William Garrett Horder.

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

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borrowed does not support this suggestion. But whilst
we must reject these charges of indebtedness, there can
be little doubt that Ken was acquainted with the hymn
of Sir Thomas Browne's, published in his "Religio
Medici," and that unconsciously, in writing his Evening


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Hymn, he was affected thereby. A comparison of the
good Bishop's hymn with that of the Norwich physician,
given on page 77, will reveal many similarities, both of
thought and expression. The plagiarism, if snch existed,
was, however, probably quite unconscious. Those who
desire to consider this question further, will find materials
in an interesting chapter in Dean Plumptre's forthcoming
work, ** The Life and Letters of Bishop Ken," of which,
with great kindness, he has permitted me to read the

Nahum Tate (1652-1716) and Nicholas Brady (1659-
1726) are chiefly known by their translations of the
Psalms into metre, which succeeded those of Stemhold
and Hopkins, but in the appendix to their version of the
Psalms are certain hymns, probably from the pen of one
or other of them. The most important of these are " To
God be glory, peace on earth," an English rendering of
an ancient hymn, " While shepherds watched their flocks
by night," and also "0 God of Hosts, the mighty
Lord," which, however, is a part of their Psalter, and
also included therein, in its proper place. Some of
their versions of the Psalms are deservedly retained
as hymns in modem collections, especially " Through
all the changing scenes of life " (Psalm xxiv).
Their versions of the Psalms as a whole, though less
rugged than those of Stemhold and Hopkins (which
they displaced), have little poetic merit, and could only
have satisfied a commonplace age.

The Wesley family, to whom hymnody owes so much,
is represented in this age by Samuel, the father of John
and Charles Wesley ; himself the son of an earlier John
Wesley. The one hymn we owe to him is '' Behold the


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Saviour of mankind." It was found written on a piece
of music, which narrowly escaped destruction when his
parsonage at Epworth was burnt down — a fire from which
his son John was saved in an almost miraculous way. It
is a somewhat dramatic hymn, and more after the manner
of Watts than of his son, Charles Wesley.

The use of Joseph Stennett's (1663-1713) hymns has
been confined, with one exception, chiefly to the Baptist
body, to which he belonged. He wrote twelve hymns for
believer's baptism — a theme on which we have never met
with a really fine hymn, although there are many not
specially written for it which are admirably suited to such
a service. His hymn, beginning " Another six days* work
is done,'' has some little merit for Sunday morning use.
It consisted originally of fourteen verses, from which
four are usually taken. The last verse, " Come, bless the
Lord, whose love assigns," is by another hand.

The last name of the period, before Watts, is Joseph
Addison (1672-1719), a great name in English literature,
and, so far as style and taste are concerned, a notable
name in hymnody ; but he lacked the vision and faculty
divine so essential to poetry of the highest order. Still,
his hymns are far above the average. His rendering of
the 19th Psalm, '< The spacious firmament on high," was
first given at the end of an article in the SpectatoTy
No. 465, August 23rd, 1712, on ** The right means to
strengthen faith." That of the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord my
pasture shall prepare," appeared in the same periodical,
No. 441, July 26th, 1712. His hymn for travellers, "How
are Thy servants blest, Lord," in No. 489, Sept. 20th,
1712, at the end of a paper on " The Sea." " When


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rising from the bed of death," in No. 513, October 18th,
1712. His finest hymn, most full of feeling and lyric
force, " When all Thy mercies, my God," is appended
to an article on ** Praise to God," in No. 453, August 9th,
1712. It will thus be seen that all his hymns were
published in the same year, 1712. Two of his hymns
have been claimed as Andrew Marvell's by Captain
Thompson, but there is no good ground for the claim.

In the period covered by this chapter, a distinct advance
is observable toward hynm writing as distinguished from
mere poetry. Hymns begin to assume a distinct style ;
they are less vehicles for thought and more for religious
aspiration ; they have grown simpler, both in form and
substance, and more within the comprehension of simple
folk. The foundations have thus been laid on which
first Watts, then Wesley, and afterwards a multitude of
builders will erect the great Temple of English Song.


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Isaac Watts is the real founder of English hymnody.
What Ambrose was to the Latins ; what Clement Marot
was to the French; what Luther was to the Germans;
that, and perhaps more, was Watts to the English. As
Josiah Conder says: — '*He was the first who succeeded
in overcoming the prejudice which opposed the intro-
duction of hymns into our public worship." In our
hymn-singing age, it is difficult, especially for its younger
members, to realise the strength and even violence of
such a prejudice. So strong was it, so high did feeling
run on the subject, that many a church was rent asunder
by the proposal to introduce hymns ; in some cases, even
by the proposal to sing metrical versions of the Psalms.
This was markedly the case among the Baptists. In the
church of which Benjamin Xeach was the pastor (the
original of that to which Mr. Spurgeon now ministers),
when, after prolonged discussion, it was decided to
introduce singing into its worship, " a minority took
refuge in a songless sanctuary.'' In his '' Truth Soberly
Defined," published in 1698, Isaac Marlow, with con-
siderable passion, maintained that the Church should
not permit the introduction of singing into her services.


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This appears to have been very closely connected with the
Puritan prejudice against farms of prayer. The objection
that was taken against forma in prayer was easily
extended to forma in song. Regarded logically, they
stand or fall together. And in many instances,
the objection to forms was applied to every part of
worship save the reading of Scripture, which was
exempted on the ground of its Divine origin. But
whilst the objection to forms of pratfer remains among
Nonconformists generally, that against forms of praise
has long since died out ; but in many quarters it died
hard. In some Churches, however, the objection lay
not against singing, for the metrical Psalms were sung,
but against the| singing of hymns. There was a feeling
that the line must be drawn somewhere, and so it was
drawn at hymns. It is very difficult to discover the
usages in worship of the early Nonconformists. At my
request, some of the Church books of the most ancient
congregations, notably that at Stepney Meeting, have
been searched by the kindness of friends, but no minutes
can be found bearing on the subject. Even Dr.
Stoughton, who probably knows more than any living
man of the usages of the churches in England since
the passing of the Act of Uniformity, can throw scarcely
any light on the subject. The publication of various
collections of hymns by W. Barton during the years
between 1654 and 1688 ; the large sale of Mason and
Shepherd's hymns (1691); the issue of a collection of
"Divine Hymns," gathered from six authors, amongst
whom were J. Mason and R. Baxter, in 1694 ; seem to
point to the probability that hymns were used, at all


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events in some churches ; but it is not decisive, since
publication does not always imply adoption by the
churches, and such collections may have been chiefly
used for reading, or, as in the case of Matthew Henry's
hymns (1695), for singing in the home. I cannot help
thinking that such hymns, if used at all in public
worship, could have been sung in very few churches, and
that the great majority confined themselves to the singing
of the metrical Psalms, in the versions of Stemhold and
Hopkins, or Patrick, or Barton. If, however. Dr. Gibbons
is to be relied on for accuracy, hymns must have been in
use in the closing years of the 17th century, for he says :
"Mr. John Morgan, a minister of very respectable
character, now living at Eomsey, Hants, has sent me the
following information : * The occasion of the Doctor's
(Watts) hymns was this, as I had the account from his
. worthy fellow-labourer and colleague, the Rev. Mr. Price,
in whose family I dwelt above fifty years ago. The
hymns which were sung at the Dissenting Meeting at
Southampton [these were Barton's] were so little to the
gust of Mr. Watts, that he could not forbear complaining
of them to his father. The father bid him try what he
could do to mend the matter. He did, and had such
success in his first essay, 'Behold the glories of the Lamb,'
that a second hymn was earnestly desired of him, and
then a third and fourth, ftc, till, in process of time, there
was such a number of them as to make up a volume.' "
But I cannot help thinking that the church at Southampton
was exceptionally liberal in its spirit ; evidence for which
I see in the fact that they adopted the hymns of young
Watts — a member of their ovm fellowship, and a prophet
is not without honour, save in his own country — so readily,


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and without, bo far as we know, opposition. That this is
80 seems to be proved by the fact that, in many oases,
nearly half a century elapsed before some churches
would admit even his versions of the Psahns into their
worship. It must be remembered, too, that the funda-
mental principle of Independency permits no act of
uniformity in relation to either doctrine or worship, but
leaves each church free in both respects. This makes it
the more difficult to discover its usage in the matter of
singing than it is with bodies closely compacted, in which
to discover the usage of one is to be sure of that of aU.

When Watts's hymns began to find their way into
&vour, the more conservative regarded them, as Eomaine
afterwards did, as " Watts's TFTiims,** Whereas, in
Germany, Luther's hymns were sung almost as soon
as they were produced, it was thirty or forty years
before those of Dr. Watts found their way into common
use; and even then suspicions of heresy fastened about
the churches that adopted them. It seems scarcely
possible that little more than a century ago hymn-
singing was scarcely known in our churches. Without
it, those services must have been extremely dull;
what with the long prayers and the long sermons,
they must have been a great weariness to the fiesh.
There must surely have been a good many of the
worshippers who, like Eutychus under Paul's long
preaching, fell asleep. As to the hymnody of the time,
Dr. Watts's lines would surely apply : —
O what a wretched land is this,
That yields us no sappUes.

And it was this poverty which really gave birth to our
modem hymnody, for, in the deepest sense, Dr. Watts is


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its founder. His yersions of the Psalms and his original
hymns supplanted all previous ones, and for many a long
year held undisputed possession of the Nonconformist
Church against all comers. This is a thing, so far as I
know, perfectly unique in the history of the Church, and
is not even paralleled by the case of Charles Wesley's
hymns among the Methodists, since that collection con-
tained hymns by both John and Charles Wesley, and a
very few from other writers, as well as many translations
from the German. But for more than a century, Watts
remained undisputed master of the hymnody of the Inde-
pendents. Ko other hymns than his were heard in any
of the assemblies. No other writer ever ruled the Church
in this way before. The Independent Churches became
as superstitiously conservative in clinging to Watts's
hymns as their forefathers had been in rejecting them,
and using only the Psalms in metre. Even the Psalter —
the hymn book of the Jewish Church — does not furnish a
parallel, since that is the product, not only of many
authors, but of many ages. Scripture itself has come to
us through many minds ; but for more than a century,
Watts was the only hymnist of the Independent sanctuaries
of our land; so venerated were his hymns and psalms,
that in this very century there were persons who refused
to sing any others, and actually sat down if any others
were given out. This was both a gain and a loss — a gain
in that, through him, hymns became a part of Divine
worship ; a loss in that his preeminence excluded the
hymns of other writers, even those then in existence by
George Herbert, John Milton, Eichard Baxter, John
Mason, to say nothing of those by vmters of other lands,
or the ancient hymns of the Church.


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The unique position^ of Dr. "Watts is due partly to the
excellence and suitability of his hymns to the purposes of
public worship, and partly to the nakedness of the land
at the time he wrote* He is the pioneer of popular
English hymnody. He broke new ground. Eor this he
deserves to be kept in perpetual remembrance. This has,
in my judgment, given his hymns a place higher than, as
a whole, they deserve. This has covered a multitude of
defects in them. As a matter of fact, he both soared
very high and sank very low in hymn-writing. I know
not where to look for more noble, and, at the same time,
more unworthy hymns than are to be found in his pages.
There are hymns by him that will last as long as the Church
continues her worship-song — e.g.^ " I'll praise my Maker
with my breath," ** Our God, our help in ages past,"
** When I survey the wondrous cross," "Hear what the
voice from heaven proclaims," and others that might be
named. These are a perpetual possession ; but many, I
may say most, of his hymns are destined to be, if they
are not already, forgotten. Some of them, indeed, once
sung in the Church cannot now be read without a smile.
It is difSicult to realise that verses in many of them could
ever have been sung without a titter passing over the
congregation. Take the following as illustrations. Here
is a verse from his version of the 101st Psalm : —

I'll purge my family around,

And make the wicked flee ;
So shall my house be ever foond

A dwelling fit for Thee.

Here is a verse from Hymn 19 of the second book : —

He spoke, and straight our hearts and brains

In all their motions rose ;
Let blood (said He) flow round tiie veins,

And round the veins it flows.


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Here is a verse from Hymn 70 of the same book : —

If Qod His Yoice of tempest rears,
Leviathan lies still and fears ;
Anon he lifts his nostrils high,
And spouts the ocean to the sky.

Here are a couple of verses from Hymn 100 of the same
book: —

Christ is my light, my life, my care,

My blessed hope, my heavenly priie ;
Dearer than all my passions are,

My limbs, my bowels, or my eyes.

The strings that twine aboat my heart.

Tortures of racks may tear them off;
But they can never, never part

With their dear hold of Christ, my love.

Here are the first and third verses of Hymn 2 of the
second book : —

My thoughts on awful suUeots roll,

Damnation and the dead ;
What horrors seise the guilty soul

Upon a dying bed.

Then swift and dreadfbl she descends

Down to the fiery coast.
Amongst abominable fiends.

Herself a frightful ghost.

Ministering in a church in which the first verse of this
hymn was being announced by the precentor, Mr. Faxton
Hood (lover of Watts though he was) shouted, " No, my
thoughts don't roll on awful subjects. Let us sing,
* Come, let us join our cheerful songs.' "

The fact is, Watts, responding to the call for hymns,
wrote too much. No less than 515 psalms and hymns are
found in the volume actually used in public worship, to
say nothing of his sacred lyrics. It is not possible for
any man, however gifted, to write so large a number of


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hymns of high quality, and with real distinctiTeness of
character and subject. It was even more difficult in his
time than ours, since he was confined to a few metres —
long, common, short, seyens, lldth and 148th metre are
about the only ones he used. He never dreamt of the great
yariety of metre and style with which we are familiar.
I question yery much whether any man has ever written
more than twenty-five or thirty hymns of sufficient merit
and distinctive enough in theme and style to hold on
abiding place in the hymnody of the Church. In my
own collection I have included twenty-six from his pent
and after its publication I came across the following
remark in Dr. Geo. MacDonald's "England's Antiphoni"
""We cannot help wishing that he had written the
twentieth part. How could any man write six hundred
religious poems, and produce quality in proportion to
quantity save in an inverse ratio ? " This is just about
the proportion I have retained. I think aftertimes will
ratify this judgment. Those are the truest friends to the
memory of Br. "Watts who only include the finest of his
hymns in their collections. It is a vain effort to try to
keep alive his didactic and inferior ones. They may be
printed, but they will not be sung. The most recently
published hymnal of the Congregational Church includes
about sixty of his hymns, many of which are quite
unsuited to the taste of the day. They only encumber
the pages ; and as so many nobler hymns are accessible
in our churches, they will rarely, if ever, be sung. The
day of rhymed prose is over, even when fathered by
great names. Br. Watts, with a modesty that is rare,
once said that Charles Wesley's hymn on "Wrestling
Jacob" was worth all he had ever written. This


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was an excess of modesty, but it reveals, perhaps, a
feeling hidden in his mind that he had written too much.
The fact is, "Watts had a fatal facility of rhjrming, and
often mistook rhyme for poetry. He was not sufficiently
critical of his work. But the critical faculty which he
did not apply himself is being applied by others. In
relation to his hymns, a process of spiritual selection is
going forward which will render him known to posterity,
not by five or six hundred, but by the surpassing
excellence of some twenty-five or thirty, which will
remain among the favourites of the Church at large.

Simon Browne (1680-1732) was a contemporary with
Dr. Watts, and belongs to his school of hymn writing.
He published, in 1720, '^ Hymns and Spiritual Songs, in
Three Books, designed as a supplement to Dr. Watts."
This is an indication of the fact that Watts's hymns had
found their way into use in not a few churches, but that
such churches had not as yet grown so conservative and
exclusive as they afterwards became in relation to his
h3rmn8. Two of Browne's hymns are well known, and
fctill hold a place in modem hymnals. The most popular
is " Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly dove," which is not
without merit; the other is ''Lord, at Thy feet we
sinners lie."

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who fills so large a space
in the poetic literature of England, used to be reckoned
among the hymnists, on account of what has been called
Pope's ode, " Vital spark of heavenly flame." This has
been included in many hymnals, and was once a favourite
at funeral services. It is an imitation of a poem com-
posed, during his last hours, by the Emperor Adrian,


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Animula, Tagnla, Uandula,
Hospes, oomesque corporis, etc

To this, and to a fragment of Sappho, Pope confessed that
he owed the inspiration which gave birth to ** Vital spark
of heavenly flame," the germ of which was sent for
insertion in the Spectator in 1712. Soon after its receipt,
Steele wrote to Pope, asking him to make an ode out of it
suitable for music. He complied with this request, and
sent " Vital spark " in the form^we now possess it.

Samuel Wesley, junr. (1690-1739), the elder brother of
John and Charles "Wesley, who held aloof from the
Methodist movement, which began only five years before
his death, and of which they were the great leaders, and
from which he did his best to [turn them, was also a
hymnist, and author of ** Poems on Several Occasions."
To the last, he adhered to the Church of England, as did
his brothers, and was, indeed, a High Churchman of the
type of that age. His best known hymn is ** The Lord
of Sabbath let us praise." Less known, but fairly good,
are his hymns, " The morning flowers display their
sweets," and "Hail! Father, whose creating call."

John Byrom (1691-1763), remarkable for his scientific
attainments, belonged, in some degree, to the school of
Mystics, but was probably kept from some of their
excesses by his work in science. Two of his hymns,
though greatly differing in style and substance, have
attained to great popularity, and are still widely used.
His hymn for Christmas Day, " Christians, awake, salute
the happy mom," is very distinctive, and boldly lyrical ;
whilst " My spirit longeth for Thee " — as the reader may
see— is terse and tender in a very high degree : —


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My spirit longeth for Thee,
Within my troabled braMt,
Though I unworthy be
Of so Divine a gueet :

Of BO Divine a guest
Unworthy though I be,
Yet has my heart no rest
Unless it come from Thee.

Unless it oome from Thee,
In vain I look around ;
In all that I can see
No rest is to be found :

No rest is to be found
But in Thy blessM love :
O let my wish be crowned,
And send it from above ;

He has given us very little, but that little is very good.
Some of his verses anticipate, and set forth with great
force the better theological thought of our own time.
This is specially so in his " Meditation for Wednesday
in Passion Week." George MacDonald speaks of his
verses as " a well of the water of life, for its song tells
of the love and truth which are the grand power of God."

Eobert Seagrave (bom 1693) wrote about fifty hymns,
included in a collection prepared for his own congregation
at Lorimer's Hall in 1742. He is remembered chiefly by
one of these, ''Ease, my soul, and stretch thy wings,"
which seems to me touched with the thought of Sir John
Davies's remarkable philosophical poem, '' Of the soul of
man, and the immortality thereof."

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) is one of the great
names in hymnody. Eemarkable for many things, his
fame chiefly rests on his hymns. These were mostly
written to gather up and set forth in rememberable form
the teachings of his sermons. But whilst the sermons
are forgotten, the hymns are remembered. They have


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been compared to '' Bpiritaal amber, fetched up and floated
off from sermons long since lost in the depths of bygone
time." During his life-time, they did not pass beyond
manuscript, in which form they were passed about and
read. They number 864. After his death, they were
published under the title, " Hymns founded on Various
Texts in the Holy Scriptures." In 1839, additional hymna
were added, collected from his MSB., and called " Dod-
dridge's Scripture Hymn Book." Some of these reach a
very high point of excellence, whilst, as in the case of
all voluminous hymn writers, very many are of no great
value. The finest of all is '' Hark ! the glad sound, the
Saviour comes." I should be disposed to rank this as one
of the noblest hymns ever written, alike as to style and
substance. There is a mingling of boldness and tender-
ness, a suitability and melody in its style, that stamp it
as a masterpiece. One of the finest verses, however, is
too often omitted —

On Him the Spirit, largely poured,

Exerts itomcred fire:
Wisdom and might and zeal and love

His holy breast inspire.

" Ye servants of the Lord " is a hymn of great directness,
gradually rising to a fine climax at the close. " Orace !
'tis a charming sound " is a great favourite with many,
probably suggested by a hynm of Esther Griinbeck, of
Gotha (1717-1796), beginning " Grace! grace ! oh, that's
a joyful sound." " My God, and is Thy table spread "

Online LibraryWilliam Garrett HorderThe hymn lover: an account of the rise and growth of English hymnody → online text (page 8 of 37)