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William Garrett Horder.

The hymn lover: an account of the rise and growth of English hymnody online

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hymnals with anything like official sanction have too
large an infusion of hymns from these and similar
Sources. The " Wesleyan Methodist Kymn-Book " is
chiefly from the pen of the Wesleys — the hymns
of other writers are only supplemental thereto. The
<< Congregational Hymn Book," consisting of 1,000
hymns, contains 393 by Dr. Watts. The '< Baptist
Hymnal,'' containing 920, has 59 of Watts's ; whilst the
recently-issued and unofficial hymnal edited by Dr. Allon
has 65, a fourteenth of the whole. The result is that the
remark of the Oxford professor with regard to **The Book
of Praise" applies to the great majority of hymnals.
The insertion of a large number of mediocre and even
inferior hynms on the ground that they were written by
authors whose compositions, on account of the paucity of
good hymnists, were once highly valued, gives a tone of
dulness and insipidity to the collections in which they
form so large a part. It renders them like a wilderness in



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THE NEW ERA IN HYMNOBT. 491

which the oases are few and far apart. And one result is
that to most persons of cultivated taste, they seldom, if
ever, become, as thej should, manuals of devotion for
private and family use. In this respect the great majority
of hymnal editors have not kept pace either with the
tastes or the wishes of the people for whom they cater.
This is capable of proof from the actual usage of the
Church. The hymns aetually used in the Established
Church are chiefly the more poetic of the older times
and those by recent or still living writers; whilst in
churches of the Baptist and Independent order, hymns
by Watts and those of his school are rapidly passing out
of use, only the finest retaining their hold on the
affections of the worshippers. It would seem, therefore,
that the day of rhymed prose of which Dr. Watts's
hymns, save in some twenty-five or thirty examples,
consists, is over, and that the church in both its
Episcopal and Nonconformist branches is longing to be
free from all but the noblest hymns, whether ancient
or medieval, or those of Watts and his followers.
Indeed, the reason that once existed for the formet
bondage no longer holds. Our forefathers in the Estab-
lished Church were obliged to be content with Stemhold
and Hopkins, or Tate and Brady, because no sweeter
singers were available. Our forefathers in Independency
were content with Watts because he held the field,
with scarcely a competitor. But this is no longer the
case. The hymnists whose works are now available are
legion. The forthcoming ** Dictionary of Hymnology,"
to be published by Mr. Murray, under the editorship of
the Eev. John Julian, will include accounts of no less
than 3,000 hymn-writers and 30,000 hymns, so that



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492 THE HYMN LOVER.

there is an almost boundless treasury on which the
church [may draw for her worship-song. And this will
render it possible for the church to have hymnals of
which it may be said that in them ** there is almost
nothing that is bad." There is, indeed, no reason why
collections for the purpose of worship as good as the
** Golden Treasury of Lyrics," by Mr. Palgrave, is for
readtn^y should not be at the command of our churches.
By means of such they might be lifted to a nobler and
more spiritual worship, which .would ere long produce
corresponding results both in heart and life.

James Montgomery, in the preface to his ''Christian
Psalmist," published in 1825, says, '' Hymns, looking at
the multitude and mass of them, appear to have been
written by all kinds of persons except poets." This
remark to a certain extent still holds good, but in a less
degree than when he penned it. It may still be said that
in hymnody the poets of the first order are conspicuous by
their absence ; but poets, who, if they do not stand in the
first rank, are yet really poets, are more and more con-
spicuous by their presence. Some little very real poetry
may be found among the older treasures of hymnody,
though such poetio hymns were not incorporated with the
earlier hymnals. I refer to hymns by Herrick, Francis
Quarles, Sir Thomas Browne, Gkjorge Herbert, and others j
but in recent years] there may be numbered among the
hymnists of our own country, such poets as "William
Cowper, Felicia Dorothea Hemans, Henry Francis Lyte,
Frederick William Faber, John Keble, John Henry
Newman, Francis Turner Palgrave, "Walter Chalmers
Smith, and others; whilst if we pass across the sea to
our kinsmen in the New "World, scarcely a poet can be



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THE NEW ERA IN HTMNODY. 493

named who has not produced hymns. K. W. Emerson,
W. C. Bryant, J. G. Whittier, and 0. W. Holmes, are all
represented in hymnals. The reason for this union of the
poet and hymnist in America is to be found in two facts —
one being that all, or nearly all, the American poets were
deeply religious men, definitely associated at some time in
their history with particular churches ; the other being that
where, in England, a speech would be asked for some
great occasion, in America it is the custom to ask for an
ode to be recited, or a hymn to be sung. No one who has
considered the subject can doubt that, in our age, poetry
in the form of hymns is being furnished for the use of the
Church in a degree unknown, or known but rarely, in
earlier days. Even those hymnists who can scarcely be
classed as poets, and who have not produced poems, are
more filled with the poetic spirit than was the case in
earlier days.

It is not too much to say, therefore, that we have of
late entered on a new era in relation to hymnody, and that
the hymnals of the future will . be more poetic than those
of the past. A hymn should be a lyric poem. Rhymed
prose dealing with theological doctrine is not a hymn.
There must be that indescribable element we call poetic,
proceeding from ** the vision and the faculty divine," to
render verses, though metrically faultless, a hymn.
"Wanting this, they want the very life blood of a true
hymn. This is the great point of difference between
earlier and modem hymns taken as a whole. There are
exceptions. Hymns could be mentioned belonging to
every age in which the true poetic note can be heard.
In Gregory the Great's '* Now, when the dusky shades of
night retreating." In Godescalcus's ** The strain upraise



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494 THE HTMN LOVER.

of joy and praise." In Bernard of Clauranx's ^'0 Jesus,
TTiTig most wonderful," and " Jesus, the very thought of
Thee," from his *^ Jesu dulcis memoria." In Bernard of
Clugny's "To thee, dear, dear country," and other
centos from his " Hora Novissima." In the " Dies Irae,'*
theologically terrible as it is. Even Dr. Watts, prosaic as
most of his hymns are, now aad then catches the poetic
fire, as in ** I'll praise my Maker with my breath,"
** When I survey the wondrous cross," " Hear what the
voice from heaven proclaims," and others which might be
named. Prom Charles Wesley's thousands, many grazid
poetic hymns may be culled, notably " Come, thou
Traveller unknown" (which Dr. Watts said was worth all
the hymns he had ever written), " Love divine, how
sweet thou art," ** Jesus, Lover of my soul," and others;
but still, speaking broadly, it may be said that the poetic
element is more conspicuous in the hymns of the later
than of the earlier time. And the reasons for this are not
far to seek. One may be found in the fact that, amid the
paucity of hymns in earlier times, the writers too often
strove to provide hymns in sufficient numbers wholly to
supply the needs of the churches to which they belonged.
This was probably the case with Gregory, at Milan ; it
certainly was so with Dr. Watts, who in his own person
provided for the worship-song of the Independents : for a
century, at least, no other hymns than his were commonly
sung in their assemblies ; and with Charles Wesley, who,
with his brother John, may be said to have met all the
needs of the great Methodist body for a like period.

But now no man feels charged with the duty of
providing the entire hymnody of his particular churoh.
Thomas Kelly was probably the last hymnist who



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THE NEW ERA IN BYMNODT. 496

attempted to rival Watts in the number of the hjixms he
wrote ; in fact, he excelled him, since he wrote 700, where
Watts only wrote ahont 600. Ko church now draws its
hymnody from a single author. Even the Methodists have
added hymns hy other writers to those hy the founders oi
their great Church. No man, therefore, attempts to
produce hymns hy the hundred. Quality rather than
quantity is the end now sought. Where formerly, hymnals
were the product of one or two writers, they are now
composed of the writings of hundreds. My own hymnal
represents the work of nearly 360 writers and translators.
The all of one writer has given way to the best of many.
Thus quality and variety are increasingly the characteristics
of our modem hymnals. Every collection at all worthy
of use is compiled on an eclectic principle, and draws its
materials from all the Christian ages, lands, and churches.

Another reason may he found in the fact that in earlier
times the educated who could appreciate that which is
poetic were few compared with those too illiterate for such
appreciation. The spread of culture has changed, or is rapidly
changing all this. The scheme of national education now
at work includes the teaching of English literature, so that
the scholars grow familiar with some of its noblest works
both in prose and verse. This renders the mind capable of
appreciating what in former times would have been quite
beyond such appreciation. Literature, once the possession
of the few, is fast becoming the privilege of the many.
It will not be long before it will be impossible to present
a hymnal too poetic for common use.

Closely connected with this is the freer theological
spirit of our day. In earlier times a Churchman would
have looked askance at hymns by a Nonconformist, a



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496 THE HYMN LO VER.

Trinitariaii at hymns by a Unitarian; but this is no
longer the case. The Presbyterian Bonar, the inde-
pendent Watts, the Eoman Catholic iNTewman, are all
represented in "Hymns Ancient and Modem," whilst
Churchmen of every shade of opinion, Quakers, and even
Unitarians, aire represented in recent hymnals of the
Free Churches. This shows how, in spite of aU our
ecclesiastical and theological strife, there is growing up a
real reUguma unity. Hymns are regarded less and less as
the media for the expression of theological opinion, and
more and more as the expression of religious feelings —
feelings common to believers in every church. The
noblest hymns of our day may be sung by men of widely
differing views. They move more in the realm of poetry,
which deals with the essentials rather than the accidents
of the faith. Their writers dwell in a more distinctively
religious atmosphere — a larger realm in which their
feelings and thoughts can move more freely. Dogmatic
theology strikes at the very life of poetry. Even the
dogmatist ceases to be a dogmatist when he becomes a
poet. And so the decay of dogmatism is synchronous with
the growth of poetry in hymns. Even Father Faber
sinks from poetry into prose when he makes his hymns the
vehicle for Boman teaching. Br. Newman ceases to be
the theological disputant whilst dealing with the essentials
of Christianity in his verses. There is scarcely a trace of
Calvinism in the hymns of Dr. Bonar. No one would
know that Sir John Bowring was a Unitarian from his
hymns, certainly not from his best-known one, " In the
cross of Christ I glory." As some one has said: " there is
little heresy in hymns," for poetry, dealing as it does with
the essentials of things, leaves behind points of difference,



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THE NEW ERA IN HTMNODY, 497

which, after all, are not of the essence of the matter*
Whilst it may still further be noted that the poetic spirit
so characteristic of our age has not only prepared men to
appreciate poetry in hymns, but has also quickened a larger
number to attempt their production. In earlier days the
Nonconformists were the chief contributors to hymnody ;
but in recent days Churchmen have more than rivalled
them in this respect. This has brought a new element
into our hymnody. Culture is more evident in recent
than in early hymns. In this the Universities have
exercised a deep and widespread influence. Our modem
hymnody owes not a little to the classical training,
especially the verse-making of Cambridge and Oxford,
particularly the latter. The versifying in the classical
languages — ^much-ridiculed, and often justly so— has had
much to do with the change. In this respect, it in no
other, it has had its uses. University culture is a very
marked feature in the hymn-writing, not only of Dean
Milman, John Keble, J. H. Newman, F. T. Falgrave,
John Ellerton, Bishop How, Dean Flumptre, and others
who might be named belonging to the English Church,
but also in that of the finest American hymnists. Their
hymns often combine the fervour of less cultured hymnists
with greater purity of taste. The poetic feeling is both
quickened and refined by the atmosphere and pursuits of
the places in which the formative years of their life were
passed. It is only bare justice to acknowledge how
valuable are the contributions which many of the cultured
sons of the Established Church have made to the hymnals
of our age. The hymns most frequently sung, even in
our Nonconformist churches, have been drawn from this
source, in many cases almost displacing hymns on the

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498 THE HYMN LOVER.

same subjects by earlier writers. Dr. Newman's hymn,
written whilst he was in the English Church, '^ Leadi
kindly light/' has almost taken the place of the Welsh
hymn, ** Guide me, Thou great Jehovah," a fine hymn,
but disfigured by the unpoetic line, '* Death of death, and
hell's destruction," whilst Bishop Ken's great hymn, ''All
praise to Thee, my Gk>d, this night," is not sung half so
frequently at evening services as Lyte's •* Abide with
me, fast falls the eventide," or Keble's ''Sun of my
soul, thou Saviour dear," or Ellerton's "Saviour,
again to Thy dear name we raise." This is to be
accounted for by the greater tenderness of these more
recent hymnists. Hymns of what may be called a harder
type are fast being displaced by those in which the
pathetic note is more clearly heard —

Such longs have power to quiet

The restless pulse of care,
And come, like the benediction

Which follows after prayer.

The hymns of earlier days were chiefly written by
men whose religious ideas were so saturated by theology
that their hymns became of necessity theology in verse —
their prayers, their hopes, their joys, expressed them-
selves naturally in theologic language. Their starting-
point was doctrinal, they were students of theology
even more than of Scripture, and so the hymn-book
became a modified manual of theology.

In nothing was the theological prepossession of the
older hymnists more manifest than in their versions of the
Psalms ; here the Jewish singer becomes often a Calvinist
of the purest type, all " the five points " are brought in,
the struggles, needs, yeamingSi fears, proper to the life of
that day, and even of this are rejected, to be replaced by



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THE NEW ERA IN HYMNOBT. 499

others of quite a different kind, proper only to men
Hying in an atmosphere poisoned by the fume of creeds
— sovereignty, satisfaction, purchase, perseverance, and
perdition usurping and utterly transforming the words
and thoughts of the sweet singer of Israel. (See Psalms
69, 61, and many others in Watts's version.) Of course
every Psalm was not thus treated, but about as many as
would allow of it were so treated. It should be noted,
however, that the Scotch version does not ofPend in this
way, but is an actual version of the Biblical Psalms.

In that age dogmatic theology was supreme, and hence
it will be found that very rarely did its hymns grow
out of Scripture scenes or events, save those on which
theology has too often exclusively fixed its gaze, such
as the Birth, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and
Ascension of our Lord. Few, indeed, are the hymns by
writers of the older time which grew out of the other
scenes and works of our Lord's ministry. It seems to
me that the writers of later times, and of our own
age, have drawn their inspiration rather from the (Gospels
than book divinity, and are, therefore, less theological
and more biblical. Nearly every great scene in our
Lord's career has given birth to some hymn, not merely,
as formerly, the opening and closing scenes of that
ministry, but the visit to the Temple, the Baptism in
the Jordan, the Temptation, the Miracles of healing or
power, the Entry into Jerusalem. The representation
of Christ is thus much fuller. It is no longer an
outline sketch, but more like a finished picture. This
has rendered our modem hymns more picturesque, more
vivid, and so more helpful to the worshipper. One of



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600 THE HYMN LOVER.

our modem hymn-books is called "The Hymnal Com-
panion to the Book of Common Prayer." A really
good hymn-book ought to be a companion to the New
Testament — a veritable " Christ in Song."

The theological standpoint of many of the earlier
hymn-writers ^had this further effect on their hymns,
that there was not sufficient thought of the needs and
times of worship. How few of their hymns are suitable
for the opening and close of public worship ! — ^how few
those for morning and evening! Hymns of this kind
have to be drawn almost exclusively from the writers
of the present century. This remark does not apply
to the hymns of the Latin Breviaries, ^which are rich
in verses for the various times of the day, but then
these have only of late found their way, by means of
English translationB, into our hymnals. Nearly all our
much-loved and often-sung evening hymns are by
writers .either living or recently departed. And
the same remark may be made as to hymns for the
various seasons] of the year. To all such sublunary
matters the elder writers, immersed in theological
questions, were quite oblivious. So regardful were they
of the future world that the present one seemed beneath
their notice. The spirit of their time is well set forth
in the words of Mr. Cecil — " I want to see no more
sea, hills, valleys, fields, abbeys, or castles. I feel
vanity pervading everything but eternity and its concerns,
and perceive these things to be suited to children."

There was indeed a subtle kind of Manichseism abroad,
which regarded this as the devil's world rather than
God's, and interest in it, or love for its beauty, was
reckoned a sign of worldliness. Hen might gather



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THE NEW ERA IN HYMNODT, 501

for worship amid the freshness of spring, or the glory
of summer, or the mellowness of autumn, or the frost
of winter, but no hymns rose from their lips in harmony
with the season. Praise for the visible world, for its
beauty, its variety, its loveliness, was a thing almost
unheard of, in the worship of former times. A new
feeling has grown up in relation to the world, thanks
to the influence of poets like Wordsworth, or prose-
writers like Charles Kingsley, or scientists whose name
is legion. It is felt that thankfulness for the present
world is as much a duty as anticipation of the world
to come. It is considered no mark of piety to grumble
at our earth or call it a waste howling wilderness, but
the sign that the piety is either absent, or of an un-
healthy kind. And vdth the growth of this feeling,
hymns of a new order — full of discernment for the
beauty of the world, full of thankfulness on its account —
have come into existence. Do we gather for worship on a
lovely morning of spring, we can sing,

" The glorj of the spring how sweet."
Amid the richer foliage and beauty of the summer we

can sing,

« Summer suns are glowing."

As the leaves grow to a golden tint we can sing,

with a regretful feeling for the passing of the summer,

" The year Ib swiftly waning."

As winter strides with iron tread over the earth, we

can comfort ourselves with the touching words^

And yet God's love is not withdrawn,

HIb life within the keen air breathes,
His beauty paints the crimson dawn,

And clothes the boughs with glittering wreaths.



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502 THE HYMN LOVEB.

God ! who giv'st the winter's eold

Ab well as summer's joyous rays,
Us warmly in Thy love enfold,

And keep us through life's wintry days.

So intent were the older writers on the unseen world,
that scarcely a hymn is to be found in their writings
expressive of harvest joys ; indeed, for the most part they
BO intensely regarded the soul of man, that in view of it
all the other parts and faculties of his nature seemed
nothing worth. Without any diminution of regard for
man's soul, but rather witb a clearer discernment of its
spiritual nature, our modem hymnists include in their
thought his whole humanity as belonging to God. And
so a more haman feeling runs through their hymns.
They express real sorrows and joys, not imaginary ones.
Their hymns spring out of the human heart, and not
out of theological thoughts concerning man. Many of
the older hymns are far off from men, pitched in too
high a key to be sung quite truthfully by ordinary men
and women. They are not suited for " human nature's
daily food." They delight in generalities, and so their
words are vague, whether they utter the note of
contrition or of praise. Eor the most part we discern
the theologian rhyming about sin, rather than the peni-
tent confessing his wrong-doing; theologic thought of the
world, not discernment and thankfulness for its beauty ;
the ecclesiastic zealous for 'church relationships rather
than one filled vrith the enthusiasm of humanity, and
keenly alive to the brotherhood of man. The actual
feelings and aspirations of men rarely find ex|H*e88ion in
the ordinary hynmody of the older time. Its producers
turn rather to the doctrinal than the practical parts of
Scripture, and embody the arguments rather than express



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THE NEW ERA IN HYMNODY. 503

the spirit they should waken in the hearts of men. In
seeking expression for many of the feelings of the
Christian life, especially such as sympathy, calmness,
humility, generosity, we are obliged to turn to the works
of hymnists of our own age. The Gospel heard in our
pulpits has grown more sympathetic, and our song must
be in harmony with our teaching. Sermon and song must
keep touch with, and be supplemental of, each other.
Those who come to our churches do not want to give
utterance to theological platitudes, but to speak out of
their hearts to their Father. Conscious of manifold
failure, they long to confess the actual sins they have
committed. Burdened with life's many trials, they would
lay down their burden at their Father's feet. Often filled
with sorrow as are their hearts, they would be assured of
a Divine sympathy, whilst amid their seasons of prosperity
they would discern the hand, and give thanks to the
CKver of all good. Who are the men able to give voice
to their feelings so fully as those whose lot has been cast
amid like surroundings, troubled by the same doubts,
harrassed by the same temptations, burdened with the
same anxieties, fiUed with the same joys ?

I will undertake to say that the hymns by far the most
frequently sung in our day are those produced during the
present century. The extraordinary popularity of Mr.
Sankey's ** Songs and Solos " is due to the hymns by
recent writers, in its pages; those by earlier ones are rarely
used. Of coTirse, among the older hymns there are some
80 instinct with life, so really songs of the heart, that
they live, and are likely to live. Only a living hymnody
has much chance of surviving. '' The deadest of all dead
things," says a recent author, " is a dead theology," and



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504 THE HYMN LOVEB.

it may be added that the deadest of all dead things is a
hymn which has sprung out of a dead theology. Being
dead, they will soon be buried out of the sight of all, save
antiquarian hymnologists. Their removal from the pages
of our hymn-books would be an unmixed blessing, and
would render such books more valued, not only as helps to
public worship, but as companions for a quiet hour within
the home.

In his introduction to '' The English Poets," edited by



Online LibraryWilliam Garrett HorderThe hymn lover: an account of the rise and growth of English hymnody → online text (page 34 of 37)