Midlane, Albert (DNB12)

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MIDLANE, ALBERT (1825–1909), hymn writer, born at Newport, Isle of Wight, on 23 Jan. 1825, was the posthumous child and youngest of the large family of James Midlane (d. Oct. 1824) by his wife Frances Lawes, a member of the congregational church then under Thomas Binney [q. v.]. Midlane, after an ordinary education, was employed for some three years in a local printing office, then became an ironmonger's assistant, and ultimately was in business for himself as tinsmith and ironmonger. His religious training was in the congregational church and its Sunday school, in which he became a teacher; he states that instead of listening to sermons he studied the hymn-book subsequently he joined the Plymouth brethren. Prompted by his Sunday-school teacher, he began to write verse as a child, contributing to magazines as 'Little Albert.' His first printed hymn, written in September 1842, appeared in the 'Youth a Magazine,' Nov. 1842. The hymn which came first into use ('God bless our Sunday Schools,' to the tune of the National Anthem) was written in 1844. The hymn on which his fame rests ('There's a Friend for little children ') was composed on 7 Feb. 1859; it has been translated into a dozen languages, including Chinese and Japanese; it was included in the supplement to 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' (1868), when Sir John Stainer wrote the tune 'In Memoriam' for it. Midlane's output of hymns was amazing; in one year he wrote about 400, chiefly for American newspapers; Julian (July 1907) credits him with having produced over 800 hymns, of which 83 had been introduced into widely used hymnals. Many were published in magazines and in very numerous tiny collections; for the year 1908 he wrote that he counted 'just upon 200 published compositions, which is about the annual average.' This, however, included verses on national and local topics in the 'Isle of Wight County Press' and other periodicals, and historical prose. For some time he edited a local magazine, 'Island Greetings.' He made nothing by his pen, and having become guarantor for a friend he was reduced to bankruptcy. His friends throughout the country, in conjunction with the Sunday School Union, raised a sum which enabled the bankruptcy to be annulled and provided an annuity for Midlane and his wife. He was a man of wide sympathies; his hymns, with little claim to genius, are marked by a winsome religious emotion, and a passionate love of children. He died at Forest Villa, South Mall, Newport, I.W., on 27 Feb. 1909, as the result of an apoplectic seizure, and was buried in Carisbrooke cemetery. He married Miriam Granger, who survived him with two sons and one daughter.

The following works are believed to contain most of his hymns: 1. 'Poetry addressed to Sabbath School Teachers,' 1844, 12mo. 2. 'Vecta Garland,' 1860, 12mo. 3. 'Leaves from Olivet,' 1864, 12mo. 4. 'Gospel Echoes,' 1865, 16mo. 5. 'Above the Bright Blue Sky,' 1867, 16mo; 1889, 24mo. 6. 'Early Lispings,' 1880, 16mo. 7. 'God's Treasures,' 1890, 16mo. 8. 'The Bright Blue Sky Hymn Book,' 1904, 12mo (315 hymns): 1909, 12mo (323 hymns; portrait). 9. 'The Gospel Hall Hymn Book,' 1904. 12mo (218 hymns additional to those in No. 8. 1904). 10. 'A Colloquy between the Gallows and the Hangman' 1851 (verse). 11. 'Chronological Table of Events . . . Carisbrooke Castle,' Newport, LW., 1877, 12mo.

[The Times. 1 March 1909; Isle of Wight County Press, 6 March 1900; Miller's Singers and Songs, 1869, p. 572; Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, 1907, pp. 733 sq., 1672; private information.]

A. G.