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Francis Scott Key is known to every American child as the author of our national anthem, “The star spangled banner”; but his fame as a Christian hymnist has not gone abroad to the same degree. And yet, as the author of “Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise Thee,” he ranks among the foremost of American hymn-writers.

Key lived during the stirring days of our country’s early history. His father was an officer in the Continental army who fought with distinction during the Revolutionary War. Francis was born at Frederick, Maryland, August 1, 1779. After receiving a legal education he began to practice law in Washington, and served as United States district attorney for three terms, holding that office at the time of his death.

The story of how he came to write “Star spangled banner” scarcely needs to be repeated. It was during the War of 1812 that Key was authorized by President Madison to visit the British fleet near the mouth of the Potomac in order to obtain the release of a friend who had been captured.

The British admiral granted Key’s request, but owing to the fact that an attack was about to be made on Fort McHenry, which guarded the harbor of Baltimore, Key and his party were detained all night aboard the truce-boat on which they had come.

It was a night of great anxiety. A fierce bombardment 364 continued during the hours of darkness, and as long as the shore fortifications replied to the cannonading, Key and his friends were certain that all was well. Toward morning, the firing ceased, and they were filled with dark forebodings. The others went below to obtain some sleep, but Key continued to pace the deck until the first streaks of dawn showed that the “flag was still there.”

His joy was so unbounded that he seized a piece of paper, and hastily wrote the words of his famous anthem. It was not completed until later in the day, when he reached Baltimore and joined in the victorious joy that filled the city.

While “Star spangled banner” is not a Christian hymn, there are noble sentiments in it that reveal the writer at once as a devout Christian, and this was eminently true of Key.

As a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church he held a lay reader’s license, and for many years read the service and visited the sick. He also conducted a Bible class in Sunday school. Although he lived in a slave state, he was finally moved by conscientious scruples to free his slaves. He also did much to alleviate conditions among other unfortunate blacks.

When the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1823 appointed a committee to prepare a new hymn-book for that body, Key was made a lay member of it. Another member of the committee was Dr. William Muhlenberg, who in that same year had published a little hymnal for use in his own congregation. It was in this hymnal, known as “Church Poetry”, that Key’s beautiful hymn, “Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise Thee,” was first published.

In Dr. Muhlenberg’s hymn-book the hymn had only 365 three stanzas, and that is the form in which it has since appeared in all other hymnals. In 1900, however, Key’s autograph copy of the hymn was discovered, and it was found that the hymn originally had four stanzas. The missing one reads:

Praise thy Saviour God that drew thee

To that cross, new life to give,

Held a blood-sealed pardon to thee,

Bade thee look to Him and live.

Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,

Roused thee from thy fatal ease,

Praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,

Praise the grace that whispered peace.

Another excellent hymn, “Before the Lord we bow”, was written by Key in 1832 for a Fourth of July celebration.

A bronze statue of Key, placed over his grave at Frederick, Md., shows him with his hand outstretched, as at the moment when he discovered the flag “still there,” while his other hand is waving his hat exultantly.

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