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Frances Jane Van Alstyne: Poet and Hymn Writer

Fanny CrosbyFrances Jane Van Alstyne, poet and hymn-writer, known by her pen name Fanny J. Crosby, was born at South East, Putnam County, New York, March 24,1820. When six weeks old she lost her sight, through the negligence of the attending physician, but in spite of this severe affliction has always been noted for her cheerful and happy disposition.

She was educated in the New York City Institution for the Blind, which she entered in 1835, and proving herself one of the brightest of its favored pupils, completed the course of instruction in 1842. In 1847 she was appointed teacher of English grammar, rhetoric, Roman and Greek history, in this institution, filling the position acceptably until 1858. In 1851 she joined the Methodist Episcopal church, of which she has ever since been a devoted member.

When still very young she manifested poetic talent, composing creditable verses at the remarkably early age of eight years. She is described as an impressionable child, keenly appreciative of the beauties of nature, and left so greatly to her own thoughts, her intellect matured rapidly.

Her first volume of verse appeared in 1844, under the title "A Blind Girl and Other Poems." In 1849 came "Monterey and Other Poems," and in 1858 "A Wreath of Columbia's Flowers." From 1853 to 1858 she wrote a number of songs, which were set to music by George F. Root, some of them becoming exceedingly popular, such as "Rosalie the Prairie Flower," "Hazel Dell," "There's Music in the Air," etc.

Her first Sunday-school hymn was written in 1864, at the request of William B. Bradbury, the father of popular Sunday-school music in America, and was published by him in his " Golden Censer." During the succeeding thirty-two years she has been pouring forth from the riches of her heart and intellect, hymns, songs, and poems until they now number over 5,000, many of which have been published by The Biglow & Main Co., of New York City.

Her hymns are characterized by simplicity, directness and intense earnestness. Among the most popular are "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour," "Rescue the Perishing," "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross," "The Bright Forever," "Close to Thee," "Saviour, More Than Life to Me," and "I Am Thine, O Lord."

Fanny Crosby never writes out her poems, but completes each one in her mind and dictates it to an amanuensis. It is said that she can thus compose a dozen or more hymns before finally committing them to paper.

Through the publication of the famous "Gospel Hymns," and innumerable Sunday-school hymn-books in this country, and Mr. Sankey's "Sacred Songs and Solos" in England, her hymns have attained a wider circulation, and are at this time more extensively sung throughout the world than those of any other living hymn-writer. Many of her latest and best productions have appeared by her own request under various noms de plume.

In 1858 Miss Crosby was married to Prof. Alexander Van Alstyne, a talented teacher of music in New York, and, like herself, totally blind. She has, however, continued to write under her maiden name, which has become justly noted.

Possessed of a strong and hopeful Christian faith, a faculty for hard and persistent work, and a kindly interest in all about her, she is, even in old age, one of the brightest mortals, and the life of every circle into which she comes. Her residence is in Brooklyn. New York. [Note: Information up to 1897; Fanny Crosby died in 1915.]

From The National Cyclopædia of American Biography... New York: James T. White & Company, 1897. Vol. 7.

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