Introduction to the Hymns of Hannah Towgood Wakeford

The three poems by Wakeford with the most hymn-like qualities are “Meditation,” “Hymn,” and “A General Hymn of Praise for Creation.” Her “Meditation” employs a private voice to interrogate her personal religious experience, utilizing the softer and somewhat more distant pronouns of “my” and “me” directed at “He” and “Him” rather than the more intensely personal “I” and “Thou” discourse often used between the saint and the Saviour. The opening couplet reflects both the hymn-like quality of portions of the poem and her specific use of pronouns:

What tho’ my Sins are of a crimson stain?

My Saviour’s Blood can wash me white again.

More hymn-like phrasings can be found in the final four lines of the poem, with the only “I” appearing in the last line:

He looks upon my Soul with Pitying Eyes,

Sees all my fears, and listens to my cries,

And for the sake of his dear dying Son

Will Pardon all the Ills that I have done.

Wakeford’s “Hymn” has definite hymn-like qualities, though its printed form reflects something closer to a religious effusion than a hymn since it was not divided into three stanzas. As with the previous poem, it has some singable lines (especially the last four), composed once again from the “private voice” perspective, only this time employing at times the more direct pronouns of “I” and “Thou.” In “A General Hymn of Praise for Creation,” the four stanzas proclaim in a public voice the obligation all creation has to sing the praises of God, from the local congregation to the seraphs in heaven, from the sun, moon, and stars to the mountains, hills, and trees. In this instance, all participants are led in a song of praise under the direction of the hymn writer (a young woman about the age of twenty) whose “tongue” has now joined the “joyful choir,” her “lays” inspired by God’s “glorious name.” This is Wakeford’s only true hymn; though it was published twice in the eighteenth century in popular evangelical magazines, it has yet to receive the notice it deserves within the canon of eighteenth-century hymnody.