Albert Midlane, 1825-1909

Extracts from Julian's account:

Albert Midlane was born at Newport, Isle-of-Wight, January 23rd. 1825, and was engaged in business in that town for many years. To his Sunday School teacher he ascribed the honour of prompting him to poetic efforts; and the same teacher did much to shape his early life. His first printed hymn "Hark! in the presence of our God" was written in September 1842 at Carisbrook Castle, and printed in the "Youth Magazine" in November of the same year. After that he wrote over 300 ... Of Mr. Midlane's hymns as a whole, Miller's estimate that "his hymns are full of spiritual thought, careful in their wording, and often very pleasing without reaching the highest form of poetical excellence" is just. A marked feature of these hymns is the constant and happy use of Scriptural phraseology.

Extracts from "Songs of Pilgrimage and Glory" by E.E. Cornwall:

Albert Midlane was married to Miriam Grainger, daughter of James Grainger of Newport on March 20th, 1851. They had two sons and one daughter. Mrs Midlane died January 13th. 1914. Albert Midlane was buried in Carisbrooke Cemetery, Isle-of-Wight.

Mr. Midlane was a Sunday School scholar at St. James Congregational Chapel. Bereft of a father before he saw the light, Mr. Midlane said, "How often from the cares of the family would the dear mother lead me into a quiet room; and there kneeling by my side would she, with holy fervour, by prayer bring God into all her circumstances down here; or by sweet communion be with God above them all".

We are told that "there came at an early period into the mind of one enjoying such holy influences, clear convictions concerning his state before God" and that blessing came to his soul at a Sunday School teachers' prayer meeting. He was baptized at Castle-hold Baptist Church, Newport, but when 23, left the Baptists to associate with Brethren. Sunday School work now absorbed him, nor did he ever outgrow that interest; he wrote:

What useful institution stands
Where only love doth rule,
Where every good desire expands?
— The Sunday School.

It was in February 1859, that after a day of toil, he sat far into the night and wrote:

"There's a Friend for little children
Above the bright blue sky"

It was a hymn so used of God that the letters of gratitude he received became burdensome. In a brief sketch of his life one says, "It was sent as a contribution to 'Good News for the Young', a little paper for children edited by C.H. Mackintosh ("C.H.M.") and first printed as the last article in that monthly for 1859. Under the heading 'Above the Bright Blue Sky' the hymn at once attracted popularity."

The tune "In Memoriam" to which this hymn is now so often sung, was composed off hand by Sir John Stainer at the request of the musical committee of Hymns Ancient and Modern; and was named in memory of the composer's little son, Fred.

Mr. Midlane compiled two hymn-books for the young, one being the "Jewish Children's Hymn Book"; the other the "Bright Blue Sky Hymn Book", the latter containing 323 hymns for children, all his own composing — probably unique.

In addition to Sunday School work, Mr. Midlane was engaged in preaching the Gospel of God's grace, and in furtherance of this service compiled two Gospel Hymn Books: one being "Gospel Echoes Hymn Book"; the other "The Gospel Hall Hymn Book", its 278 hymns being all his own composition, this latter collection having been compiled when 80 years of age. Many of these are quite familiar, being often sung in our Gospel Halls and preaching rooms. Many were written in 1860 to 1861 and "during walks around the ancient and historic ruins of Carisbrook Castle, in the twilight hour so dear to thought". Dr. Wolston's Evangelist's Hymnal contains 20 of Mr. Midlane's hymns.

The hymns of Mr. Midlane are perhaps too often based upon the thoughts of other hymnists; yet when an author puts forth 1,100 hymns, repetition seems inevitable. It is surprising to find in such a large number of hymn-books the hymn "Revive Thy work, O Lord", yet few of them contain the chorus which may be seen in "Redemption Songs".

Engaged in business as an ironmonger at Newport, Mr. Midlane's shop stood at the corner of St. James Street and South Street, since carried on as Gray's Waterproof Depot. His losses, largely occasioned by his generosity, led to friends stepping in and relieving him of business anxieties. Not very far from his shop stands Forest Villa, an old-fashioned house where he so long resided, whilst between the two lies the little Gospel Hall where he laboured. In this small district his life was mostly spent. Mr Midlane was on friendly terms with Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, living but 11 miles distant, on the western downs at Farringford.

In 1901, Mr. Midlane's golden wedding was celebrated with rejoicing and that happy union lasted for another 8 years, his wife surviving him 5 years longer. Death took place February 27th. 1909, following an apoplectic seizure; and his body was laid to rest on the hill at Carisbrooke, overlooking his native town. His MSS he bequeathed to the Church House, and the memorial stone erected was subscribed for by the Sunday School children of Hampshire and the Isle-of-Wight. At the graveside, the sweet voices of scholars sang. "There's a Friend for little children" and previous to that, their elders had joined in singing another of Mr. Midlane's hymns commencing "Star of the morning, rise, Dispense these shades of night".

From "Popular Hymns and Their Writers" by Norman Malle:

"There's a Friend for little children". Probably no children's hymn has enjoyed such enormous popularity. I know of no other hymn to which has been accorded the unique distinction of Jubilee celebrations. On February 7th.1909, under the auspices of the Sunday School Union, the fiftieth anniversary of the composition of "There's a Friend for little children" was commemorated in churches and Sunday Schools throughout the English-speaking world and in many foreign countries as well. The hymn was given special prominence in the services and Sunday School lessons of the day; and in a number of cases preachers made it the subject of their sermons. For this event the Sunday School Union issued a special souvenir edition, decoratively printed with Sir John Stainer's tune, and a brief biography of the veteran hymn-writer, of which many thousands were sold. The writing of "There's a Friend for little children" was attended by somewhat alarming circumstances, On 7th. February, 1859, after a strenuous day's work in his shop, Mr. Midlane sat by himself, his family having retired to rest, and endeavoured to write down the hymn with which his mind had been too busily occupied in the midst of his work. He managed to complete the task, but the effort over-taxed his strength; for when his wife, alarmed at his prolonged absence, came downstairs, she found her husband unconscious, with his head resting on the finished hymn. Restoratives were quickly applied and consciousness soon returned; but that was the end of Mr. Midlane's nocturnal hymn-writing!

From "Chief Men among the Brethren" by H. Pickering:

"There's a Friend for little children" has found its way into over 200 hymn-books, is sung in China, Japan, India, all over Europe, America, Africa, Australasia and in most unlikely parts of the world, as well as being translated into more than fifty languages, and giving promise of continuing to be sung "while the earth remaineth". At the celebration of the jubilee of his well-known hymn, 3,000 children assembled in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, blending their voices in "There's a Friend for little children". Queen Victoria graciously accepted several volumes of his compositions and the Prince Consort purchased a number for circulation amongst his friends. Unlike most authors, Mr. Midlane never took out a copyright for any of his hymns, and never derived any monetary benefit therefrom whatever.

From the preface of Mr Midlane's volume "Leaves from Olivet":

"let all things be done to edifying". Such is the apostolic injunction, recorded in the epistle to the Corinthians. Perhaps in nothing is this injunction so generally unheeded as in the composition of verse. Interest and amusement seem the sole objects of many writers who apparently forget that real interest is obtained in no way more readily than by attention to the apostolic rule we have just quoted. This rule has been endeavoured to be observed in the present volume, the author hopes not without some degree of success ... And now, commending the efforts to Him who is the Subject of his songs, and without whose blessing nothing can prosper, he sends forth this work, praying that it might be used for the profit, instruction and comfort of God's dear children; among whom his desire is that it may prompt more love, more loyalty to Christ, and more practical, living, scriptural unity. Newport, Isle-of-Wight, January 1st. 1864.

Mr. Midlane's hymns in 'Spiritual Songs' are:

75 No separation! O my soul'

257 Himself He could not save

272 Revive Thy work, O Lord'

390 The perfect righteousness of God

404 Oh, what a Gift the Father gave

487 Sweet the theme of Jesus' love

These are all excellent hymns and are often sung in the gatherings of the brethren. No. 75, a hymn to establish the soul in confidence; no. 257, often sung when brethren gather to remember the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread; no. 272, a necessary hymn in days of lukewarmness and lack of exercise; no. 390, a wonderful hymn to describe the lasting effects of the death of God's dear Son. The last two hymns 404 and 487 express the value of God's great Gift in giving His Son and the sweetness of the Saviour's love for us.

Hymns by Albert Midlane