John Speller's Web Pages Assist me, muse divine, to sing the morn

John Speller's Web Pages - Early American Church Music (before 1850)
Assist me, muse divine, to sing the morn Early American Horizontal
This text is noteworthy for having been George Washington's favorite Christmas hymn -- at least he copied down the first ten lines in his diary in 1745 when he was 13 years old. It is often ascribed to the Rev. James Marye (1692-1768), an Episcopal Priest in Maryland, who does indeed seem to used it as a Christmas Hymn in St. George's Parish in Fredericksburg, Maryland, where he was Rector. It was in fact written by Elizabeth Teft (b.1723), and first appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 13 (February 1743), p. 96. Ms Teft contributed a number of poems to The Gentleman's Magazine in the early 1740s under the pseudonym of "Orinthia" and also published a book of poems entitled Orinthia's Miscellanies, or, A Compleat Collection of Poems (1747). Not much is known about her. In one of her poems she wrote,

"Was Nature angry when she formed my clay?
Or, urged by haste to finish, could not stay?
Or, dressed with all her store some perfect she,
So lavish there, she'd none to spare for me?"

From which we may perhaps surmise that she was not among the most attractive of her sex. In other poems she poured scorn on those who would deny women a good education, and it is also clear from them that she was a loyal and pious member of the Established Church. The church records show that she was baptized at St. Mary Magdalene, Rothwell, Lincolnshire, on 27 October 1723, the daughter of Joshua and Eliza Teft. Her sister, Susannah Teft, was baptized the same day, so they were presumably twins. Joshua Teft had previously married Elizabeth Jolland at St. Martin's, Lincoln, on 13 June 1717. Elizabeth Teft is not heard of again after the publication of her Orinthia's Miscellanies in 1747.

I have amended the text in a few places, principally in the fourth stanza to avoid a phrase that might be misconstrued as Docetic.

I have set Ms. Teft's text to the well-known tune "Yorkshire," composed by her exact contemporary, John Wainwright, who was organist of the Collegiate Church in Manchester, now the Cathedral.

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In an idyllic setting, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Rothwell, Lincolnshire, where Elizabeth and Susannah Teft were baptized in 1723, has an Anglo-Saxon tower and Norman north and south arcades. According to the 1821 Census the village of Rothwell had a mere 197 inhabitants. Image copyright Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
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