“Near the Cross” was introduced first in Robert Lowry and William Doane’s volume “Brightest and Best” in 1875. Its simple melody and lyrics have made an indelible mark on the hearts of millions the world over. Hymnwriter Ira Sankey records, “Like many other hymns by this author (Fanny Crosby), the words were written to a tune already composed by Mr. Doane, and at his request. The words and tune are remarkably well adapted to each other, and the hymn will continue to be used long after many more pretentious ones have been forgotten.” Indeed, this is the case, as more than one hundred seventy-five years later, thousands still find “Near the Cross” a blessing.
Many know the remarkable story of Fanny Crosby. Blinded at 18 months by a physician’s damaging remedy, she passed her years in darkness, yet with a heart that yearned for knowledge. Permitted to study at a school for the blind, Fanny laboured fruitfully at her tasks and excelled in writing – though mathematics she gave up as a complete loss. Finding great success as a writer of secular poetry, soon her name was associated with many popular pieces. The day she found Jesus, her heart found light that her eyes could not give her. Having been given light in her heart, joy in her soul, “Aunt Fanny” began to sing a new song. Ten years after her conversion, she began working with sacred musician William Bradbury, writing her first hymn at his request.
In her autobiography, she writes of her decision thus:
“It now seemed to me as if the great work of my life had really begun: and I commenced the delicious toil which, with an occasional pause for rest, I have continued ever since.”
Crosby and Bradbury laboured together for four years, mutually composing a great number of songs; she the lyrics, he the melodies. Others of her contemporaries who also wrote melodies for her poems include William Doane, Ira Sankey, H. R. Palmer, and Hubert P. Main.
The number of songs attributed to this incredible woman, who would at times write as many as six or seven hymns in one day, totals between 5,000 and 9,000. The exact count cannot be known, for she used more than one hundred “nom-de-plumes” or “pen names” for her work, many of which are not known.
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