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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles

Cecil Frances Alexander (1823–1895)

CECIL FRANCES ALEXANDER, second daughter of Major John Humphreys, of Miltown House, Co. Tyrone, Ireland, was born in the year 1823. Her principal volumes of verse are: “Verses for Holy Seasons” (1846); “Hymns for Little Children” (1848); “Narrative Hymns for Village Schools” (1853); “Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament” (Part I., 1854; Part II., 1857); “Hymns Devotional and Descriptive” (1858); and “The Legend of the Golden Prayers, and other Poems” (1859); besides which she contributed to numerous hymn-books and collections of sacred verse, including the “Lyra Anglicana” and “Hymns Ancient and Modern.” She married Dr. Alexander, afterwards Bishop of Derry, in the year 1847, and died on the 12th of October, 1895.

Though chiefly known as a writer of hymns for children, Mrs. Alexander’s verse displays powers which under greater restraint would have been even more successful upon a higher plane. A sense of the sublime, and an eye for the picturesque, and especially for colour, associated with an easy command of language, and an ear for rhyme and rhythm, are constantly in evidence; and in her lyric, “The Burial of Moses,” have produced a poem which does not seem to fall short of the great subject of which it treats. This is high praise indeed, but the poem bids fair to become a classic. Though not written especially for children, it appeals alike to young and old. A little child of six years of age known to the writer, after hearing it read, declared with enthusiasm that it was the grandest poem she had ever heard. Older critics will scarcely challenge the use of the word “grand” in this connection. Unfortunately in others of her poems Mrs. Alexander did not exercise the same restraint. “The Lonely Grave,” the opening stanzas of which include the following picturesque verse—

  • The strange-shaped flowers of gorgeous dyes,
  • Unmoved by any wandering breeze,
  • Look out with their great scarlet eyes,
  • And watch him from the giant trees—
  • begins well, but it is much too long, and, like others of Mrs. Alexander’s longer poems, becomes tedious before it concludes. Some of her hymns and shorter poems, however, have attained wide acceptance, securing a position which they seem well qualified to retain.