Born: November 26, 1814, Leadenhall Street, London, England.
Died: March 10, 1879.
Buried: Abney Park Cemetery, London, England.
[Born] of poor parents, his education was of the scantiest. Although apprenticed to a shoemaker at an early age, the elements of the trade were not taught him, and through ill health and neglect, at the completion of his apprenticeship, he was unable entirely to earn his own living.
During his rambles, he occasionally solaced himself with the purchase of old hymnbooks, and in the study and comparison of these he began to find his chief delight.
He joined himself to the strict Baptist congregation, worshipping in Providence Chapel, Grosvenor Street, Commercial Road, in 1839, having married a wife of his own humble station and education.
At the age of 23 he began to dabble in the secondhand book trade, and gradually worked up a connection.
About 1840 he taught himself writing by copying printed letters, and acquired a singularly neat and clear hand. Hymnbooks were then a drug in the market, and he gradually acquired a noble Collection.
About 1852 he began the issue of reprints of the rarer hymn-writers of the 17th and 18th cents., and in his Library of Spiritual Song he republished the hymns of William Williams, John Mason, Thomas Shepherd, Robert Seagrave, Joseph Grigg, Anne Steele, John Ryland, John Stocker, James Grant, Thomas Olivers, Bishop Ken, and others.
This series brought him into communication with many clergy, and with ministers of all denominations, and the humble bookseller of 81 Sun Street, Bishopsgate, would there receive men of high station and culture and teach them the rudiments of the then infant science of English Hymnology.
It was, however, on the publication of Sir Roundell Palmer’s (Lord Selbourne’s) Book of Praise, in 1862, that Sedgwick took his place as the foremost living English hymnologist.
With all his dogmatic ignorance and want of power to balance evidence, his industry and perseverance in following up clues in every direction, led to the formation of an invaluable library, and to a unique correspondence. In the purchase, sale, and exportation of duplicates, and in assisting hymn-compilers in tracing dates, authors and copyrights, he passed, from 1862 till his death in 1879, the happiest years of his life
He was consulted by men of all shades and opinions, and Hymns Ancient and Modern owed, from its earliest days, something to his assistance. He was consulted at every step by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon for his Our Own Hymnbook (1866); and in Josiah Miller’s Singers and Songs of the Church every article had the benefit of his knowledge and revision; in fact the practised expert can detect in that work baseless suggestions and erroneous conclusions, which arose out of Mr. Miller’s too close adherence to his guide.
Sedgwick’s health began to fail rapidly in 1879, and exhausting and severe spasms of heart disease followed to his death. On Sunday, March 9th, he asked in the afternoon for Cennick’s Thou dear Redeemer, dying Lamb, to be sung to him…It was in the very early hours of the following morning that, with the words
Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, on his lips, he fell asleep; and on the 15th March, 1879, he was buried at Abney Park cemetery.
He may well be called the father of English Hymnology; and it is to be specially remembered, to his honour, that, with all drawbacks of education, temperament, and narrow theological prepossessions, he, by the Collection and comparison of hymns and hymnological literature, and by careful annotation, made it possible for others to reap a rich harvest, by bringing their education, critical acumen, wide sympathies, and accurate knowledge of Biblical, classical, ecclesiastical, and historical subjects to bear upon the stores of hymnological wealth which he had accumulated, but which, to a very great extent, he could not use.
Julian, pp. 1037–38