Memoirs of P.P. Bliss: Chapter 6

Thousands of people who never saw Mr. Bliss feel that they knew and loved him through his hymns. To them and to the generation to come, the principal interest in his life will center around these productions of his pen. It is proposed to collect in this a following chapters such facts in regard to the composition and use of the best known and most widely used of his songs as will be of interest to the world.

The first song Mr. Bliss wrote, that was used in Sunday schools or Gospel meetings, is the piece found in Gospel Songs, entitled "If Papa Were Only Ready." He caught the song from reading in a religious paper of a little boy dying and telling his father, just before death came to take him away, that he was afraid 'he would not come to heaven because he couldn't leave the store.' he wrote the words and music in May 1867, at Rome, Pennsylvania, and sent it on to Mr. Root, who was much pleased with it and caused its immediate publication. The following are the words:

The lyrics to the song:
If Papa Were Only Ready

The books of songs by Mr. Bliss are as follows: "The Charm", 1871; "The Song Tree," a collection of parlor and concert music, 1872; "The Sunshine" for Sunday Schools, 1873; "The Joy," for conventions and for church choir music, 1873; "Gospel Songs," for Gospel Meetings and Sunday Schools, 1874.

All of these books are copyrighted by John Church & Co., and it is by their permission that the selections of Mr. Bliss' poetry, given herewith, are taken, for the most part, from these books. In addition to these publications, 1n 1875 he compiled, and in connection with Mr. Sankey, edited "Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs," and in 1876, his last work was the preparation of the book known as "Gospel Hymns No. 2," Mr. Sankey being associated with him as editor. These last two books are published by John Church & Co. and Biglow & Main jointly - the work of Mr. Bliss in them, under the copyright of John Church & Co. Very many pieces of Mr. Bliss' appear in the books of Geo. F. Root and H.R. Palmer, and many were published in sheet music form. A large number of his popular pieces were published in "The Prize," a book of Sunday School songs, edited by Geo. F. Root, in 1870.

From the above, it will be seen that he was an industrious worker. From 1870 to 1876, six years, his pen was very busy. The above seven books, forty or fifty songs in sheet form, many pieces in books of others in exchange for what they had furnished him, with much miscellaneous writing as contributor to a musical journal, and in other directions, and all this in connection with his convention, choir and Sunday School work up to 1874, and from that time constantly in evangelistic work, make us marvel that he found time to do so much. It can only be explained by an admission of his wonderful gifts, that made his song writing not so much a matter of labor as a delight - an outflow of melody that must find expression, and a careful and laborious training of fit methods of expression of words and harmony for the melody with which his soul was filled. He was a very systematic and orderly man in all of his surroundings. Scrupulously neat in person and apparel, and with the sensitiveness of a woman in matters of taste, and a shrinking from all suggestion of vulgarity in anything in him or around him, his study or place of work, wherever he might be, partook of the nature of the man. His books and papers were in order, his desk or table usually clear, and his work prosecuted in a business-like manner. It pained him to have things in a "helter skelter" way about him. A misspelled word in a letter or the wrong pronunciation of a word in an address, was to him like a note out of harmony in music. His penmanship was very neat, and his letters and manuscripts, as completed by him, are without blots or erasures. He never liked to write a letter with a pencil, and would always copy over a piece of music if possible, rather than to send it to his publishers with erasures. And yet none of his friends will remember him as being one known as a precise man, in a manner to make others feel preciseness in his company. His joyous nature, and happy and good humored way of noticing others' defects, and of carrying out his rules, kept away any uncomfortable feeling on the part of any one associated or brought in contact with him. His tenderness was such he would not have injured the feelings of a child for worlds.

Mr. Bliss' best songs were never studied. He wrote many for the Sunday school lessons of those years. They were studied pieces, and, he himself often said, were not a success. They did not have inspiration in them. He could not sit down at any time, and upon a given theme write a given song that would be a success. Sometimes a melody would come to him, and he would work it out and write it down and wait for words. Sometimes the lines for a chorus would be the first suggestion of a hymn. Sometimes the last verse of a hymn would form in his mind and would be written down, and hymn and tune be worked up from it. More often the whole hymn, in theme, structure of words, chorus and tune, would be born at once, and all written out together. This, he has told me, was true of the hymns that have been most sung. "Hold the Fort," "Down Life's Dark Vale We Wander," "More to Follow," "Jesus Loves Me," "Windows Open Toward Jerusalem," were written in this manner. His own soul was full and was thrilled with the themes that took possession of him. My most vivid recollections of him will always be of his entire self abandonment of joy in the consciousness of being used of God in bringing out in song some precious Gospel truth, some exalting view of Christ. He has come to me often with the theme of a hymn, and with his face shining and eyes moist, explained his plan and purpose as in his mind, and asked me to thank God and pray with him that God might bless the song. He never felt that the songs originated with him. They seemed to come through him from God. As he grew in the knowledge of God's word, he would marvel at the truth he had expressed in his songs without knowing it. At the time of writing "Hold the Fort," he had no clear views as to the testimony of the Scriptures, that the attitude of the Christian should always be the daily expectation and desire of the personal return of Jesus Christ. When this truth came in power into his soul, he recognized the purpose of God in his writing the hymn, and that its use by the church all around the world was on account of its harmony with the word of God, upon a truth intended to arouse Christians.

After his consecration to Christ for His service in saving souls, Mr. Bliss' experience crystalized more and more into an apprehension of a personal Savior. Christ risen - Christ even present with us - Jesus, the real, living, personal Jesus of the Gospels, came closer and closer to him. His communion with Christ was uninterrupted. And his songs in these days abounded with Christ. The last year of his life, nearly all the songs he wrote contain the three themes of Gospel testimony: Christ died for our sins, He lives for our justification, He is coming again in a glory which we are to share. He did not plan these hymns with any purpose to teach these truths, and was surprised himself when his attention was called to the fact of the uniformity of their testimony in these directions. He simply wrote of what filled his own heart and and come to his own soul. "The Half Was Never Told," "No Other Name Is Given," "Hallelujah! What a Savior," "Are Your Windows Open Toward Jerusalem?" "Hallelujah! He is Risen," "At the Feet of Jesus," "Hallelujah! 'Tis Done," all of which appear in Gospel Hymns No. 2, are examples of the truth of this statement. it is also very suggestive to notice the character of teaching, in words furnished by other authors with music written by him, that appear in this same work. I am sure that he did not contemplate any test of this kind in making his selections from scores of manuscript songs that were monthly sent to him; he simply set music to the words that inspired music in his soul. I do not think he ever exchanged a word with any one as to any distinctive character of teaching in the songs selected; but all these words that he selected convey the same leading truths. "Look Away to Jesus," "Hold Fast 'Til I Come," "Out of the Ark," "Till He Come," "It Is Well With My Soul," etc., are examples. Mr. Bliss' songs can only be understood and appreciated by an understanding of the reality to him of the truths they convey, as connected with a personal Christ. The words he sang so grandly -

just filled his soul. I believe he had no more thought, in singing them, of doing anything for the entertainment of people, or to excite admiration, than the meadow lark mounting to heaven, singing as it soars. He sang from an overflowing heart to the praise of his Savior. The last words that I know of his writing were the two pieces, "My Redeemer," and "I've Passed the Cross of Calvary." Nothing that he ever wrote made him more happy. I can see him now, as he came into my room at Peoria and stood by my table, with the words of the latter piece written in pencil, and I can hear his earnest voice as he read the verses and called my attention to the "empty tomb" and the "vantage ground;" and the tears filled his eyes as he stood for a moment and spoke of the risen Christ, the acceptance we have in Him, and the victory over sin and over the flesh that faith in such acceptance gives the believer. Now he said, "If the Lord will give me a tune for this, I believe it will be used to bring some souls on to the mountain." The Lord gave him a tune during the last week of his life at Rome. He sang it to the family with inspiring effect, but the written music then used was burned at Ashtabula. It was one of a few pieces that he placed in his satchel, to look over during his journey. The family are all musicians, but cannot recall the melody that inspired them that evening, and we shall not hear it as he sang it until we stand with him in the rapidly-hastening-on resurrection morning, and know, with him, the fullness of Christ's resurrection power. I think that then, among the voices of the redeemed, we shall distinguish his, and hush our praises for a moment to listen to the tune the Lord had given him as he sings -

Oh, glorious height of vantage ground,
Oh, blest victorious hour!
God grant to all who read a part in that first resurrection.

In writing, Mr. Bliss had a marvelous command of words and facility in selecting the very happiest phrases to express his thoughts. A favorite entertainment with him was to have a word selected, and each of the party present make as many words as possible from the letters contained in the word chosen. After each had written all the words he could conjure, and lists were compared, it would always e found that he had two or three words the most. He loved to make adjectives and alliterations of words, commencing with the same letter, as the lines,

Earth's fairest flowers will droop and die
Life's dearest joys flit fleetest by

He had all the gifts of a natural poet in instinct and imagination, and the faculty of expressing his thoughts in fitting musical words and sentences. There was a charm in the nicely balanced sensitive criticism which he would in a depreciating way give upon verses submitted him for criticism, or which he himself had written, that is very pleasant to recall.

The pieces that contain most of the true genius of poetry, in the latest edition of Gospel Hymns, as viewed by those of critical taste, would probably be the hymn "Eternity" by Miss Ellen Gates and "Arise and Shine" by Miss Mary Lathbury; and no words that he ever set to music so inspired Mr. Bliss, or so satisfied his poetic instincts. He could not read or sing the words without enthusiasm. Indeed, the music he wrote for them shows how keenly in sympathy with the words he must have been. never did music more aptly express the heart that beats, in living words, than the inspiring melody of "Arise and Shine," and the sweet, solemn strains of "Eternity," as completed by him.

It is not claimed for Mr. Bliss that the work he leaves behind him would give him a reputation as a great poet. He was very far from classing himself in the list of poets at all. But it is claimed that he possessed the true poetic genius in a far more than ordinary degree, and that, had his life been spared, he would have given expression to poetry equal to the very best of our sacred hymns. There will be many who will claim this for some of the pieces that he has left behind him. Let the hymns speak for themselves, and may his prayer be answered, that the gifts, the style and the person of the author be lost sight of in the theme they present.

It has been stated that Mrs. Bliss wrote several hymns which were published in Mr. Bliss' books under the name of "Paulina." This is a mistake. So far as is known, Mrs. Bliss never wrote any hymns or songs. Two pieces of very popular music were suggested by her to Mr. Bliss, and were written out by him and published as her compositions. One of the them was "I Will Love Jesus;" the other, "Rock of Ages." Both melodies are very beautiful, and were Mrs. Bliss' suggestion. The words, "I Will Love Jesus," were written by Mrs. Dr. Griswold, of Chicago, for many years a friend of Mr. Bliss and the writer of many popular hymns set to music by Mr. Bliss, George F. Root, and other composers. Her nom de plume has always been "Paulina." The above and three other pieces written by Mrs. Griswold, viz., "We're Going Home Tomorrow," "Hold Fast Till I Come," "Who Is On the Lord's Side?" with music by Mr. Bliss, appear in Gospel Hymns. The name "Paulina" was associated with Mrs. Bliss in the Memorial Services held in Chicago, and the impression there given that she was the writer of the hymns credited to that name.

Several pieces known as Mr. Bliss', and made popular by his music, will be missed from this collection. They are omitted because the words were not written by him. Several of them were changed by him to adapt them to the music. Many of them have an entire verse or words for chorus added by Mr. Bliss; but no pieces, so far as could be known, have been printed in his memoirs, except for those of which he was the sole author. Among popular pieces known as Bliss' hymns, the following, with the names of the authors of the words, are given:

Only Remembered Dr. H. Bonar
What Hast Thou Done For Me? Miss Frances Havergal
I Bring My Sins to Thee Miss Frances Havergal
What Shall the Harvest Be? Mrs. Emily L. Oakey
Look Away to Jesus Rev. Henry Burton
Precious Promise Nathaniel Niles
Crown of Rejoicing Rev. J.B. Atchinson
Eternity Ellen H. Gates
Arise and Shine Mary A. Lathbury
Waiting And Watching for Me Unknown
Till He Come Rev. E.H. Bickersteth
The New Song Rev. A.T. Pierson
It Is Well With My Soul H.G. Spafford
Go Bury Thy Sorrow Unknown
He Knows Miss Brainerd

The latter piece was found in manuscript, set to music, among Mr. Bliss' papers, and was supposed, by friends, to have been written by him, and has been so spoken of. It was certainly among the last pieces that he set to music, and the thoughts it expresses, so appropriate to what awaited him, were vividly upon his mind in changing the words and arranging the music during his last days. It can thus truly be regarded as his last song. But the sweet poem he used was from the pen of the gifted Miss Brainerd. All of these corrections and the giving of credit to whom it is due are so in accordance with the spirit of Mr. Bliss, that the writer takes pleasure in making these remarks.

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