Ray Palmer (b. Little Compton, RI, 1808; d. Newark, NJ, 1887) is often considered to be one of America's best nineteenth-century hymn writers. After completing grammar school he worked in a Boston dry goods store, but a religious awakening prodded him to study for the ministry. He attended Yale College (supporting himself by teaching) and was ordained in 1835. A pastor in Congregational churches in Bath, Maine (1835-1850), and Albany, New York (1850-1865), he also served as secretary of the American Congregational Union (1865-1878). Palmer was a popular preacher and author, writing original poetry as well as translating hymns. He published several volumes of poetry and hymns, including Sabbath Hymn Book (1858), Hymns and Sacred Pieces (1865), and Hymns of My Holy Hours (1868). His complete poetical works were published in 1876.
Palmer, Ray, D.D., son of the Hon. Thomas Palmer, a Judge in Rhode Island, was born at Little Compton, Rhode Island, Nov. 12, 1808. His early life was spent at Boston, where he was for some time clerk in a dry-goods store. At Boston he joined the Park Street Congregational Church, then under the pastoral care of Dr. S. E. Dwight. After spending three years at Phillips Academy, Andover, he entered Yale College, New Haven, where he graduated in 1830. In 1835 he became pastor of the Central Congregational Church, Bath, Maine. During his pastorate there he visited Europe in 1847. In 1850 he was appointed to the First Congregational Church, at Albany, New York, and in 1865 Corresponding Secretary to the American Congregational Union, New York. He resigned in 1878, and retired to Newark, New Jersey. He died at Newark, Mar. 29, 1887. Dr. Palmer's published works in prose and verse include:--
(1) Memoirs and Select Remains of Charles Pond, 1829; (2) The Spirit's Life, a Poem, 1837; (3) How to Live, or Memoirs of Mrs. C. L. Watson, 1839; (4) Doctrinal Text Book, 1839; (5) Spiritual Improvement, 1839, republished as Closet Hours in 185; (6) What is Truth? or Hints on the Formation of Religious Opinions, 1860; (7) Remember Me, or The Holy Communion, 1865; (8) Hymns and Sacred Pieces, with Miscellaneous Poems, 1865; (9) Hymns of my Holy Hours, and Other Pieces, 1868; (10) Home, or the Unlost Paradise, 1873; and (11) Voices of Hope and Gladness, 1881.
Most of Dr. Palmer's hymns have passed into congregational use, and have won great acceptance. The best of them by their combination of thought, poetry, and devotion, are superior to almost all others of American origin. The first which he wrote has become the most widely known of all. It is:—
1. My faith looks up to Thee. Faith in Christ. This hymn was written by the author when fresh from College, and during an engagement in teaching in New York. This was in 1830. The author says concerning its composition, "I gave form to what I felt, by writing, with little effort, the stanzas. I recollect I wrote them with very tender emotion, and ended the last line with tears." A short time afterwards the hymn was given to Dr. Lowell Mason for use, if thought good, in a work then being compiled by him and Dr. T. Hastings. In 1831 that work was published as Spiritual Songs for Social Worship: adapted to the use of Families, &c. Words and Music arranged by Thomas Hastings, of New York, and Lowell Mason of Boston. It is No. 141 in 4 stanzas of 8 lines, entitled "Self Consecration," and accompanied with the tune by Dr. L. Mason, there given as "My faith looks up to Thee, "but subsequently known as Olivet. (Orig. text of hymn in Thring's Collection, 1882.) It has passed into most modern collections in all English-speaking countries, and has been rendered into numerous languages. That in Latin, by H. M. Macgill (p. 708, ii.), begins "Fides Te mea spectat."
2. Fount of everlasting love. Praise for renewed Spiritual Life. This also appeared in the Spiritual Songs, &c, 1831, No. 191, in 4 stanzas of 4 lines, and headed "Praise for a Revival."
The hymns which are given below are all in Dr. Palmer's Poetical Works, N. Y., 1876, and the dates appended in brackets are those given by him in that work.
3. Thou who roll'st the year around. (1832.) Close of the Year. In several American collections.
4. Away from earth my spirit turns. (1833.) Holy Communion. Appeared in Lowell Mason's Union Hymns, in 4 stanzas of 4 lines. In the Church Praise Book, N. Y.. 1882, it begins with st. ii., "Thou, Saviour, art the Living Bread."
5. Before Thy throne with tearful eyes. (1834.) Liberty of Faith.
6. Stealing from the world away. (1834.) Evening. Written at New Haven in 1834, and is very popular in America.
7. Thine [Thy] holy day's returning. (1834.) Sunday Morning.
8. Wake thee, 0 Zion. (1862.) Zion Exultant.
9. We stand in deep repentance. (1834.) Lent.
This last, No. 9, in common with Nos. 10, 11, 12, is marked "original," in the Presbyterian Parish Hymns, 1843. Probably they were given to the editors of that book in manuscript, and had not previously appeared.
10. And is there, Lord, a rest? (1843.) Rest in Heaven. Written at Bath, Maine, in 1843.
11. 0 sweetly breathe the lyres above. Consecration to Christ. This was accidentally omitted from Dr. Palmer's Poetical Works, 18?6. S. W. Duffield says:—
"It was written in the winter of 1842-43, at a time of revival. At the previous Communion several had been received under circumstances that made Doddridge's hymn, ‘0 happy day that fixed my choice 'a most appropriate selection. Not caring to repeat it, and needing something similar, Dr. Palmer composed the present hymn." English Hymns, N. Y., 1886, p. 432.
12. When downward to the darksome tomb. (1842.) Death Contemplated. Written at Bath, Maine, 1842.
From 1843 there comes a long break, and Dr. Palmer seems to have done no more hymn-writing until called upon by Professors Park and Phelps, of Andover, for contributions to their Sabbath Hymn-Book, 1858. His hymns written for that important collection rank amongst the best that America has produced. This is specially true of the first four (Nos. 13-16) from the Latin.
13. Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts. (l858.) Translation of a cento from "Jesu dulcis memoria" (p. 588, ii.).
14. 0 Bread to Pilgrims given. (1858.) Translation of “O esca viatorum" (q.v.).
15. 0 Christ our King, Creator Lord. (1858.) Translation of “Rex Christe, factor omnium "
16. Come Holy Ghost, in love. (1858.) Translation of “Veni Sancte Spiritus" (q.v.)
17. Jesus, these eyes have never seen. (1858.) Christ loved, though unseen. This hymn is accounted by many as next in merit and beauty to "My faith looks up to Thee."
18. Lord, my weak thought in vain would climb. (1858.) God Unsearchable. This hymn deals with the mysteries of Predestination in a reverent and devout manner.
19. Thy Father's house! thine own bright home. (1858.) Heaven.
The next group, Nos. 20-27, appeared in Dr. Robinson's Songs for the Sanctuary, 1865.
20. Lord, Thou wilt bring the joyful day. (1864.) Contemplation of Heaven. Written in New York City.
21. Eternal Father, Thou hast said. (i860.) Missions.
22. Jesus, Lamb of God, for me. (1863.) Jesus, the Way of Salvation. Written in Albany, New York.
23. Take me, 0 my Father, take me. (1864.) Lent.
24. Wouldst thou eternal life obtain. (1864.) Good Friday.
25. Come Jesus, Redeemer, abide Thou with me. (1864.) Holy Communion.
26. Lord, Thou on earth didst love Thine own. (1864.) Fellowship with Christ.
27. Thou, Saviour, from Thy throne on high. (1864.) Prayer.
The next four (Nos. 28-31) present another group. They appeared in D. E. Jones's Songs for the New Life, 1869, and the Reformed Dutch Hymns of the Church, N. Y., 1869. The dates of composition are from Dr. Palmer's Poems, 1876.
28. Lord, Thou hast taught our hearts to glow. (1865.) Ordination, or Meeting of Ministers.
29. When inward turns my searching gaze. (1868.) Evening.
30. 0 Jesus, sweet the tears I shed. (1867.) Good Friday.
31. Jesus, this [my] heart within me burns. (1868.) Love.
The hymns which follow are from various sources.
32. 0 Christ, the Lord of heaven, to Thee. (1867.) Universal Praise to Christ. Appeared in the author's Hymns of my Holy Hours, 1867. It is a hymn of great merit, and is widely used.
33. Behold the shade of night is now receding. (1869.) A translation of "Ecce jam noctis." (p. 320, i., and Various).
34. Hid evening shadows let us all be waking. (1869.) A translation of "Nocte surgentes" (p. 809, i.).
35. I give my heart to Thee. (Aug. 20, 1868.) A translation of "Cor meum Tibi dedo," p. 262, ii.
36. Holy Ghost, that promised came. (1873.) Whitsuntide. From the author's Poems, 1876.
37. 0 Holy Comforter, I hear. The Comforter. Appeared in the Boston Congregationalist, September 7th, 1867.
38. Lord, when my soul her secrets doth reveal. (1865.) Holy Communion.
Most of the foregoing hymns are in common in Great Britain, and all are found in one or more American hymnbooks of importance. [Rev. F. M. Bird, M.A.]
-- John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)
Palmer, Ray, D.D., p. 877, i. The following original hymns by Dr. Palmer are also in common use:—
1. O Rock of Ages, since on Thee. Faith. From his Poetical Works, 1876, p. 27, where it is dated 1869. Bp. Bickersteth says "This hymn"... is "worthy of Luther." (Note Hymnal Companion, ed. 1876.)
2. Thy holy will, my God, be mine. Resignation. From his Hymns of my Holy Hours, &c, 1868, p. 47. Also in his P. Works, 1876, dated 1867.
3. We praise Thee, Saviour, for Thy grace. Holy Communion. From his Hymns and Sacred Pieces, &c, 1865. Also in P. Works, 1876, dated 1864.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907)
Ray Palmer was born at Little Compton, Rhode Island, in 1808. He studied at Phillip's Academy, Andover, Mass., and graduated at Yale College in 1830. In 1835, he was ordained pastor of a Congregational Society in Bath, Maine, from which he removed, in 1850, to the pastorate of a Congregational Society in Albany, N.Y. He has published many hymns, some of his own authorship, and some translations. He has published some sermons and reviews.
--Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A. 1872.