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Alexander, Cecil Frances (1818–1895)

Alexander, Cecil Frances (1818–1895)

Irish children's hymn writer and poet. Name variations: C.F. Alexander; Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander. Born Cecil Frances Humphreys in County Wicklow in 1818; died in Londonderry, on October 12, 1895; daughter of Major John Humphreys; married William Alexander, Protestant bishop of Derry (afterwards archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland), in 1850; children: four—two boys and two girls, including Robert, who was awarded the Newdigate Prize for English Verse while at Oxford.

Cecil Frances Alexander started writing poetry at age nine, spurred on by a sister who could be counted on to request a reading. She grew up in the countryside of Strabane on the borders of Donegal and Tyrone, the daughter of Major John Humprey, an agent for the Duke of Abercorn. The family was active in the Church of Ireland, aiding the sick, the poor, and establishing a school for "deaf and dumb" children. Early in her career, Alexander came under the influence of Dr. Hook of Leeds, the dean of Chichester, and John Keble, who edited her Hymns for Little Children.

Following her marriage to William Alexander, Cecil Frances lived with her husband in the remote community of Termonamongan in County Tyrone. From there, they moved to the parish of Fahan, on Lough Swilly, and then returned to Strabane, when William was appointed rector.

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.

—Cecil Frances Alexander

With her close friend Lady Harriet Howard , Alexander wrote tracts for the Oxford Movement. Her poetry, celebrating the rugged beauty of rural Ireland, has been the impetus for many hymns, including "Once in Royal David's City," "Roseate Hue of Early Dawn," "There is a Green Hill Far Away," and "All Things Bright and Beautiful." Her most famous poems were "The Siege of Derry" and "The Burial of Moses," the latter of which appeared anonymously in 1856 in the Dublin University Magazine. Alfred Lord Tennyson admitted it was one of the few poems that made him envious of its authorship. Following her death, in 1895, her husband, also a poet, collected and edited her works. Alexander wrote 400 hymns and was favorably compared to Rudyard Kipling. "The best of her hymns were neither new nor old," writes Stephen Gwynn, "just as Shakespeare's songs are neither new nor old—and the best of them were written when she was a girl under twenty."

sources:

Lazell, David. "The Children's Hymn Writer," in This England. Winter 1985, pp. 12–13.

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