“Glory to Thee, my God, this night” was written before 1674 and published, along with its companion Morning and Midnight hymns, in Thomas Ken’s A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College in 1695 when he was prebendary of the cathedral there. The Evening Hymn emphasizes the safety afforded God (“Keep me…Beneath Thine own almighty wings”) and the sacrificial actions of Jesus: “Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son/ The ill that I this day have done.” With its famous verse, the hymn quickly turns its focus from literal sleep to everlasting sleep, and the confidence with which a young boy should face it: “Teach me to live, that I may dread/ The grave as little as my bed/ Teach me to die, that so I may/ Rise glorious at that awful day.” Cyclically, it closes (in the Golden Bells version) with the desire to “serve my God when I awake.” With their themes of a dutiful work-ethic, the constant presence of sin, and ultimate pursuit of heaven, it is no wonder that Ken’s Morning and Evening Hymns continued to attract Victorian editors of children’s hymnbooks. Thomas Tallis’ “Evening Hymn” of 1567 became uniquely associated with Ken’s “Glory to Thee, my God, this night” and is “one of the most famous tunes in general use” (McCutchan 78). In long meter, it is intended to be sung as a canon, one voice beginning the melody and the other parts following. Beyond this, it is a simple “plainsong” melody of quarter notes not moving much within the octave in which it set.
More discussion of this hymn can be found in Chapter 3, British Hymn Books for Children.