Newton, John, who was born in London, July 24, 1725, and died there Dec. 21, 1807, occupied an unique position among the founders of the Evangelical School, due as much to the romance of his young life and the striking history of his conversion, as to his force of character. His mother, a pious Dissenter, stored his childish mind with Scripture, but died when he was seven years old. At the age of eleven, after two years' schooling, during which he learned the rudiments of Latin, he went to sea with his father. His life at sea teems with wonderful escapes, vivid dreams, and sailor recklessness. He grew into an abandoned and godless sailor. The religious fits of his boyhood changed into settled infidelity, through the study of Shaftesbury and… Go to person page >
My harp untuned, and laid aside. J. Newton. [Hoping for a Revival.] Appeared in the Olney Hymns, 1779, Book ii.,No. 52, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines, and headed, "Hoping for a Revival." From it the hymn "While I to it my soul gave way," sometimes "While to its grief my soul gave way," beginning with stanza iv., is taken. In the Preface to the Olney Hymns Newton says: "My grief and disappointment [at the downfall of Cowper's health and mind] were great; I hung my harp upon the willows, and for some time thought myself determined to proceed [with hymn-writing] no farther without him. Yet my mind was afterwards led to resume the service." On comparing this extract with this hymn it seems very probable that this was his first effort after resuming his sometime abandoned work.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907)