Above: Manchester Cathedral, 1903
Image in the Public Domain
JOHN BYROM (FEBRUARY 29, 1692-SEPTEMBER 26, 1763)
Anglican then Quaker Poet and Hymn Writer
John Byrom was an intriguing man. He might have been a Jacobite or a double agent for the British government. The skilled poet with a sharp pen coined the phrase “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” as a satire on the disagreement between composers George Frederick Handel and Giovanni Bononcini. His literary legacy has survived in everyday speech even as his political tendencies have remained mysterious.
Our saint’s father was Edward Byrom, a linen-draper of Manchester, England. The future poet studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1711; M.A., 1715) and became a fellow of the college in 1714. Two years later, however, he resigned because he could not take Holy Orders in good conscience. From 1716 to 1718 our saint studied medicine in Montpelier, France. He immersed himself in mystical texts on the side. He returned to England in 1718 and chose not to practice medicine. No, he invented and taught a system of shorthand instead. Byrom taught that system of shorthand to many people and, in 1742, received from Parliament the exclusive right to teach it for twenty-one years. Among his pupils were John and Charles Wesley, whom he met in 1738 and through whom he converted to Christianity.
Our saint, who inherited the family estates in 1740, when his brother, Edward, died, wrote and published many poems, some of which became hymns. His nom de plume in The Spectator was “John Shadow.” The posthumous two-volume collection, Miscellaneous Poems, rolled off the presses in 1773. His friend, John Wesley, commented on Byrom’s verse, writing that it consisted of
…some of the finest sentiments that ever appeared in the English tongue–some of the noblest truths, expressed with the utmost energy of language and the strongest colors of poetry.
Byrom’s religious life changed over time. He remained a mystic, but he switched from being a non-juring Anglican (hence the suspicion of being a Jacobite) to being a Quaker later in life.
Byrom’s hymns included “My Spirit Longs for Thee” and a famous Christmas text, “Christians, Awake! Salute the Happy Morn” (1749), which he wrote as a present for his daughter, Dolly. The full version had fifty-two lines, but The Church Hymnary–Revised Edition (1927) printed only six of them.
Our saint died at Manchester on September 26, 1763. His grave is in the Byrom Chapel of Manchester Cathedral.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 18, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF DONALD S. ARMENTROUT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND SCHOLAR
THE FEAST OF CALVIN WEISS LAUFER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMNODIST
THE FEAST OF ROGER WILLIAMS, FOUNDER OF RHODE ISLAND
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PENNEFATHER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS WIFE, CATHERINE KING PENNEFATHER, HUMANITARIAN AND HYMN WRITER
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
John Byrom and others, who have composed hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH