Sir Francis Drake Didn’t Say It.

Apparently one of those misattributed quotes is going around. In this case, a fairly obvious one.

Sir Francis Drake didn’t come up with the “Disturb us, O Lord” poem. It doesn’t sound Elizabethan in its theology or its scansion or its word choices. It doesn’t appear to have been quoted anywhere until 1961, a fairly unlikely occurrence in a world full of Drake fans. There are longer versions which sound even less Elizabethan. It’s a modern poem, and I seriously doubt it was ever meant to be connected with Drake in any way. (And “wilder seas” is one of those phrases created or much loved by the Victorians.)

In its first detectable appearance, (in The Minister’s Manual, Vol. 37, a sermon helper for the year 1962), the prayer ran “Stir us, O Lord,” and it was apparently written or compiled by a gentleman named M.K.W. Heicher. How it got associated with Drake, I have no idea.

At any rate, it had a vogue in the Anglican Communion during the 80’s, at which point people were misattributing the prayer to the Rev. Desmond Tutu. (But he’s not famous enough for misattribution now, I guess.) Some seem to think Tutu adapted Drake. But if he did use this prayer, he probably got it straight from his 1962 Ministers Manual.

Sigh. This is right up there with the idea that “Dream anyway” was composed by Mother Teresa, or that “Do not stand by the grave and weep” is an ancient Celtic poem.

Here’s an Elizabethan Protestant preacher’s actual style, from his propaganda book written for Drake, The World Encompassed. Take it away, Master Francis Fletcher:

“…. we safely with ioyfull minds and thankfull hearts to God, arrived at Plimoth, the place of our first setting forth, after we had spent 2 yeares 10 moneths and some few odde daies beside, in seeing the wonders of the Lord in the deep, in discouering so many admirable things, in going through with so many strange adventures, in escaping out of so many dangers, and ouercomming so many difficulties in this our encompassing of this neather globe, and passing round about the world, which we haue related.

“Soli rerum maximarum Effectori,
Soli totius mundi Gubernatori,
Soli suorum Conservatori,
Soli Deo sit semper Gloria.”


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4 responses to “Sir Francis Drake Didn’t Say It.

  1. Tina Browne

    M.K.W. Heicher was my Great Grandfather!

  2. Greg Wudrick

    Although “wilder seas” may sound to you like a Victorian era phrase, most of the versions of the poem which I have seen say “wider seas”. Which of these words is correct I do not know.
    “The Ministers Manual” edited by M.K.W. Heicher in which the poem supposedly first appeared is available on Amazon if anyone is interested.
    I see the prices range (and I find this amusing) from $558.82 to $2.95 for the hardcover 1967 edition, in which some say the poem may be found. I know which one I would buy!

  3. Pingback: Disturb us, Lord | prayer & verse

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