Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95)


Life
[née Cecil Frances Humphreys; occas. err. Cecilia; pseuds. ‘CFA’; ‘X’]; b. 1818 [var. 1825], Dublin [vars. Co. Wicklow and Miltown Hse., nr. Strabane]; dg. and 3rd child of orig. the former Elizabeth Reed and Major John Humphreys of Norfolk, land-agent to 4th Earl of Wicklow and later to the second Marquess of Abercorn; began writing verse at early age; influenced in religion by Dr Hook, Dean of Chichester, and subsequently by John Keble, who edited her Songs for Little Children;
 
contrib. lyric and narrative poems and French translations to Dublin University Magazine under pseuds. [as supra]; her “Burial of Moses” appeared anon. in Dublin University Magazine (1856) causing Tennyson to profess it one of the few poems of a living author he wished he had written; friendship with Lady [Harriet] Howard while living at Ballykean, Co. Wicklow, collaborated on tracts, published separately and then brought together; Lady Harriet died of consumption;
 
issued Verses for Holy Seasons (1846) The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals (1847), allegory for children; Hymns for Little Children (1848); influenced in religion by the Oxford movement; met Miss Hook and her brother Dr. Hook, who edited her volume Verses for Holy Seasons, while visiting her sister Anne Humphreys Maguire, in Leamington; m. Rev. William Alexander Oct. 1850, Strabane Church, then recorder of Termonamongan, diocese of Derry; six years older than he, causing great family concern, and birthdate deferentially altered accordingly; resided at at Derg Lodge, Termonamongan before moving to Upper Fahan, on Lough Swilly, 1855; lived at Strabane, 1860-67, with trips to France; William appt. bishop of Derry and Raphoe in 1867; much involved with Derry Home for Fallen Women and with the development of a district nurses service; indefatigable visitor to poor and sick;
 
seven of her hymns included in Church of Ireland Hymnal (1873), the first to be authorised after Disestablishment, eighteen contained in A Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern (1889), nine appearing in Church of Ireland Hymnal (1960, 1987 edns.); wrote elegies for Mrs. Hemans, Robert Southey and Kaiser Wilhelm; d. 12 Oct., Derry; her poems posthumously collected and edited by William Alexander in Poems of the late Mrs Alexander (1896), with a “Memoir”; her home in the episcopal residence in Derry is marked by a plaque. CAB ODNB JMC TAY DIB DIW RAF ODQ OCIL

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Works
Verses for Holy Seasons, ed. Dr. Hook (1846), Do. (London: Bell & Daldy, 1858); Hymns for Little Children (1848); 4th edn. 1850; 5th ed., 1852; edns., in 1857, 1862, 1864, 1867, 1878; 62nd edn. 1884; pictorial edn. (London: CKS 1903), in all 69 edns. [infra]; The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals (1847), [an allegory for children]; Moral Songs, &c. (1849), 2nd edn. [1850], another edn. (1855), another edn., ill. L. Masters (1880), 14 edns.; Narrative Hymns for Village Schools (1853); [var. title], Hymns for Village Schools (1854; Poems of Subjects in the Old Testament (1854; Dublin University Magazine, Vol. XLVII (1856): pp.462-64.; Hymns, Descriptive and Devotional (1958), Do. (J. Masters & Co. 1880; The Legends of the Golden Prayers, and Other Poems (London: Bell & Daldy 1859); Easy Questions on the Life of Our Lord (London: Griffth & Farran 1891); Hymns for Children (London: Marcus Ward & co. [1894]); William Alexander, ed. and pref., Poems of the Late Mrs Alexander [’CFA’] (London: Macmillan & Co. 1896), five pts., with port [with Memoir by her husband]; A. P. Graves. ed., Selected Poems from William and Cecil Frances Alexander (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1930); The Baron’s Little Daughter (1838).

Hymns for Little Children (1848) contains “All things bright and beautiful!”, “There is a green hill far away” and “Once in Royal David’s city”.

Church of Ireland Hymnal (OUP 1960; 1987) include her hymns listed as Nos.: 97 [‘When wounded sore, the stricken soul / Lies bleeding and unbounded’]; 98 [‘When my lip confesses / Bitter shame and pride [...]’; 120 [‘His are the thousand sparkling rills / That from a thousand fountains burst’]; 154 [‘The gold gates are lifted / The doors are open wide’]; 177 [“James the Apostle” - ‘For all they saints, a noble throng’]; 202 [“St Columba”; as infra]; 320 [“Eisighim Indiu”, attrib. St Patrick [‘I bind unto myself today / The strong name of the Trinity’]; 392 [‘There is a Green hill far away / Without a city wall / Where the dear Lord was crucified / Who died to save us all’]; 602 [“All things bright and beautiful!”]; 606 [“Do no sinful action”]; 624 [“Once in Royal David’s city”].

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Criticism
  • Eleanor Alexander, Primate Alexander: Archbishop of Armagh (London: Edward Arnold, 1914);
  • Ernest W[illiam] O[’Malley] Lovell, A Green Hill Far Away: The Life of Mrs. C .F. Alexander (Dublin ASPK/London: SPCK 1970), 84pp.;
  • Seán MacMahon, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful,’ [Appreciation], Eire-Ireland, 10, 4 (Winter 1975) [var. 10.3], pp.137-41;
  • David Stevens, ‘Religious Ireland (II)’, in Edna Longley, ed., Culture in Ireland, Diversity or Division [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1991), p.145;
  • Valerie Wallace, Mrs Alexander: A Life of the Hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-1895 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1995), viii, 198pp. [see note];
  • Rolf Loeber & Magda Stouthamer-Loebber, ‘Fiction Available to and Written for Cottages and their Children’, in The Experience of Reading: Irish Historical Perspectives, ed. Bernadette Cunningham & Máire Kennedy (Dublin: Rare Books Group 1999), p.150.
  • Carole Dunbar, ‘The depiction of class in Mrs Alexander’s Hymns for little children’, in Divided Worlds: Studies in Children’s Literature, ed. Mary Shine Thompson & Valerie Coghlan, eds., [Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature, 3] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2007) [q.pp.].
 
See also P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (London: Murray 1994).
 
Notes
Valerie Wallace, Mrs Alexander (1995), notice by John Kirkaldy, in Books Ireland (Sept. 1995), p.218, and in also in ‘Brief Notes’, Times Literary Supplement (27 Oct. 1995), p.33;

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Commentary
David Stevens, ‘Religious Ireland (II)’, in Edna Longley, ed., Culture in Ireland, Diversity or Division [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (Belfast: QUB/Inst. of Irish Studies 1991), p.145; Stevens quotes a hymn by Alexander which was sung in her husband’s Cathedral on the day of Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; ‘Look down, Lord of heaven on our desolation, / Fallen, fallen, fallen is now our Country’s crown, / Dimly down the New year as a Churchless nation, / [?M]ammon and Amalek tread our borders down.’ Stevens comments, ‘Disestablishment marks the start of Protestant defeat and withdrawal.’ (p.145.)

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P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (London: John Murray 1994), writes that Tennyson is said to proclaimed “The Burial of Moses” a poem he wishes he had written himself; it was also one of the favourites of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain); there is an account of his response to it in Miss Alexander’s memoir (cited more fully in Kavanagh, p.103); note also that Mrs Craik heard the Siege of Derry shortly after it was written, and predicted that it would be as well known as Macaulay’s account of the siege in his History of England (which Kavanagh quotes, with emphasis on its lurid anti-Papism). See also article in Times Literary Supplement (16 Feb. 2001), with remarks: Mark Twain was fond of quoting Cecil Alexander’s hymn, ‘By Nebo’s lonely mountain/On this side Jordan’s wave / In a vale in the land of Moab/There lies a lonely grave. / And no man knows that sepulchre / And no man say it e’er, / For the Angles of God upturned the sod / And laid the dead man there.’ (Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament).

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Valerie Wallace, Mrs Alexander: A Life of the Hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-1895 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1995) [1 874675 46 5]; reviewer in ‘Brief Notes’, Times Literary Supplement (27 Oct. 1995), p.33, remarks: ‘engaging, fresh, and meticulously researched ... sympathetic insight into culture of 19th c. Ascendancy at its most serious’); also reviewed by John Kirkaldy, in Books Ireland (Sept. 1995), p.218.

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Quotations
Breastplate of St. Patrick”: ‘I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity / The three in one and one in three. / Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, / Salvation is of Christ the Lord.’

All Things Bright and Beautiful!”: ‘The rich man in his castle, / The poor man at his gate, / God made them, high or lowly, / And order’d their estate’. (From “The Burial of Moses”), ‘By Nebo’s lonely mountain / On this side Jordan’s wave, / In a vale of the land of Moab / There lies a lonely grave. / And no man knows that sepulchre / And no man saw it e’er, / For the angels of God upturned the sod / And laid the dead man there.’ Also, ‘There is a green hill far away, / Without a city wall, / Where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all’.

“The Resurrection”
O resurrection mystery,
   In thee we have our part,
O risen Lord, we look to Thee,
   Our very life Thou art!

That when we die, for Thou hast died,
   We rise again to keep
An everlasting Easter tide,
   Glad waking from short sleep.
Poems, 1896; quoted on W. B. Yeats Wordpress
[ blog / 9 April 2009]

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Church of Ireland Hymnal (OUP 1960; 1987) include among her hymns: Nos. 97 [’When wounded sore, the stricken soul / Lies bleeding and unbounded’]; 98 [’When my lip confesses / Bitter shame and pride’]; 120 [’His are the thousand sparkling rills / That from a thousand fountains burst’]; 154 [’The gold gates are lifted / The doors are open wide’]; 177 [“James the Apostle”; ‘For all they saints, a noble throng’]; 202 [“St Columba”, ‘In the roll call of god’s sons / Sounding sweet and solemn / Name we mid his chosen ones / Ulster’s own Saint Columb // Not without his age’s taint / Fierce and unrelenting / Stern apostle, weeping saint / Sinful and repenting // Creeds he taught barbaric men / Are our children saying / Prayers he prayed in danger then / Daily we are praying // From his home and kindred skies / Self-exiled for ever / Fond he sought with dying eyes / Foyle his oak-crowned river // King of saints, of whom we hold / Hope of our election? By thy spirit do us mould / To they saints’ perfection / Till we see thee evermore / Ransomed by they dying / With the saved on that far shore / ‘neath thine alter lying. Amen’]; 320 [“Eisighim Indiu”, attrib. St Patrick [’I bind unto myself today / The strong name of the Trinity’]; 392 [’There is a Green hill far away / without a city wall / Where the dear Lord was crucified / Who died to save us all’]; 602 [’All things bright and beautiful’]; 606 [’Do no sinful action’]; 624 [’Once in royal David’s city’]. Also, Translation of “Breastplate of St. Patrick”, ‘I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity / The three in one and one in three. / Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, / Salvation is of Christ the Lord.’

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The Siege of Derry”: ‘[T]hey were soft words that they spoke, how we need not fear their yoke, / And they pleaded by our homesteads, and by our children small, / And our women fair and tender, but we answered: “No surrender!” / And we call on God Almighty, and we went to man the wall.’; Further: ‘The foemen gathered fast - we could see them marching past- / The Irish from his barren hills, the Frenchman from his wars ... There is none that fighteth for us, O God! but only Thou!’ (“The Siege of Derry”.)

Burial of Moses”: ‘There is a green hill far away, / Without a city wall, / Where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all’.

St Columba” - ‘In the roll call of god’s sons / Sounding sweet and solemn / Name we mid his chosen ones / Ulster’s own Saint Columb // Not without his age’s taint / Fierce and unrelenting / Stern apostle, weeping saint / Sinful and repenting // Creeds he taught barbaric men / Are our children saying / Prayers he prayed in danger then / Daily we are praying // From his home and kindred skies / Self-exiled for ever / Fond he sought with dying eyes / Foyle his oak-crowned river // King of saints, of whom we hold / Hope of our election? By thy spirit do us mould / To they saints’ perfection / Till we see thee evermore / Ransomed by they dying / With the saved on that far shore / ’neath thine alter lying. Amen.’

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The writer’s wish would be to prolong the child’s love of the glorious Old Testament stories, by throwing round them something of the poetical tinge which is attrqactive to almost every mind in opening youth; and thus to connect associations of quiet pleasure with the examples of holy life, and the doctrines of saving truth, which the Bible contains in such exceeding abundance.’ (Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament, n.d.; quoted in John F. Deane, ed., Irish Poetry of Faith and Doubt, Dublin: Wolfhound 1991, p.12.)

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References
Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), gives bio-data: b. Dublin, dg. of Major John Humphreys; influenced in religion by Dr Hook, Dean of Chichester, and subsequently by John Keble, who edited her Songs [var. Hymns] for Little Children; her poems collected and edited by William Alexander after her death (Poems of the late Mrs Alexander, 1896); Gounod remarked that the words “There is a green hill far away” were so harmonious and rhythmic that they seem to set themselves to music; “Burial of Moses” appeared anon. in Dublin University Magazine, 1856 and caused Tennyson to say it was one of the few poems of a living author he wished he had written. [... &c.]

Oxford Literary Guide identifies Derg Lodge, Termonamongan as her home; cites Narrative Hymns for Village Schools (1853).

Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), gives a selection.

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Notes
Alexander Leeper
, DD, Canon of St Patrick’s, Historical Handbook of St Patrick’s Cathedral (1891), employed as an epigram for the chapter on Monuments her lines, ‘Amid the noblest of the land/We lay the sage to rest; / And give the bard an honoured place, / In the great Minster transept,/Where lights like glories fall, / And organ rings, / And the sweet choir sings, / Along the emblazoned walls.’

Dr. Hook: according to her husband’s memoir, Dr. Hook guided Frances Alexander her with ‘masculine influence’.

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Dinah Craik [see infra] heard Cecil Alexander’s ballad “The Siege of Derry” shortly after it was written, she predicted that it would be as well known as Macaulay’s account in his History of England. (See P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994.)

Robert Alexander, her son, was lost in the torpedoed HMS Leinster. (See Philip Lecane, Torpedoed! The RMS Leinster Disaster, Monkstown: Periscope 2007; reviewed in Books Ireland, Summer 2007, p.144.)

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