The story behind the hymn “Pass Me not O Gentle Savior”

By Warren Shiver

The music for a number of hymns of the early church was written by William H. Doane. These included, “Pass Me not O Gentle Savior”, “Near The Cross,” “Savior More Than Life To Me,” “Rescue the Perishing”, “I Am Thine O Lord” and many others. For almost a century the music for gospel hymns for most protestant hymn books were many of those composed by Dr. Doane. It has been said that not a place that has been civilized on this earth; has not felt the influence of Dr. Doane’s music. But, Dr. Doane was a businessman. The writing of music with him was an avocation. It is interesting to note that in the writing of hymns, is the rule rather than the exception.

Silas Jones Vail was a manufacturer of hats. As a young man, Vail left his home in Brooklyn, N. Y., where he was born in 1818, and went to Danbury, Conn. There he learned the trade of hat making. He then returned to New York City, where he established his own hat making business.

Like machinery manufacturer, William Howard Doane, hat manufacturer, Silas Jones Vail’s principle love and avocation was the composition of music. Like Doane,Vail too, ventured into the publication of songbooks. In 1863, with pious publisher, Horace Waters, he bought ten songs from Steven Foster, added a sizeable collection of others and published a book called, “The Anthem Collection.” While the nation was singing a Steven Foster song about an old Kentucky home, or the snake infested swamps of the Sewanee River in Florida; church goers from the Atlantic to the Pacific were singing the music Silas Jones Vail wrote for, “Scatter Seeds of Kindness”, “Nothing but Leaves”, and “Gates Ajar”.

In 1874, Vail turned from his business enterprises to compile and edit with composer, W. F. Sherman, a songbook called, “Songs of Grace and Glory. During this work, he wrote an original tune, but he had no words or lyrics to fit the tune. Silas thought for a while and prayed, and then it came to him that only a short space away in Brooklyn, N. Y. was the home of Fanny Crosby.

By now, she had written so many verses for hymns that she was the most celebrated hymn writer in the country.

Mr. Vail decided to visit the blind poet in Brooklyn and play the music for her, and ask her to help in finishing his song. While Fanny listened to Vail play the music on the parlor organ, she was so moved that she stopped him before he completed playing the chorus. “Bless your dear soul,” the sightless little woman said, “Your music speaks its own words. It says close to thee, close to thee.” Then after Fanny prayed, (which she always did before writing a song), she dictated the words as they came to her and Mr. Vail wrote them down.

Fanny wrote over six thousand hymns and worked with the greatest composers of all time. She was accidently blinded at the age of six weeks by an incompetent doctor,who placed mustard poultics on her eyes. Although she could have been bitter, she thanked God every day for her blindness. She always said that she probably would not have enjoyed the close fellowship with God, if she had retained her sight. She stated that she would not have accepted her sight back, if it was promised to her.

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