Posted by: rcottrill | July 7, 2010

Today in 1907 – Anna Coghill Died

Anna Louisa Walker was born in England in 1836. She moved to Canada with her family some years later, where her father worked for the railroad. The family lived for a time in Sarnia, Ontario. There Anna and her sisters operated a girls’ school. It was in 1854, while living in Canada, that Anna wrote the words for a gospel song based on the words of the Lord Jesus in John 9:4, “The night is coming when no one can work.”

In this statement, Christ is speaking figuratively of the time when our earthly labours come to an end. “Man goes out to his work and to his labour until the evening” (Ps. 104:23). No matter how long we live, our day of opportunity to serve the Lord here will soon be over. We need to make good use of the days allotted to us. With these thoughts in mind, the author wrote:

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work ’mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is done.

In 1863, Anna returned to England, where she served as a governess, and a book reviewer, continuing to write a great deal herself, producing several volumes of verse. She married a wealthy English merchant named Harry Coghill.

As originally written, the fourth line of each stanza of Work, for the Night Is Coming had six syllables, rather than five. For example, “Work ‘mid the springing flowers.” However, when Lowell Mason set the poem to music in 1864, he shortened these lines to fit the tune. Anna Walker was indignant that anyone would tamper with her creation, and disapproved of the change. However, the altered version found its way into print and has been used that way for generations.

(2) Today in 1253 – King Thibaut Died
The children’s hymn, Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, was written by Charles Wesley. Generally speaking, he was not successful in writing hymns for children, although he made numerous attempts. Critics say he seemed to view children as little adults, and failed to identify with them at their own level. However, this one of his children’s hymns has justly survived. It is lovely.

There is, however, an unresolved mystery concerning the tune. The traditional melody used is Innocents, which appeared in 1850 in a short-lived publication called The Parish Choir. William H. Monk (the editor) harmonized the tune. But where it came from originally is something of a puzzle.

One nineteenth century hymn book, Ira Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos, attributes the melody to King Thibaut of Navarre. But I could find no other support for this attribution. We know King Thibaut was a real historical character. He was born on May 30, 1201, and he died at the age of 52, on July 7 (some biographies say July 8). We know he wrote poetry and composed music, but whether he wrote the tune Innocents is open to question. If you come across more information on this, please let me know.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Lamb of God, I look to Thee;
Thou shalt my Example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.

Fain I would be as Thou art;
Give me Thine obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have Thy loving mind.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart.

The following video clip is remarkable for the fine singing of the two young children. Elaine and Derek were twins living in Belfast. They made this recording in 1961. Each selection from the recording that I have heard is a gem.


  1. Thank you for posting this article about the hymn “Work, for the night is coming”.
    I play in a pipe band in Northern Ireland, and this is one of the hymns we play in church parades. Its nice to have some background about the hymn, which I dont recall ever having heard sung in church over here, and especially the Bible references, to give to new band members so that they can better appreciate the tunes that we play.
    Thanks again,
    Geoff Adair

    • Thanks for your kind note Geoff. I’ve found over many years that folks sing (and play) our traditional hymns and gospel songs with more sincerity and enthusiam when they learn a bit about their background. (Hence this daily blog, my weekly newspaper column, my book on carols–plus another about to go to press, etc.)

  2. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  3. The tune the children sing so beautifully is similar to Martin Shaw’s tune ‘Gentle Jesus’ which was written for the hymn in 1915, and is the tune used in Songs of Praise.

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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