« Prev Thomas Hastings, Poet and Musician Next »


High among the names of those who in the early days of America labored to raise the standard of hymnody must be inscribed the name of Thomas Hastings, Doctor of Music. Poet and musician by nature, Hastings may truly be said to have devoted his entire life to the elevation of sacred song.

The story of his life is typical of the struggles and hardships of many American pioneers who conquered in spite of the most adverse circumstances. Born at Washington, Conn., October 15, 1784, young Hastings removed with his parents to Clinton, N. Y., when he was only twelve years old. The journey was made in ox-sleds through unbroken wilderness in the dead of winter.

The frontier schools of those days offered little opportunity for education, but the eager lad trudged six miles a day to receive the instruction that was given. A passionate fondness for music was first satisfied when he secured a musical primer of four pages costing six pence. The proudest moment in his life came when he was named leader of the village choir.

It was not until he was thirty-two years old that Hastings was able to secure employment as a music teacher, but from that time until his death, in 1872, he devoted all his energies to the work he loved.

Hastings was ever tireless in contending that good music should have a recognized place in religious worship. From 360 1823 to 1832, during which time he edited the Western Recorder, in Utica, N. Y., he had an excellent opportunity to spread his views on music. In the latter year twelve churches in New York City jointly engaged his services as choir director, and for the remainder of his life Hastings made the great American metropolis his home.

Though seriously handicapped by eye trouble, Hastings produced a prodigious amount of work. It is claimed that he wrote more than one thousand hymn tunes. He also published fifty volumes of church music. Some of the finest tunes in our American hymnals were composed by him. Who has not found inspiration in singing that sweet and haunting melody known as “Ortonville”? And how can we ever be sufficiently grateful for the tune called “Toplady,” which has endeared “Rock of Ages” to millions of hearts? Besides these there are at least a score of other beautiful hymn tunes that have been loved by the singing Church for nearly a century, any one of which would have won for the composer an enduring name.

Through the composing of tunes, Hastings was led to write words for hymns. More than six hundred are attributed to him, although many were written anonymously. “Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning” is generally regarded as his best hymn. It strikingly reflects the spirit of the missionary age in which Hastings lived.

Another very popular and stirring missionary hymn, written by Hastings in 1831, is a song of two stanzas:

Now be the gospel banner

In every land unfurled;

And be the shout, Hosannah!

Reechoed through the world;


Till every isle and nation,

Till every tribe and tongue,

Receive the great salvation,

And join the happy throng.

Yes, Thou shalt reign forever,

O Jesus, King of kings!

Thy light, Thy love, Thy favor,

Each ransomed captive sings:

The isles for Thee are waiting,

The deserts learn Thy praise,

The hills and valleys, greeting,

The songs responsive raise.

A hymn with the title, “Pilgrimage of Life,” though very simple, is singularly beautiful and very tender in its appeal. The first stanza reads:

Gently, Lord, O gently lead us,

Pilgrims in this vale of tears,

Through the trials yet decreed us,

Till our last great change appears.

Hastings did not cease writing and composing hymns until three days before his death. It is said that more of his hymns are found in the standard church hymnals of America than those of any other American writer. Their survival through almost a century is a testimony to their enduring quality.

« Prev Thomas Hastings, Poet and Musician Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection