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The Rev. Henry Francis Lyte, M.A., who has secured worldwide renown as the author of ‘Abide with Me' and other famous hymns, was born at Ednam, near Kelso, in Scotland, of English parentage, on June 1, 1793. To the gracious influence of a good and talented mother must be attributed the honour of shaping the character and mind of her son, whose thoughts were ordained to influence and bless the world. Memories of his mother constantly proved a source of inspiration to goodness, and were sacred treasures in his soul to the
He wrote a poem entitled, ‘On Dreaming of my Mother,' by which we see how deeply her image was engraven on his soul.
His father, who was a military officer, descended from an influential family in Somersetshire.
It was at Protoro, in Ireland, that their famous son received instruction at school, being then nine years of age. At this early stage he acquitted himself with distinction under the tuition of Dean Burrows. Still, it is to be regretted that his early advantages were meagre. His natural abilities, however, were considerable. The difficulties and struggles of his early life created within him a spirit of determination and perseverance, without which he could not have secured the advantages which came to him later, and which carried him triumphantly through adversities which would have daunted most men. Ambitions of the noblest order moved his soul. In the poem ' Aspirations' we are favoured with a glimpse of his magnificent spirit.
At the age of nineteen he proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin, and from the first became recognized as a distinguished scholar and a popular friend. Some of the friendships formed
at this time were so strong and dear that they remained firm through the numerous changes of succeeding years. When in middle life he wrote ‘Stanzas to J. K.,' his heart was as warm in friendship as when the holy attachments were made in the flush of youth. His appreciation of faithfulness on the part of his friends was very great, and afforded him intense delight. When the years of sickness came, he found his friends a source of much comfort and strength.
As is generally the case with those who highly esteem the friendships of life, he felt their loss most acutely. The poem 'Friends Lost in 1833' expresses his sense of sorrow. But he was constantly forming new attachments, and so all through life his friends were numerous. His pleasant friendliness of nature was such that others were instinctively attracted toward him. We may, however, conclude that his earlyformed friendships were the sweetest and best. Happy are all who succeed in retaining the friends of their youth. 'He that hath many friends must show himself friendly.' But though of such a sociable nature, he was most industrious, and never allowed social engagements to interfere with his intellectual pursuits.
Whilst at Dublin he gave much attention to his natural aptitude for poetry, and composed some poems which won valuable prizes. In three successive years he secured the English prize for poetry in the college competition. His poem ' Richard Cour de Lion,' which secured the Chancellor's premium, attracted considerable attention. In a letter to a friend, dated March, 1815, Mr. Lyte says, in reference to the poem : On looking over this, the Provost imagined, with his telescopic eyes, that he had discovered some merit sufficient to entitle it to recitation at the next visitation. I was therefore commanded to attend with my poem, and gave them a dose of about two hundred lines from the beginning of the composition, which the Chancellor liked so well that he wished for the rest of the work for perusal. The Provost has expressed a wish that I should publish the poem, “ dedicated to the Vice-Chancellor,” and “at the desire of the Board and Fellows of the University."
His poem on the Primrose was composed during his first year at Dublin. It is full of exquisite thought, and shows how intensely he observed and loved Nature. The spirit and power of the poem are charming. From his childhood days flowers were a source of much delight to him, and often he sang their praises. His poems ‘Spare my Flower' and 'The Wallflower' are magnificent work. The poem “Flowers' is a superb production in which many aspects of life are gently touched. It is full of fine spiritual ideas.
Several of his poems show that Nature in all her moods appealed powerfully to his soul.
But 'The Battle of Salamanca ’ is perhaps the most remarkable of all his works at this period. The descriptive power is truly remarkable for one so young. The language thrills one like the rousing tones of a battle-march rendered by skilful musicians. Mr. Lyte might have been an experienced soldier, so extensive and appropriate was his military vocabulary.
He excites our admiration as a model of industry who is absolutely depending on his own resources. By extra labour in teaching pupils he succeeded in making his financial course much easier. After graduating at Dublin he was drawn toward the medical profession, but soon his soul became so powerfully moved by religious impressions that he was constrained to relinquish the idea of medicine and prepare for the ministry.
In 1815, soon after he became of age, he was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England. His first curacy was at Wexford, where he toiled with much devotion in parochial duties ; but as the town did not afford him congenial society or sufficient leisure for literary pursuits, he decided to become tutor to the boys of an old friend, with whom he went to reside, and where he had times of intense delight with suitable society and literary privileges.
For a time his religious activity declined ; then, through the illness of a neighbouring clergyman, he was led to see the great importance of putting first things first, and wholeheartedly devoting himself to the work of the ministry, for which he had been specially set apart. In the extremity his