What do eighteenth-century hymns have to offer worshippers today?
Andrea Tisher offers fresh musical settings of some of Anne Steele's hymns in order to present them again to the worshipping church. Anne Steele's texts express both deep faith and honesty. She conveys the human experience of simultaneous belief and uncertainty, reminding us of the common experience of Christians throughout the centuries.
Anne Steele was born in 1717 in Hampshire into a wealthy merchant family. Her father was a Baptist minister and timber merchant. Her mother died when Anne was three, and it is likely that she died giving birth to Anne's only brother, who died shortly thereafter. Her father remarried and she grew up with her older brother, a step-mother and step-sister. It appears from letters and diaries that this blended family was close and affectionate. Anne also enjoyed significant relationships with extended family and with various prominent Baptist figures. She experienced much loss in her life, from the early loss of her mother and brother, to members of her extended family and step-mother, and later, her father. Anne also suffered with poor health and thus experienced many occasions of being confined to her home or even to her room. In a time when the lives of women were mostly confined to the home, she dealt with the added limitation of poor health.
In 1760, Anne Steele published a two-volume work entitled Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, by Theodosia. Then, two years following her death, in 1780, it was republished with a third volume. In the second publishing, she identified herself as "Theodosia." In 1787, John Rippon published A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors in which there are 588 hymns: thirty-nine of the chosen hymns were by Isaac Watts and fifty-three by Anne Steele. In 1804, a Boston publisher released her previously published work in a two-volume set. Her popularity in England and the United States continued into the late nineteenth century. During the next several decades, her hymns were to wane in popularity. In modern hymnals, it is difficult to find Steele's hymns, with the exception of Father of Mercies In Thy Word and Father, Whate'er of Earthly Bliss.