Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven


THE words of this popular hymn were written by an Anglican clergyman, Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). He is best known for Abide With Me, which I will cover in a later post, but I can’t miss it out of this one.

Born in Scotland, Henry was the second of three sons of Thomas and Anna Maria Lyte. The father deserted the family shortly after making arrangements for his two eldest sons to attend Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. His wife moved to London, where both she and her youngest son died.

The headmaster at Portora, Dr Robert Burrowes, recognised Henry’s ability, paid the boy’s fees, and treated him as an adopted son.

Lyte took Anglican holy orders in 1815 though he had little sense of vocation. However the following year he experienced a religious conversion, and started preaching in an energetic way.

In 1817, when he was 24, he became curate of the parish of Marazion in Cornwall. There he met Anna Maxwell, who was seven years older than him. They married and had five children.

The family moved around to various parishes, arriving in Lower Brixham, Devon in 1824. Lyte established the first Sunday school in the area and created a Sailors’ Sunday school. The primary object of both was educating children and seamen for whom other schooling was virtually impossible. Each year Lyte organised an Annual Treat for 800 to 1,000 Sunday school children, which included a short religious service followed by tea and sports in the field. Soon he was attracting such large crowds that the church had to be enlarged.

Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven was published in 1834 in a small collection of psalms and hymns entitled The Spirit of the Psalms.

It is based on the beautiful Psalm 103:

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;

18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

19 The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.

20 Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.

21 Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.

22. Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul. (King James Bible)

The words of the hymn are:

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore his praises sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Praise him for his grace and favour
to our fathers in distress;
praise him still the same for ever,
slow to chide and swift to bless:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Glorious in his faithfulness.

Father-like, he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows;
in his hand he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Widely yet his mercy flows.

Angels, help us to adore him;
ye behold him face to face;
sun and moon, bow down before him,
dwellers all in time and space.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.

The melody most often used is Lauda Anima (‘Praise, my Soul’) composed in 1869 by John Goss (1800-1880). He was the organist at St Paul’s Cathedral where he engaged in a lengthy battle to raise musical standards. The canon of St Paul’s, Sydney Smith, told him: ‘It is enough if our music is decent. We are there to pray, and the singing is a very subordinate consideration.’

Goss had to contend with tenors and basses who had lifetime security of tenure and were uninterested in learning new music, and frequent absenteeism by the junior clergy, neglecting their duties and failing to conduct services.

At the same time Goss was professor of harmony at the Royal Academy of Music, and among his pupils were Arthur Sullivan and Frederick Bridge.

He composed many lovely vocal pieces, including O Saviour of the World, given here by the choir of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury.

He also wrote the melody for See Amid the Winter’s Snow, which I wrote about here.

He was knighted on his retirement. His funeral in 1880 was at St Paul’s, when his anthem If We Believe was sung. Appropriately this performance is by the choir of St Paul’s.

Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven was chosen as the processional hymn at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) and the Duke of Edinburgh on November 20, 1947. The ceremony was broadcast on the radio but not filmed, so the pictures on this contemporary film are of the interior of Westminster Abbey.

It was also sung at the blessing of the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at St George’s Chapel Windsor in 2005.

Here is a large-scale performance from California.

Here is a very small-scale performance.

And here is the best of the lot: an arrangement by brass band player Andi Cook for his wedding in 2013 and performed by an all-star line-up of the couple’s friends from all the top bands. It is sensational.

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