Like many old hymns, Amazing Grace, perhaps the most popular of them all, has a piecemeal history, and a not altogether clear one. Its words were written by John Newton and first appeared in the 1779 Olney Hymns book. But the author of the last of its seven stanzas, which begins with the words "When we've been there...," is unknown. The melody, popularly thought to be written by James Carrell, appeared in the volume Virginia Harmony (1831) and was used for the song New Britain. But some now attribute an earlier version of the tune to Charles Spilman and Benjamin Shaw, whose music anthology Columbian Harmony was published in 1829. To confuse matters a bit further, the words and tune first appeared together and in the form we know today in 1835, in Southern Harmony by William Walker.
Most people know the tune well, and few cannot help but admire its worshipful yet almost bluesy character, with that soulful three-note turn coming on the last syllable of "amazing." The words are touching and simple throughout, quite perfectly matched to the famous melody. Some religious sects, however, apparently took offense to them, their members unwilling to refer to themselves as a "wretch," and thus did not incorporate the song into their hymnals until the mid-twentieth century. In any event, listeners of all stripes, including non-Christians, generally agree this old hymn is truly a classic.