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Those who have had the privilege of attending a vesper service in the great Chautauqua Institution auditorium on the shores of beautiful Lake Chautauqua, N. Y., have come away with at least one impression that is lasting. It is the singing by the vast assembly of Mary Lathbury’s famous vesper hymn, “Day is dying in the west.”

This beautiful evening lyric, which was written especially for the Chautauqua vesper hour, has been called by a distinguished critic “one of the finest and most distinctive hymns of modern times,” and there are few who will not concur in his judgment.

The “lyrist of Chautauqua” was born in Manchester, N. Y., August 10, 1841. As a child she began to reveal artistic tendencies. She developed a special talent in drawing pictures of children, and her illustrations in magazines and periodicals made her name widely known. She also wrote books and poetry, illustrating them with her own sketches.

Very early in life she felt constrained to dedicate her talent to Christian service. She tells how she seemed to hear a voice saying to her: “Remember, my child, that you have a gift of weaving fancies into verse, and a gift with the pencil of producing visions that come to your heart; consecrate these to Me as thoroughly and as definitely as you do your inmost spirit.”

An opportunity to serve her Lord in a very definite way came in 1874, when Dr. John H. Vincent, then secretary of 446 the Methodist Sunday School Union, employed her as his assistant. The Chautauqua movement had just been launched the previous year and the formal opening on the shores of the beautiful lake from which the institution has received its name took place on August 4, 1874. Dr. Vincent became the outstanding leader of the movement, and he began to make use of Miss Lathbury’s literary talent almost immediately.

Dr. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, historian of Chautauqua, writes: “In Dr. Vincent’s many-sided nature was a strain of poetry, although I do not know that he ever wrote a verse. Yet he always looked at life and truth through poetic eyes. Who otherwise would have thought of songs for Chautauqua and called upon a poet to write them? Dr. Vincent found in Mary A. Lathbury a poet who could compose fitting verses for the expression of the Chautauqua spirit.”

The beautiful evening hymn, “Day is dying in the west,” was written in 1880, at Dr. Vincent’s request, for the vesper services which are held every evening. It originally consisted of only two stanzas, and it was not until ten years later that Miss Lathbury, at the strong insistence of friends, added the last two stanzas. We are happy that she did so, for the last two lines, with their allusion to the “eternal morning” when “shadows” shall end, bring the hymn to a sublime conclusion.

It was also in 1880 that she wrote another hymn of two stanzas that has shared in the fame that has come to her evening hymn. It was composed for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, and Miss Lathbury called it “A Study Song.” Its beautiful reference to the Sea of Galilee is made the more interesting when we are reminded that the hymn 447 was written on the shores of lovely Lake Chautauqua. The hymn is particularly adapted for Bible study, and it is said that the great London preacher, G. Campbell Morgan, always announced it before his mid-week discourse. The hymn reads:

Break Thou the Bread of life,

Dear Lord, to me,

As Thou didst break the loaves

Beside the sea;

Beyond the sacred page

I seek Thee, Lord;

My spirit pants for Thee,

O living Word!

Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord,

To me, to me,

As Thou didst bless the bread

By Galilee;

Then shall all bondage cease,

All fetters fall;

And I shall find my peace,

My All-in-all!

Miss Lathbury was greatly esteemed, not only for her lovely lyrics which have given inspiration to thousands of souls, but also for her gentle, Christian character. There was an indescribable charm about her personality, and she exerted an abiding influence over those who came in contact with her devout and consecrated spirit. She died in New York City in 1913.

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