Hymn as Literature - Christian Classics Ethereal Library (2024)

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CHAPTER VII
BISHOP HEBER AND THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL

A new period of English hymnody centers around Reginald Heber, who with Watts and Wesley stands in the succession of master writers of hymns. Heber was guided by three ideas in regard to the hymn, none of which was new, yet the union of which was new and highly important. The first idea was that of Bishop Ken and others, and of course the medieval church, that the hymn is liturgical and should follow and adapt itself to the church calendar throughout the year; the second idea was that of Watts, the Wesleys, and the Baptist leaders that the hymn should follow and supplement the sermon; the third idea, so urged by Addison, was that the hymn should be a finished piece of literary art. Heber strove to create and have adopted by the Church of England not a psalm-book, nor a psalm-and-hymn-book, but a hymnal to accompany the Book of Common Prayer as a part of the church service; he strove to create and collect a body of hymns which should be of most practical use to instruct and inspire the people and which at the same time should be poems of high literary excellence.

Reginald Heber was born at Malpas, Cheshire, in 216 1783. His father was a minister of the Church of England, a learned, well-to-do, devout man, a clergyman of the type which all along has carried with zealous good works a certain rich comeliness of life. After a brilliant career at Oxford, Reginald Heber spent fourteen more or less idyllic years at Hodnet as a country squire, a country parson, and a man of letters. During this period, with the advice and contributions of Scott, Milman, and others, he virtually finished his hymn-book. As Bishop of Calcutta he left for India in 1823. He died in India after three years of missionary work in which he combined superbly the good qualities of the modern administrative expert with those of old-time saint. His book, “Hymns Written and Adapted for the Weekly Church Service of the Year,” was never officially adopted, though more than any other book it brought hymn singing into the Established Church. Further than that, it set a new standard for the whole of English hymnody.

And a standard was needed. The opening of the century brought a wide-spread and, as has been said, democratic publication and use of hymns. Books were published not only in London but in Southampton, Manchester, and other towns over England as well as in America. There was a copious output of original hymns by various authors, in addition to collections of old and new hymns made for various chapels, parishes, or individuals. Between 1800 and 1820 there were nearly fifty different 217 hymn-books in use in the Church of England alone; and yet the Church of England was still largely of the mind that hymn singing was a Dissenting innovation; the metrical Psalms were still in use and regarded as standard.

Indeed, during these years the growth of hymnody had been so rapid and strong as to become disquieting to many; earnest efforts were made to limit it by church ordinances. The liberals, however, and the group of religious revivalists that was gathering at Oxford, instead of trying to restrict and curb the hymn, began to improve it and to use it powerfully for their purpose. Reactionary opposition but served to raise more singing; and, further, the wholesome competition for excellence among the singing people contributed to a great advance in English hymnody. In 1827 appeared the great books of Heber and Keble. That of Montgomery had appeared two years before. Besides the vigorous native hymnody, there was coming in also a new wealth of translations.

In the midst of all this development of hymnody, it was Heber’s book that, more than any other, set the standard. Heber maintains a higher literary level than is maintained by any other author of a large number of hymns. He brought some of the strong intellectual and artistic influences of the time into the hymn-book.

Six of Heber’s most famous hymns may be mentioned, each representing a different conception of 218 hymnody and a different manifestation of the religious spirit. Each is a masterpiece of its type. They show the breadth of their author’s understanding and sympathy; they indicate the intensity and depth of his religion. “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning” is a calendar hymn for the feast of the Epiphany, liturgical, glittering, stately; “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” is a call of churchly zeal, personal, evangelical, militant; “By Cool Siloam’s Shady Rill” is an exquisite nature poem as well as an exquisite hymn; “Bread of the World in Mercy Broken” is a quiet communion hymn full of pensive loveliness and warm reality of faith; “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” is a hymn for foreign missions, immediately practical, yet blithely, almost gaily, romantic; “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” is a hymn of grandeur, sonorous, full of the pomp and circ*mstance of awful worship.

The style of the Epiphany hymn suggests the “wealth of orient pearl and gold” as well as the cool and lively freshness of morning:

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining;

Low lies his head with the beast of the stall;

Angels adore him, in slumber reclining,

Maker, and Monarch, and Saviour of all.

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Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,

Odors of Edom and offerings divine?

Gems of the mountain, and pearls of the ocean,

Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation;

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure;

Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;

Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Notice the simplicity and beauty of this poem, its clarity, its strength, and its finish. The style is classical, Grecian. The lyric supports its burden of mood and idea with the lightness, the grace, and the surety of the Corinthian column. But above and beyond mere loveliness and strength of form is the beauty and power of its faith: “Richer by far is the heart’s adoration.”

Notice the difference of movement, of feeling, and of idea in the following lines; the mood is not so much of worship as of energetic and enthusiastic service:

From Greenland’s icy mountains,

From India’s coral strand;

Where Afric’s sunny fountains

Roll down their golden sand;

From many an ancient river,

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From many a palmy plain,

They call us to deliver

Their land from error’s chain.

What though the spicy breezes

Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle,

Though every prospect pleases,

And only man is vile?

In vain with lavish kindness

The gifts of God are strewn;

The heathen in his blindness

Bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we whose souls are lighted

With wisdom from on high,

Shall we to men benighted

The lamp of life deny?

Salvation, O Salvation!

The joyful sound proclaim

Till earth’s remotest nation

Has learned Messiah’s name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, his story,

And you, ye waters, roll,

Till like a sea of glory,

It spreads from pole to pole;

Till o’er our ransomed nature

The lamb for sinners slain,

Redeemer, King, Creator,

In bliss returns to reign.

This hymn was composed by Heber almost impromptu for a particular church service; impromptu, that is, so far as actual composition was 221 concerned. But expressions like this of course do not come out of small experience and thought; behind it rather is a devoted soul, rich experience, deep loyalty to the church and her mission to the world—loyalty that was to bring him to India later to lay down his life.

With a like readiness the musical setting of this hymn was written; and with like quickness its fame began to spread. A woman in Savannah, Georgia, impressed by reading Heber’s hymns, requested a young bank clerk who had gone to Georgia from New England to write a tune for it. This was Lowell Mason, who was to have so large an influence in the music of the hymn-book and therefore in the musical life of Christendom. Lowell Mason’s air and this hymn seem now to be one and inseparable.

“From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” is essentially modern, “evangelical.” Its energy, its experimental eagerness, its ardor for going into new lands, its warm feeling of human kinship, its democratic zeal for world-wide enlightenment and betterment, its air of freedom, its lively faith—all belong to the awakening spirit of the time.

Compare with the foregoing lyrics this rolling hymn of the temple, its grave, rich phrases, its somber tone, its spirit of solemn adoration:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessèd Trinity.

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Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide thee,

Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;

Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,

God in Three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

The lines suggest august cathedral heights and spaces, the spirit of worship described in Milton’s “At a Solemn Music,” or expressed in the Psalm, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates.” Its spirit is that of the Hebrew prophets approaching the Sovereign God, that of the medieval worshiper of dread Deity whom none might approach save through mediation as of Virgin and saints. Yet it is one of the hymns most often sung by the church to-day.

Each of these poems is in its own way a fervent and glowing expression of true religion. Each comes from a spirit broad, tolerant, deep enough to express for high and low and broad and narrow Christians a common faith and aspiration. One hymn embodies august contemplation of eternal verity; another, glad enjoyment of immortal beauty become tangible 223 and visible to man; another, the dynamic impulse of human duty. They are not the work of a versifier aiming to please various tastes; they are the expression, harmonized and confident, of a rich life abundant in its enjoyment of beauty, its perception of truth, its loss of self in joyful service. This early nineteenth-century bishop was moved by zeal like Livingstone’s, and by ardor—less spectacular and less wild—like Byron’s, to go out to a distant people needing help and to give up his life in their behalf. The lyrics of Heber suggest the English “complete gentleman” after the order of Sir Philip Sidney. Thackeray in “The Four Georges” describes Heber:

The charming poet, the happy possessor of all sorts of gifts and accomplishments—birth, wit, fame, high character, competence—he was the beloved priest in his home at Hodnet, counselling the people in their troubles, advising them in their difficulties, kneeling often at their sick beds at the hazard of his own life; where there was strife the peacemaker, when there was want, the free giver.

After Watts, Wesley, and Heber, the next major hymn-writer was a Scotsman of Irish descent, James Montgomery (1771-1845), who edited the “Sheffield Iris,” a paper of revolutionary political tendencies. Montgomery’s life was not calm; on account of his publications he was lodged in jail for three terms of six months each. Happily the last years of his life were more placid; instead of prison sentences and fines he was given a royal pension of two hundred pounds a year.

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There is a new development of the English hymn in the verses of Montgomery. The reader is aware in these hymns of the natural surroundings. He sees English scenes and feels the breezes of the seasons blowing; Montgomery is somewhat more at home on the earth than are Watts and Wesley. He did not believe either that

This world’s a fleeting show

For man’s illusion given,

or that

This world’s a wilderness of woe,

This world is not my home,

as Thomas Moore sang in his “Divine Hymns.” Instead, Montgomery’s hymns contain lines like these:

The forests in their strength rejoice;

Hark on the evening breeze,

As once of old the Lord God’s voice

Is heard among the trees.

His blessings fall in plenteous showers

Upon the lap of earth

That teems with foliage, fruit, and flowers,

And rings with infant mirth.

If God hath made this earth so fair,

Where sin and death abound,

How beautiful beyond compare

Will Paradise be found.

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In the following lines one catches a glimpse of the English country-side on a Sunday morning:

Not by the brazen trumpet’s voice

But the sweet skylark’s early lay,

Our tribes are summoned to rejoice

In God their Saviour on this day.

Not to the battle field we throng,

With deadly steel in murderous hands,

But on the hill of peace the song

Of triumph bursts from all our bands.

“Sunshine” and “air” and “freedom” recur again and again in his hymns. He writes much of happiness of paradise, but fully as much about a happy, truth-seeing, and justly dealing earth. His description of the mission of Christ in the world makes an attractive picture of the future of the human race:

He comes to break oppression,

To set the captive free;

To take away transgression,

And rule in equity.

He comes with succor speedy,

To those who suffer wrong;

To help the poor and needy

And bid the weak be strong.

To give them songs for sighing,

Their darkness turn to light,

Whose souls, condemned and dying,

Were precious in his sight.

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He shall come down like showers

Upon the fruitful earth,

And love, joy, hope, like flowers,

Spring in his path to birth.

Before him on the mountains

Shall peace the herald go—

And righteousness in fountains

From hill to valley flow.

This hymn was written at a time when new impulses of freedom were stirring the world, by a man whose faith in liberty and truth had lodged him time and again behind prison bars, and who no less devotedly than his contemporaries, Shelley, Jefferson, Adams, Burke, Franklin, Washington, and the American “embattled farmers,” was battling to free human life from the tyranny of common ignorance and wrong-headedness as well as from that of stupid and selfish authority. The reflection comes inevitably that if the Christian theory and practice would affect world politics and individual relations as the hymn describes, human beings have been unfortunate in not giving it a better trial, especially since the opposite theory does not seem to work well. It is easy to say now as it was then that these are lines of a simple visionary. His idea, indeed, is cheerful—that there will be a general enlightenment in the world; that people shall know the truth, and the truth shall make them free; that there will be less of the law of the jungle among men; that men shall do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God 227 in truth and might and love. This is the enthusiastic teaching of Montgomery’s hymn. If these verses are simple and commonplace, so is truth simple; and so is the innate hunger of the human heart a commonplace.

Montgomery published in 1853 “Original Hymns,” 355 in number; of these the hymn-book has selected about fifteen, thus ranking him as to number of good hymns next to Wesley and Watts. Some of the individual books with the number chosen from Montgomery’s hymns are as follows:

“The Baptist Hymn Book” 25
“The Common Service Book” 14
“The English Hymnal” 10
“The Hymn and Tune Book” (Unitarian) 10
“Hymns Ancient and Modern” 13
“Hymns of Worship and Service” 14
“The Methodist Hymnal” 19
“The New Hymnal” (Protestant Episcopal) 17
“The Oxford [University] Hymn Book” 6
“The Union Hymnal” (Hebrew) 3
“Hymns of the Living Church” 10

Among his best hymns are “According to Thy Gracious Word”; “Angels from the Realms of Glory”; “Forever with the Lord”; “In the Hour of Trial”; “O, Where Shall Rest be Found?” “Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire.” These are great songs of faith.

In the year of the publication of Heber’s hymn-book appeared another book that was to prove immensely 228 popular and influential. This was John Keble’s “Christian Year.” The book was a lyrical prelude to the Oxford Movement. It quickly attained an enormous popularity; Oxford undergraduates rushed to buy it as did country squires, London society folk, and the reading public throughout the English-speaking world. Keble was called from his obscure country parish to the professorship of poetry at Oxford. At the time of his death in 1866 “The Christian Year” had passed through ninety-six editions; his century esteemed him the greatest of all English religious poets. And although he does not rank in the hymn-book to-day as high as Heber or Montgomery, he is still important and is likely to maintain the hold he now has. His “Voice That Breathed o’er Eden” is probably the most frequently sung of English marriage hymns, and, next to Mrs. Gurney’s “O Perfect Love, All Human Love Transcending,” the best. Keble’s wedding hymn possesses what is a great advantage for a hymn, a poetically attractive first line; Mrs. Gurney’s hymn having an arresting first line, grows up with it, whereas Keble’s hymn somewhat falls away.

Keble is represented in the hymn-books of to-day by an average of about four lyrics. His “Sun of My Soul” is one of the most familiar and most beautiful of the evening hymns. It is another composition in which the hymners have taken a hand at making perfect; but in this case the improvement has been solely that of elimination. With practical unanimity they have chosen six of Keble’s fourteen 229 original stanzas, the third, seventh, eighth, and last three; the result is a brief, systematic, logically progressive, and complete lyric. The original, entitled “Evening,” is the second poem in “The Christian Year”:

’Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze,

Fast fading from our wistful gaze;

Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight

The last faint pulse of quivering light.

In darkness and in weariness

The traveller on his way must press;

No gleam to watch, on tree or tower,

Whiling away the lonesome hour.

Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,

It is not night if Thou be near;

O! may no earth-born cloud arise

To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.

When round Thy wondrous works below

My searching rapturous glance I throw

Tracing Thy wisdom, power, and love,

In earth or sky, in stream or grove;—

Or by the light Thy words disclose,

Watch time’s full river as it flows,

Scanning Thy Gracious Providence

Where not too deep for mortal sense:—

When with dear friends sweet talk I hold,

And all the flowers of life unfold;

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Let not Thy heart within me burn,

Except in all I Thee discern.

When the soft dews of kindly sleep

My wearied eyelids gently steep,

Be my last thought, how sweet to rest

Forever on my Saviour’s breast!

Abide with me from morn till eve,

For without Thee I cannot live!

Abide with me when night is nigh,

For without Thee I dare not die!

Thou framer of the light and dark,

Steer through the tempest Thine own ark!

Amid the howling wintry sea

We are in port if we have Thee.

The rulers of this Christian land,

’Twixt Thee and us ordained to stand,—

Guide Thou their course, O Lord, aright!

Let all do all as in thy sight.

Oh by Thine own sad burthen, borne

So meekly up the hill of scorn,

Teach Thou Thy priests their daily cross,

To bear as Thine, nor count it loss!

If some poor wandering child of Thine

Have spurned to-day the choice divine;

Now Lord, the gracious work begin;

Let him no more lie down in sin!

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Watch by the sick, enrich the poor

With blessings from Thy boundless store!

Be every mourner’s sleep to-night

Like infant’s slumbers, pure and light.

Come now and bless us while we wake,

Ere through the world our course we take;

Till in the ocean of Thy love,

We lose ourselves in Heaven above!

This hymn is such as Wordsworth might have written had he been a country parson; he could not have written a better one. Indeed, Keble’s hymn has probably gone into wider fame and exerted larger power than any single poem of Wordsworth’s. “Sun of My Soul,” for its clear and sweetly flowing lines, for its glow of poetic feeling, for its tense and harmonious expression of the Christian graces of faith, hope, and charity, is likely to live as long as English hymns are sung.

Another great hymnist of his time is Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847), a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and a country rector in Devonshire. In 1834 he published his “Spirit of the Psalms,” paraphrases written somewhat in the spirit of the romantic poets; the book received slight attention compared with that given the books of Montgomery, Heber, and Keble. Yet his fame grew to be as secure as theirs by virtue of a single song, “Abide with Me.” This is one of the most tender, most fervent, and most poetic of hymns.

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Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide,

The darkness deepens—Lord, with me abide!

When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O, abide with me!

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour;

What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

The simplicity and calm of this lyric reminds one again of Wordsworth. It is a great consolation song of Christianity. People in all sorts of trouble have found relief through this song—its soft music, its bloom of poetic beauty, its deep faith in the goodness of God. It is a grand, strong hymn for souls in trouble; it has added serenity and grace to the end 233 of many a day; and it has been a sort of sublime lullaby for many a weary body going into the sleep of death.

Legends have gathered around the great hymns as they have gathered about the lives of certain saints and sages. There seems to be no doubt as to the truth of the romantic account of the writing of Lyte’s famous hymn. In his later years he had written a poem, “Declining Days,” containing these lines:

O thou whose touch can lend

Life to the dead, thy quickening grace supply;

And grant me swan-like, my last breath to spend

In song that may not die.

And it came about that one day after the celebration of holy communion he bade his flock good-by; in the evening from his bed he handed to some one near a paper; a few moments later he was dead. On the paper was found written this song that may not die.

Young John Henry Newman wrote “Lead, Kindly Light” in the midst of great stress and struggle. He was on a ship becalmed for a week in the Straits of Bonifacio, yet in the midst of the fiercest storm. He tells in the “Apologia pro Vita Sua,” Chapter III, of the writing of the hymn. Physically ill, so homesick that he sat on the bedside and wept, he was going through intellectual and spiritual struggle typical of the struggles going on in Europe.

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I had fierce thoughts against the liberals. Great events were happening at home and abroad which brought out into form and passionate expression the various beliefs which had so gradually been winning their way into my mind. Shortly before, there had been a revolution in France. . . . Again, the great Reform Agitation was going on around me as I wrote.

The poem was published in “The British Magazine” in 1834.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on!

The night is dark and I am far from home;

Lead thou me on!

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou

Should’st lead me on;

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

Lead thou me on!

I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,

Pride ruled my will; remember not past years!

So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still

Will lead me on

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone,

And with the morn those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

This is one of the hymns that never needed any kind of revision to fit it for the hymn-book. Three 235 changes have been made, but only in the title: Newman headed the poem first, “Faith—Heavenly Leadings”; next, in “Lyra Apostolica,” “Unto the Godly There Ariseth up a Light in the Darkness”; then, in “Occasional Verses,” 1868, he called it “The Pillar of Cloud.” This is another of the rare songs that are perfect poetry and perfect hymnody. The few “amendments” that have been attempted serve but to show the futility of trying to better it. One of these attempts reads:

So long thy power hath blest me, surely still

’Twill lead me on,

Through dreary hours, through pain and sorrow, till

The night is gone.

This seems to be an effort to compel the hymn to do what Dr. Johnson said hymnody must do, “reject the image and colorings of poetic discourse.” “Send kindly Light” is another curiously dull effort at emendation.

Cardinal Newman—he was of course a member of the Church of England when he wrote “Lead, Kindly Light”—did not write another remarkable hymn, though a good portion of the hymn-book “Lyra Apostolica” is made up of his hymns. Some of these are moderately good verses; most of them but emphasize the rarity and difficulty of the type. The hymn CIII in “Lyra Apostolica” may be taken as an example. It begins with the same image as his great hymn. But observe how controversy has driven out the spirit and breath of poetry:

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Poor wanderers! yea, ye sore distrest

To find the path which Christ hath blest,

Tracked by his saintly throng;

Each claims to trust his own weak will,

Blind idol—so ye languish still,

All wranglers and all wrong.

He saw of old, and met the need

Granting you prophets of your creed;

And throes of fear to ’suage,

They fenced the rich bequests He made

And sacred bands have safe conveyed

Their charge from age to age.

Wanderers come home, when erring most

Christ’s Church aye kept the faith, nor lost

One grain of holy truth;

She ne’er has erred as those ye trust

And now shall lift her from the dust

And REIGN as in her youth!

“Lead, Kindly Light,” serene, inspired poetry, needs no words spelled in capitals nor exclamation points at the end. And there is nothing of wrangling in the religion of this hymn. Its mood of fervent, humble prayer and the lyric charm of its words and rhythms have carried this hymn to the heart of Christendom. The difficulty of the half-line, “I loved the garish day,” wherein is an unhappy figure suggesting preference of a torch at night to broad open day to travel by—this slight infelicity is submerged like a stone in the brook by the full swift 237 current of the poetry. The line describing the trials and hardships of life by “moor and fen and crag and torrent” is richly suggestive of the wild beauty of old romance; and what a poetic imaging of this troubled life! The last two lines are a triumph of lyric art and at the same time of Christian hope.

Henry Hart Milman, who had preceded Keble as professor of poetry at Oxford, and who later became one in the succession of famous deans of St. Paul’s, wrote twelve hymns for Bishop Heber’s book; two of these, “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty,” and “When Our Heads Are Bowed with Woe,” are still well known.

Sir John Bowring, member of Parliament, editor of the “Westminister Review,” sometime governor of Hong Kong, famous scholar, published two volumes of hymns, one in 1823, another in 1825. Two of his hymns seem to be among the imperishable poems of the language: “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night,” and “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” Bowring was a great progressive; he delighted in the new intellectual awakening, and had strong faith in the beneficence of scientific knowledge. In the hymn “Upon the Gospel’s Sacred Page” he says:

On mightier wing, in loftier flight,

From year to year does knowledge soar.

Yet he had no fear for religious truth.

And as it soars, the Gospel light

Becomes effulgent, more and more.

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To Bowring the rising doubts of his time were but a dark background for the bright sureties of the Christian religion. None of the old carols have surpassed the following dramatic hymn in its atmosphere of Christmas-night enchantment, and in lyric statement of Christian hope:

Watchman, tell us of the night,

What its signs of promise are.

Traveller, o’er yon mountain height

See that glory-beaming star!

Watchman, does its beauteous ray

Aught of joy or hope foretell?

Traveller, yes: it brings the day,

Promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;

Higher, yet that star ascends.

Traveller, blessedness and light,

Peace and truth its course portends!

Watchman, will its beams alone

Gild the spot that gave them birth?

Traveller, ages are its own,

See it bursts o’er all the earth!

Watchman, tell us of the night,

For the morning seems to dawn.

Traveller, darkness takes its flight;

Doubt and terror are withdrawn.

Watchman, let thy wandering cease;

Hie thee to thy quiet home!

Traveller, lo, the Prince of Peace,

Lo, the Son of God is come!

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James Edmeston (1791-1867) published, among other volumes, “Sacred Lyrics,” 1821. Two of his more than two thousand published hymns remain, “Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us,” and the more famous evening hymn:

Saviour, breathe an evening blessing

Ere repose our spirits seal;

Sin and want we come confessing;

Thou canst save and thou canst heal.

Though destruction walk around us,

Though the arrow near us fly,

Angel guards from thee surround us.

We are safe if thou art nigh.

These are musical, sweet lines of confidence and repose of spirit. The last stanza is a notable example of Christian calm in the face of danger, and exultation in the face of death.

Oxford has had much to do with making the hymn-book. Hugh Stowell, who went out to become one of the most popular preachers of his time and who was one of the most vigorous opponents of the Tractarians, published the year after he left Oxford his one great hymn, “From Every Stormy Wind That Blows.” With the full glow of the fervor of true religion, this hymn combines a literary finish that reaches finality. At the first words, it rises into lyric flight as with free sweep of strong wings.

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From every stormy wind that blows,

From every swelling tide of woes;

There is a calm, a sure retreat:

’Tis found beneath the mercy seat.

There is a place where Jesus sheds

The oil of gladness on our heads;

A place than all besides more sweet:

It is the blood-bought mercy seat.

There is a scene where spirits blend,

Where friend holds fellowship with friend:

Though sundered far, by faith they meet

Around one common mercy seat.

Ah! whither could we flee for aid,

When tempted, desolate, dismayed;

Or how the hosts of hell defeat,

Had suffering saints no mercy seat?

There, there, on eagle wings we soar,

Where time and sense seem all no more;

And Heaven comes down our souls to greet,

While glory crowns the mercy seat.

The term “mercy seat” gives probably no definite picture to most persons who read the poem; one feels that it means the Source of Goodness: it is not necessary to the effect of the hymn to visualize the tabernacle ritual of the mercy seat. Many hymn-books have unfortunately changed the line,

Where time and sense seem all no more,

to read,

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And sin and sense molest no more.

Perhaps the revisers did not like the use of “all,” a word that Tennyson delights to use in similar slightly oblique ways. Perhaps they desired to add a touch of homily by the word “sin.” At any rate, the revision will not stand. The thrilling abandon of devotion in the last stanza, the grand triumph of spirit over flesh, is too strong for some of the milder books. It is the climax of Stowell’s poem and should be kept:

O may my hand forget her skill,

My tongue be silent, stiff, and still,

My bounding heart forget to beat,

If I forget the mercy seat.

The matter of literary sources in the study of hymns is usually not difficult if one is familiar with the Psalms. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” is part of the 137th Psalm. The idea of the hymn is based on Exodus 25:21-22: “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And then I will meet with thee and I will commune with thee above the mercy seat.”

The hymn may be called good literary art; and it is likely that some millions of persons have found it a very adequate expression of religious faith and hope.

One imagines that English poetry, and the hymn-book 242 in particular, must have suffered great loss by the early, sad death of Henry Kirke White, who wrote such hymnal lines as:

Howl, winds of night, your force combine;

Without his high behest

Ye shall not, in the mountain pine,

Disturb the sparrow’s nest.

and:

He yokes the whirlwind to his car

And sweeps the howling skies,

and the hymn “When Marshaled on the Nightly Plain,” closing with the lines,

For ever and forevermore,

The Star, the Star of Bethlehem!

and the more familiar hymn beginning,

Oft in danger, oft in woe.

Sir Robert Grant (1785-1838), prominent in English letters and politics, member of Parliament, privy councilor, governor of Bombay, wrote many hymns, two of which survive. Two stanzas from “O Worship the King” show its high poetic imagination:

Oh, tell of his might, oh, sing of his grace!

Whose robe is the light, whose canopy, space.

His chariots of wrath the deep thunder-clouds form,

And dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

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Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?

It breathes in the air, it shines in the light,

It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,

And sweetly distils in the dew and the rain.

His litany hymn, “Saviour, When in Dust to Thee,” is a poignantly beautiful expression of penitence and adoration.

One remembers that in the year 1830 an old order was giving place to a new one. Byron and Keats were dead; Scott died in 1832, Coleridge in 1834; Shelley had been dead eight years—though his ideas were being scattered, as by his plea and prophecy in the “Ode to the West Wind”:

Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth,

Ashes and sparks, my words, among mankind.

And a new spring was not far behind. Alfred Tennyson published the “Lady of Shalott” volume of poems in 1832; Browning published “Pauline” in 1833; Carlyle wrote “Sartor Resartus” in 1831. The Reform Bill was passed; the new scheme of public education was forming; factories and railroads were building. George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and Walt Whitman were in school. That women were going to school is a notable fact that soon manifests itself in the hymn-book. In 1830 Tennyson, Darwin, Gladstone, Poe, Chopin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Lincoln were all just twenty-one. Emerson and Carlyle were discovering each other and the new world of German thought. In 1833 slavery was abolished in the British possessions. Emigrants 244 were crowding westward. English social and industrial life was breaking from its old shell, with new wings—to be singed and smoked—but still, wings. The Transcendental and Unitarian and abolition movements were on in New England. The Romanticists were hearing

The still sad music of humanity,

and the Realists were beginning to see and stress humanity’s obviously cold and ugly aspects with a view to betterment. Hopeful idealism, too, was alive and active. New political ideas and new social and religious questionings and affirmations were stirring like wind in the trees. In the field of English hymnody there was a new springtime. New hymns, new collections, and new books of original hymns grew and multiplied.

A few of the hymns of the time, selected by the suffrage of the hymnals of the present, reveal the morning-time vigor and arousal. They show a spirit of travail, of militancy and hope which has always characterized times when hymn writing has most flourished. Following are first lines of a few hymns representative of the great number which appeared:

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning;

Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious;

From Greenland’s icy mountains;

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty;

The Son of God goes forth to war;

In the cross of Christ I glory;

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Watchman, tell us of the night;

Breast the wave, Christian;

Ride on, ride on in majesty;

Christian, seek not yet repose;

The morning light is breaking.

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” These hymns and the others like them show that with the industrial, political, scientific, and philosophical arousal of the time there was new life and vigor in the religion of the people. In the following stanza from Henry Buckall’s translation from the German of F. von Conitz (1700), three things may be noted as to the trend of English hymnody: (1) Oxford University is again a mainspring of hymnody; (2) foreign influence is felt anew; (3) the hymn takes new freedom of form, being no longer confined to the long, common, and short meters:

Come, my soul, thou must be waking,

Now is breaking

O’er the earth another day;

Come to him who made this splendor,

See thou render

All thy feeble strength can pay.

In America, too, the south winds were blowing, and the sound of new hymns was heard in the land. The first really standard hymn produced in America had been published in 1800 by Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, in his edition and revision of Watts’s Psalms:

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I love thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of thine abode.

It is a simple, strong melodious song of love for the church. The fourth stanza may be quoted as an example of what hymnal poetry ought to be. Its high sincerity of devotion is like that of the saints and martyrs. Its four simple lines move in stately eloquence of description.

Beyond my highest joy

I prize her heavenly ways,

Her sweet communion, solemn vows,

Her hymns of love and praise.

Another American hymn that may be placed in the first rank was written in 1830 by a young school-teacher, Ray Palmer, who had that year been graduated from Yale. It grew out of a hard struggle of discouragement, illness, and religious uncertainty. Years later Palmer told of the writing of it. “There was not the slightest thought,” he said, “of writing for another eye, least of all writing a hymn for Christian worship. I gave from what I felt by writing the stanzas, with little effort. I recalled that I wrote them with very tender emotion, and penned the last stanza with tears.” The hymn begins:

My faith looks up to thee,

Thou lamb of Calvary,

Saviour Divine:

Now hear me while I pray,

Take all my guilt away,

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O let me from this day

Be wholly thine.

In few strong words, like swift marching, it speaks of life and death and immortality, and the reach of the human soul toward God. Notice the lyric power of the last stanza, its statement of the transience of life, its somber picture of death, and its glow of triumphant faith:

When ends life’s transient dream,

When death’s cold, sullen stream

Shall o’er me roll,

Blest Saviour, then in love,

Fear and distrust remove,

O bear me safe above,

A ransomed soul.

In 1820 appeared William Cullen Bryant’s “Thou Whose Unmeasured Temple Stands,” written for the dedication of a church. If the friendly warmth and charity of these peaceful lines, and the sturdiness of their faith, does animate the folk singing as they dedicate their church, that church will likely be a fountain of welfare among men and of glory to God. Notice the hymn-book’s idea of the purpose of a church in a community:

May they who err be guided here

To find the better way;

And they who mourn, and they who fear,

Be strengthened as they pray.

May faith grow firm and love grow warm,

And hallowed wishes rise;

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While round these peaceful walls the storm

Of earth-born passion dies.

Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814 and the hymn, “Lord, with a Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee,” in 1826. The hymn has not the spontaneity and lyric fire of the splendid if flamboyant war-song. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is too martial a song to be the ultimate “national anthem” of a peace-loving people; yet certain editors, finding it to need an extra touch of pugnacity, have changed an important word in the last stanza,

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

Key wrote it:

Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.

George Washington Doane, Bishop of New Jersey, published in 1834 his famous evening hymn, a graceful lyric full of gentleness and piety:

Softly now the light of day

Fades upon my sight away;

Free from care, from labor free,

Lord, I would commune with thee.

He wrote also the militant evangelical hymn “Fling Out the Banner.” Some books have felt it necessary to modify the force of this hymn by changing the words “Fling out the banner” to “Uplift the banner.” They had better leave it as it is.

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Fling out the banner! let it float

Skyward and seaward, high and wide:

The sun shall light its shining folds,

The cross on which the Saviour died.

Uplift the banner! Angels bend

In anxious silence o’er the sign,

And vainly seek to comprehend

The wonder of the love divine.

Fling out the banner! Heathen lands

Shall see from far the glorious sight,

And nations gathering at the call,

Their spirits kindle in its light.

The President of the United States from 1825 to 1829, John Quincy Adams, as has been mentioned, was the author of a book of psalms and hymns. One of Adams’s poems, first published in Boston in January, 1807, carries the same central idea as Henry Vaughan’s “Retreat,” and as Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immorality,” published the same year. Stanzas of the poem follow:

That inextinguishable beam

With dust united at our birth,

Sheds a more dim, discolored gleam,

The more it lingers upon earth.

Closed in his dark abode of clay,

The stream of glory faintly burns,

Not unobscured the lurid ray

To its own native fount returns.

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But when the Lord of mortal breath

Decrees his bounty to resume,

And points the silent shaft of death,

Which speeds the infant to the tomb,—

No passion fierce, no low desire,

Has quenched the radiance of the flame;

Back to its God the living fire

Returns unsullied as it came.

Two of the best of the Christmas hymns were written by Edmund H. Sears, a Unitarian clergyman of Massachusetts. “Calm on the Listening Ear of Night” appeared in 1834; “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” was written fifteen years later.

Calm on the listening ear of night

Come Heaven’s melodious strains,

Where wild Judea stretches far

Her silver-mantled plains.

Celestial choirs from courts above

Shed sacred glories there;

And angels with their sparkling lyres

Make music in the air.

The answering hills of Palestine

Send back the great reply,

And greet, from all their holy heights,

The Day-spring from on high;

O’er the blue depths of Galilee

There comes a holier calm;

And Sharon waves, in solemn praise

Her silent groves of palm.

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These two stanzas may be taken as representative of the new type of hymn which was gaining higher and higher advancement in the citizenship of English poetry. They approach the ideal which Heber held for the hymn as finished poetry.

The stanzas, too, may be taken as illustrative of the new spirit of New England puritanism then rising into song, a kind of song that is true artistry of verse and at the same time most zealous and most catholic Christian worship. The stanzas are indicative, also, of intellectual and spiritual alertness and vigor; the reader can hardly fail to be impressed with their strong confidence and aggressiveness; they show something of the fighting zeal of Byron and Shelley, surging, however, with feeling not of revolt but triumphant advance. Hymns written around 1835 abound in such expressions as “Fight the fight,” “Cast thy dream of ease away,” “The hosts of hell defeat,” “There, there, on eagles’ wings we soar,” “Run the race,” and “Lift thine eyes.” One notices frequent spirited adjectives as “gleaming,” “brightening,” “towering,” and “soaring.”

The hymn about to be quoted is another American one which reflects the spirit abroad in the world, the flush of confidence and enthusiasm for the future aroused by the new mastering of the materials and forces of nature, and by new advances in politics, and philosophy, and religion. These singers have been thrilled by the railroad, the steamship, and other momentous inventions; they have been moved by Wordsworth’s impulsive sympathy for the poor, 252 by the younger poet’s fierce rebellion against intellectual and spiritual tyranny, and by such ideas as young Tennyson’s, who

. . . dipt into the future as far as human eye could see,

Saw the vision of the world and all the wonders that would be.

The idea of world-wide kinship and responsibility was stirring in America, as well as in England. The hymn of the young New England Baptist preacher, Samuel F. Smith, is a significant Evangelical expression of new hope for the world:

The morning light is breaking,

The darkness disappears;

The sons of earth are waking

To penitential tears;

Each breeze that swells the ocean

Brings tidings from afar,

Of nations in commotion,

Prepared for Zion’s war.

See heathen nations bending

Before the God we love,

And thousand hearts ascending

In gratitude above;

While sinners now confessing,

The gospel call obey

And seek the Saviour’s blessing,

A nation in a day.

Blest river of salvation,

Pursue thy onward way;

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Flow thou to every nation,

Nor in thy richness stay;

Stay not till all the lowly

Triumphant reach their home;

Stay not till all the holy

Proclaim the Lord is come.

In 1832 Smith published his famous hymn of liberty, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” The world’s emergence into new emancipation of body and soul needed such verse as this song of freedom. It is a wholesome one for a free people to know by heart and to sing with spirit and understanding. Notice how recurrent in every stanza is the idea expressed by “free,” “liberty,” “freedom.”

With the Oxford Movement there was a dividing of the ways for English hymnody: on the one hand, a trend toward free range, toward new discoveries of reality through personal experience, and a will to be up and doing; on the other hand, a conservative regard for the past and a distrust of new things. The awakened interest in ancient liturgies naturally brought the Latin hymns into prominence. John Mason Neale (1818-66), a young Cambridge scholar, joined the Oxford Tractarians and devoted his life thereafter largely to the study and translation of Latin and Greek hymns. And he could hardly have found a better way to help his cause. His translations aroused great admiration for the newly discovered ancient treasury, and new devotion to ancient liturgies and doctrines.

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Indeed, Neale and the group of which he was the poetical leader gradually took the position that only those hymns used of old times, or translations of them, were proper or lawful for the church service. This was the same position held by the partisans of Sternhold and Hopkins, except that the latter had wished to restrict hymnody to the Hebrew rather than to the Greek or Latin originals.

It will be seen how the ritual hymn turned its face toward the acts and doctrines of the fathers, to saints’ lives, and to holy days and seasons; how the Evangelicals cried, “The morning light is breaking; go labor on, spend and be spent”; and how the hymn-book in the passing years has taken the best poetry and the best religion of both sides and has brought them into a holy catholic harmony.

Frederick Faber represents in his hymns the Roman Catholic and Neale the Anglican Catholic element of the Oxford Movement. Faber was graduated from Oxford in 1836; his completed “Hymns” containing 150 pieces, was published in London in 1861. He says in the preface that he has been endeavoring to do for English Catholicism what Luther’s, Wesley’s, Cowper’s, and Newton’s and, later, the Oxford writers’ hymns had done for Protestantism. His best and most catholic hymns are “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”; “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art”; “O, Come and Mourn with Me a While”; “Faith of Our Fathers! Living Still”; “Hark, Hark, My Soul, Angelic Songs Are Swelling”; “O Paradise, O Paradise.”

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The following hymn seems to represent the ideal of practical plainness in hymnody that, as he says at the outset, he is seeking to attain:

O, it is hard to work for God,

To rise and take the part,

Upon this battlefield of earth

And not sometimes lose heart!

He hides himself so wondrously,

As though there were no God;

He is least seen when all the powers

Of ill are most abroad.

Or he deserts us in the hour

The fight is all but lost,

And seems to leave us to ourselves

Just when we need him most.

It is not so, but so it looks;

And we lose courage then;

And doubts will come if God has kept

His promises to men.

But right is right since God is God;

And right the day must win;

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin.

If one ask, Is this poetry? it may be replied, It is homely, plain language in rime and measured cadences intending to convey truth in such a way as to encourage people to live just lives, and to inspire 256 faith in God. The hymn-book accepts it as a moderate hymn. Much of Faber’s hymn verse is simple and practically good poetry. Some of his verse has an unhappy touch of physical grossness. Even the following childlike and tender address to the Deity is too physical; and it is not quite true either logically or artistically:

I could not sleep unless Thy Hand

Were underneath my head,

That I might kiss it as I lay

Wakeful upon my bed.

Note how the following stanza has the same childlike qualities without what is objectionable:

I worship thee, sweet will of God,

And all thy ways adore;

And every day I live I seem

To love thee more and more.

The hymn-book has happily left out the indecorous and has reserved the hymns of Faber that are pure gold. Faber himself was an erratic judge as well as writer of poetry. He burned his three-volume Shelley and, he says, never regretted it. Francis Thompson makes the remark that he should have thrown some of his hymnody into the fire with it. So might—and doubtless has—every poet destroyed to advantage some lines. The hymns containing the following verses have gone, with no loss to the hymnal:

I heard the wild beasts in the woods complain.

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Man’s scent the untamed creature scarce can bear

As if his tainted blood defiled the air.

Labor itself is but a sorrowful song

The protest of the weak against the strong.

Faber’s “Pilgrims of the Night” is a hymn of deep loveliness:

Hark! hark! my soul! angelic songs are swelling

O’er earth’s green fields and ocean’s wave-beat shore;

How sweet the truth those blessed strains are telling

Of that new life where sin shall be no more.

Angels of Jesus,

Angels of light,

Singing to welcome

The pilgrims of the night!

Onward we go, for still we hear them singing,

“Come weary souls, for Jesus bids you come”;

And through the dark, its echoes sweetly ringing,

The music of the gospel leads us home.

Angels of Jesus,

Angels of light,

Singing to welcome

The pilgrims of the night.

Far, far away, like bells at evening pealing,

The voice of Jesus sounds o’er land and sea;

And laden souls by thousands meekly stealing,

Kind Shepherd, turn their weary steps to Thee.

Angels of Jesus,

Angels of light,

Singing to welcome

The pilgrims of the night.

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Angels sing on! your faithful watches keeping;

Sing us sweet fragments of the songs above;

Till morning’s joy shall end the night of weeping

And life’s long shadows break in cloudless love.

Angels of Jesus,

Angels of light,

Singing to welcome

The pilgrims of the night.

Two stanzas, one beginning, “Cheer up, my soul!” and one containing the lines,

God hides himself, and grace hath scarcely found us

Ere death finds out his victims in the dark,

have wisely been omitted. This is a hymn that “as the bird, wings and sings.”

Many, even most, of John Mason Neale’s large number of translations issued around the middle of the century read like scholarly exercises in translation; they have not in them, somehow, the fire of poetry. Full of ecclesiastical imagery and symbols and briefly stated dogmas, they remind one of the ordinary conventional church windows. This is not saying that the church windows—and the verses—are not earnest enough. But their colors are often not rich, and the execution is often not very authentic. The following is an example from a eucharistic hymn:

The Heav’nly WORD proceeding forth,

Yet leaving not the FATHER’S side,

Went forth unto his work on earth

Until He reached life’s eventide.

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By false disciples to be given

To foemen for his death athirst,

Himself the Bread of Life from Heaven,

He gave to his disciples first.

By birth their fellow man must be;

Their meat when sitting at the board;

He died their Ransomer to be;

He ever reigns their great reward.

Such symbolic terms for Christ as “Key of the house of David” and “Pelican of Mercy” are not convincing to the English ear.

Whatever the following may be in another language, it is neither poetry nor hymnody in English:

Him of the Father’s very essence,

Begotten ere the world began,

And in the latter time of Mary,

Without a human sire, made man.

Unto Him, this glorious morn

Be the strain outpoured!

Thou that liftest up our horn,

Holy art thou, Lord!

The earthly Adam erewhile quickened;

By the blest breath of God on high,

Now made the victim of corruption,

By woman’s guile betrayed to die.

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He deceived by woman’s part

Supplication poured;

Thou who in my nature art,

Holy art thou, Lord.

This shows the “liturgical” hymnody at the extreme toward which it is in danger of going. But the following translation shows what the hymnody of the old time may have for the English hymn-book with talented, devout, and scholarly men to translate them; they are Neale’s masterpieces:

Christian, dost thou see them

On the holy ground,

How the powers of darkness

Rage thy steps around?

Christian! up and smite them,

Counting gain but loss,

In the strength that cometh

By the holy cross.

Christian, dost thou feel them,

How they work within,

Striving, tempting, luring,

Goading into sin?

Christian, never tremble;

Never be downcast;

Gird thee for the battle;

Watch and pray and fast.

Christian, dost thou hear them,

How they speak thee fair?

“Always fast and vigil,

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Always watch and prayer?”

Christian! answer boldly:

“While I breathe I pray!”

Peace shall follow battle,

Night shall end in day.

“Well I know thy trouble,

O my servant true;

Thou art very weary,

I was weary too,

And that toil shall make thee

Some day all mine own,

And the end of sorrow

Shall be near my throne.”

Neale’s dramatic lyric, “Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid?” is based upon an ancient Greek Christian hymn; it is a vivid and powerful poem:

Art thou weary, art thou languid,

Art thou sore distressed?

“Come to me,” saith One, “and coming,

Be at rest.”

Hath he marks to lead me to him

If he be my guide?

“In his feet and hands are wound-prints,

And his side.”

Is there diadem, as monarch,

That his brow adorns?

“Yea, a crown, in very surety,

But of thorns.”

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If I find him, if I follow,

What his guerdon here?

“Many a sorrow, many a labor,

Many a tear.”

If I still hold closely to him,

What hath he at last?

“Sorrow vanquished, labor ended,

Jordan passed.”

If I ask him to receive me,

Will he say me nay?

“Not till earth and not till heaven

Pass away.”

Finding, following, keeping, struggling,

Is he sure to bless?

“Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,

Answer, ‘Yes.’”

Jerusalem the Golden” is one of the three hymns taken from the long hymn “Gloria, Laus et Honor” by Bernard of Cluny; the others are “Brief Life Is Here Our Portion” and “For Thee, O Dear Country.” Either the first or last of these would likely have made Neale a permanent place in the story of English song.

Edward Caswall, a graduate of Brasenose College, Oxford, 1836, was like Faber a zealous disciple of Newman. He entered the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church in 1850. He wrote and 263 translated from the Latin and German about two hundred hymns. His best contributions are “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” from the Latin of Bernard of Clairvaux, and “When Morning Gilds the Skies,” from a German hymn of unknown authorship, “Beim Frühen Morgenlicht,” published in Wurzburg, 1828. It begins:

When morning gilds the skies,

My heart, awaking, cries,

May Jesus Christ be praised!

Alike at work or prayer,

To Jesus I repair,

May Jesus Christ be praised!

This hymn comes from Oxford University; Oxford was a spring of hymnody, as was Harvard in the United States. It is from the German.

The romantic lore of German forest and castle, as well as the revival in German philosophy, science, theology, and poetry, influences English life and letters. The religious song of pre-Reformation Germany, fostered early by Notker and his followers, and brought by Luther and those who followed him into a luxuriant growth of splendid and powerful popular hymnody, had first begun to be heard in England through John Wesley and the Moravian immigrants. Now, under the new impulses, English hymnologists found much in the German to 264 engage them. “There cannot be,” says Philip Schaff, in Julian’s “Dictionary of Hymnology,” “less than one hundred thousand published German hymns, nearly one thousand of which are classical and immortal.”

Of all these hymns certainly the best known, if not the best, is the “Ein Feste Burg” of Martin Luther. It is translated and sung in practically all the languages of the world. Julian’s “Dictionary” gives a list of sixty translations in English alone. The best two renderings are Thomas Carlyle’s “A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still” and Frederick H. Hedge’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” In the English hymn-book, so far, that of Carlyle is the favorite; in the American, that of Hedge. Both renderings are picturesque and sturdy hymns. The American version is really the better. The first stanza of Carlyle’s version is as follows:

A safe stronghold is our God still,

A trusty shield and weapon;

He’ll help us clear from all the ill

That hath us now o’ertaken.

The ancient prince of hell

Hath risen with purpose fell;

Strong mail of craft and power

He weareth in this hour;

On earth is not his fellow.

Carlyle’s version was published in 1831; Hedge’s, which follows below, in 1858:

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A mighty fortress is our God,

A bulwark never failing;

Our helper he, amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing.

But still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing,

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth is his name,

From age to age the same,

And he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us.

The prince of darkness grim—

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers—

No thanks to them—abideth;

The spirit and the gifts are ours

Through him who with us sideth.

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Let goods and kindreds go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill;

God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

This hymn has been like a flame and a cloud before the people through the years since Luther wrote it.

Another great German hymn which has come with much spirit into the English hymn-book is “Versage Nicht, Du Häuflein Klein,” translated, “Fear Not, O Little Flock, the Foe,” by Catherine Winkworth. The authorship of the original is uncertain. It has been attributed to Gustavus Adolphus, who with his army sang it at the battle of Lützen in 1631—triumphantly, although the king himself was mortally wounded in the battle.

Eighty-four of the hymns of Paul Gerhardt (1607-76) have found their way into standard English hymn-books. An illuminating study has been made by Professor Theodore Brown Hewitt of Gerhardt’s part in the making of the present English hymnal.2323“Paul Gerhardt as a Hymn-Writer and His Influence on English Hymnody,” Yale University, New Haven, 1918. Dr. Hewitt lists over three hundred translations and adaptations from Gerhardt’s hymn. Among these are: “Commit Thou All Thy Griefs” and “Give to the Wind Thy Fears,” by John Wesley; “All My Heart This Night Rejoices” and “Since Jesus Is My Friend Here Can I Firmly Rest,” by Catherine Winkworth; “How Shall I Receive Thee?” by A. T. Russell; and 267O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” by J. W. Alexander, of Virginia. “Sacred Hymns from the German,” a volume of translations by Francis E. Cox, published in 1841, contained the well known Easter hymn, “Jesus Lives,” “Jesus Lebt, mit Ihm auch Ich,” by Christian Gellert (1715-69), and the hymn from Johann Scheffler (1624-77) beginning:

Earth hath nothing sweet or fair,

Goodly form or beauties rare,

But before my eyes they bring

Christ, of beauty source and spring.

From the volume of Richard Massie we have the paraphrase, “I Know No Life Divided,” of Carl Spitta’s hymn, “O Jesu Meine Sonne.”

Catherine Winkworth (1829-78) brought out in 1855 the first volume of her series, “Lyra Germanica.” She has given several fine hymns to the English hymn-book through these translations; besides those mentioned already are “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Gentle Shepherd, Thou Hast Stilled” and “Now God Be with Us, for the Night Is Closing.” The hymn of Joseph Mohr, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” published in 1818 and translated by Jane Campbell in 1863, has come to be one of the favorites of English Christmas hymns.

Two other notable translators of German hymns were Jane Borthwick and her sister Sarah Borthwick Findlater. They were born in Edinburgh. They published in four series, beginning 1854, “Hymns from the Land of Luther.” The best one 268 of these, according to the selective judgment of the hymn-books, is that beginning, “My Jesus, as thou wilt,” from the original by B. Schmolke, “Mein Jesu, Wie Du Willst,” written in 1704:

My Jesus, as thou wilt!

O may thy will be mine;

Into thy hand of love

I would my all resign.

Through sorrow and through joy,

Conduct me as thine own,

And help me still to say,

“My Lord, thy will be done.”

My Jesus, as thou wilt;

If needy here and poor,

Give me the people’s bread,

Their portion rich and sure:

The manna of thy word

Let my soul feed upon;

And if all else should fail,

My Lord, thy will be done.

My Jesus, as thou wilt,

Though seen through many a tear,

Let not my star of hope

Grow dim or disappear;

Since thou on earth hast wept

And sorrowed oft alone,

If I must weep with thee,

My Lord, thy will be done.

My Jesus, as thou wilt;

All shall be well with me;

269

Each changing future scene

I gladly trust with thee.

Straight to my home above,

I travel calmly on,

And sing in life or death,

My Lord, thy will be done.

A few extracts following indicate new elements of hymnody brought in from the German:

Fair is the meadow

Fairer still the woodland

Robed in the blooming garb of Spring.

Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,

Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Published 1851. Both author and translator unknown.

O Holy Ghost who brooded over the wave,

Descend upon the child;

Give him undying life, his spirit lave

With waters undefiled;

Grant him from earliest years to be

Thy learner apt, a home for thee.

Catherine Winkworth, from the German of Albert Knapp.

Alleluya!

The strain upraise of joy and praise,

They through the fields of Paradise that roam,

The blessed ones repeat through that bright home,

Alleluya!

The planets glittering on their heavenly way,

270

The shining constellations join and say,

Alleluya!

Ye clouds that onward sweep,

Ye winds on pinions light,

Ye thunders echoing loud and deep,

Ye islands wildly bright,

In sweet content unite,

Alleluya!

J. M. Neale, from “The Sequence of Notker,” in the “English Hymnal,” No. 974.

Two of the best and most poetical hymns of to-day, “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” and “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem,” did not come into the hymn-books generally until the second quarter of the last century, though they had been waiting in manuscript since the sixteenth century, till there was a call for them.

The poem is printed in full in Julian’s Dictionary, page 580, from the manuscript in the British Museum. The title is “A Song Made by F. B. P. and to be Sung to the Tune of Diana.” Stanzas besides the familiar ones in the two centos are:

In thee noe sicknesse may be seene,

Noe hurt, noe ache, nor sore,

There is noe death, nor uglie devill,

There is life forevermore.

Noe dampishe miste is seene in thee

No cloud, nor darksome night.

There everie soule shines as the sunne,

There God himself giues light.

271

Thy turrettes and thy pinacles

With carbuncles doe shine.

Thy verie streetes are paved with gould,

Surpassinge cleare and fine.

Within thy gates nothinge doeth come

That is not passing cleane.

No spider’s web, no durt, noe dust

No filthe may there be seene.

We that are here in banishment

Continuallie doe moane.

We sigh and sobbe, we weepe and weale,

Perpetually we groane.

But there they live in such delight

Such pleasures and such play

As that to them a thousand yeares

Doth seeme as yeaster day.

Thy viniardes and thy orchardes are

Most beautifull and faire

Full furnished with trees and fruits

Most wonderful and rare.

There is nectar and ambrosia made,

There is muske and civette sweete.

There manie a faire and daintie drugge

Are trodden under feete.

272

There cinamon and there sugar groes,

There norde and balme abound.

What tongue can tell or hart conceiue

The ioies that there are found.

Quyt through the streetes with silver sound

The flood of life doth flowe

Upon whose banks on everie syde

The wood of life doth growe.

There David standes with harp in hand

As Maister of the Queere.

Ten thousand times that man were blest

That might his musieke hear.

Our Ladie sings magnificat

With tune surpassinge sweete,

And all the virgins beare their parts

Sitting about her feete.

Te Deum doth Saint Ambrose singe,

Sainte Augustine dothe the like.

Ould Simeon and Zacharie

Have not their songes to seke.

There Magdalene hath left her mone

And cheerfullie doth singe

With blessed saints whose harmonie

In everie streete doth ringe.

Hierusalem my happie home,

Would God I were in thee.

Would God my woes were at an end

Thy ioyes that I might see.

273

A somewhat later version has this stanza:

There be the prudent Prophets all,

The apostles six and six;

The glorious martyrs on a row

And Confessors betwixt.

The two hymns from this poem were especially pleasing to persons of high church tendencies. Some of the hymn-books have printed most of the stanzas, including the “spider’s web” one. Nearly all the hymn-books to-day include at least one hymn from the poem.

In a critical paper on “Hymns Ancient and Modern” in “The Saturday Review” for February 2, 1901, Mr. F. H. Balfour condemns this sort of hymn as being crassly materialistic and absurd. He thinks that such lavish use of gold and jewelry would make a city very glaring and unpleasant. The idea of gold- and silver-winged angels is illogical; the wings would not fold and unfold well, and they would be too heavy to fly with. One can hardly plead in defense of that phase of the hymn without in turn being absurd. The author of the hymn did not mean real gold. It is a figure of speech for the idea of splendid and fortunate estate and great happiness. Gold hair does not mean wire hair. Shakspere’s “golden lads and girls” did not mean metal creatures. Of course the figures of the celestial city with walls of precious stones and gates of single pearls show an Oriental and naïve lavishness of imagination. But after all, gold is a conventional 274 word for splendor; and the idea of the hymn is to suggest even more richness than the words imply. These materials, gold, palaces, and jewels are among what Edmund Burke calls in his treatise “On the Sublime and Beautiful,” section vii, “those things in nature that raise love and astonishment in us.” The names of these objects, Burke says, by long association with abstract ideas, such as, for example, ideas of splendor and happiness, gain great power to call forth those ideas. Further, if a number of such objects are named together they have a cumulative power for expressing the abstract idea. This section of Burke’s theory of esthetics reads like a special vindication of this poem. I do not see how a poet could even contrive a figure of speech that was not radically of material substance. If the figures of this poetry suggest pawn-shops rather than supernal happiness, there is little to be said. Poetry does not with Bottom the Weaver stop to explain that the lion is not really a lion and that golden wings are not really gold.

The charge against hymns of this kind that they are world-weary, and that the singer of them is too much occupied gazing toward the shade of the trees to do his work in the Lord’s harvest field, is a more thoughtful criticism.

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the hymn, having by that time defined itself as a distinct type of English verse, has more and more come to its place as a recognized literary form; and a large 275 number of the more important poets have written hymns. Not all of them have done so; not all of them have had the strong religious impulse that is primarily requisite; not all of them who have written hymns had the gift of finding the phrase and verse form that would express their crowding ideas and emotions and that at the same time would observe the severe restraints that the communal song of worship commands.

Shelley, like Burns, was swayed by emotions at least kin to religion; Wordsworth was profoundly religious. But their expression never took the true hymn form, though each wrote hymnic verse after a fashion. Shelley’s “Song for the Men of England” is sung to-day with great feeling at meetings of political and social radicals; but it cannot be called a hymn. His “New National Anthem” beginning,

God prosper, speed and save,

God raise from England’s grave

Her murdered Queen!

Pave with swift victory

The steps of liberty

For Britain’s own to be

Immortal Queen!

is a spirited variation of “God Save the King.” Its idea is much the same as that of a better known version, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” The important distinction is that Shelley’s song conceives liberty as a sort of French Revolution goddess; Smith’s, as a human quality. “America” closes 276 with a devout prayer. Another variation of “God Save the King” is in the hymn-book, “Come Thou Almighty King,” a solemn and exalted hymn.

Browning’s “Prospice” has been set to music, but it is obviously not hymnal. His great death-song, the “Epilogue to Asolando,” a mate to Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar,” is, broadly speaking, religious in its assertion of individual and happy immortality for the brave, the good, and the true; yet it is not at all a churchly song. It is a cairn of heroic faith, built of rough stones thrown together—words like “fools” and “mawkish,” and phrases such as “forward! back and breast as either should be” and “cry, ‘Strive and thrive!’” Tennyson’s song compared to it is like an altar of polished marble.

In America, Emerson, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, and Lanier all contributed to the hymn-book. Poe wrote only some fragments of hymns.

Wordsworth, as has been said, is represented in some of the hymn-books by one poem, which is called “The Laborer’s Noonday Hymn.” It is dated 1834. The introductory stanzas describing the singers are of course omitted.

Blest are the moments, doubly blest,

That drawn from this one hour of rest,

Are with a ready heart bestowed

Upon the service of our God!

Each field is then a hallowed spot,

An altar is in each man’s cot,

277

A church in every grove that spreads,

Its living roof above our heads.

Look up to Heaven! the industrious sun

Already half its course has run;

He cannot halt or go astray,

But our eternal spirits may.

Lord, since his rising in the east

If we have faltered or transgressed

Guide from thy love’s abundant course

What yet remains of this day’s course.

Help with thy grace through life’s short day

Our upward and our downward way;

And glorify for us the west

When we shall sink to final rest.

The poem is pious, wise, and substantial, but as a lyric it plods instead of mounting on wings. It has the air rather of being rimed moral sentiments written by the benevolent Wordsworth for the honest peasant than of being a song springing out of the genuine emotion either of the laborer or of the poet. It is not a good hymn.

Wordsworth’s nephew, Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85), Bishop of Lincoln, is a far better hymnist. He published in 1863 a volume, “The Holy Year,” containing 127 original hymns. Eight or ten of these are in the hymn-books to-day. One or probably two are likely to survive as permanent great hymns.

O Day of Rest and Gladness” is the best. It is 278 distinguished by that lyrical volancy which William Wordsworth’s hymn lacks. Bishop Wordsworth was a scholar and an influential churchman of his day. That all of his devoted effort and learning should produce but one or two great hymns is some indication of the difficulty of attaining to the precise balance of piety, simplicity, and poesy which the hymn type demands.

Christina Rossetti wrote some ardent and delicately beautiful religious lyrics. But they are more for the closet of the mystic than for the public assemblage. It was not so with her father’s Italian hymns. The hymns he wrote in Italy and the ardor with which they were sung were in some part the reason for his fleeing to England as a refugee from religious persecution in Italy. The hymns of Gabriele Rossetti are still sung by Italian Protestants. The religious songs of both Christina and Dante Rossetti are too florid and too recondite in sentiment for popular hymns.

Stanzas of her “Advent Hymn” may be taken as typical. The poem is full of delicate and pleasant fancies; but these fancies have no special significance for the hymn. The sentiment is peculiar and would have little response from the common readers.

In the bleak mid-winter

Frosty wind made moan;

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen; snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

279

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.

Angels and archangels

May have gathered there;

Cherubim and Seraphim

Through the air,

But only his Mother

In her maiden bliss

Worshipped the Beloved

With a kiss.

These verses remind one of Blake, some of whose religious songs are delicately beautiful poems. But they are too delicate, and their poetic spell is too fragile for the public concourse. Take for example two stanzas from Blake’s “On Another’s Sorrow” in “Songs of Innocence”:2424“The Poetical Works of William Blake,” p. 78, Oxford edition.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,

And thy Maker is not by;

Think not thou canst weep a tear,

And thy Maker is not near.

O! he gives us to his joy

That our grief he may destroy;

Till our grief is fled and gone

He doth sit by us and moan.

One sees how the last line is necessarily individual; it might be exquisite to read by one’s fireside, but it 280 could not be applicable to public assemblages. The following stanzas from “Milton,” with the motto, “Would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets,”2525Ibid., p. 370. are not far from sublime, yet one sees that they are not quite hymnody:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

The lines are truly lyric; they soar and they sing. But the aspiration is too immediately ambitious for a hymn. An assembly of people have to be moved by a strong impulse, indeed, to call in song for a chariot of fire. It is true that one of the most devout and popular of the American negro hymns calls for a chariot—

Swing low, sweet chariot,

Comin’ for to carry me home—

but the call is not immediate. It is a prayer that death, when it comes, may swing low like a chariot and carry the petitioner home. There is no note of impatience in it. But Blake’s song has the mystic’s 281 impatience that few gatherings of folk would ever unitedly feel.

Mrs. Browning’s poem, “He Giveth His Beloved Sleep,” seems to be on the verge of being a splendid hymn. Some of the hymn-books have it; some do not.

Of all the thoughts of God that are

Borne inward into souls afar,

Along the psalmist’s music deep,

Now tell me if there any is

For gift of grace surpassing this,—

“He giveth his beloved sleep”?

What would we give to our beloved?

The hero’s heart, to be unmoved,

The poet’s star-tuned harp, to sweep,

The patriot’s voice, to teach and rouse,

The monarch’s crown, to light the brows?

“He giveth his beloved sleep.”

“Sleep soft, beloved!” we sometimes say,

Who have no tune to charm away

Sad dreams that through the eyelids creep:

But never doleful dream again

Shall break the happy slumber when

“He giveth his beloved sleep.”

His dews drop mutely on the hill,

His cloud above it saileth still,

Though on its slope men sow and reap:

More softly than the dew is shed,

Or cloud is floated overhead,

“He giveth his beloved sleep.”

282

The slightly too conventional “Now tell me—” and its slightly too familiar and rather peculiarly feminine use of the pronoun “we” are hindrances. A greater fault so far as hymnody is concerned is its speculative lack of directness, a kind of loitering. The idea is not swift and straight enough in its movement. Still, it is a religious lyric of unquestioned loveliness; if with adequate music it should be admitted to the hymn-book, it is likely to be, by its sincerity and tenderness and poetic charm, a favorite hymn. Only one other of the group of poems which Mrs. Browning published as “Hymns” is adapted to singing in public worship; it begins,

Since without thee we do no good,

And with thee do no ill.

In the ten years following 1840 there is a perceptible ebb of hymnody until toward 1860, when a full tide sets in. There are still some magnificent hymns written, but they are not written with the exuberance, and in the full major key, of the hymns of the eighteen-thirties. A good proportion of the best hymns of this time are by women writers. One of the good hymns is that of Anna Bartlett Warner, who lived in New York. The Mendelssohn air, “Felix,” has helped this hymn to go far.

We would see Jesus; for the shadows lengthen

Across the little landscape of our life;

We would see Jesus, our weak faith to strengthen

For the last weariness, the final strife.

283

We would see Jesus, the great rock foundation

Whereon our feet were set by sovereign grace:

Nor life, nor death, with all their agitation,

Can thence remove us, if we see his face.

We would see Jesus; other lights are paling,

Which for long years we have rejoiced to see;

The blessings of our pilgrimage are failing;

We would not mourn them, for we go to thee.

We would see Jesus; yet the spirit lingers

Round the dear objects it has loved so long,

And earth from earth can scarce unclasp its fingers;

Our love to thee makes not this love less strong.

We would see Jesus; sense is all too blinding,

And Heaven appears too dim, too far away;

We would see thee, thyself our hearts reminding

What thou hast suffered, our great debt to pay.

We would see Jesus: this is all we’re needing;

Strength, joy, and willingness come with the sight;

We would see Jesus, dying, risen, pleading;

Then welcome day, and farewell mortal night.

Another representative hymn by Anna Laetitia Waring, a Welsh woman, has taken a high place:

In heavenly love abiding,

No change of heart shall fear;

And safe is such confiding,

For nothing changes here.

The storm may roar without me,

My heart may low be laid,

284

But God is round about me,

And can I be dismayed?

Wherever he may guide me,

No want shall turn me back;

My shepherd is beside me,

And nothing can I lack.

His wisdom ever waketh,

His sight is never dim,

He knows the way he taketh,

And I will walk with him.

Green pastures are before me,

Which yet I have not seen;

Bright skies will soon be o’er me,

Where darkest clouds have been.

My hope I cannot measure,

My path to life is free,

My Saviour has my treasure,

And he will walk with me.

Mrs. Alexander’s “Jesus Calls Us o’er the Tumult” is a good hymn of this period. Mrs. Alexander was a native of Ireland and the wife of the bishop of Derry. Her hymn “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” is one of a small number of English lyrics that owe their fame in large measure to the charm of the first line.

Charlotte Elliott (1787-1871), who published her “Invalid’s Hymn Book” in 1838 and “Hymns of Sorrow” two years later, was the author of about a hundred and fifty hymns, three of which have lived: “Christian, Seek Not Yet Repose”: 285My God, My Father, While I Stray”: and “Just as I Am without One Plea.” Miss Elliott was herself an invalid for about fifty years of her long life. Her hymns, like those of Anne Steele, are plaintive and sweet in tone, and expressive of warm and beautiful devotion. The powerful lyric “Just as I Am without One Plea” would have made her fame secure. Lines from other hymns show the mingled strength and delicacy of her style, the nobility and sweetness of her character, and the genuine value of her religion.

What though in lowly grief I sigh

For friends beloved no longer nigh!

Submissive still would I reply,

“Thy will be done!”

Though thou hast called me to resign

What most I prized, it ne’er was mine;

I have but yielded what was thine;

“Thy will be done!”

Let but my fainting heart be blest

With thy sweet spirit for its guest,

My God, to thee I leave the rest.

“Thy will be done!”

From a song less widely known, one can gather an idea of what the Christian means by the experience he calls prayer:

My God, is any hour so sweet,

From blush of morn to evening star,

286

As that which calls me to thy feet,

The hour of prayer?

Blest is that tranquil hour of morn,

And blest that solemn hour of eve,

When on the wings of prayer upborne,

The world I leave.

Then is my strength by thee renewed;

Then are my sins by thee forgiven;

Then dost thou cheer my solitude

With hopes of heaven.

No words can tell what sweet relief

Here for my every want I find;

What strength for warfare, balm for grief,

What peace of mind.

Ohio contributes during this period one good hymn to the hymn-book, that of Phoebe Cary, beginning:

One sweetly solemn thought

Comes to me o’er and o’er.

The peculiarly effective first line of this poem would keep the poem alive even if the other lines were only moderately good. The whole hymn has the breath and color of poetry.

George Washington Doane, who was, like Sears, a graduate of Union College, in New York, and who later became bishop of New Jersey, was the author of one of the favorite evening hymns, 287Softly Now the Light of Day,” a graceful lyric, full of gentleness and piety.

Another woman hymn writer of this period, though she is represented in hymn-books generally by but one hymn, stands nevertheless by virtue of that single lyric near to Watts and Wesley. Sarah Flower Adams was born in 1806. She was the daughter of Benjamin Flower, who was editor of the “Cambridge Intelligencer.” She married William B. Adams, an eminent engineer, and himself a writer of some note in his day.

The historian and critic of literature must search far to find songs of any kind equal to “Nearer, My God, to Thee”; he will probably not find one superior to it. If there is anything lacking in this hymn to make a perfect song and an adequate expression of true religion, I am unable to say what it is. The hymn-book has made a slight revision in the mode of a verb in the fifth line of the first stanza of the original: “would be” is made to read “shall be.” This is a delicate bit of adaptation, yet it is important. The slightly uncertain subjunctive was out of place in a poem of such clarity and power, and it is important to remove even the slightest let or hindrance to the sweeping power of one of the world’s greatest songs of religion.

The poem was published in 1841 at the close of an epoch of poetry such as England had not seen since the days of great Elizabeth. In its brief line—as also in the lines of Heber and others—we can see 288 how the lyric of religion expresses in its own way the mind and spirit of its time; here we see the ardor of the age—its wildly free imagination, its mingled dreams and realities, its impetuous will, its soul of beauty—all reflected in the hymns of its religion.

23“Paul Gerhardt as a Hymn-Writer and His Influence on English Hymnody,” Yale University, New Haven, 1918.

24“The Poetical Works of William Blake,” p. 78, Oxford edition.

25Ibid., p. 370.

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