William Walford was blind, but this did not make him worthless. On the contrary, as he sat by the fire in his English home in the mid-nineteenth century, his hands kept busy, whittling out useful objects, such as shoehorns. His mind was active, too.
Called on to preach from time to time in a rural English church, he composed sermons in his head to deliver on Sundays. He memorized a huge amount of the Bible which he quoted verbatim in his sermons. Some of his folk thought he had memorized the entire Scripture, cover to cover. William also composed lines of verse. And he prayed.
Thomas Salmon, a New York native, spent some time in Coleshill, Warwickshire, England, where he became acquainted with William. He tells this tale of what happened one day, while he was visiting the blind pastor:
"...He repeated two or three pieces which he had composed, and having no friend at home to commit them to paper, he had laid them up in the storehouse within. "How will this do?" asked he, as he repeated the following lines, with a complacent smile touched with some light lines of fear lest he subject himself to criticism. I rapidly copied the lines with my pencil, as he uttered them, and sent them for insertion in the Observer, if you should think them worthy of preservation."
The Observer did consider them worth preserving, and they were published on this day, September 13, 1845, becoming a beloved hymn.
Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father's throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter's snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!
Beyond the fact that he was blind and the few details recorded by Thomas Salmon, we know little of William Walford. But his hymn has touched hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides of the Atlantic, expressing the genuine joy he found in prayer.
- Brown, Theron and Butterworth, Hezekiah. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: George H. Doran, 1905.
- "Sweet Hour of Prayer." http://www.cyberhymnal.org
- Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.
Last updated September, 2011