Born February 22, 1805 in the United Kingdom, Sarah Fuller Flower Adams only lived to be 43 years old. Despite passing away on August 21, 1848 from tuberculosis, she was able to make a lasting impression on the world of poetry, although her name is not one that is well known.
Sarah’s most popular work is the 1841 immortal hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee”, thought to be loosely based on Genesis 28:11–19, the story of Jacob’s dream. This hymn is said to have been sung by the passengers and crew of the SS Valencia as it was sinking off the coast of Canada in 1905. It is also strongly believed to have been played by the band aboard the RMS Titanic as it sank. Additionally, historians believe that the hymn’s title were the last words whispered by President William McKinley on his deathbed. It was played at his memorial service, as well as that of President James Garfield and Gerald Ford. “Nearer, My God, To Thee” was also frequently played at 19th century funerals.
In 1841, she also published “Vivia Perpetua”, which was broke down into 5 acts and revolved around the martyrs involved in the clash between heathenism and Christianity. During the same year, she contributed 12 hymns to Hymns and Anthems at the request of her Unitarian minister, Rev. William Johnson Fox. This is where “Nearer, My God, To Thee” was first published. In 1845, she published a catechism and hymns specifically for children, known as “The Flock at the Fountain.”
Education and Life
Although it is believed that Sarah was very well educated due to the fact she was born into an affluent, though somewhat unconventional family, exactly where she received her education is not documented. It is generally thought that her father, Benjamin Flower, a printer who also owned the radical paper, The Cambridge Intelligencer, in which he openly criticized the English government provided most of her education. Considered a gifted writer, she was contributor for The Monthly Repository, along with her close friend Robert Browning.
Married to civil engineer and inventor John Brydges Adams (occasionally referred to as William Bridges Adams) in 1834, Sarah never had children, likely due to her health.
While Sarah did enjoy writing, acting was her true first love. In fact, she was considered a wonderful stage actor, particularly for her performance as Lady MacBeth in a London theater in 1837. Unfortunately, she had also been a bit sickly and her health would not allow her to continue this career path and she eventually went back to writing. It was during this second foray into writing that she wrote the hymns and poems she is best known for.
Why Sarah Fuller Flower Adams is a Significant Poet?
Without any doubt, “Nearer, My God, To Thee” is her most noteworthy work and what makes her a significant poet. Unfortunately for Sarah, most people are unaware that she wrote it. It’s simply one of those hymns you know, but have no clue who wrote it.
Despite her relatively short career as a poet, Sarah Fuller Flower Adams made a substantial impact on the world. "Nearer, My God, To Thee" is still one of the most beloved hymns within the religious community and appears in song books of almost every denomination.