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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

Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847)

HENRY FRANCIS LYTE was born at Ednam, a village situated on the Eden, a tributary of the Tweed near Kelso, Roxburghshire, on the 1st of June, 1793. He was educated at Portora, Inniskillen, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he distinguished himself in three successive years by taking the English poem prize. Though at first intending to follow the medical profession he entered the Church (1815), and accepted a curacy at Taghmon, near Wexford, afterwards removing to Marazion, Cornwall (1817), where he married. Subsequently he held curacies at Lymington, Hampshire (1819), and Charlton, Devon, and finally took charge of the new parish of Lower Brixham, Devonshire, where he ministered for five-and-twenty years. His “Tales on the Lord’s Prayer in Verse,” written at Lymington, were published in 1826, his “Poems Chiefly Religious” in 1833, and his “Spirit of the Psalms,” a metrical version of the Psalter, in 1834. His “Remains,” containing poems, sermons, letters, etc., and a memoir by his daughter, was published in 1850, and a volume of his Miscellaneous Poems in 1868. He also published an edition of the poems of Henry Vaughan, with a memoir, in 1847.

Lyte had a tender feeling for nature and a sense of the sublime, but he lacked originality and the creative power of imagination. His general poems have no permanent interest. His lines “On a Naval Officer buried in the Atlantic” have been praised, and have received musical setting at the hands of Sir Arthur Sullivan, but they remind one of Campbell, and suffer by the comparison, while the last verse approaches perilously near to bathos. “The Poet’s Plea” is one of the best of his longer poems, but it is too long for quotation. The best of his hymns are wholly admirable, and have become indispensable to the psalmody of the Church. “Pleasant are Thy Courts Above,” “Jesus, I my Cross have taken,” and “Far from my Heavenly Home,” are to be found in most collections of hymns; but the most popular of all, and one of the most popular of modern hymns, is “Abide with Me, fast falls the Eventide,” written in September 1847, but two months before the poet’s death, which occurred at Nice on the 20th of November of that year.