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HomeNewsThe Midweek Hymn: Lead Me to Calvary

The Midweek Hymn: Lead Me to Calvary


THIS week’s hymn was suggested by reader David Maples. It has a crucifixion theme, but I don’t see why Easter hymns should be kept in a box and taken out only once a year.

The words are by Jennie Evelyn Hussey (1874-1958). She was born in Henniker, New Hampshire, in an old farm home that had been occupied by four generations of Quaker ancestors. She attended Quaker meetings from childhood. Much of her life was spent caring for an invalid sister, which she did cheerfully, often referring to Luke 9 v 23: ‘And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’

She began writing verses when she was eight and some were published when she was thirteen. At 16, she began writing children’s stories and articles about flowers and designing crochet patterns for magazines. When she was twenty-four, in 1898, her first hymn was published. 

Miss Hussey is also known for her poem The War Dog, telling the true story of Sallie, a brindle Staffordshire bull terrier or pit bull terrier who became the regimental mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. She was given to First Lieutenant William R Terry when she was just four weeks old. She followed the men closely on marches and to the battlefield.

In 1863 at a review of the Union army, Sallie marched along with her soldiers. Abraham Lincoln, in the reviewing stand, raised his hat in salute. At Gettysburg, Sallie became separated from the 11th in the chaos. Three days later she was found guarding Lt Terry’s body. She was killed by a bullet in 1865 at Hatcher’s Run and buried on the battlefield under heavy enemy fire. A lifesize monument of Sallie now stands in Gettysburg, directly in front of the monument that commemorates the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry.

These are the only words I can find from TheWar Dog, but I feel sure there must be more.

Sallie was a lady;
she was a soldier too.
She marched beside the colors,
our own red, white and blue.
It was in the days of our Civil War
that she lived her life so true.

Although born into a Quaker family, Miss Hussey chose to identify with the Baptists as an adult. Since Quakers did not practise water baptism, she asked to be baptised at First Baptist Church in Concord, New Hampshire. She told the pastor: ‘I’ve spent much of my life hidden away in the country, and I’d like to have the opportunity, before God takes me home, to tell everybody, “I love Jesus”.’

She wrote more than 150 hymns, many of which were successful in her day, but Lead Me to Calvary, also known by its first line King of My Life, I Crown Thee Now, is the only one still remembered. It is thought to have been born out of Miss Hussey’s painful battle with arthritis from middle age onwards. She wrote it during one Passion Week and, at the urging of church friends, submitted it for publication. It appeared in New Songs of Praise and Pow­er in 1921. 

These are the words:

King of my life I crown thee now —
Thine shall the glory be;
Lest I forget thy thorn-crowned brow,
Lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget thine agony,
Lest I forget thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

2 Show me the tomb where thou wast laid,
Tenderly mourned and wept;
Angels in robes of light arrayed
Guarded thee whilst thou slept. [Refrain]

3 Let me like Mary, through the gloom,
Come with a gift to thee;
Show to me now the empty tomb  –
Lead me to Calvary. [Refrain]

4 May I be willing, Lord, to bear
Daily my cross for thee;
Even thy cup of grief to share  –
Thou hast borne all for me. [Refrain]

Miss Hussey died on Sep­tem­ber 5, 1958, in a care home in Con­cord, and despite her Baptist connections was buried in the Quak­er Ce­me­te­ry in her home town of Hen­ni­ker.

A tune called Duncannon was written for Lead Me to Calvary by William J Kirkpatrick. I wrote about him last year but to save you looking it up, here is a synopsis.

He was born in Ireland but his family emigrated to America in 1840, when he was two, settling in Duncannon, Philadelphia. He showed early musical promise and was unusually versatile, playing the cello, fife, flute, organ, and violin. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and his first collection of hymns, Devotional Melodies, was published in 1859.

He married Su­san­na Doak in 1861, and they had three child­ren. He supported his family by working as a carpenter, while continuing to write hymns.

Susanna’s death in 1878 spurred him to give up his trade and devote himself fully to music and composition. He began collaborating with another composer, John R Sweney, of Chester, Pennsylvania, and between 1880 and 1897 they published 49 major books.

In 1893, Kirkpatrick married again, to Sar­ah Lank­ford Kel­logg Bourne, and in 1895 he published the tune to Away in a Manger which is most widely used in Britain, which I wrote about here. 

Here is a performance by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge:

Over the years Kirkpatrick published close to 100 major works and many other works such as anthems for Easter, Christmas, and children’s choirs. Total sales of sheet music ran into the millions.

Kirkpatrick’s second wife Sar­ah died in 1917 and he later mar­ried Lizzie Swe­ney, wi­dow of John R Swe­ney.

As he and his wife were about retire for the night on September 20, 1921, he told her that he had a tune running through his head and he wanted to write it down before he lost it. During the night she went downstairs and found him dead in his study. Duncannon must have been one of the last melodies he wrote.

This is the version of the hymn chosen by David Maples:

Here is a contrasting rendition by the Grace Thrillers of Jamaica:

Here is a lovely lockdown version from Singapore, recorded last month.

Finally, my favourite: a bluegrass performance by the Brent Rochester Family.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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