Lyte, Henry Francis


b Ednam nr Kelso, Roxburghshire, Scotland 1793, d Nice, France 1847. Portora Royal Sch (a charity school for orphans), Enniskillen, N Ireland, andTrinity Coll Dublin (3 English poetry prizes; BA 1814). Having abandoned his medical course for theology, he was ordained in 1815 to a Wexford curacy at Taghmon, then moved to England and ministered in Marazion, Cornwall. It was here that, moved by the illness and death of a fellow clergyman, he experienced a deep spiritual renewal, abandoning among other things his contempt for the neighbouring Methodists. His friend had known that he had ‘deeply erred’, but died happy in the confidence that ‘there was One whose death and sufferings would atone for his delinquencies, and be accepted for all that he had incurred’. Lyte continues, ‘I was greatly affected by the whole matter, and brought to look at life and its issue with a different eye than before [cf 2 Cor 5:16–17], and I began to study my Bible, and preach in another manner than I had previously done’.

He then ministered briefly in Lymington, Hants, and from 1823 as ‘Perpetual Curate’ of Lower Brixham in Devon. While visiting the fishing fleet he made sure that every boat had a Bible; he was active in Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaigning. King William IV, much impressed, presented him with Berry Head House where he lived for the next 24 years. While there he built up an impressive library and became both author and editor of much verse including Tales on the Lord’s Prayer in Verse (1826), Poems, chiefly religious (1833 and 1845), and The Spirit of the Psalms (1834, a title used only 5 years earlier by H Auber). We also owe to HFL two of the best known hymns in English, both being not only frequently sung but also often quoted well beyond the usual contexts of hymnody. The texts in two further edns of the 1834 book, the last issued posthumously at Torquay, vary considerably. Among other works Lyte edited the poems of Henry Vaughan, with a memoir, in 1846. His own verse is often tinged with sadness; writing of darkness and loss, he finds security and permanence in God and expresses his faith in disciplined, patterned verse. In spite of his comparatively enlightened attitude to dissent, he did not find it easy to relate to the newer and locally very active ‘Plymouth’ Brethren, and his schools work proved very demanding. He wintered in Rome and Southern Italy in 1844–45 without noticeable gain; in 1847 his fragile health broke down, and although travelling to Nice to recuperate, he died there later that year. Julian commends the tenderness and beauty of his texts, which ‘rarely [?] swell out into joy and gladness’; Ellerton especially commends his treatment of the Psalms, ‘in seizing the leading idea of a psalm, and embodying it in a few verses’. Between 3 and 6 of his hymns are still commonly found in mainstream American and British books; 7 have featured in the various edns of A&M, 6 were in Congregational Praise (1951) and 8 in CH, and at least two of his more joyful ones, as well as one solemn masterpiece, remain in great demand. Nos.67, 103B, 843, 905.