of technical ability and sincerity”.

Some of her hymns are still sung today … Love came down at Christmas… and None other Lamb, none other Name, none other hope in Heaven or earth or sea …

Strikingly beautiful, Christina was used as a model by Holman Hunt when he was painting his masterpiece, “The Light of the World” – “Christina sat for the eyes and the brow of the head of Christ” (Great Christians, page 472).

In 1871 a “terribly disabling disease” (neuralgia) robbed her of that outward beauty. Nevertheless her spirit remained in tune with her God and more spiritual gems came from her pen, such as this favourite:
What shall I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him – give my heart.

She was much troubled by her brother, Dante’s, breakdown in 1872 and following his death in 1882 she lived a retiring life. However in the 1870’s she worked for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Miss Rossetti died of cancer on 19 December, 1894.

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:

John Milton Applies His Talents to His Faith

John Milton died on November 8, 1674. He is described as “the greatest poet of Christian themes England has produced”.

Born to a family of means in London on 9 December, 1608, his Christian convictions were most probably invoked through his mother, Sarah, who is described as a very religious person. His genius for poetry revealed itself at an early age. His paraphrase of Psalm 136 was written when he was 15 years of age …
Let us with a gladsome mind
praise the Lord for He is kind …

Originally it had 24 stanzas.

Milton considered himself destined for ministry, and was first taught languages by his father, then was schooled at St Paul’s School and Christ’s College Cambridge. After a year at Cambridge he was suspended for a fist fight with his tutor. Milton held his beliefs firmly. He was not particularly liked by the other students. At Cambridge he composed “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” on Christmas Day 1629.

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After graduation he spent time at home, engaged in literature, and then went to the Continent where he met many notables, including Galileo (then under house arrest by the church), the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Barberini and Calvinist theologian Giovanni Diodati.

Milton returned to London and was then caught up in the English Civil War. He became secretary to Oliver Cromwell writing political treatises to counter critical works originating on the Continent. He also wrote several prose works from a Puritan perspective including pamphlets against the episcopy.

At the age of 44 he became totally blind – but continued to write political treatises.

Then – in later life – he turned back to poetry.

His epic work, Paradise Lost, in which he “sought to justify the ways of God to man” was published in ten volumes in 1667. The copyright was sold for 5 pounds Sterling at a time when Milton’s finances had taken a turn for the worse.

Milton’s blindness made huge demands on his creativity. He would compose verses at night and commit them to memory, then dictate them to his daughters or other assistants in the morning.

Many of Milton’s religious views were at variance to Puritan theology, including his disbelief in the divine birth.

His domestic life was sad. His first wife, 17 year old Mary Powell, who married him when he was twice her age, left him after “a few weeks” then returned two years later (1645) and bore him three daughters.

After her death he re-married (1656), but his second wife died two years later.

At the age of 58 he married again to a much younger woman, despite the opposition of his daughters, and this third wife seemed to bring him peace in his last eight years.

His last manuscript, A Treatise of Christian Doctrine, in Latin, was not found until about 150 years after his death. It reveals Arian views – and a willingness to tolerate polygamy … (Chambers Biographical Dictionary).

Paradise Lost is controversial in its Christian message, subtly presenting Satan as the real hero of the poem. Romantic poet William Blake stated that Milton is “a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

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This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.