Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

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

According to a poll carried out by a national newspaper, the Number One in the “Top Ten” of hymns is “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”. The words were written by an American, John Greenleaf Whittier, whose ancestors arrived from England with the Pilgrim Fathers and settled in Massachusetts in 1638. John was born in 1807 and his father expected that his son would eventually take over the family farm at Haverhill on the Merrimack River.

However, it soon became apparent that all John was really interested in was reading books, especially poetry. Despite a very scanty schooling, he educated himself by reading anything that he could lay his hands on.

At the age of 14 he bought a volume of poetry by Robert Burns and was inspired to try and write some poetry of his own. The prolific poems he turned out  so impressed  his sister that, unbeknown to John, she sent some examples to the editor of a local newspaper. He immediately recognized John’s outstanding ability and paid a surprise visit to the Haverhill farm to meet the young poet. However, John’s father refused to let him leave the farm and be educated. John was never particularly strong and, after he had sustained a severe strain, his father finally accepted that he ought to look for another vocation.

He funded himself for a year’s study at the Haverhill Academy by working as a cobbler and part-time tutor, but before long his growing reputation as a writer allowed him to concentrate on his career as a journalist. In 1843 a book of his work was published and from then on John Greenleaf Whittier was acknowledged as one of the finest American poets.

A devout Quaker, John was also a fervent fighter against slavery and injustice of all kinds, becoming the Secretary of  The American Anti-Slavery Society in 1836.

He wrote many fine hymns in his long life (he died at age 85)  including: “Immortal Love Forever Full” and “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”.