This article was found in the July 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
In the middle of the last century some little Irish boys were complaining to each other that the Church Catechism, which they had to learn, was dreadfully dull and dreary. Their godmother, Mrs. Alexander, overheard their remarks and set herself the task to write verses which would make the Catechism clear, which resulted in the boys becoming full of interest; and thus was born some of the best beloved hymns the world over, e.g.:
All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.
(Expands the truth of "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, etc.").
Once in Royal David's City
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby, etc.
(Drawn from the words: "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, etc.").
The most famous of them all, perhaps, had its first verse suggested to her by the fact that, when driving into the city of Londonderry on shopping expeditions (a city surrounded by walls) she passed a little grass covered hill, which reminded her of Calvary. When expounding to her little godsons the words: "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, etc." the spot above referred to came to her mind and she thereupon wrote:
There is a green hill far away
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.
Mrs. Alexander wrote over 400 hymns, but this perhaps was the most tender and inspiring of them all. She was born in Ireland in 1823. Her father, Major Humphrey, served in the Royal Marines. Little Cecil began writing verses when only nine years old. She used to hide her poems under a carpet: this one day reached her father's ears, and he gave her every encouragement.
In 1850 she married the Rev. Wm. Alexander, who later became Primate of All Ireland, and went to her rest in 1895, at the age of 72 years.
Others which are well known to us, e.g.:
Another favourite of little children is:
Looking upward every day
Sunshine on our faces;
Pressing onward every day
Toward the heavenly places.
It was written by Mary Butler, who lived from 1841 to 1916. She had a little niece Mary H. Butler, who was at the age of 13 confirmed at Shrewsbury in 1874, and it was a very memorable day for the child, leaving an indelible mark on mind and heart for the rest of her life. At the Confirmation Service a specially written hymn was composed by her aunt, and sung for the first time: Looking upward every day.
It has been very popular ever since. There is one verse missing from our book:
Every day more gratefully
Every day more readily
I should think that Charles' Wesley's most popular, and best known, children's hymn is the one many thousands of little folk learned at their mother's knee: Gentle Jesus; meek and mild.
John B. Gough at his Temperance Meetings used to tell the following story:
A friend of mine seeking for objects of charity, got into the upper room of a tenement house. It was vacant and he saw a ladder pushed through the ceiling. He climbed up and found himself under the rafters. He saw a heap of chips and shavings and on these a small boy about 10 years of age. "Boy what are you doing here?" "Hush, don't tell anybody please sir, I am hiding." "Where's your mother?" "Please sir, mother is dead." "Where's your father?" "Hush, don't tell him sir, but look here." The boy turned himself on his face, and through the rags, it could be seen that his flesh was bruised and his skin broken. "Why, my boy, who beat you like that?" "Father did, sir." - "Why did he do it?" "Father got drunk sir, and beat me cos I wouldn't steal."
"Did you ever steal?" "Yes, sir, I was a street thief once." "And why don't you steal now?" "Please sir, I went to the mission school, and they taught me it was wrong, and I'll never steal again, if my father kills me for it, but please don't tell him,"
"My boy, you cannot stay here," said the gentleman, "wait a little time and I will go and see a lady who will help me to find a better place for you than this." "Thank you sir," said the little fellow, "but would you like me to sing a little hymn." "Yes," said the gentleman, and the boy raised himself on his elbow, bruised and battered, friendless, motherless, and sang:
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity.
Suffer me to come to Thee.
Fain I would to Thee be bought
Dearest Lord, forbid it not;
In the Kingdom of Thy Grace
Give a little child a place."
"That's the little hymn sir. Goodbye." The gentleman went away and returned in less than two hours to take the little laddie to a home where he would be cared for. He climbed the ladder. There were the chips and the shavings, and there was the boy, with one hand by his side, and the other tucked in his bosom underneath the little ragged shirt - dead.
The Gentle Jesus had called him to a better home.