Dr. William Howard Doane was born at Preston, Connecticut, [United States] February 3, 1834. Early in life he manifested an unusual talent for music and a decided gift for composition.
At the early age of 18, he was elected conductor of the Norwich Harmonic Society, and ten years later issued his first hymn book, "Sabbath School Gems." This was followed in 1864 by "Little Gems," in 1867 by "Silver Spray," and in 1868 by "Songs of Devotion." He then became associated
with Dr. Robert Lowry in editing a series of Sunday School song books
Dr. Doane was noted also for a series of Christmas cantatas he brought out during those years, which, like his song books, attained great popular favor.
Among his best known songs, a large number were admirably adapted to evangelistic and devotional purposes, such as: "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," "Tell Me the Old, Old Story," "More Love to Thee, O Christ," "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior," "I Am Thine, O Lord," "Savior, More Than Life to Me," "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross," "Rescue the Perishing," and many others.
Concerning the origin of the most famous and perhaps the best loved of his compositions—'Safe in the Arms of Jesus"—the following story has been told:
"Dr. Doane one day came into the office of Bigelow & Main in New York, and, finding Fanny Crosby there in conversation with Mr. Bradbury, he said to her: 'Fanny, I have just written a tune, and I want you to write a hymn for it.' 'Let me hear it,' she requested. Seating himself at a small organ, Mr. Doane played the music through, when she exclaimed: 'Why, that tune says, "Safe in the arms of Jesus," and I will see what I can do about it.' She retired to an adjoining room and in an half hour returned and repeated to him the words of that immortal hymn. It was first published as 'Songs of Devotion,' in 1868, and immediately became popular, was soon published abroad, and is said to be one of the first hymns of its kind to be translated into a foreign language."
In his "Story of Hymns," Mr. Sankey relates a number of very touching incidents in connection with its use.
Of Dr. Doane's other justly famous song—"Rescue the Perishing"— (the words of which also were written by Fanny Crosby) a striking story is told of a drunken man of middle age who staggered into the Bowery Mission one stormy evening, unwashed, unshaved, and wretchedly attired. Sinking into a seat he gazed about, wondering what kind of a place he had gotten into. "Rescue the Perishing" and other Gospel hymns were sung, and he became interested; his brain began to function rationally; memory carried him back to his youth—long forgotten—and tears came to his eyes as he listened to the words of the speaker who was telling the simple story of the Gospel, and how the Lord came to seek and save sinners. In the course of his remarks the leader mentioned several incidents which had occurred in his experience during the Civil War, and mentioned the name of the company in which he had served. At the close of the meeting the man eagerly staggered up to the leader and in a broken voice said: "When were you in that company you spoke of?" "Why, all through the war," was the answer. "Do you remember the battle of—?" "Perfectly." "Do you remember the name of the captain of your company?" "Yes, his name was—." "You are right; I am that man! I was your captain. Look at me to-day and see what a wreck I am. Can you save your captain? I have lost everything through drink, and I don't know where to go."
He was saved that night and was helped to get back his old position, became a zealous worker in Rescue Missions, and often told the story of how a soldier saved his captain, and how he loved the words of "Rescue the Perishing."
In 1850 Dr. Doane entered the firm of J. A. Fay & Co., manufacturers of machinery whose headquarters where in Norwich, Conn., and in 1860 became the managing partner, with offices at Cincinnati, Ohio, where he made his home the remainder of his active business life.
Devoted as he was to music and its composition, which amounted to almost a life work, it interfered in no way with his success in business, or of his giving great thought and time to church, missionary, Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., and other philanthropic enterprises.
My relations with this good man were cordial and extended over a period of many years. While engaged in an evangelistic campaign in Cincinnati, I had the pleasure of dining with him and his interesting family in their hospitable home.
In 1875 Dr. Doane was given the degree of Doctor of Music by the Dennison University, an honor well deserved, for he served the cause of sacred song with conspicuous ability, placing the church of Christ under lasting obligations to him. He was held in high esteem in his home city because of his philanthropy and public spirit, and for his service to the cause of Christianity.
Dr. Doane, whose service to the cause of worldwide evangelism was so evidently wrought in God, and whose songs will go on blessing generations yet to come, died at his home in Orange, New Jersey, December 23, 1915, at the age of eighty-one.
From George C. Stebbins: Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories by Himself. New York: George H. Doran Company, ©1924.
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