Hymn #131: It Came upon the Midnight Clear

            Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876) is now remembered for this hymn alone, published in the Christian Register (1850) in Boston.  It was one of the earliest hymns in the United States to stress the social justice aspects of the Christian message.

            Edmund H. Sears was born April 6, 1810, at Sandisfield, Massachusetts.  In 1839 he was ordained in the Unitarian Church, although he continued to preach Christ throughout his ministry in the Boston area.  This Christian commitment was reflected in his hymns and writings.  He died on January 16, 1876.

            Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900) composer of the tune CAROL, adapted it from and earlier melody for another familiar Christmas text.  The tune received widespread acceptance when published in various editions in the United States as the setting for Sears’s text “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.”

            Richard S. Willis graduated from Yale University and studied music with Mendelssohn in Germany.  He subsequently became a journalist, serving as music critic for the New York Tribune and other newspapers.  Willis arranged a number of chorales and psalm tunes and wrote original compositions.