Strains Which Will Not Soon Be Allowed to Die . . .: "The Stranger" and Carthage Jail
Four years after his death, James Montgomery (1771–1854), beloved as "The Christian Poet" of the nineteenth century, was celebrated in a leading Methodist journal: His poetry has stood the test of searching criticism, and he has left some strains which will not soon be allowed to die in silence. Montgomery himself had been more sober-minded and pragmatic in estimating the worth of his own verse. When asked by attorney which of his poems would survive, he replied, "None, sir," then added, "unless it be a few of my hymns." It would have certainly surprised this Moravian bard to see the fate of one of his more obscure devotional poems, one he probably never meant to be sung. His small work beginning "A poor wayfaring man of grief . . " travelled to America, was set to a Methodist Episcopal tune, altered in the frontier folk hymn tradition, and finally immortalized by its performance at the Carthage, Illionois, jail. Because of the events surrounding that performance, Latter-day Saints will doubtless preserve and enshrine this poem in song long after Montgomery's other works have faded.