Sweet By-and-By

Words by S. Fillmore Bennett Music by Joseph P. Webster

"There's a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar.”

Mr. Bennett, the author of this world-famed hymn, has this to say about its origin:

“In 1861 I became a resident of the village of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, the home of the composer, J. P. Webster; and shortly after became associated with him in the production of sheet music (songs) and other musical works. In the summer or fall of the year 1867 we commenced work on ' The Signet Ring.' One of the songs written for that book was ' Sweet Byand-By. ”Mr. Webster, like many musicians, was of an exceedingly nervous and sensitive nature, and subject to periods of depression, in which he looked upon the dark side of all things in life. I had learned his peculiarities so well that on meeting him I could tell at a glance if he was in one of his melancholy moods, and I found that I could rouse him from them by giving him a new song or hymn to work on. On such an occasion he came into my place of business, walked down to the stove, and turned his back to me without speaking. I was at my desk writing. Presently I said:

“'Webster, what is the matter now?'
“'It is no matter,' he replied;' it will be all right by and by!'
“The idea of the hymn came to me like a flash of sunlight, and I replied:' The sweet by and by! Would that not make a good hymn?'
“'Maybe it would,' said he indifferently.

“Turning to the desk I penned the three verses and the chorus as fast as I could write. In the meantime two friends, Mr. N. H. Carswell and Mr. S. E. Bright, had come in. I handed the hymn to Mr. Webster. As he read it his eye kindled, and his whole demeanor changed. Stepping to the desk, he began writing the notes in a moment. Presently he requested Mr. Bright to hand him his violin, and then he played the melody. In a few moments more he had the notes for the four parts of the chorus jotted down. I think it was not over thirty minutes from the time I took my pen to write the words before the two gentlemen, Mr. Webster and I were singing the hymn in the same form in which it afterward appeared in 'The Signet Ring.' While singing it Mr. R. R. Crosby came in. After listening awhile, with tears in his eyes, he uttered the prediction: ' That hymn is immortal.' I think it was used in public shortly after, for within two weeks children on the streets were singing it."

“Next year the publishers of ' The Signet Ring' heralded its advent by distributing a large number of circulars upon which selections from the work were printed, among them ' Sweet By-and-By.' These circulars first brought the hymn to the notice of the public, and created the principal demand for the book. Toward the close of that year the hymn was published in sheet-music form. It is now in numerous collections of vocal music in America, and, as a newspaper account says, ' It is translated into various foreign languages and sung in every land under the sun.'

“Webster, Crosby and Carswell are dead. S. E. Bright, of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and myself are the only remaining living witnesses to the birth of ' Sweet By-and-By.'"