William Garrett Horder.

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

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O Tree of Beauty I Tree of Light I
O Tree with royal purple dightl
Elect on whose triumphal breast
Those holy limbs should find their rest!

On whose dear arms, so widely flung,
The weight of this world's ransom hung:
The price of human kind to pay.
And spoil the Spoiler of his prey.

With fragrance dropping* Irom each bough,
Sweeter than sweetest nectar Thou;
Decked with the fruit of peace and praise,
And gkmous with triumphal lays.

Hail, Altar I hafl, O Victim 1 Thee
Decks now Thy passion's victory;
Where Life for sinners death endured,
And life by death for man procured.

In the 14th century, the following verses were added
when the hymn was appropriated to Passion-tide : —


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O GroBB, our oim reliaooe haill

'his holy PaMiontide, aviil
To give fresh merit to the Saint,
And pardon to the pcoiitent.

To Thee, Eternal Three in one,
Let homage meet by all be done;
Whom by the Gross Thoa dost restore,
Preserve and govern evermore.]

Another is the " Pange lingua gloriosi " (" Sing, my
tongae, the glorious battle "), a hymn in which praise of
the cross finds full expression, as witness the following
Terse : —

Bend thy boughs, O Tree of Glory!

Thy relaxing sinews bend;
For awhile the ancient rigour

That thy birth bestowed, suspend ;
And the King of Heavenly Beauty

On thy bosom gently tend ! ', <

His " Salva festa dies " ("Hail, festal day! ever exalted \ , \

high ") has for centuries been used as a hymn for Easter : ^ .\

day, and is full of poetic vigour, as the following verses * *
may show : —

The changingmonths, the pleasant light of days,
The shining hours, the rippling moments praise.
Since Qod hath oonquc^ hell, and rules the starry sky.

Countless the hosts Thou savest from the dead ;
They follow free where Thou, their Lord, hast led.
Hail, festal day 1 ever exalted high.

Oregory the Great is a personage of more interest to
English folk than his contemporary Fortunatus, since
to him we owe the mission of Augustine, by which
Christianity was introduced to our land ; whilst his
name is familiar to the youngest by the beautiful story
which tells how, on going into the slave market at Rome,
and marking the beauty of certain fair English youths,
he exclaimed, " If they were Christians, they were not
Angles but angels.'' A sight which probably prompted


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the despatch of the misdoii for the convenion of Eogland
to Christianity. Had our coiintry been won to and
remained faithfnl to a Christianity such as was seen in
Gregory, the Beformation would have been little needed
in our land. Gregory is one of the noblest figures in the
history of the Church. To him we owe the Plain Song —
the G^gorian tones which for centuries held their ground
A in the Church, and which to this day find many earnest
defenders. Mono, in his great work, ''Hymni Latini
Medii ^ri," assigns to Gregory the "Veni Creator
-OSpiritus," usually assigned to Charlemagne. Wacker-
I « *\ nagel is of the same opinion. Daniel, however, ascribes
it, as it usually has been, to the great Emperor of the
♦ ' * "West. The question of its authorship must probably
\ ' remain uncertain. Of its high popularity there can be
\ no doubt. Daniel says it was appointed for use at the

creation of a pope, the election of a bishop, the corona-
% I h ition of kings, the celebration of a synod, the elevation
* ^ ^ and translation of saints. It is the only hymn inserted
in the Book of Common Prayer, where Bishop Cosin's
version is adopted. It has been again and again trans-
lated. As it is BO uncertain whether Gregory wrote it,
we append another hymn by him, in the translation of an
anonymous writer, which seems to us very beautiful: —

Now, when the dusky shades of night, retreating
Before the son's red banner, swiftly flee;

Now, when the terrors of the dark are fleeting,
O Lord, we lift our thankful hearts to Thee,—

To Thee, Whose word, the fount of life mwealing,
When hill and dale in thickest darkness lay.

Awoke bright rays across the dim earth stealing.
And bade the eve and mom complete the day.

Look from the tower of heaven, and send to cheer na

Thv lijriit and tmth to guide as onward still ;
ttill let Thy merpy, as of old, be near
And lead as safely to Thy holy hill.


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80, when that morn of endless light is waking,
And shades of evil from its splendours flee,

Safe may we rise, the earth's dark breast forsaking.
Through all the long bright day to dwell with Thee.

ThiB is, perhapsy the place to speak of the Yenerable
Bede, rather than in the chapter on early English hymns,
since, although an Englishman, and resident in England,
he wrote all his hymns in the Latin tongue. His life
extended from about 672 to 735 a.d. At seven years of
age, he entered the monastery of Jarrow, where he
remained till death called him to higher service. '' There
he read, wrote, and prayed, sang hymns to his Saxon
harp, recorded the history of his people, and corre-
sponded with friends in all parts of England and Europe ;
and there, as the last work of his busy life, he translated
the (Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon, finishing it amid
the sufferings of his last illness, and dying just as he had
concluded the last chapter. * Dearest master,' said his
Amanuensis to him, 'there is only one thought left to
write.' He answered, ' Write quickly.' Soon the writer
replied, ' Now this thought also is written.' He answered,
' Thou hast well said. It is finished. Baise my head in
thy hand, for it will do me good to sit opposite my
sanctuary, where I was wont to kneel down to pray ; that
sitting I may call upon my Father.' So he seated him-
self on the ground in his cell, and sang the 'Glory to
Thee, Ood — ^Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,' and when
he had named the Holy Ghost, he breathed his last
breath." He wrote a long hymn, comparing the six days
of the creation with the six days of the world. His
hymn on the Ascension is full of quaint beauty, as will
be seen from the following translation by Mrs. Charles : —


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A hymn of gkxy let ns ting :

New hymm throaghoat the world shall ring;

By a new way dodo ever trod,

Christ moanteth to the throne of Qod.

The aposUcs on the mountain stood, —
The mystic moont, in Holy Land;
They, with the Tirj^n-mother, see
Jesos ascend in migesty.

The angels say to the eleven,
'* Why stand ye gazing into heaven?
This is the Saviour,— this is He 1
Jesns hath triamphed gloriously ! "

They said the Lord should come again.
As theee beheld Him rising then.
Calm soaring through the radiant sky,
Mounting its dazzling summits high.

Hay our affections thither tend,
And thither constantly ascend,
Where, seated on the Father's throne.
Thee reigning in the heavens we own !

Be Thon our present joy, O Lord !
Who wUt be ever our reward;
And, as the coontless ages flee.
May all our glory be in Thee!

It is free from the objectionable and unscriptural elements
of many hymns of the medisval age, to whioh, in spirit,
the monk of Jarrow scarcely belongs. Nearly a century
later flourished Theodulph of Orleans (he died in 821 a.d.)
whose hymn on Christ's entrance into Jerusalem is
animated by a spirit very like to that of the Venerable
Bede's on the Ascension. It was written at Metz, or as
some say at Angers, during his imprisonment on a false
accusation. On their way to the cathedral, the Emperor
Louis and his court heard this hymn sung by choristers
instructed by Theodulph. It procured his instant libera-
tion. In Dr. Neale's translation it begins : ~

Glory, and land, and honoor;
and until the seventeenth century, he says that the
following quaint verse was included : —


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Be ThoQ, O Lord, the rider,

And we the little an,
That to God'fl holy dty,

Together we may pa^s.

The two hymns that are best known beyond ecclesias-
tical circles, and that have made the greatest impression,
both on literature and mnsic, are the ''Dies IrsB " and the
*' Stabat Mater," the former the most sublime, the latter
the most pathetic of mediseval hymns. The '' Dies Irss "
was written for private devotion in a lonely monastic cell,
about 1250, by Thomas of Celano, the friend and
biographer of St. Francis of Assisi. It has been truly
said : '* The secret of the irresistible power of the * Dies
Ire' lies in the awful grandeur of the theme, the intense
earnestness and pathos of the poet, the simple majesty
and solemn music of its language, the stately metre, the
triple rhyme, and the vowel assonances chosen in striking
adaptation to the sense; all combining to pro<luce an
overwhelming effect, as if we heard the final crash of the
universe, the commotion of the opening graves, the
trumpet of the archangel that summons the quick and
the dead, and as if we saw the King of tremendous
majesty seated on the throne of justice and mercy, and
ready to dispense everlasting life or everlasting woe.''
Gk>ethe describes its efPect upon the guilty conscience in
the cathedral scene of ''Faust." Sir "Walter Scott in-
troduces a pcrtion of it into the "Lay of the Last
Minstrel." It is at once the hope and * despair of
translators. Probably more attempts have been made to
translate it than any other hymn. Dr. Irons' translation
is perhaps the best, and has been most frequently chosen
by hymnal editors. In our opinion it is quite unsuitable


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— ^nor was it ever intended by its author — ^for public

The '' Stabat Mater," founded on John xix. 25, and
Luke ii. 85, is by Jacobus de Benedictis, otherwise called
JacopoLe da Todi, a reformer before the Eeformation, who
came into conflict with Pope Boniface YIII., by whom he
was imprisoned, and on whose death ho was released. It
has become the libretto to music by Palestrina, Pergolesi,
Haydn, Eossini, and others.

The "Pange lingua gloriosi," by Thomas Aquinas,
Dr. Neale says, contests the second place among those of
the Western Church with the "Vexilla regis," the
" Stabat Mater," the " Jesu dulcis memoria," and others,
leaving the ** Dies Irse " in its unapproachable glory.
Its materialistic conceptions are, in our judgment, fatal to
poetic thought. That our readers may judge for them-
selves, we append the hymn as it stands in Dr. Neale's
translation : —

Of the glorious Body telling,

O my tongue its mvHteries sing;
And the Blood, all pnce excelb'ng,

Which for this world's ransoming
In a generous womb onoe dwelling,

He shed forth, the Gentiles* King.

Given for us, for us descending

Of a Virgin to proceed,
Man with man in converse blending

Scattered He the Gospel seed:
Till His sojourn drew to ending,
• Which He dosed in wondrous deed.

At the last Great Supper seated,

Circled by His brethren's band,
All the Law required, completed

In the feast its statutes planned,
To the Twelve Himself He meted

For their food with His own hand.


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Word made Fletb, hv Word He maketh

Veiy Bread His Flesb to be;
Man in wine GhriBt's Blood partaketh,

And if senses fail to see,
Faith abne the true heart wiketh

To behold the Mystery.

Therefore we, before it bending,

This great Sacrament adore:
Types and shadows have their ending

In the new Rite evermore:
Faith, our ontward sense amending,

Maketh good defects before.

Honour, laud, and praise addressing

To the Father aqd the Son,
Might ascribe we, virtue, blessing.

And eternal benison:
Holy Ghost, from Both progressing,

Eiqual laud to Thee be done! Amen.

In the following hymn, "Adore te devete, latens
Deltas/' Aqninas seems to take a more spiritual Tiew
of the Eucharist — it was probably the product of a
higher mood: —

Humbly I adore Thee, hidden Deity,

Which beneath these fijniree art concealed from me;

Wholly in submission Thee my spirit hails,

For in contemplating Thee it wholly fails.

Taste and touch and vision in Thee are deceived:
But the hearing only may be well believed:
I believe whatever God's own Son declared:
Nothing can be truer than Truth's very Word.

On the Cross lay hidden but Thy Deity :
Here is also hidden Thy humanity:
But in both believing and confessing, Lord,
Ask I what the dying thief of Thee implored.

Though Thy Wounds, like Thomas, I behold not now,
Thee my I/>rd confessing, and my God, I bow:
Give me ever stronger faith in Thee above.
Give me ever stronger hope and stronger love.

most sweet memorial of His death and woe,
Living Bread, Which givest life to man below,
Let my spirit ever eat of Thee and live.
And the blest fruition of Thy sweetness give !


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Pelican of Mercy, Jesu, Lord and €k)d,
Cleanse me, wretched sinner, in Thy Precioas Blood:
Blood, whereof one drop for hiunankind outpoured
Might from all tranBgression have the world restored.

Jeso, Thou, whom thus yeil*d, I must see below,
When shall that he given which I long for so,
That at last beholding Thy unoorer'd Face,
Thou wouldst satisfy me with Thy fullest graoeP

And of this whole period we may say, that where the
writen depart from the spiritaality of the (Gospels, their
mnse fails them ; where they are most spiritual they are
most poetic. When they strive to express ideas foreign
to the spirit of Christ — carnal conceptions of His work,
veneration for His cross, the glory of His mother, the
worship of relics — the poetic fire bums low, even if it
does not qnite expire. When they express ideas common
to all Christian hearts, they rise to the truest poetry,
since sacred poetry of the highest kind is but the
expression of universal ideas.

The greatest of the mediseval hymn-writers, however,
was Adam of St. Yictor, who, if not a native of England,
was of Brittany. It is impossible to say which, since he
is described as "Brito,'' and this title may refer either to
Brittany or Britain. The probability is, since he belonged
to a monastery in France, and that most of the famous
hymnists of the age were French, that he was also of
that nation. At all events he studied in France. It is
only quite recently that the great mass of his hymns
was brought to light. For nearly seven centuries, a large
part remained buried among forgotten manuscripts in the
Abbey of St. Victor, in Paris. At the Fi-ench Eevolution,
this abbey was dissolved as a religious foundation, its
inmates dispersed, and its precious manuscripts removed


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to the National Library in the Louvre. Till the middle
of the present century, only thirty-seven of his hymns
had found their way into circulation; but then M. Ottuti^
discovered about forty-eight in the Louvre Library, and
published them ; but as many of the great events of our
Lord's life have no hymn to celebrate them, it is possible,
and even likely, that many yet remain undiscovered, or
have been either destroyed or lost. Adam of St. Victor
is little known through English hymnals, and the reason
is this — no translation can adequately represent his
hymns. They abound in rhymes which cannot be
rendered into English. Their glory is in their itifle; not
in the variety of their subject, or picturesqueness of
manner, but in the marvellously beautiful expression of
his thought. But some idea may be gained of his merit
from the praise bestowed upon him by the most competent
judges. Eambach calls him ** the Schiller of the Middle
Ages ;" Dr. Neale, " the greatest Latin poet, not only of
mediseval, but of all ages/' whilst in the preface to his
''Mediseval Hymns" (to which I am much indebted in
this work), he says, "It is a magnificent thing to pass
along the &r-stretching vista of hymns, from the sublime
self-containedness of St. Ambrose to the more fervid
inspiration of St. Gregory, the exquisite typology of
Yenantius Fortunatus, the lovely painting of St. Peter
Damiani, the crystal-like simplicity of St. Notker, the
Scriptural calm of Godescalcus, the subjective loveliness
of St. Bernard, but all culminate in the full blaze of glory
which suiTounds Adam of St. Victor, the greatest of all."
I give below a translation of one by him for St. Stephen's
day, which is generally regarded as the finest he ever
wrote : —


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Yetterday, with emltaiioii,
Join'd the world in celebration

Of her promised SaTionr's birth:
Yesterday the Angel-nation
Poured the strains of jubilation

O'er the Monarch bom on earth.

Bat to-day, o'er death victorioos,
By his faith and actions gloriousi

By his miracles renowird,
Dared the Deacon Proto-martyr,
Earthly life for Heaven to barter,

Faithful midst the faithless (bond.

Forward, champion, in thy quarrel I
Certain of a certain laurel,

Holy Stephen, persevere!
Peijur'd witnesses confounding,
Satan's Synagogue astounding

By thy doctrine true and dear.

Lo ! in heaven thy Witness liveth :
Br^ht and faithful proof He giveth

Of His martyr's blamelessness.
Thou l^ name a Crown impliest;
Meetly then in panjzs thou diest

For the Crown of Righteousness I

For a crown that fa<!leth never.
Bear the torturer's brief endeavour;

Victory waits to end the strife.
Death shall be thy birth's beginning.
And life's losing be the winning

Of the true and better life.

Whom the Holy Ghost endueth,
Whom celestial sight embueth,

Stephen penetrates the skies;
There God's fullest glory viewing.
There his victor strength renewing.

For lus near reward he sighs.

See, as Jewish foes invade thee.
See how Jesus standi to aid thee:

Stands to guard His champion's death:
Cry that opened heaven is shown thee.
Cry that Jesus waits to own thee.

Cry it with thy latest breath.

As the d3ring martyr kneeleth,
For his murderers he appealeth,
And his prayer their panlon sealeth,
For their madness grieving sore;


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Then in Christ he aleepeUi sweetly,
Who His pattern kept completely,
And with Christ he reigneth meetly,
Martyr first-fmits, evermore!

To the end of the 11th and the Ant half of the 12th
centory (1091-1153) belongs Bernard of ClairvauXy who
has been called "the last of the] Apostles," and ''the
holiest monk that ever liyed." To him we probably
owe the long poem on the Name of Jesus which generally
goes by the name " Jesos dnlcis memoria.'' It is some-
times called the ^'Jubilus of St. Bernard/' and by
mediaeval writers, the "Kosy Hymn." From this we
have the three centos " Jesu, the very thought of Thee ; "
and " Jesu King most wonderful," translated by Father
Caswall; and ''Jesu, Thou joy of loving hearts," trans-
lated by Dr. Ray Palmer — a well-loved trilogy ; whilst
Paul Oerhardt's hymn which begins in Dr. J. W*
Alexander's translation " O Sacred Head, once wounded "
is drawn from his "Salve Caput cruentatum," a poem
of 350 lines, in which 50 lines are devoted to each of
the limbs of our Lord. It is not absolutely certain
that these and other poems ascribed to Bernard of
Clairvauz were actually written by him ; even Mabillon,
the editor of his works, is doubtful as to his authorship
of them, and many have shared his doubt; but Archbishop
Trench, the editor of "Sacred Latin Poetry," a critic
of large knowledge and fine insight, gives it as his
opinion that they are from his pen, and says — "if he
did not write them it is not easy to guess who could
have written them; and, indeed, they bear profoundly
the stamp of his mind, being only inferior in beauty
to his prose." Positive proof may indeed be lacking,
but the internal evidence is very strong for the authorship


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of the saintly Abbot of Clairraux; and whilst the
controversies in which he engaged with Abelard, the
part he played in the Crusades, and his mystical sermons
on the Canticles are well nigh forgotten save by students
of ecclesiastical history, yet his hymns (if they are really
his) are familiar and full of inspiration to multitudes,
eyen of the most imlettered in our day. Thus the sacred
Poet whose verses appeal to the heart is far surer of
remembrance than the Theologue who discourses of
doctrine which appeals only to the intellect, and is ever
changing its forms.

To a period a little later belongs Bernard of Morlaiz
(the place of his birth), or as he is sometimes styled,
of Clugny (the name of his monastery). Bom though
he was at Morlaix in Bretagne, he yet came of English
parentage. Of his life, little is known save that he
entered the Abbey of Clugny, of which Peter the
Venerable was the head. To him we owe the hymn
of three thousand lines, called sometimes ** De contemptu
mundi," and sometimes '^Hora Kovissima," from which
so mjmy centos have been drawn — the best known
being ** Jerusalem the golden," To Thee, dear,
dear country," and ** Brief life is here our portion."
Bernard attributed to a special inspiration of the Spirit
of God the power to write so extended a hymn in such
a difficult metre. It was written, strange to say, as a
satire against the vices and follies of his age. It is
remarkable that a satirs should have given to the church
some of her most popular hymns. The case is probably
unique. The portions taken for translation by Dr. Neale
are the more jubilant ones, and give no idea of the
sadness and self abasement of the poem as a whole.


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Of it, Dr. Neale says : '' I have no hetdtation in saying
that I look on these yerses of Bernard as the most lovely,
in the same way that the 'Dies Ir»' is the most
sublime, and the 'Stabat Mater' the most pathetio of
me.isdval poems.''

It is curious that to one Bernard (of Clairvaux) we
should owe some of the most prized of our hymns
concerning Christ, and to another Bernard (of Morlaix
or Clugny) the hymns most frequently sung concerning

The " Veni Sancte Spiritus " (" Holy Spirit, Lord of
Light"), the loveliest, in Archbishop Trench's opinion, of
all the hymns in the whole circle of sacred Latin poetry,
is admitted by all the great authorities to be by King
Robert II. of France (997-1031), who was singularly
addicted to church music, which he enriched, as well as
hymnody, with many compositions of his own. It is said
that ''he placed himself, robed and crowned, among the
choristers of St. Denis, and led the musicians in singing
psalms and hymns of his own composition."

To this period belong those forms of hymns called
Sequences. A specimen of these, familiar to all, may be
found in the well-known *' The strain upraise of joy and
praise," translated from Godescalcus by Dr. Neale. I
cannot do better than give Dr. Neale's beautiful account
of the origin of Sequences : —

**It is well known that the origin of sequences
themselves is to be looked for in the Alleluia of the
Gradual, sung between the Epistle and Gospel. During
this melody it was necessary that the deacon should have
time to ascend from his place at the altar to the rood-loft,


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that he might thence siiig the Gk)speL Hence the pro-
longation of the last syllable in the Alleluia of the
Gradual, in thirty, forty, fifty, or even a hundred notes ;
the neuma of which ritualistic writers speak so much.
True, there was no sense in this last syllable and its
lengthening out, bat the mystical interpreters had their
explanation: 'the way in which we praise Qod in our
country is yet unknown.*

''And good people were content for some three
hundred years with this service; and, as it has been
very truly observed, the attempt itself, if one may use
the expression, to explain the sound into sense, manifests
a little of the rationalism with which the Eastern has-
always taunted the Western Church. But, towards the
beginning of the eleventh century, there was a certain
Swiss monk, by name Notker. The defects of every
religious person were well known in the house where he
resided, and a slight lisp in his speech gave him the
surname of £alhulu». He had resided for some years in
that marvellous monastery of S. Gall; the church of
which was the pattern of all monastic edifices, till it was
eclipsed by a church, the description of which now reads
like a most glorious dream — Clugny. While watching
the samphire gatherers on the precipitous cliffs that sur-
rounded S. Gall, Notker had [composed the world-famous
hymn, * In the midst of life we are in death.' But
desirous of obtaining the best education which Christen-

Online LibraryWilliam Garrett HorderThe hymn lover: an account of the rise and growth of English hymnody → online text (page 5 of 37)