Abide with Me

From the book "Lead, Kindly Light"  (Reproduced with kind permission of ‘This England’ magazine)

This is a look at the life and works of Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) who wrote the words to the hymn “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven”. Lyte also wrote the words to the famous hymn “Abide with Me”.  It was even sung at the FA Cup Final in Wembley in 1927 in honour of King George V who attended the match and was known to love this hymn. The poignant words and haunting tune, which the King himself joined in singing with the massive crowd, proved such a popular choice that it has been included at Cup Finals ever since… yet although the hymn has been a comfort and consolation to Christians for over 150 years, it took only an hour for a Devon parson to write the words and a mere 10 minutes for a music teacher to compose the tune. Having been diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, Lyte was advised to spend the winter in warmer climes.  Just before his departure to Italy, Lyte preached his parting sermon to his faithful flock. Feeling weaker due to the strain of the service, and the emotions it evoked, he retired to his study to compose his thoughts prior to departing. An hour later he emerged with a piece of paper on which he had written down a few verses, and thrust it into the hands of a relative. The paper contained the famous words to “Abide with Me”, plus a few musical notes suggesting a tune. Lyte died shortly after, whilst travelling to Italy. The poignancy of the verses was not lost on W.H. Monk, at that time a musical  director  of the Church of England’s first main hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern. He was giving a music lesson one day and, doubtless to avoid the boredom that commonly afflicts piano teachers, was simultaneously reading Lyte’s hymn. He composed the tune in his head, writing it down within 10 minutes, and that is the melody by which it has been most commonly sung ever since…

  "Abide with Me” and the Titanic

One of the many tales about the sinking of the Titanic records the role played by Bob Bateman, a Bristol evangelist. He ran a revival meeting at Kingswood's Evangel Mission Hall, and the Mission’s brass band led a procession of 100 people which escorted him to Staple Hill station when he left. As the train left, a euphonium player serenaded him with an impromptu version of the old hymn, “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep”. It was an ironic choice, for Bateman was heading to Southampton with his sister-in-law to board a new and allegedly unsinkable ship on its maiden voyage. It was called the Titanic. Eye-witnesses said later that Bateman pushed his sister-in-law into a lifeboat,  and then returned to the band, calling on the musicians to play “Nearer My God to Thee”. The hymn was taken up by passengers and crew who had been unable to find a place in one of the inadequate number of lifeboats. As the ship slipped under, the band changed to “Abide with me”. Bateman was still beating time when the waters closed over his head.