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Blindness is not always an affliction. If it serves to give the soul a clearer vision of Christ and of His redeeming love, as it did with Fanny Crosby, it may rather be regarded as a blessing.

America’s most famous hymn-writer could never remember having seen the light of day, nevertheless her life was one of the most happy and fruitful ever lived. Always she radiated a sweet and cheerful spirit, refusing to be pitied, while her soul poured out the songs that brought joy and salvation to countless multitudes.

Born of humble parents at Southeast, N. Y., March 24, 1823, she was only six weeks old when, through the application of a poultice to her eyes, her sight was forever destroyed. Such a disaster would have cast a perpetual gloom over most lives, but not so with Fanny Crosby. Even at the age of eight years she gave evidence not only of her happy optimism but also of her poetic genius by penning the following cheerful lines:

O what a happy soul am I!

Although I cannot see,

I am resolved that in this world

Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy,

That other people don’t;

To weep and sigh because I’m blind,

I cannot, and I won’t!


When she was fifteen years old she entered the Institution for the Blind in New York City, where she soon began to develop her remarkable talent for writing verse. At first she wrote only secular songs. One of these, “Rosalie, the Prairie Flower,” brought the blind girl nearly $3,000 in royalties.

Strange to state, it was not until she was forty-one years old that her first hymn was written. It was in 1864 that she met the famous composer, W. B. Bradbury, and it was at his request that she made her first attempt at hymn-writing. Her first hymn began:

We are going, we are going,

To a home beyond the skies,

Where the fields are robed in beauty,

And the sunlight never dies.

She now felt that she had found her real mission in life, and she wrote that she was “the happiest creature in all the land.” Until her death in 1915, hymns flowed from her inspired pen in a ceaseless stream. For a long time she was under contract to furnish her publishers, Biglow & Main, with three hymns every week. It has been estimated that no less than 8,000 hymns and songs were written by this unusual woman.

Not all of her hymns possess high poetical excellence. In fact, they have been subjected to the most severe criticism. John Julian, the English hymnologist, with his usual candor, declares that “they are, with few exceptions, very weak and poor, their simplicity and earnestness being their redeeming features.”

However, whether we consider her hymns of high poetic standard or not, the fact remains that no one has written 437 more hymns that are being sung and loved today than Fanny Crosby. Certainly the hymnody of the Christian Church is infinitely richer for “Pass me not, O gentle Saviour,” “Sweet hour of prayer,” “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” “All the way my Saviour leads me,” “Jesus is tenderly calling thee home,” “I am thine, O Lord,” “Rescue the perishing,” “Speed away,” “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” “Jesus keep me near the Cross,” “Some day the silver cord will break,” and scores of other inspiring gems that have come to us from this blind genius.

Practically all her hymns are very subjective in character. Although this is doubtless an element of weakness, it probably explains their unusual personal appeal. It was the prayer of Miss Crosby that she might win a million souls for Christ, and there are many who believe that her prayer has been more than realized. A strong Scriptural note is heard in most of her hymns. When she was yet a child, she committed to memory the first four books of the Old Testament, as well as the four Gospels, and this proved a rich treasure store from which she drew in later life.

Fanny Crosby’s fault apparently lay in the fact that she was too prolific a writer. Most of her songs were composed in a few minutes. Often the lines came as rapidly as they could be dictated. It was this circumstance that led Dr. S. W. Duffield to observe rather facetiously that “It is more to her credit as a writer that she has occasionally found a pearl than that she has brought to the surface so many oyster shells.” However, before his death he evidently had altered his opinion, for he wrote: “I rather think her talent will stand beside that of Watts or Wesley, especially if we take into consideration the number of hymns she has written.”

Certainly there are many pearls among the 8,000 songs 438 she wrote, and perhaps none has given more solace to broken hearts than “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” Often the themes of her hymns were suggested to her by publishers or musical composers. At other times a musician would play a tune for her and ask her to write words for it. It was in 1868 that William H. Doane, the popular hymn composer, came to her one day and said: “Fanny, I have a tune I would like to have you hear.” He played it for her, and she exclaimed, “That says ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus!’” She went to her room immediately, and within half an hour the words had been written.

Although Fanny Crosby never permitted the fact of her blindness to make her life gloomy, there are many touching allusions in her hymns to her affliction. “All the way my Saviour leads me” suggests how much a guiding hand means to the blind. The same thought appears in the song, “God will take care of you,” especially in the lines,

Tenderly watching, and keeping His own,

He will not leave you to wander alone.

There also are pathetic passages in her hymns that reflect the hope that some day the long night of blindness would be ended—in heaven.

Here let me wait with patience,

Wait till the night is o’er;

Wait till I see the morning

Break on the golden shore.

That is also the constant refrain heard in the exquisite hymn, “Some day the silver cord will break.”

And I shall see Him face to face,

And tell the story—Saved by grace.


Nevertheless, she never permitted any one to express sympathy on account of her blindness. Once a Scotch minister remarked to her, “I think it is a great pity that the Master, when He showered so many gifts upon you, did not give you sight.”

She answered: “Do you know that, if at birth I had been able to make one petition to my Creator, if would have been that I should be made blind?”

“Why?” asked the surprised clergyman.

“Because, when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour,” was the unexpected reply.

At a summer religious conference in Northfield, Mass., Miss Crosby was sitting on the platform when the evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, asked her for a testimony concerning her Christian experience. At first she hesitated, then quietly rose and said: “There is one hymn I have written which has never been published. I call it my Soul’s poem, and sometimes when I am troubled I repeat it to myself, for it brings comfort to my heart.” She then recited:

Some day the silver chord will break,

And I no more as now shall sing:

But, the joy when I shall wake

Within the palace of the King!

And I shall see Him face to face,

And tell the story—Saved by grace.

The sight of her uplifted face, with its wistful expression, made a deep impression upon the vast audience, and many were moved to tears.

In 1858 Miss Crosby married Alexander Van Alstyne, a blind musician, wherefore she is often referred to as Mrs. Frances Jane Van Alstyne. She died on February 12, 1915.

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