Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Swain, Joseph

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SWAIN, JOSEPH (1761–1796), hymn-writer, was born at Birmingham in 1761, and was apprenticed to an engraver of that town at an early age. The latter part of his apprenticeship, however, he served in London with his brother. In 1782 he came under conviction of sin, and on 11 May 1783 was baptised by John Rippon [q. v.] In December 1791 a baptist congregation was formed at Walworth, and Swain, being unanimously chosen pastor, was ordained on 8 Feb. 1792. As a preacher he was extremely acceptable, and his meeting-house was three times enlarged during his ministry. He died on 16 April 1796, leaving a widow and four children, and was buried in Bunhill Fields.

Swain was the author of:

  1. ‘A Collection of Poems on Various Occasions,’ London, 1781, 4to.
  2. ‘Redemption: a poem in five books,’ London, 1789, 8vo.
  3. ‘Experimental Essays,’ London, 1791, 12mo; new edit. with memoir, 1834, 8vo.
  4. ‘Walworth Hymns,’ London, 1792, 16mo; 4th edit. 1810.
  5. ‘Redemption: a poem in eight books’ (a different work from No. 2); 2nd edit. London, 1797, 8vo; 5th edit. Edinburgh, 1822, 12mo.

Many of Swain's ‘Walworth Hymns’ and some of those in his earlier ‘Redemption’ became very popular and are still in common use. The best known are those commencing ‘Brethren, while we sojourn here,’ ‘How sweet, how heavenly is the sight,’ ‘In expectation sweet,’ and ‘O Thou in whose presence my soul takes delight’ (Julian, Dict. of Hymnology).

[Memoir of Swain prefixed to Experimental Essays, 1834; Funeral Sermon by James Upton; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.]

E. I. C.