Lewis Benson



1 Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise Thee
   For the bliss Thy love bestows,
For the pardoning grace that saves me,
   And the peace that from it flows:
Help, O God, my weak endeavor;
   This dull soul to rapture raise:
Thou must light the flame, or never
   Can my love be warmed to praise.
2 Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,
   Wretched wanderer, far astray;
Found thee lost, and kindly brought thee
   From the paths of death away:
Praise, with love’s devoutest feeling,
   Him who saw thy guilt-born fear,
And, the light of hope revealing,
   Bade the blood-stained cross appear.
3 Lord, this bosom’s ardent feeling
   Vainly would my lips express:
Low before Thy footstool kneeling,
   Deign Thy suppliant’s prayer to bless:
Let Thy grace, my soul’s chief treasure,
   Love’s pure flame within me raise;
And, since words can never measure,
   Let my life show forth Thy praise.

Francis Scott Key, 1817

NOTE– The text is taken from Dr. Muhlenberg’s Church Poetry, 1823.


To a patriotic American Christian it is a real satisfaction to find in the hymn book of his Church a hymn by the author of “The Star Spangled Banner.” And the hymn is not unworthy of its place. A good judge, the Rev. Frederick M. Bird, in an essay upon the Hymnology of the Protestant Episcopal Church, called Mr. Key’s hymn “as memorable a piece of work” as his “Star Spangled Banner.”  “It has,” he says, “high devotional and fair literary merit, and is endeared to many thousands by long associations.” There is, no doubt, a flavor of an older fashion in the rhetoric of the hymn, but its expression of Christian gratitude still rings true; and, as a matter of fact, the use of the hymn is more widespread today than ever before.

In 1823 the Rev. Dr. William A. Muhlenberg, afterward famous as the author of “I Would not Live Alway,” printed a hymn book under the name of Church Poetry. “Here first (so far as is known) appeared Francis S. Key’s very genuine hymn, ‘Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee,’” says Mr. Bird in the essay already referred to. Such has been the general belief up to this time, and hence in every hymnal the hymn bears the date 1823. But in aur present study we shall be able to make use of some facts not hitherto known.

In the autumn of 1900 the writer saw in a New York auction catalogue the entry of a copy of this hymn in Mr. Key’s autograph, which he secured. It is written on a half sheet of foolscap and inscribed in the margin, “Written by the author, F. Key, for Sylvester Nash.” Hitherto only three eight-line verses of the hymn had been known to hymnologists, as printed in Dr. Muhlenberg’s book and always since. But the autograph copy has an additional verse (or two of four lines each) as reproduced in the accompanying facsimile. This was the original third verse, preceding the last one as here printed.

And now, as regards the date. In December of 1901, while having some part in the rearrangement of the library of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, the writer took the opportunity of examining some old periodicals, on the chance of what he might find. Among them were three volumes of The Christian Messenger, an unsectarian religious magazine, edited and published by Joshua T. Russell, in Baltimore. At page 288 of the first volume, at the end of the number for Saturday September 6th, 1817, he found the original printing of this hymn. It is printed in eight four-line verses, and is prefaced by this note: –

The Newly-Found Verse

“The following Hymn was composed by a gentleman, formerly a resident of this city, distinguished for his eminent talents and exemplary piety.” 

This little discovery changes the accepted date of the hymn from 1823 to 1817. The additional eight lines of the manuscript are included in the hymn in the magazine, and this seems to be the first and last time they have been printed until now. Dr. Muhlenberg chose to omit them from his hymn book in 1823. And since then every one else, even the editor of Mr. Key’s poems (which were gathered up and published in 1857), seems completely to have lost sight of them. In 1826 Mr. Key’s hymn, in its three-verse form, was given a place in the Hymns of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and it has retained that place in the hymnals from time to time authorized for use in that Church. It was introduced to a much wider company when, in 1830, the Rev. Joshua Leavitt included it in his very popular collection, The Christian Lyre. This was the book the light and secular character of whose music caused such grief to the heart of Thomas Hastings. Designed for revival and social meetings, it found its way into the more formal services of many Presbyterian churches, as a welcome substitute for the authorized psalmody. It cannot be said, however, that by this means, or any other, Mr. Key’s hymn became generally familiar to Presbyterians until a much later date. The Presbyterian Hymnal of 1874 was the first authorized book to contain it. A peculiar feature in the long career of this hymn is that so little music should have been composed for it. Even now the words can hardly be said to be associated with any particular tune.


Over the grave of Francis Scott Key, at Frederick, Maryland, there was placed in 1898 an impressive monument. His figure in bronze stands on a granite base. He is represented at the moment of discovery that “our flag was still there,” his right arm extended toward it, and the left waving aloft his hat in an exultant salute. It is a striking representation of the way in which Mr. Key himself stands before the minds of his countrymen. They think of him always as in that attitude. To them he is always the man who wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” The one hour outshines the life so much in men’s eyes that the life has become obscure.

It is none the less pleasant to know how worthy that life was before and after its great event; to find the home life as attractive as the patriotism, to find the grace of the gentleman and the earnestness of the Christian at one with the gifts of the poet.

No extended life of Mr. Key has been published, but it seems as if (like that editor who put the note before his hymn) every one who wrote of him felt called upon to praise him.

Mr. Key was the son of John Ross Key, a man of means and high social position, and a self-sacrificing patriot of the Revolution; and was born on his father’s estate, Terra Rubra, Frederick, Maryland, on August 1st, 1779. He was educated at St. John’s College, Annapolis, and in 1802 married the representative of another distinguished Maryland family, Mary Tayloe Lloyd, whose ancestral home, with its wainscotted drawing-room, has stood in Annapolis from 1709 until now.

Mr. Key practiced law in Frederick for some years, afterward moving to Georgetown, D. C. For three terms he was district attorney of the District of Columbia. As a lawyer he seems not to have been given to severe studies, but yet competent, with a ready mind full of resources and equal to the occasion. He had, too, more than a little of the gifts of the orator; was natural and earnest, and easily kindled into passion. In person he was slight, and of extraordinary vigor both in mind and body; walking, when an elderly man, with the light and elastic gait of a boy, and highly charged with electricity through his whole system. He was absolutely fearless, ardent, impulsive, frank, outspoken; not without the defects of his qualities. Not always recognized by passing acquaintances as being all that he was, and yet always as being a gentleman. He was cheerful, and liked social life and hospitalities, and excelled in bright conversation. Of real warmth of heart, he loved his friends with great loyalty and his family with tender devotion.

Mr. Key was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, of the type known as Evangelical. He loved his own Church, but one who had been his rector (Rev. John T. Brooke) has taken pains to record in a Memorial Discourse that he “had no sympathy whatever with the later attempts of individuals, at different periods, to erect high and exclusive fences upon the original peculiarities of the church.” He was in sympathy with good men of every name, and ready to worship and cooperate with them. Though burdened with the care of a very large family and heavy professional duties, he was habitually busy in Christian work to a degree that excited the wonder of his pastor. Ready to officiate as lay-reader when needed, a fervent participant in social meetings for prayer, “he found much time to visit the sick, to comfort the mourning, to confer with the enquiring, to warn the careless; and he stood ever ready, at a moment’s warning, to lift his voice in behalf of any of the great public charities of the day.”

Mr. Key and his wife were both slave-holders by inheritance, but deplored the existence of the institution of slavery. Mr. Key gave much thought to his own negroes, and regularly held Sunday-school for them; in his neighborhood he was proverbially the colored man’s friend, their unpaid advocate in the courts, their helper in time of trouble. He was among the first to think out the scheme of African colonization as the most hopeful remedy for a complicated situation. In connection with his friend Bishop Meade, he traveled much and worked hard to promote the cause, to which he became ardently devoted. His income was always carefully apportioned to provide a fund for his charities, and among his last words were his directions where to find and how to employ the moneys then on hand for such uses. 

Francis Scott Key

“Good men are great blessings to the community” – it was so that Mr. Key’s pastor began the Memorial Discourse. “But they must die”– so it continued. And though a commonplace, one can understand how hard it must have been to apply the phrase to one so very much alive as he. Mr. Key died in Baltimore, January 11th, 1843. In addition to the monument over his grave erected by popular subscription, a statue of him also stands in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, provided by the will of James Lick, the California millionaire. 

But his song is his monument. Toward the end of the War of 1812 he learned that a friend and neighbor had been taken from his home by the British forces and was held as a prisoner on board the admiral’s ship. He at once determined to intercede for his friend’s release, and secured from the government such papers as were necessary to his purpose. Visiting the squadron of the British on the Potomac under a flag of truce, that summer day in 1814, he was detained under guard, for an attack on Baltimore was just about to begin. Anxiously he paced the deck through the long night of the bombardment until he caught the dawn’s early light on the flag still waving over Fort McHenry. The attack had failed. He was released with the song in his heart, and most of it roughly drafted on the back of a letter before he reached the shore. The next day it was printed on handbills, and men were singing it, as they have been ever since. 


(1) The first would seem to be in regard to the value of the newly found lines,– as to whether they are a real addition to the hymn. It will be noticed that in the second verse (keeping to the eight-line form of each verse) the poet recites the acts of divine love calculated to raise the dull soul to a rapture of gratitude. But that verse stops with the appearing of the cross. The newly found verse (as the third) celebrates the Savior’s drawing the sinner to that cross, the call of His gospel, the gifts of His pardon and His peace. Do not these things add to the grounds of praise? Can they be omitted without loss to the hymn?

(2) We have now three texts of the hymn where we had only one, and the opportunity, always interesting, of comparing them. They are the text in the magazine, that of the autograph, and the usual text as here printed. 

The first verse is precisely the same in all three texts. 

The second verse is identical in the autograph copy and in the usual text. But we have to choose between their reading of the seventh line, “the light of hope,” and that of the magazine, “the light of life.” 

Of the newly found third verse there are only two texts. That of the autograph copy is before us; that of the magazine reads (the differences are italicized): –

    “Praise thy Savior Lord, that drew thee
        To that cross, new life to give –
    Call’d a guilt-stain’d’ sinner to thee!
        Bade thee look to him and live! 

    “Praise the grace whose threats alarm’d thee!
        Rous’d thee from thy fatal ease!
    Praise the grace whose pardon sav’d thee!
        Praise the grace that whisper’d peace!”  

The last verse in the autograph copy has only one word different from the usual text here printed; its fifth line reading, “Let thy love” instead of “Let thy grace.” But in the magazine the verse reads: – 

    “Lord, this bosom’s ardent feeling,
        Vainly would my tongue express!
    Low before thy foot-stool kneeling,
        Deign thy suppliant’s prayer to bless! 

    “Let thy love, my heart’s best treasure,
        Ever bind me to Thy ways!
    Let me ever seek thy pleasure!
        Let me ever lisp thy praise!” 

If the writer were to venture a guess as to the history of the three texts it would be that the magazine has the hymn as originally written; that Mr. Key afterward saw that the line, “Call’d a guilt-stain’d sinner to thee!” in the newly found verse, and the lack of rhyme between “alarm’d thee” and “sav’d thee,” needed correction, and the close of the hymn needed strengthening; so that he changed the hymn to the form seen in the autograph copy; and that the omission of the third verse and the single change that marks the usual text as here printed were made by Dr. Muhlenberg. If the writer were editing a hymn book today he should print this hymn precisely as in Mr. Key’s autograph copy.  

NOTE– Since making the statement on page 54 concerning the appearance of the hymn in its four-verse form, I have discovered a second printing in that form in The Washington Theological Repertory for December, 1819, page 151. The hymn is headed “For The Repertory,” as though making its first appearance.