Away in a manger, no crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay
The cattle are lowing the baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus look down from the sky
And stay by my side, 'til morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me I pray
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
Scripture reference: Luke 2:7
Although this children’s song often carries the appellation “Luther’s Carol” one thing we can be certain of; Martin Luther had nothing to do with it. Indeed, the cloying sentimentality of the words places them strictly in the late Victorian era. After all, the adjective “sweet” to describe the head of the baby could only come from then and the conceit that a baby was so “good” he would not cry hardly belongs to the earthy Martin Luther. It is possible that they were written for the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth in 1883.
The words of the first two stanzas originally appeared in a Little children's book: for schools and families. By authority of the general council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (Philadelphia, J. C. File, 421 Market Street, 1885). They were not among the other Christmas carols, but as a "Nursery" hymn, the very last item in the volume. The date of copyright is June 16, 1885, but the preface is dated "Christmas 1884". They next appeared in Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses by James R Murray (Cincinnati, Ohio: The John Church Co., 1887). Murray gave the song the heading “Luther’s Cradle Hymn”.
Despite extensive research, no-one has been able to find the author of the hymn. The German version did not appear until 1934 and is clearly a translation from the English. All we can say that is that it a late Victorian song, probably written by someone within the American Lutheran tradition.
The author of the third stanza is not much clearer. A collection published by Charles H Gabriel in 1892, called Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs gives the third stanza for the first time. Bishop William F. Anderson says John Thomas McFarland wrote it sometime between 1904-08, while the Bishop was Secretary of the Board of Education. Obviously, the dates are too far off to accept the story at its face value, particularly since McFarland's claim comes second-hand. The circumstances as related by Bishop Anderson permit the interpretation that the Bishop merely thought McFarland had just written the stanza for his use, whereas actually he had written it much earlier for another occasion. Or McFarland may have simply copied it for the Bishop from some source known to him, and the Bishop deduced his authorship from the fact that the copy was in McFarland's hand. In either case, the 1892 publication renders the Bishop's story suspect, and additional evidence must be found before McFarland can be safely credited with the writing of the third stanza.
McFarland was educated at Simpson College, Iowa Wesleyan University, and the Boston University School of Theology. He pastored in Iowa, Illinois, Rhode Island, New York, and Kansas. He also served as Secretary of the Board of Sunday Schools in New York City, secretary of the Sunday School Union, and editor of Sunday school materials for the Methodist Episcopal Church.
According to Richard Hill in an article from December 1945 the carol has been published in 41 different settings. In America, the song is usually sung to the tune “Mueller”. Who was Mueller? From 1921 to 1945 among the collections in which “Away in a Manger” appears, fifteen have come out for Martin Luther as the composer of this particular melody and fifteen for Carl Mueller. Several collections in the early twenties give no composer at all, and after 1934 a trend developed to pass off the problem entirely by giving the origin of the tune simply as "German" or "Traditional." Carl Mueller in German is about the same as John Smith in English, and no particular Carl Mueller has been discovered to accept the attribution. On the other hand the tune first appeared in 1887 in James R Murray’s publication and two years later, the tune is credited to JRM.
Murray is at least known to have been a musician. From 1856-1859, Murray studied at the Musical Institute in North Reading, Massachusetts, under Lowell Mason, George Root, William Bradbury, and George Webb. In 1862, in the midst of the American civil war, Murray enlisted as an Army musician. His first song, “Daisy Deane,” was composed in a Virginia camp in 1863. After the war, he returned home to teach piano, but soon joined the Root & Cady publishing house in Chicago, Illinois, as editor of The Song Messenger. He stayed with Root & Cady until the great Chicago fire of 1871, when he returned to Andover and resumed work as a music teacher. In 1881, Murray moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work for the John Church Company, editing The Musical Visitor, and taking charge of the publishing department. Under the circumstances, there would seem to be no reasonable grounds on which Murray's claim to having composed the setting can be denied.
In the UK the song is sung to an entirely different tune known as “Cradle Song”.
The tune “Cradle Song” was composed for the hymn by W. J. Kirkpatrick On October 2, 1895, William J. Kirkpatrick sent in proof sheets of seven songs, either by himself or his chief collaborator, John R. Sweney. On Dec. 9, 1895, Cranston & Curts registered a small pamphlet containing these seven songs, plus some additional material. The title of the pamphlet was: Around the world with Christmas. A Christmas exercise. Words arranged by E. E. Hewitt. Music by John R. Sweney and Wm, Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis: Cranston & Curls; New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco: Hunt & Eaton. The service is made up of the usual mixture of recitations and vocal numbers, the latter ranging from "The Doxology" to a song by George F. Root. Halfway through, the service begins to justify its title by introducing numbers depicting "Christmas in England," "The Land o' Cakes" [Scotland], "The German Fatherland," "Denmark," "Austria," and lastly a carol, "All over the world". "Luther's Cradle Hymn," music by Kirkpatrick, is used to exemplify "The German Fatherland”. It is notable that the third stanza is included (10 years before McParland is supposed to have written it!) Note the inclusion once more of the third stanza. Although Kirkpatrick was not misled into thinking that Murray’s setting went back to Luther, he apparently believed that the poem was typical of Germany – sufficiently typical to make the Germans forget that the music was written for the occasion by Kirkpatrick himself. This is just another of the absurd contradictions that everyone seems to have peacefully accepted.
Kirkpatrick (1838-1921) was a prodigious hymn writer. Most of the sources say that he was a native of Pennsylvania, although David J. Beattie maintains with considerable assurance in his The romance of sacred song (London and Edinburgh, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd., 1931, p. 184) that he was born in Ireland. At any rate, he was in Pennsylvania by a comparatively early age, and during the Civil War served as a fife major with the 91st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. During the twelve years that followed, according to Beattie, he "was connected with a furniture manufacturing company, but in 1878 he abandoned all commercial pursuits and gave his undivided attention to the writing of sacred music, gradually gaining the ear and admiration of the English-speaking world."
It was Kirkpatrick's setting that first carried the words beyond the confines of the United States, but not to Germany, where it remained virtually unknown. Sankey played a part in carrying his earlier productions to England, and once he was known over here, it is only natural that his setting of the "Cradle Hymn" would reach these shores. His popularity here was further facilitated by his almost unbelievable productivity, which supplied a hymn on almost any conceivable subject. As a rough indication of how many hymns he must have written, his widow, Lizzie E. Sweney Kirkpatrick of Germantown, Pa., renewed the copyright on his setting of "Away in a manger" on Jan. 26, 1923. She assigned the rights of one group of 1049 of his hymns to the Hope Publishing Co., on March 3, 1924, and this was by no means his total output.