Byrom, John


b Kersall (Kersal), nr Manchester, Feb 1691/92, d Manchester 1763. Merchant Taylor’s Sch, N London, and Trinity Coll Cambridge (BA/MA), of which he became a Fellow in 1714. In 1719 he studied medicine at the Univ of Montpellier, S France, but did not complete his qualification, or have it ratified sufficiently to practise in England; he was elected FRS in 1724. He was noted for his new shorthand system (‘tychygraphy’) which he taught to Gibbon and Walpole among others; in an adapted form Charles and (especially) John Wesley (qv) found it invaluable for their hymns, diaries and subsequent journals. In 1742 he established in law his sole right to teach it.

A friend of the Wesleys, he retained his respect for Wm Law (parts of whose Serious Call he rendered in verse) longer than they did, but JW spoke highly of his learning, wit (wisdom and humour) and poetic gifts. The Spectator published his verse under the name of ‘John Shadow’. He inherited the family property in Manchester where his theology, tinged with mysticism, came to the fore in a gifted, slightly eccentric and essentially English public life. His political sympathies, expressed in at least one neat and much anthologised epigram, were Jacobite and cool towards the monarchy. His 2 surviving hymns (including the brief and unique My spirit longs [longeth] for thee) afford a small glimpse into his varied styles and achievements. An early user of the umbrella, he invented the names later immortalised by Lewis Carroll, ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’ (in a comic verse about Handel), and his tall long-legged figure won him the nickname of ‘the genial giant’. His Private Journals and Literary Remains were published between 1854 and 1857, suggesting ‘a light-hearted and good-natured man paradoxically attracted to… mysticism’ (Drabble). His verse was collected in 2 posthumous vols (1773) and brought together in one book in 1814. No.352.

Hymns and songs by Byrom, John

Number Hymn Name
352 Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn