The lyric to “I Love to Tell the Story,” a much beloved hymn, was derived from a poem written by an Englishwoman named Arabella Katherine Hankey in 1866, when she was convalescing from an illness at the age of 32. The full poem has 100 verses, and is divided into two parts, “The Story Wanted” and “The Story Told.” In the first part someone “weak and weary” is pleading to hear the “old, old story” of Jesus. In the second part, another voice tells the story, beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve and then jumping quickly to Bethlehem. Both parts inspired hymns; the first inspired “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” with a tune by Willam Howard Doane. Both are beautiful and have been popular for around 150 years now, but I suspect the second one, “I Love to Tell the Story,” with a tune by William G. Fischer, is somewhat better-known and loved at this stage. Instead of a tone of pleading, it offers one of uplift, which we all can do with, and the soft and subtly-mournful melody is a counterpoint which ensures that the song evades any hint of smugness.
Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded both songs, and so currently affords an easy side-by-side comparison via YouTube at these links: “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” and “I Love to Tell the Story.” [Read more →]