Iconoclast Mary Brahe’s Home

Though I covered Mary Brahe in Sisters in Song, I gave her only a cursory glance.  I hope to remedy this.  Mary Dickson was born in East Melbourne, Australia in 1884 to an Australian cordial manufacturer and his Scottish wife.  Her mother Margaret taught piano to May, as she was known.  Alas, the mother died when May was 12, and three years later, she had to leave school due to economic hardship and earn a living teaching piano.  All the while, she continued to take private lessons with other more accomplished musicians.  After marrying Frederick Brahe in 1903 when she was 19, she continued to pursue her music career, playing, writing and publishing her compositions.  Her publishers encouraged her to go to London to further her status as a composer.  In a move unusual for the time, she left her three young children with her husband and grandmother and went to London in 1912.  By 1914, she earned enough to visit Australia and bring her family to England.   In 1919, soon after returning from service in World War I, Frederick Brahe was killed in an auto accident.    Three years later, she married fellow Australian, George Morgan with whom she had a daughter.  She finally returned to Melbourne, Australia in 1939 living well from song royalties.  She was in fact the only Australian woman composer to win international recognition before World War II.


Her publishers arranged regular concerts of her songs and ballads.  After the original publishers were bought out by another firm, she was one the few composers they paid on an annual retainer.  She continued to publish over 400 songs.   They were often published under one of nine pseudonyms.  This was necessary as most publishers didn‘t want to publish more than four songs of any one writer in a year.  She worked with many lyricists, but was most successful with Englishwoman Helen Taylor, her favorite collaborator in both songs and in two of her three musicals.  In addition to the songs and musicals, she wrote two operettas for children.   It was with Taylor that she wrote “Bless This House” which was originally published as “Bless the House” in 1927. Tenor John McCormack changed the title to the one we know today.  This melodic and sentimental song became famous over the world and has been recorded by the likes of Jan Peerce, Doris Day, Perry Como, and Leontyne Price among many others.  It seems ironic that the woman who composed a song in praise of the God-centered family home was brave enough to leave family for two years to pursue a career in a still Victorian influenced age.

Amy Beach, Victorian Feminist?

In my last post, I wrote of Paul’s exhortation to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  I had many hymns and spiritual songs by women to choose from, but little in the way of psalms.  I shall remedy that.

Amy Marcy Cheney was New Hampshire born, the only child in a very proper Victorian era household in 1867.  Her father was a paper importer and manufacturer and a Freewill Baptist. Her mother was an amateur singer and pianist and a Calvinist Congregationalist.  It was with mother that she attended Sunday School.  Amy was unusually gifted with musical talent.  At one year, she could hum 40 tunes in key, and that was before she could speak.  At age two, she could improvise counter-melody to anything her mother sang.  At three, she taught herself to read. By age four, she composed music in her head.  She wanted desperately to play the piano, but her mother thought otherwise for to indulge that would undermine parental authority.  Nevertheless, Amy composed mentally, saved up the compositions in her mind, and by the age of six, her parents relented.  She took formal lessons with her mother.  In the folkways of that era, middle and upper class women were rejected from careers in music.  Again, strong willed Amy, beginning at age seven, was able to give public recitals of works by the masters and her own works.  When the family moved to the Boston area in 1875, her parents allowed her training under local piano masters.  At age fourteen, she received some formal training in composition, but other than one year of this, she was self-taught.  Her concert debut in 1883 was well received by critics and audiences.

In 1885, she married Dr. H.H. Beach, a Boston surgeon 24 years older than she and she changed her name on concert programs to Mrs. H.H.A. Beach.  He thought it improper for a married woman to support herself, so she gave any profits from concerts to charity and agreed to never teach piano.  Under her husband’s insistence, she spent more ladylike time in composition without any instruction, though she believed she was primarily a pianist.   She collected every book she found on composition and theory and trained herself.

Her first truly major success was a Mass in E-flat major in 1892.   The newspaper music critics placed her into the upper rank of American composers.  It was the first piece composed by a woman performed by the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra, and through this, she was the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony. However, critics did go to great lengths to relate her compositions to her gender.  It wasn’t until 1898 that critics stopped doing this.   Doctor Beach died in 1910, and her mother shortly thereafter.  Childless Amy went to Europe to recover from her grief and there she changed her name to Amy Beach.  There she resumed giving concerts to great acclaim.  Upon return to the United States in 1914, she continued to compose. In 1930, she became the composer in residence at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York where she found her music used in the previous years had been attributed to her husband.  “Mrs.” was added to the name from 1931 on.   Since her husband was no longer in the picture, she was able to teach.  In addition she was a speaker and performer for such places as the University of New Hampshire, created “Beach Clubs” to teach children in music, and was the first president of the Society of American Women Composers. She became a virtual composer-in-residence at St. Bartholomew’s Protestant Episcopal Church in New York.  After her death in 1944 from heart disease, her work became neglected and unused until the 1990s and the rise of feminism.  She wrote over 300 works and published most of them. About a third have been recorded, but there is no known recording by her.  Today, many of her works have returned to the concert stage.   The American classical Music Hall of Fame honored her in 1999.

The psalm music she wrote and which I previously referred to was “Festivale Jubilate”, commissioned to dedicate the Women’s Building of the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago.  She wrote it in 1892 at the age of 17.   The music is now in the public domain.  Her SATB arrangement is freely available online.  The words are taken directly from the entirety of Psalm 100.  The religious theme no doubt came from her deeply held beliefs.  Her sacred works remained in the repertory of church choirs even when her other works were ignored.

Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs and Women

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Ephesians 5:19 (NIV).

And so the letter to the Ephesians exhorts those early Christians to sing.  Colossians 3:16 has a similar exhortation.  Matthew and Mark report Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before going to the Mount of Olives.  So what are these three types of sacred music and what role did women  play in them?   Psalms are fairly easy to figure out.  They are of course, from the Psalms, which by the time of Paul, were those 150 poems found today in both the Christian and Hebrew scripture.  The word is from the Greek meaning “instrumental music” and by extension, “words accompanying the music”.  Psalms were meant to be accompanied by stringed instruments such as the harp, lyre, or lute.  Even today, Psalms, or excerpts from Psalms are put to more modern music. This summer, I observed the monks of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky chanting Psalms accompanied by a pipe organ.  They manage to chant the entire 150 Psalms during a two week cycle.  But modern Psalms can also be adapted to even more modern accompaniment and additional lyrics.  Amy Grant’s “Thy Word” from Psalm 119:105 comes to mind.

A psalm can be a hymn, but hymns go beyond that.  The word comes from the Greek word, “hymnos” which means a song of praise to gods or heroes. Indeed, Sappho (c.620b.c.  to c.565b.c.), a Greek pagan woman, wrote hymns long before Christ. She may be the earliest known hymnist.   Of course, hers were hymns of praise to her pagan gods and Greek heroes.  But my book and blog focus on music and hymns in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  So I will skip ahead.  Obviously, if Christ sang hymns, they existed in the Jewish tradition.   Hymns are formal and traditional songs to be sung in public by congregations in praise of God.   Traditional hymns have a defined rhythm such as  The hymns are lyrics. The melodies to the lyrics are often interchangeable.  Since congregational singing of hymns was unknown until the Reformation, hymns today are much more recent than the Psalms.  Women took it and ran with it.  The most noted hymn writer in history is probably Fanny Crosby (1820 to 1915) who wrote over 8000 hymns.  How much more can a hymn praise God than Crosby’s “Praise Him, Praise Him”? Though it seems most modern church music today has irregular rhythms, there are still contemporary women writing hymns along traditional lines.  Ruth Duck and Carolyn Winfrey Gillette have written many hymns and still write hymn lyrics that fit into traditional  well known metrical tunes.

This then leads to the question of “spiritual songs”.  How are they different than hymns?  I assume the Ephesians and Colossians thought they were different or the two extra words would have been extraneous.  The term could be even broader in meaning than just a hymn.  Of course, Psalms and hymns are spiritual songs for they have a spiritual theme, but now the net is thrown out to include spontaneous songs (think of the African-American spirituals, including Harriet Tubman’s “Go Down, Moses”), short snippets of praise as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15 (“I will sing with my spirit but I will also sing with my mind”), and non-metrical songs.  Today’s praise music appears to come within the purview of “spiritual songs”.  Women are even more a part of this than of traditional hymns.  Doris Akers comes from the African-American spiritual experience and refashioned the format into wonderful songs such as “Sweet, Sweet Spirit”, “Lead Me, Guide Me” and “Lord, Don’t Move This Mountain”.  Even more contemporary spiritual song writers would include Deborah Smith, Laurie Klein, Karen Lafferty and Darlene Zschech.  This is only a small number of the many spiritual song writers today.  Their musical output floors me.

Sally DeFord and Miracles

Occasionally, my church’s chancel choir sings an anthem by a woman I never previously heard of, but when they sing two anthems in less than a year, I need to take a look at the composer.  Such is the case with Sally DeFord.   In January, they sang “Miracles”, an impressively beautiful composition.   And last week, they sang “To Those Who Came Before Me”.  In looking for her online, I found her engaging website, www.defordmusic.com.  She was born in 1959 in Eugene Oregon.  Like me, she was inspired by a popular musical entertainer of the day:  in her case, Lawrence Welk; in mine, Liberace.  These may not sound like propitious inspirations, but in her case, it worked well.  Along with Welk, she was also inspired by an accordion playing grandmother and a banjo playing grandfather.  How can you go wrong with that?!!  She attended Brigham Young University where she met her husband.  While raising a young family, she began setting her lyrics to music. Today they have four grown children and are grandparents.  She lives in Colorado where she is a prolific composer/arranger, especially for the LDS Church.  Circumstances involving  dilatory publishers and a helpful techie brother resulted in her website.  She has graciously allowed  her compositions and arrangements to be printed from her website or from freeldssheetmusic.org without payment for non-commercial use only.  As you might expect, I took advantage of that and have tried out some arrangements to Christmas music already.  For those so inclined, go to her website and find a composition that suits your tastes.

The lyrics to “Miracles” seem appropriate in light of the tragic earthquake in Italy, a place too far for me to personally reach.  But tragedies will always be with the world, so this song rings true any time:

There are hands I cannot hold
Hearts I cannot comfort
Tears that only miracles can stay
So let me love and serve and teach
Those who come within my reach
For miracles begin that way



Crosby, lost and found

She once was lost, but now is found.   Or at least that can be said of about 2700 of Fanny Crosby’s unpublished hymns.  Crosby (1820-1915) whom I have written about in my book and earlier on this blog, the most prolific hymn writer of all time, wrote more than we thought.  Though she wrote over 8000 hymns, until recently many were unknown.  Unknown until 2000 when Stephen Kelley, an entrepreneur and collector of antique hymnals, found about 2700 of her unpublished hymns in an archive at Wheaton College near Chicago where her publisher, Hope Publishing, had stored them.  Kelley found the archive of hymns, some unfinished, many handwritten on old paper, on the backs of envelopes, on invoices, and on her publisher’s letterhead.  Perhaps one reason they were so jumbled was due to her blindness.  Crosby needed someone to transcribe the compositions she stored in her head, sometimes as many as twelve at a time.  And different transcribers would do things differently, often on an impromptu basis.  Last October, a CD of fifteen of those hymns, now combined with contemporary music, was released.  Entitled “Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns of Fanny Crosby”, it does include that most famous previously published hymn, but with current music.  The other cuts are all new lyrics with new music by current writers and performers, including Paul Baloche, Michael Smith, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ricky Skaggs and fellow sister in song, Darlene Zschech, among others.   Perhaps this melding of the meatier substance of the Gospel lyrics in traditional music and the tunes of today will appeal to both, or maybe not. Time will let us know.

I feel compelled to make one correction to the articles I read about this.  The Baptist publications claim Crosby as one of their own.  This is only partly true.  She was a member of Sixth Avenue Bible Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, but in 1887, she joined Cornell Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.  She was active in the Wesleyan holiness movement, a great friend of prominent Methodist Phoebe Knapp with whom she wrote “Blessed Assurance”, and often visited the Methodist camp grounds at Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  In her life, she also attended a Congregationalist church, a Presbyterian church, an Episcopal church, and a Dutch Reformed church.  With so many hymns to her credit, I think there’s enough for each denomination to claim her as their own.

Be Thankful for Anna Barbauld

I noticed in a hymnal that one of the authors of the favorite Thanksgiving hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” was Anna Laetitia Barbauld.  How could I have missed her before now?  And who was she?  Why doesn’t she get the credit for the hymn in other hymnals?  I had to delve harder than usual to get the answer.  But first, who was she?

Anna Laetitia Aikin was known in her day as a prominent English poet, essayist, literary critic, editor and children’s author.  She was born in 1743, the daughter of a dissenting Presbyterian minister and teacher in Leicestershire, England.  Before marrying Rev. Rochemont Barbauld at the ripe old age of 30, she had written and published hymns and poems and worked as a tutor.  Her husband was from a French Huguenot refugee family and became a dissenting Presbyterian minister. She continued to write hymns, some of which are still in mostly Unitarian hymnals.  With her husband, she established a boarding school.  Though childless, they did adopt her nephew.  As with many Sisters in Song, she wrote hymns for children and published several books.    Later, her writing focused on politics and social concerns,  She wrote in favor of abolition of slavery, freedom of religion, women’s rights, revolutionary politics (keep in mind the American Revolution was a big issue then), and international issues.  As time passed, her husband became mentally ill and violent.  In 1808, he attacked her with a knife and chased her about the dining room.  She leapt through a window into the garden, and shortly thereafter, they separated to preserve her safety.  Several months later, her husband escaped from his keeper and drowned himself.  She sought comfort in her faith and writings.  Her last independently published writing was Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, a Poem that criticized the war between Britain and France and prophesied that Britain’s powers would dwindle and the new country of the United States would surpass it.  She was so sharply vilified for this in her home country that this was the last thing she ever published.  However, she continued to write up to her death in 1825.  In her lifetime, she had been acclaimed for her talent, and received the admiration of Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.   After her last published poem, she was largely forgotten.  Many of her papers and unpublished works were preserved by her nieces, but lost in the bombing of London in 1940.  Today, she is being reclaimed as a respected talented writer.

So what about “Come Ye Thankful People, Come”?  Henry Alford wrote the lyrics in his poem “After Harvest” with the second verse based on Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the wheat and tares together sown. Barbauld had written an earlier hymn, “Praise to God, Immortal Praise” with the same meter and also in keeping with the thanksgiving theme.  Some hymnbook editors preferred her writing to Alford’s and replaced his second verse with an excerpt of her hymn.  Some hymnbooks, including my own denomination’s Chalice Hymnal, also replaced his verse, but without attribution to her.  Perhaps someone can look into this someday.  Meanwhile, her hymn, “Praise to God, Immortal Praise”has appeared in 457 hymnbooks according to http://www.hymnary.org.

There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters

I’ve written about married couples who wrote hymns, and recently, the mother/daughter duo of Phoebe Palmer and Phoebe Knapp.  Now here’s a sister duo.  Alice Cary (b. 1820), and  sister Phoebe (born 1824), were raised on a farm near Cincinnati, Ohio, along with seven other siblings.  Their parents were converts to Universalism, theologically liberal and reformist,   with a strong sense of social justice.  The girls had little time for school, and were mainly self-educated.    The Trumpet and Universalist Magazine was the only periodical they read, but it had a poet’s corner they loved.  This inspired them to write their own poems and Alice in particular wrote prolifically, compulsively.  She published without pay, mainly in Universalist and Cincinnati publications.   In 1835, their mother died, and two years later, their father married a widow who thought their poetry and education was a waste of time.  When they were deprived of candles for night study, they were compelled to study and write under the light of a saucer of lard with a bit of rag for a wick.  Alice’s first major poem, “The Child of Sorrow” was published in 1838 and praised by Edgar Allan Poe and Horace Greeley. As their fame and reputation grew, editor Rufus Griswold encouraged the publication of a collection of their poetry.  In 1849, a Philadelphia publisher did that with the Poems of Alice and Phoebe Cary.  That anthology made them well known, earned them $100, and in 1850, they moved to New York City to start a literary salon.  They hosted Sunday receptions that included guests such at P.T.Barnum, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John Greenleaf Whittier, Horace Greeley, and other notables of the time.  Alice wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, and other literary periodicals.  And she wrote novels and poems independent of periodicals.  Phoebe, less prolific, edited Hymns for All Christians in 1869 and published two books of poetry.  Some of her lyrics appeared in church hymnals.  They needed to publish regularly in order to make a living and a psychological need to write constantly.  Both had a passion for justice and especially disliked the wrongs done to women.  Alice showed this to some extent in her writings.  Phoebe, however, was more assertive in supporting women’s rights. Her writings mocked gender roles.  She was briefly assistant editor of The Revolution, a newspaper published by Susan B. Anthony.  Alice died of tuberculosis 1871.   Her funeral was packed with mourners. Pallbearers included Barnum and Greeley.    When Alice died, Phoebe became depressed, unable to eat or work.  This combined with the exhaustion of caring for Alice during the two years before Alice’s death, and combined with malaria and hepatitis, led to Phoebe’s death five months later.  They are buried side by side in Brooklyn, New York.

Alice was the most well-known during their lifetimes, but Phoebe’s reputation grew later, and today, her hymn texts are more commonly included in hymnals.  The most famous of their hymns was Phoebe’s “One Sweetly Solemn Thought”, also known as “Nearer My Home”, written in 1852.  It was popularized in the Moody-Sankey evangelistic campaigns.  Sankey praised it for helping to reform and save men as far away as China.  It was written in her little back third story bedroom, on a Sabbath morning after returning from church and hearing a sermon on immortality.  It was performed at both their funerals.  The hymn rejoices that our home in heaven is nearer with each passing day.

In a like theme, Alice wrote “O’er the Hills the Sun is Setting”  And like her younger sister’s hymns, it has a similar chorus:  “Nearer home, nearer home. . . .Oh, ‘tis always sweet to know at even, we are one day nearer home.” (Alice).  Compare this with “Nearer my home, nearer my home, nearer my home today, today, than I have been before.” (Phoebe).   This mutual thought no doubt arose in part from the losses of siblings and their mother when they were children and in part from the common sensibilities of 19th century culture.  Many of their hymn texts centered on death. Like the apostle Paul, they had conflicting emotions about their own departure from this earth.

Prince and a Sister in Song, Nichole Nordeman

The recent publicity about the death of Prince couldn’t be avoided.  How could I know that in all that news I would find a sister in song!  Prince was known for his eclectic styles, but I didn’t realize that spirituality was one aspect of his work.  He recorded “What If” and introduced it on a Louisville, Kentucky radio show in March, 2015, just before kicking off his “Hit & Run” tour.  It dealt with the doubts of religious skeptics and asked, “What if you’re wrong, what if there’s more?” with his backup trio, 3rdEyeGirl.  The song had been written and recorded in 2005 by Nichole Nordeman who had a decidedly lower key style.

I knew about Prince, but who is Nichole Nordeman?  She was raised in the church and played piano for them, but didn’t go beyond that.  She must have had some recognizable talent, because the music director of her church gave her a brochure about a GMA competition for new songs.  This young waitress borrowed the $200 to enter and she won!  Not only that, but she made connections with the recording industry and got a deal with Star Song Records.  Her first album was in 1998, and she’s gone on to create several others.  She has written for the Veggie Tales movie, and performed for Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia. In 2003, she won Dove Awards as female vocalist of the year, song of the year, songwriter of the year and pop/contemporary recorded song of the year for her song, “Holy”.

In 2005, she released the album Brave which dealt with doubt and faith.  She wanted an album that reflected where she and others she knew were spiritually and personally at that time, warts and all.  Generally, she noted, people wait until their problems are resolved before releasing a song or album so they can give a testimony of some sort.  Her album did not wait.  One song on it was “What If”.  Prince first heard it on a Christian radio station, as he was a fan of that genre.  When Nichole heard Prince perform it, she was astounded. On her Facebook page, she wrote, “I don’t really have the appropriate words for what an honor this is. . . This man’s talent is otherworldly.  What’s the non-musical equivalent? Tiger Woods asking to borrow your clubs?”  This modest woman also wrote, “Prince heard a song about the transforming love of Jesus on Christian radio and now has given it a much wider audience than I ever did or could”.

I won’t see Prince the same way again.





Phoebe Palmer, Phoebe Knapp: Like Mother, Like Daughter

There have been quite a few wife/husband teams that have written hymns, such as the Gaithers, the Brubecks, Civilla and Walter Martin and such, but there’s a mother/daughter team worth knowing.   I wrote about Phoebe Knapp in my book, Sisters in Song, and you can read about her glamorous life there.  But perhaps her mother, Phoebe Palmer was even more notable for her imprint on history.

Phoebe Worrall was born in 1807 to zealous Methodists who held family worship twice a day.  She married Methodist physician Walter Palmer at age 20.  She never felt carried away by emotion by her faith, and from her background, felt she may not really be a Christian.  It wasn’t until after her first three babies had died in separate events that her sister, Sarah Lankford, resolved her spiritual crisis.  She realized she didn’t need “joyous emotion” to believe. God would make her holy if she “laid her all upon the altar.” The belief itself assured her. She and Walter knelt in prayer at a revival at New York’s Allen Street Methodist Church and pledged their lives to promoting holiness. John Wesley’s perfectionism that they adopted consisted in consecrating oneself to God, believing God will sanctify what is consecrated, and telling others about it. She realized there was no need for signs and wonders.  The still small voice of the Spirit can speak through the Word.   Thereafter, she led a women’s prayer group in her home.  She was a compelling leader and speaker.   Soon, men came to hear her, including ministers and bishops.  She and Walter traveled in the area preaching.  Though Walter did most of the preaching, Phoebe was the more famous.  Because she had reservations about women preaching, she insisted she wasn’t preaching, but was instead giving exhortations. I don’t quite understand the difference.   Her articles and books also gave her some fame, and she was considered the “Mother of the Holiness Movement” in America and creator of the Higher Life movement in the United Kingdom.  She instigated missions, including a temperance oriented Five Points Mission on The Bowery, America’s first inner city mission; and started camp meetings.   She wrote several books, including The Way of Holiness, which was important in the foundation of the Holiness movement. Her book, The Promise of the Father, defended the concept of women in Christian ministry.   She and Walter edited the magazine The Guide to Holiness from 1864 until her death in 1874. It had a circulation of about 37,000, one of the highest of a religious publication at the time.  Her example of female assertiveness inspired women such as the Salvation Army’s Catherine Booth, and the WCTU’s Frances Willard.  Her theology linking Wesleyan revivalism and Pentecostalism helped the beginning of the Church of the Nazarene, The Salvation Army, The Church of God, and the Pentecostal-Holiness Church.

She wrote constantly.  In addition to her books and magazine articles, she wrote poetry.  “The Cleansing Wave” was put to music by her daughter, Phoebe Knapp.  The daughter was most well-known for composing “Blessed Assurance” along with other hymns with Fanny Crosby.  But obviously Mom had a significant influence not only on her daughter, but on American society in the 19th century.


A Temporarily Lost Eternity

Adelaide Anne Proctor (not to be confused with Adelaide Pollard) was born in London in 1825, the daughter of well-known writer, Brian Proctor, also known as Barry Cornwall. She was immersed in writing and lived in the company of writers including Charles Lamb, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth, the Rossettis, William Thackeray and William Hazlitt.   While a child, she learned French, Italian and German, and she read extensively, all while being primarily self-taught.  As a teenager, her poems were published in Charles Dickens’s periodicals.  She submitted the poems under a pseudonym so that Dickens would choose to publish them based on their merit rather than out of friendship.  He didn’t learn of the ruse until much later.  In 1851, she converted to Roman Catholicism and then became an activist for feminist causes.  She helped found The English Woman’s Journal with the mission of urging women to become professionals in the workforce, and the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women.  She published poetry to benefit a Catholic Night Refuge for Women and Children in East London.  She never married, but did have an intense relationship with Matilda Hays, a cross-dressing  novelist and translator of George Sand (Amantine Dupin).  That relationship in Victorian England would of course, have been simply assumed to be a strong but unusual friendship, though some have suggested they had a lesbian relationship.  Adelaide died of tuberculosis in 1864. Dickens ascribed her early death to her exhaustion from her many philanthropic activities, from visiting the sick, teaching, helping the homeless and working for women’s issues.


She was very popular in her time and was Queen Victoria’s favorite poet. Adelaide was reputed to have sold more poetry in Victorian England than anyone other than Tennyson. Her poetry was often esteemed for its direct plainness.  Many of her poems were made into hymns. The apex of her inclusion in hymnals was in 1930.  One of her hymns was “My God, I Thank Thee” which still is found in some current hymnals. It deals with thankfulness in times of trial.  Bishop Bickersteth said it was most useful for the visitation of the sick.  But today, her most enduring poem would be “A Lost Chord” now known as “The Lost Chord”, which Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame set to music.  It first appeared in The English Woman’s Journal, mentioned above.  Have you ever experienced the paradox of an unexpected and fleeting “ah-ha” moment of eternity?  That brief moment when the divine eternal and infinite come together to illumine the soul, and yet that strange warmth and light doesn’t seem to last in time?  It disappears as quickly as that one lost chord divine played on the soul.  Only in Heaven shall she hear that grand Amen again.   Thus Adelaide expressed her own “ah-ha” moment.  The song was an immediate success.  Enrico Caruso sang it at the Metropolitan Opera House on April 1912 at a benefit concert for families of the Titanic victims.  He recorded the song for the Victor Talking Machine Company the same day and that performance can be heard on YouTube today.

Three-quarter oval portrait of a slender woman aged about 30, garbed in black. Her deep-set eyes gaze solemnly over the viewer's shoulder. Her dark, straight hair is parted in the centre without a fringe, combed over the ears, and pulled back in a low bun.