Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

. (page 19 of 19)
Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 19 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he was at college in his youth, the head of his college
kept a white liorse, which he was accustomed to drive
in a vehicle of some kind or other. Mr. N. P. Willis
and his companions surreptitiously obtained temporary
possession of the horse ; and painted it crimson, with a
blue mane and tail. I confess that I like Mr. N. P.
Willis better for that deed, than for anything else I
ever heard of his doing : and I may mention, for the
satisfaction of my younger readers, that the colors used
in painting the horse were of such a nature, that they
adhered to the animal for a lengthened period, not-
withstanding all endeavors to remove them. Now
Dr. Bentley, in editing Milton, did as it were paint


the white horse crimson and blue ; and then exhibited
it to the world, saying, " That is Smith's fine horse ! "
Nor should it be accepted as any apology for like con-
duct on the part of any editor, that the editor in good
faith has such a liking for these colors, that he thinks
a horse looks best when it looks blue and crimson.
And tliough the change made by an editor be not of
such a comprehensive nature as the painting of an
entire horse anew, but rather consists of a multitude
of little touches here and there ; — as points changed,
capitals left out, and whiches for thats ; still the result
is very irritating. You know that a very small infu-
sion of a foreign substance can vitiate a thing. Two
drops of prussic acid in a cup of water: two smears
of red paint across the Raphael : affect the whole. I
know hardly any offence, short of great crime, which
seems to me deserving of so severe punishment, as
this of clipping the coin of the realm of literature.

There is something, too, which irritates one, in the
self-sufficient attitude which is naturally assumed by a
man who is cutting and carving the composition of
another. It is an evil which attends all reviewing,
and which a modest and conscientious reviewer must
feel keenly, that in reviewing another man's book, you
seem to assume a certain superiority to him. For in
every case in w^hich you find fault with him, you are
aware that the question comes just to this, — whether
your opinion or his is worth most. To which may be
added the further question : whether you or he have


devoted most time and thought to forming a just
opinion on this particular point. But when a man
sits down not merely to point out an author's faults,
but to correct them ; the assumption of superiority is
more marked still. And everybody knows that the
writings of great geniuses have been unsparingly cut
and carved by very inferior men. You know how
Byron sent " The Siege of Corinth " to Mr. Gifford,
giving him full power to alter it to any extent he
pleased. And you know how Mr. Gifford did alter
it ; by cutting out all the good passages and leaving
all the bad. The present writer has seen a man in
the very act of cutting and carving. Once upon a
time I entered a steamer which was wont to ply upon
the waters of a certain noble river, that winds between
Highland hills. And entering that bark, I beheld a
certain friend, seated on the quarter-deck, wnth a little
volume in his hand. I never saw a man look more
entirely satisfied with himself than did my friend ; as
he turned over the leaves of the little volume in a
hasty, skipping fashion ; and jauntily scribbled here
and there with a pencil. I beheld him in silence for
a time, and then asked what on earth he was doing.
" Oh," said he, " I am a member of the committee
appointed by the Great Council to prepare a new
book of hymns to be sung throughout the churches of
this country. And this little volume is a proof copy
of the hymns suggested : and a copy of it is sent to
each member of the committee to receive his emen-


dations. And as you see, I am beguiling my time in
sailing down the river by improving these hymns."
In this easy manner did my friend scribble whatever
alterations might casually suggest themselves, upon the
best compositions of the best hymn writers. Slowly
and laboriously had the authors written those hymns,
carefully weighing each word ; and weighing each
word perhaps for a very long time. But in the pauses
of conversation, with no serious thought whatsoever,
but willing to testify how much better he knew what a
hymn should be than the best authors of that kind of
literature, did my friend set down his random thoughts.
Give me that volume, said I, with no small indigna-
tion. He gave it to me, and I proceeded to examine
his improvements. And I can honestly say that not
merely was every alteration for the worse ; but that
many of the alterations testified my friend's utter ig-
norance of the very first principles of metrical com-
position ; and that all of them testified the extreme
narrowness of his acquaintance with that species of
literature. Some of the verses, as altered by him,
were astounding specimens of rhythm. The only
thing I ever saw which equalled them was a stanza
by a local poet, very zealous for the observance of
the Lord's day. Here is the stanza :

Ye that keep horses, read psahn 50 ;

To win money on the Sabbath day, see that ye never be so thrifty!

In Scotland we have a psalter and a hymnal im-
posed by ecclesiastical authority : so that in all parish


churches there is entire uniformity in the words of
praise. But it worries one to enter a church in Eng-
land, and to jfind, as one finds so often, that the incum-
bent has published a hymnal, the sale of which he
insures by using it in his church; and all the hymns
in which are cut and carved to suit his peculiar doc-
trinal and cesthetical views. The execrable taste and
the remarkable ignorance evinced in some of these
compilations, have on myself, I confess, the very re-
verse of a devotional effect. And the inexpressible
badness of certain of the hymns I have seen in such
volumes, leads me to the belief that they must be the
original compositions of the editor himself. There is
an excellent little volume of Psalms and Hymns,
collected by Mr. Henry Herbert Wyatt, of Trinity
Chapel, Brighton ; but even in it, one is annoyed
by occasional needless changes. In Bishop Heber's
beautiful hymn, which begins *• From Greenland's icy
mountains," Mr. Wyatt has smeared the third verse.
The Bishop wrote, as every one knows.

Shall we, ■whose souls are lighted

With wisdom from on high, —
Shall we to men benighted

The lamp of life deny ?

But Mr. Wyatt substitutes can for the shall with
wliich the first and third lines begin : a change
which no man of sense can call an improvement. A
hymn to which I always turn, as one that tests an
editor, is Bishop Ken's incomparable one, commonly


called the " Evening Hymn." I find, with pleasure,
that Mr. Wyatt has "not tried to improve it: save that
he has adopted an alteration which has been all but
universally accepted. Bishop Ken wrote,

All praise to Thee, my God this night:

while most of us, from childhood, have been taught to
substitute Glory for All Praise. And this is certainly
an improvement. Glory, gloria, is certainly tlie right
word with which to begin an ascription of praise to
the Almighty. If not in itself the fittest word, the
most ancient and revered associations of the Christian
Church give it a prescriptive right to preference. A
hymn which no man seems able to keep his sacri-
legious hands off is Charles Wesley's hymn,

Jesu, lover of my soul.

I observe Mr. Wyatt makes three alterations in the
first three lines of it, — each alteration for the worse.
But I begin to be aware that no human being can be
trusted to sit down with a hymn-book and a pencil,
with leave to cut and carve. There is a fascination
about the work of tampering: and a man comes to
change for what is bad rather than not change at all.
There are analogous cases. When I dwelt in the
country, I was once cutting a little path through a
dense thicket of evergreens ; and a friend from the
city, who was staying with us, went out wuth me to
superintend the proceedings. Weakly, I put into my


friend's hands a large and sharp weapon, called in
Scotland a scutching -knife : and told him he might
smooth off certain twigs which projected unduly on
the path. My friend speedily felt the fascination of
cutting and carving. And after having done consider-
able damage, he restored me the weapon, saying he
felt its possession was a temptation too strong for him
to resist. When walking about with the keen sharp
steel in his hand, it was really impossible to help
snipping off any projecting branch which obtruded
itself upon the attention. And the writer's servant
(dead, poor fellow : one of the worthiest though most
unbending of men) declared, with much solemnity
and considerable indignation, that in forming a walk
he would never again suffer the scutch ing-knife to be
in any other hands than his own. Now, it is a like
temptation that assails the editor of hymns : and even
if the editor is a competent man (and in most cases
he is not) I don't think it safe to trust him with the
scutching-knife. The only editor of hymns whom the
writer esteems as a perfect editor, is Sir Roundell
Palmer. For Sir Roundell starts with the determi-
nation to give us each hymn exactly as its author left
it. It is delightful to read " All praise to Thee, my
God, this night : " and to come upon

Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly:

after " Jesu, Saviour of my soul : '* and " Jesus refuge

of my soul." I remark, in Sir Roundell's book, oc-


casional signs of having taken a hymn from an early
edition of the author's works : which, in later editions
was retouched by the author himself. Thus James
Montgomery's " Friend after friend departs," is given
as first published : not as the author left it. In the
four verses, Montgomery mixde Jive alterations: which
are not shown in Sir Roundell's work. But, as one
who feels much interest in hymnal literature, and who
has given some attention to it, I cannot refrain from
saying that in the matter of faithfulness, Sir Roundell
Palmer's book is beyond question or comparison the
best. There is nothing second, third, or tenth to it.
It is first ; and the rest are nowhere.

Having mentioned the best hymnal that I know,
one natui'ally thinks of the worst. There is a little
volume purporting to be Hymns collected hy the Com-
mittee of the Geiieral Assembly on Psalmody: pub-
lished at Edinburgh in 1860. It is to be remembered
that the Church of Scotland has never approved this
little volume : the committee have published it on
their own responsibility. Mr. Wyatt, in making his
collection, tells us he examined thirty thousand hymns,
and took the best of them. Sir Roundell Palmer also
gives us in his volume the best hymns in the lan-
guage. But neither Mr. Wyatt nor Sir Roundell
.(both most competent judges) have seen fit to admit
much of the matter contained in this little compila-
tion. So we may conclude, either that Mr. Wyatt
did not find some of these compositions among his


thirty thousand : or that, having examined them, he
did not think them worthy of admission to his collec-
tion of about two hundred and fifty hymns. Sir
Roundell Palmer's hymns number four hundred and
twelve : and he has not erred on the side of exclu-
sion : yet he has excluded a good many of the Scotch
eighty-five. Out of the first fifteen of the Scotch
book, fourteen are unknown to him. And I do not
think cutting and carving ever went to a length so
reprehensible, as in this volume. As to the fitness of
the hymns for use in church, opinions may possibly
differ : but I am obliged to say that I never saw any
collection of such pieces so filled with passages in ex-
ecrable taste, and utterly unfit for Christian worship.
It may amuse my readers, to show them George
Herbert improved. Everybody knows the famous^
poem, " The Elixir." It consists of six verses. The
Scotch reading consists of four. In the first verse,
three verbal alterations, intended as improvements,
are made on Herbert. " Teach me, ray God and
king," becomes, " Teach us, our God and king." The
second verse in the Scotch reading, is unknown to
Herbert. It is the doing of some member of the
committee. The gold has been punched out, and a
piece of pinchbeck has been put in. Herbert's third
verse is omitted. Then comes the well-known verse :•

All may of Thee partake:
- Nothing can be so mean,
Which, with this tincture, FOR Thy SAKE,
Will not grow briglft and clean.


This is improved as follows :

All may of Thee partake ;

Nothing so sinall can he,
But draws, icTien acted for Thy sake,

Greatness and worth from Thee.

You will doubtless think that Herbert pure is bet-
ter than Herbert improved by the sign-painter. But
the next verse is smeared even worse. Who does
not remember the saintly man's words :

A servant with this clause,

Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws.

Makes that, and the action, tine.

But, as Sam Weller remarked of Mr. Pickwick
in a certain contingency, " his most formiliar friend
voodnt know him," as thus disguised :

If done beneath Thy laws.
Even humblest labors shine :
Hallowed is toil, if this the cause.
The meanest work, divine.

Herbert's temper, we know, was angelic : but I
wonder what he would have looked like, had he seen
himself thus docked, and painted crimson and blue.
No doubt, " The Elixir," as the master left it, is not
fitted for congregational singing. But that is a reason
for leaving it alone : it is no reason for thus unpar-
donably tampering with the coin of the realm.

There are various pieces in this unfortunate work,
whose appearance in it I can explain only on this


theory. Probably, some day when the committee
met, a member of committee produced a manuscript,
and said that here was a hymn of his own composi-
tion ; and begged that it might be put in the book.
The other members read it, and saw it was rubbish :
but their kindly feeling prevented their saying so :
and in it went. One of the last things many people
learn, is not to take offence when a friend declines to
admire their literary doings. I have not the faintest
idea who are the members of the committee which
issued this compilation. Likely enough, there are in
it some acquaintances of my own. But that fact shall
not prevent my saying what I honestly believe : that
it is the very worst hymn-book I ever saw. I cannot
believe that the persons who produced it, could ever
have paid any attention to hymnal literature : they
have so thoroughly missed the tone of all good hymns.
Indeed, many of the hymns seem to be formed on the
model of what may be called the Scotch " Preaching
Prayer : " the most offensive form of devotion known ;
and one entirely abandoned by all the more cultivated
of the Scotch clergy. I heard, indeed, lately, an in-
dividual pray at a meeting about the Lord's day. Li
his prayer, he alluded to the Lancashire distress : and
informed the Almighty that the patience Avith which
the Lancashire people bore it was very much the
result of their being trained in Sunday-schools. But,
leaving this volume, which is really not worth farther
notice, let me mention, that in the first twelve lines of


" Jesu, lover of my soul," there are ten improvements
made on Wesley. " While the tempest still is high,"
has nigh substituted for high. " Till the storm of life
is past," is; made " Till the storms of life are past.^'
" Oh receive my soul at last," has And substituted
for Oh : for no conceivable reason. And the familiar
line, " Hangs my helpless soul on Thee," has been
turned, by the wagon-painter, into " Clings my help-
less soul to Thee." I ask any intelligent reader, Is
not this too bad ? All my readers know that I am a
clergyman of the Church of Scotland, for whose use
these hymns have been so debased and tampered with.
They never shall be sung in my church, you may rely
on it. And the fact, that this cutting and carving has
been done so near home, serves only to make me the
more strongly to protest against it.

If it were not far too large a subject to take up
now, I should say something in reprobation of the
fashion in which many people venture to cut and
carve upon words far more sacred than those of any
poet : I mean upon the words of Holy Scripture.
Many people improve a scriptural text or phrase when
they quote it : tlie improvement generally consisting
in giving it a slight twist in the direction of their own
peculiar theological views. I have heard of a man
who quoted as from Scripture the following words :
" It is appointed unto all men once to die ; and after
death Hell." It was pointed out to him that no such


statement exists in Scripture : the words which follow
the mention of death being, " and after this the judg-
ment." But the misquoter of Scripture declined to
accept the correction, declaring that he thought his
own reading was better. I have heard of a revival
preacher who gave out as his text the words " Ye
shall all likewise perish." Every one will know what
a wicked distortion he made of our Saviour's warning
in thus clipping it. And I have heard texts of Scrip-
ture pieced together in a way that made them convey
a meaning just as far from that of the inspired writ-
ers, as that conveyed by the well-known mosaic, " And
Judas departed, and went and hanged himself: " " Go
thou and do likewise."

Probably the reader is tired of the subject. I
thank him for his patience in following me so far :
and I shall keep him no longer from something more
interesting;. '

^ ^.^. i


WAS sitting by my study fire this even-
ing in a rocking-chair, in the restful inter-

y - j i^C^ val between dinner and tea, and thinking

(^^^j^s^J jjQ^ J should conclude this volume. In
that meditative state, my attention was drawn to a
little girl who w^as sitting on the floor a little way off,
sewing, and at the same time talking to herself.

These were her words ; — they were spoken slowly,
in a pensive tone, and with considerable pauses be-
tween the sentences.

" Once I thought a great deal of a shilling. Now,
I think nothing of it. I am accustomed to shillings.
I think nothing even of a pound. I have got one
myself, and I thing nothing of it."

You see, the freshness and edge of enjoyment were
gone, through habit. Shillings had become too many,
and so they were not now the great things they used
to be. And after all, it was no very great number of
shillings which had sufficed to produce this result.

Listening to the little girl's meditation, I thought of


my volume. It is still a curious feeling to see one's
thoughts in print. The page that bears what you
have yourself written, my friend, has always a pe-
culiar expression, — an expression that is fomiliar and
yet strange. And there is still more of the singular
feeling it miparts, when you look at an entire volume
of your own. But more than one or two have pre-
ceded this, and the writer begins to feel towards a
volume as the little girl said she felt towards a shil-
ling. Yet not quite as the little girl said she felt.
The freshness is somewhat gone, yet the pubhcation
of a new book is a little epoch in a quiet life. I
suppose the Editor of a daily newspaper, seeing him-
self in print every day of his life, if he pleases, and
often finding it his duty to write upon subjects in
which he feels no great personal interest, must cease,
in a few years, to feel any special attraction to the
columns that have come from his own pen. There is
less likelihood of that, in the case of a writer whose
productions see the light at much longer intervals.
And you may remember how Southey, who wrote
probably more in quantity than any English author
of the present century, with but two or three ex-
ceptions, tells us that he retained to the last the
keen interest of a quite fresh writer in his own arti-
cles. When a new Quarterly appeared, he was quite
impatient if it were a day too late in reaching him.
I have no doubt he cut all the leaves before reading
any, for Southey was a man of an orderly turn ; but


I am sure he read his own paper the first. And he
says he always found it very fresh and interesting
reading, and he conveys that he generally thought it
very good. As indeed it was. The shillings did not
lose their value, many as they might grow.

There have been cases in which the successive
shillings grew always more precious. You will think
of Sterne, who appreciated his own writings so highly,
and who used to write to his friends, as he was draw-
ing each succeeding volume of " Tristram Shandy " to
a close, that this new volume was to be by far the
best. The present writer can say sincerely that each
succeeding volume of these Essays, which you may
have read, has been the result of more care and
thought. He does not write now in' the vague hope
that perhaps somebody may read what he M'rites ; he
has the certainty of finding very many kindly readers.
And he is not able to write now in the unconstrained
way in which he wrote the first of those chapters, in
days when not one of his rustic parishioners ever saw
a page which he put forth. He is conscious now of
the check which comes of the pervading sense, that a
great many of the flock intrusted to his care recog-
nize in what he writes a familiar hand, and can
compare what is written on these pages with what it
is his duty to teach them elsewhere. He ventures to
believe that, in spirit, there is no inconsistency. And
he knows that in the judgment of those whose judg-
ment he values most, there is none.


There Is but little time, in the life of a hard-work-
ing parish clergyman, for writing anything beyond
that which it is imperative to write. And one may
sometimes think, with a wearied sigh, even in the of dufy which is very dear, of the learned quiet
and leisure of canonries and deaneries, such as our
poor Church has not, — sadly despoiled of that which
is by right her own. Yet the habit of the pen grows
into a second nature, and reserved folk never talk out
their heart so freely as when talking to all the world.
And if we live, friendly reader, I think we shall meet


V 4

^ -<■ Deacidified using the Bookkeeper process

■"'<." O r- '" t^^'^viyi"'^ Neutralizing agent: Magnesium Oxide

^ ^^' ,^ '^_^ *'siA* Treatment Date: March 2009

^'•^ -'I\1#A ^c''^ vN PfeservationTechnologies


^ ^, 111 Thomson Park Drive

■^ i?i> ^ Cranberry Township, PA 16066




^^ i> -4

^ y-^ '\




^ 'O.'


■^> ,<^^'



.^^ •%-.

A-^ -p.

^ ..c>

%. x^^"


=^, .-J>^


' '-if.



*<■ V,


- <o ^

' '/

^ t;


^ * 5 H ' <0




.^^ ">>:

^ .^

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 19 of 19)