Brown, Phoebe, née Hinsdale. A member of the Congregational body, born at Canaan, Columbia County, New York, May 1, 1783, she was left an orphan when two years old. At nine she fell into the hands of a relative who kept a county gaol. These, says her son, "were years of intense and cruel suffering. The tale of her early life which she has left her children is a narrative of such deprivations, cruel treatment, and toil, as it breaks my heart to read." Escaping from this bondage at 18, she was sought by kind people, and sent for three months to a common school at Claverack, N.Y., where she learned to write, and made profession of faith in Christ. In 1805 she was married to Timothy H. Brown, a painter, and subsequently lived at East Windsor a… Go to person page >
I love to steal awhile away. Retirement.
[This] was written in 1818, and few hymns have a more pathetic history. It is this:—
Mrs. Brown was living at Ellington with "four little children, in a small unfinished house, a sick sister in the only finished room, and not a place above or below where I could retire for devotion." Not far off stood the finest house in the neighbourhood, with a large garden. To-wards this the poor woman used to bend her steps at dusk, loving, as she writes, “to smell the fragrance of fruits and flowers, though I could not see them," and commune with Nature and God. This she did, never dreaming that she was intruding, her habits watched, or her motives misconstrued, till one day the lady of the mansion turned rudely upon her with "Mrs. Brown, why do you come up at evening so near our house, and then go back without coming in? If you want anything, why don't you come in and ask for it?" Mrs. B. adds, "There was something in her manner more than her words, that grieved me. I went home, and that evening was left alone. After my children were all in bed, except my baby, I sat down in the kitchen with my child in my arms, when the grief of my heart burst forth in a flood of tears. I took pen and paper, and gave vent to my oppressed heart."
The Poem then written is headed "An Apology for my Twilight Rambles, addressed to a Lady, Aug. 1818.” The original has nine stanzas, the second beginning “I love to steal awhile away.” Years after, when Nettleton was seeking original matter for his Village Hymns (1824), this piece was abridged and altered into the present familiar form, either by Mrs. Brown herself, her pastor (Mr. Hyde), or Nettleton. Its popularity was great from the first. In 1853 it was included in the Leeds Hymn Book, and thus became known to English collections. It is found in Lyra Sacra Americana, p. 29.