Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), from Poems, 1896. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Cecil Frances Alexander
Born Cecil Frances Humphreys
April 1818
County Waterford, Ireland
Died October 12 1895(1895-Template:MONTHNUMBER-12) (aged 77)
Nationality Irish
Occupation hymn-writer, poet
Notable works Hymns for Little Children

Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (early April 1818 - 12 October 1895) was an Irish poet and hymnist.[1]

Life Edit

Alexander was born Cecil Frances Humphreysin co. Wicklow, the 2nd daughter of John Humphreys, major in the royal marines, by his wife (the daughter of Captain Reed of Dublin, and niece of Sir Thomas Reed). She began to write poetry at 9 years of age, selecting tragic subjects like the death of Nelson and the massacre of Glencoe.[2]

While her father was living at Ballykean, in Wicklow, a friendship arose between Miss Humphreys and Lady Harriet Howard, the daughter of the Earl of Wicklow, herself an authoress. Their intimacy continued after Major Humphreys removed to Milltown, near Strabane, on the borders of Donegal and Tyrone. They came under the influence of the Oxford movement, and turned to writing tracts, the prose part of which Lady Harriet supplied, while Miss Humphreys contributed a number of poems. The tracts began to appear in 1842, excited some attention, and were collected into a volume in 1848.[2]

In 1846 Miss Humphreys published Verses for Holy Seasons (London, 8vo), with a preface by Walter Farquhar Hook; it reached a 6th edition in 1888. There followed in 1848 her Hymns for Little Children, for which John Keble wrote the preface; this volume reached a 69th edition in 1896.[2]

On 15 October 1850 Miss Humphreys was married at Camus-juxta-Mourne to the Rev. William Alexander rector of Termonamongan in Tyrone. In 1855 her husband became rector of Upper Fahan on Lough Swilly, and in 1867 he was consecrated bishop of Derry and Raphoe. He remained in this diocese until 1896, the year after his wife's death, when he was created archbishop of Armagh.[2]

Alexander devoted her life to charitable work, but she delighted in congenial society, and, apart from hymns, wrote much musical verse. Tennyson declared that he would be proud to be the author of her 'Legend of Stumpie's Brae.'[2]

Alexander also contributed to Lyra Anglicana, to the Dublin University Magazine, and to the Contemporary Review. In 1864 she edited for 'Golden Treasury Series' a selection of poems by various authors, entitled 'The Sunday Book of Poetry.'[2]

She died at the palace, Londonderry, on 12 Oct. 1895, and was buried on 18 Oct. at the city cemetery. She left 2 sons — Robert Jocelyn and Cecil John Francis — and 2 daughters, Eleanor Jane and Dorothea Agnes, married to George John Bowen.[2]


Besides the works already mentioned, her chief publications are:

  1. 'The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals: an Allegory,' London, 1848, 8vo.
  2. 'Moral Songs,' London, 1849, 12mo; new edit., London, 1880, 8vo.
  3. 'Narrative Hymns for Village Schools,' London, 185.3, 4to; 8th edit., London, 1864, 16mo.
  4. 'Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament,' London, 1854, 8vo.
  5. 'Hymns, Descriptive and Devotional, for the use of Schools,' London, 1858, 32mo.
  6. 'The Legend of the Golden Prayers and other Poems,' London, 1859, 8vo.
  7. 'The Baron's Little Daughter and other Tales,' 6th edit., London, 1888, 8vo.[2]

Critical introductionEdit

by Alfred H. Miles

Though chiefly known as a writer of hymns for children, Mrs. Alexander’s verse displays powers which under greater restraint would have been even more successful upon a higher plane. A sense of the sublime, and an eye for the picturesque, and especially for colour, associated with an easy command of language, and an ear for rhyme and rhythm, are constantly in evidence; and in her lyric, “The Burial of Moses,” have produced a poem which does not seem to fall short of the great subject of which it treats. This is high praise indeed, but the poem bids fair to become a classic. Though not written especially for children, it appeals alike to young and old. A little child of six years of age known to the writer, after hearing it read, declared with enthusiasm that it was the grandest poem she had ever heard. Older critics will scarcely challenge the use of the word “grand” in this connection. Unfortunately in others of her poems Mrs. Alexander did not exercise the same restraint. “The Lonely Grave,” the opening stanzas of which include the following picturesque verse —

                The strange-shaped flowers of gorgeous dyes,
                Unmoved by any wandering breeze,
                Look out with their great scarlet eyes,
                And watch him from the giant trees —

begins well, but it is much too long, and, like others of Mrs. Alexander’s longer poems, becomes tedious before it concludes. Some of her hymns and shorter poems, however, have attained wide acceptance, securing a position which they seem well qualified to retain.[3]


In 1896 the archbishop of Armagh published, with a biographical preface, a collective edition of her previously published poems, excluding only some on scriptural subjects.[2]

Many of her hymns, including 'All things bright and beautiful,' 'Once in royal David's city,' 'Jesus calls us o'er the tumult,' 'The roseate hues of early dawn,' 'When wounded sore the stricken soul,' and 'There is a green hill far away,' are in almost universal use in English-speaking communities. Gounod, when composing a musical setting for the last, said that the words seemed to set themselves to music.[2]

Publications Edit


  • Verses for Holy Seasons (as "C.F.H."; edited by Walter Farquhar Hook). London: F. & J. Rivington, 1846.[4]
    • Leeds, UK: R. Slocombe / London: George Bell, 1849; Philadelphia: H. Hooker, 1852; London: Bell & Daldy, 1858.
  • Poems on Subjects in the Old Testament (as "C.F.A."). (2 volumes), London: Joseph Masters, 1854. Part I; Part II.
  • The Legend of the Golden Prayers, and other poems. London: Bell & Daldy, 1859.
  • Poems (edited by William Alexander). London & New York: Macmillan, 1896.
  • Selected poems of William Alexander, archbishop of Armagh, 1896-1911, and Cecil Frances Alexander. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1920.


  • The Lord of the Forest, and His Vassals: An allegory (as "C.F.H."). London: Joseph Masters, 1847.
  • Hymns for Little Children (as "C.F.H."). London: Joseph Masters, 1848; Philadelphia: Herman Hooker, 1850.
  • Moral Songs. London: Joseph Masters, 1849.
  • Hymns Descriptive and Devotional for the Use of Schools. London: Joseph Masters, 1858.
  • Narrative Hymns for Village Schools. London: Joseph Masters, 1862.
  • The Baron's Little Daughter, and other tales in prose and verse. London: Joseph Masters, 1866.
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful (illustrated by Ashley Bryan). New York: Atheneum Books, 2010.
  • All Creatures Great and Small (illustrated by Naoko Stoop). New York: Sterling, 2012.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

Audio / video Edit

All Things Bright And Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander

All Things Bright And Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander

  • Cecil Frances Alexander & Frances Ridley Havergal (music CD) by Paul Leddington Wright; David Poulter, organist.; St. Michael's Singers. Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK : Kingsway Music, 1995.[5]

See also Edit

References Edit

  • PD-icon.svg Cousin, John William (1901). "Alexander, Cecil Frances". In Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. 1. London: Smith, Elder. p. 30. }}
  • A Green Hill Far Away: A life of Mrs C.F. Alexander E.W. Lovell, 1970, Friends of Derry Cathedral.

Notes Edit

  1. A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Cousin, 30.
  3. from Alfred H. Miles, Critical and Biographical Essay: Cecil Frances Alexander (1823-1895), Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century (London: George Routledge / New York: E.P. Dutton, 1907),, 2011. Web, June 25, 2013.
  4. Verses for Holy Seasons (1846), Internet Archive. Web, June 26, 2013.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Search results = au:Cecil Frances Alexander, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Dec. 29, 2015.

External linksEdit

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