Keeping the Hymns Close By

Softly and Tenderly

AAuthor & Composer – Will L. Thompson, 1847 – 1909

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul: Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Mark 8:36,37

Will Lamartine Thompson was born on November 7, 1847 in East Liverpool, Ohio. Will attended Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio and the Boston Conservatory of Music before continuing his musical studies in Leipzig, Germany. His chief ambition was to write music for the people and he started by writing secular and patriotic songs. When he traveled to Cleveland to sell his music manuscripts, he was offered only twenty-five dollar. Feeling slighted, Will rolled up his music, returned to East Liverpool, and prayed about what to do next.

When his father sent him to New York on business, Will took his songs to a printer, intent on publishing and selling them himself. Several of his songs became hits and he became a millionaire.

The young man credited the Lord with his success, and wanting to return thanks, he dedicated himself to writing Christian songs–and Christian songs only. He formed his own enterprise, Will L. Thompson & Company with offices in East Liverpool and Chicago. By the 1880s his company expanded beyond publishing music and sold pianos, organs and other instruments and supplies.

In 1880, this hymn “Softly and Tenderly” appeared in a book entitled Sparkling Gems, Nos 1 and 2 Combined, published by Thompson and CO.

Despite his success and wealth, Will was known as a simple and sincere man, He felt concerned that while famous musicians traveled to the great cities to perform before large crowds, people in the rural areas and small towns seldom had anyone to come and minister to them in like fashion. So he loaded an upright piano on his two-horse wagon and drove into the country to sing and play his own songs in small churches throughout the Midwest.

This hymn was one of D.L. Moody’s favorites. In the late 1890s, Will paid a visit to D.L. Moody who was very ill and near death. Moody told him, “Will, I would rather have written “Softly and Tenderly” than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.” This hymn was widely used as an invitation hymn in the evangelistic meetings conducted by Moody and Ira Sankey throughout Great Britain and this country.

Other hymns written by Will Thompson include “Jesus Is All The World To Me, “Lead Me Gently Home, Father” and “There’s A Great Day Coming.”

Taken from 101 More Hymn Stories Copyright © 1985, 2013 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Taken from Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan Copyright © 2003 Robert J. Morgan. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson

Will L. Thompson