Wednesday, December 05, 2018

In the Sweet by and by

Today I took delivery of a new old book through Amazon, Great Hymns and their Stories by W J Limmer Sheppard, first published in 1923.

The book fell open at page 123 and the first lines I read were:
In the sweet by and by,
we shall meet on that beautiful shore.
I could hardly believe it. This old hymn was the favourite hymn of my grandad, William W Whyte D.S.M.. His enjoyment was even greater when the music was played by the Cairnbulg Walk Band of flutes and drums. I can still remember the smile on his face when one New Years Day the band stopped outside his house to give him a "stonnin beat."

To the uninitiated each New Years Day a flute band lead a few hardy followers around the village of Cairnbulg in the North East of Scotland. They would stop at the houses of people who were ill and played a song of their choice.

Here is the story behind the hymn and its completion from idea to singing in 30 minutes.

"In the village of Elkhorn, in Wisconsin, USA, lived a musician and composer, Mr J P Webster. Of an extremely sensitive nature, he was frequently attacked by fits of melancholy and depression. One of his friends, Mr S F Bennett, who resided in the same village, found that these moods could often be dispelled by giving the musician a new hymn or song which needed music written for it.

On one such occasion, Mr Bennett was sitting writing in his office, when Webster entered and walked to the fire, turning his back upon his friend without a word.

Bennett asked him what was the matter, and only received a curt and indefinite reply to the effect that "it would be all right in the by and by."

Instantly the last three words of Webster's answer flashed the idea of a hymn into Bennett's mind.

"The sweet by and by!" he said; "would not that make a good hymn?"

Webster answered in an uninterested tone that "it might," but Bennett, turning to his desk, wrote down, as fast as his pen could cover the paper, the first three verses and chorus of the world-famous hymn, best known by its title. When finished he handed the manuscript to Webster.

The musician's interest was awakened, his whole aspect changed; turning to the desk, he began, equally rapidly, to compose a melody for the stirring words. He then requested one of two other friends, who had come in, to lend him his violin, on which he played over the new melody.

Once more he turned to the desk and wrote down the harmonies for the four parts of the chorus. Within thirty minutes from the time Mr Bennett wrote the first line, the four friends were singing the hymn as it was afterwards published.

During the singing a fifth friend entered, and, after listening, exclaimed with tears in his eyes, "that hymn is immortal!"

A true prophecy, for the world, will never forget the touching lines and music thus rapidly put together in the little American village over 50 years ago (1868)."

- W J Limmer Sheppard.

There's a land that is fairer than day,
and by faith we can see it afar;
for the Father waits over the way
to prepare us a dwelling place there.

In the sweet by and by,
we shall meet on that beautiful shore.
In the sweet by and by,
we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
the melodious songs of the blest;
and our spirits shall sorrow no more,
not a sigh for the blessing of rest.

To our bountiful Father above
we will offer our tribute of praise
for the glorious gift of his love
and the blessings that hallow our days.


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