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Frances Jane Crosby, 1823-1915

by Norman Mable

Fanny CrosbySafe in the arms of Jesus.
Rescue the perishing.

A little blind girl, only eight years of age, wrote a hymn, in which appeared the following verse:

Oh, what a happy soul am I!
  Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
  Contented I will be.

That little girl became the famous hymn-writer, Fanny Crosby, whose two most popular hymns are, Safe in the arms of Jesus, and Rescue the perishing.

Fanny was born in America, in 1823. When six weeks old the unwise application of a warm poultice to her eyes took away Fanny's sight; but in accordance with nature's usual compensation, the loss of the sense of seeing increased her other senses. Her hearing became particularly acute, and it was when listening to a gurgling stream that there awoke in her youthful mind an irresistible desire to express herself in song. Her memory also became prodigious, and later in life she could repeat by heart the first four Books of the Old Testament and the four Gospels!

At the age of eleven Fanny entered the New York City Institution for the Blind, remaining there for twenty-three years, first as a pupil and then as a teacher. In 1858 she married the Rev. Alexander Van Alstyne, who also was blind. He had considerable musical ability and set several of his wife's poems to music. Their marriage was an exceedingly happy one.

Throughout her long life (she lived to be 92), Fanny Crosby as she was better known was full of energy, and to her has been attributed the incredible number of seven thousand hymns. She was certainly a prolific hymnist, but about two thousand is probably more correct. Her hymns had a huge circulation, the number of copies sold in England and America amounting to nearly one hundred million.

It may be surprising to many to know that the words of the once exceedingly popular song, 'Rosalie, the Prairie Flower', were written by the author of Safe in the arms of Jesus.

Miss Crosby's association with Ira D. Sankey brought her fame; many of her hymns appeared in Sankey's collection, set to melodies which no doubt have enhanced their popularity. The hymns possess little, if any, literary value, but as expressive compositions that touch the heart, many have a spiritual value which is priceless.

Fanny had a friend, Mr. W. H. Doane, a well-known American composer, and one day he brought her a melody, asking if she would supply some verses, suggesting 'safe in the arms of Jesus' as the topic. When he played the melody to her, she caught the inspiration, and quickly wrote the hymn which has gained world-wide popularity.

Another great favourite, especially amongst missions, is Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, to which Mr. Doane also composed the popular melody to which it is permanently wedded. A meeting was once being held, attended by many sailors, when one of these arose to say how his life had been changed by hearing sung the hymn Rescue the perishing, which had just been rendered. Great was his delight and also that of the audience, when he was then introduced to Fanny Crosby, who, unbeknown to him, happened to be present.

Miss Crosby one day visited a prison to address the convicts. While she was earnestly pleading that Jesus Christ be accepted as their Saviour, one of the prisoners stood up and in an agonised voice called out, 'Good Lord, don't pass by me!' His prayer was answered; his conversion followed, and on leaving prison he devoted the rest of this life to the service of his Lord, The poor man's cry left a deep impression on Miss Crosby, who, when she returned home, wrote the hymn:

Pass me not, O gentle Saviour,
  Hear my humble cry.
While on others Thou art calling,
  Do not pass me by.

From Popular Hymns and Their Writers by Norman Mable. 2nd ed. London: Independent Press, Ltd., 1951.

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