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It would be no cheerful task to write the history of English Hymnody during the first 250 years which followed the days of the Reformation. The compilers of our Prayer-Book, unable to retain the ancient hymns in their original language, having, moreover, scanty leisure and but little poetical skill for translating them, were still further discouraged from attempting the task by the dearth of appropriate music to which these hymns might be sung.
They never intended that metrical hymns should be wholly disused, and, indeed, the introit is supposed to have been omitted in the Second Prayer-Book of King Edward VI., in order to make room for one of those metrical psalms by Sternhold, of which the young king was so fond. Having already fixed a place in the morning and evening service for the introduction of an anthem, the authorities of our Church thus gave a tacit sanction to the use of the psalms of the Old Version. This is more than can be pleaded in behalf of the New Version, the use of which rests solely on the authority of King William III. and the isolated recommendation of a single Bishop of London. When we consider the spiritual listlessness which was, at the time of its publication, creeping over the Church, we shall be less surprised at the unfortunate travestie in which the two Irish
See, for an account of Cranmer's attempt to translate the “ Salve festa Dies," and of the hymns in the Primer of 1545, Procter on Common Prayer, p. 174.
poets Tate and Brady have presented the Messianic Psalms. For it is the Life, and, most of all, the newly awakening Life of a Church which is wont to find its expression in Psalms and Hymns. We have, indeed, seen that this was not the case with that greatest and truest Revival of our own Church—the Reformation. But all subsequent movements, the Wesleyan, the Evangelical, the Tractarian, though differing widely in their influence as reforming the Church, have alike contributed to enrich its hymnological treasury. The example of some parts of Germany proves how powerful a hymn-book may become for keeping alive national religion. The goodly store of her popular hymns, chiefly amassed in the days of her Reformation, is said to be her only safeguard against perishing in these her days of spiritual dearth. Often, where nothing but the dreariest Rationalism is preached, and where no other part of her Church services has escaped the icy breath of Scepticism, it is in their hymn-book that the faithful among her children find the clear and everflowing well-spring of their Faith and Hope and Love. God forbid that the hymnals of our own Church should ever be so severely tested as to be its only spiritual stay; yet should we all do our utmost, that, even under such a test, some of them, at least, might not be found ineffectual. This consideration leads us naturally to the question, what is required in order to make the best possible hymn-book for the Church of England ?
In the first place, such a book cannot be made by rule. There are indeed some few preliminary conditions which everything (whether hymn or prayer, confession or thanksgiving) must fulfil ere it demands a place in the services of the Church. Hymns must be devotional, really bringing the soul of the singer into communion with God. And, that they may do this, they must certainly first be intelligible. An involved construction, a foreign phraseology, an allusion unexplained or misunderstood,
will at once paralyse the devotional power of a hymn. Want of earnestness is also a fatal defect, resulting in most instances from the attempt of the writer to describe what he has only imagined, not felt, in the way of spiritual experience. “I will thank Thee with an unfeigned heart, when I shall have learned the Judgements of Thy Righteousness."* An assumed character is never more out of place than in writing a hymn. "Affectation or visible artifice is worse than excess of homeliness : a hymn is easily spoiled by a single falsetto note." +
Beyond such general truths as these, it is impossible to lay down any absolute laws, or to adopt any exact definition, as a test to which all hymns must needs conform. It may be granted (1) that the majority of good hymns are “Songs of praise to GOD." There is no doubt
* (2) that the alteration of hymns, and especially of those originally written in English, is, in itself, an evil. Perhaps also (3) the voice of united praise speaks more naturally in the plural number than in the singular. But such canons are wrongly applied if they are permitted to dictate the exclusion of any one really good hymn. Take for instance the definition of a hymn as a song of praise. This will exclude more than half the hymns here appointed for Lent, and at least one third of the General Hymns. Nor are all the best hymns directly addressed to God. Many are narrative, s others set forth the joys of heaven in descriptive terms, || or, like the Benedicite among the Canticles, consist of invitations to praise. I
I do not like to attempt to give instances of hymns improved by alteration. In most of the cases in which I have inserted the original of English
* Psalm cxix. 7.
+ Sir R. Palmer.
e. g. 145, 198, 224.
§ 1. g. 44, 61, 62.
hymns, it has been because, either to myself or to some one whose opinion might possess more weight, there have seemed to be beauties in that original, not fully reproduced in the altered version. Hymns so entirely recast as 61 or 155 would scarcely be fair examples of improved originals. But Hymns 164 and 166 may be referred to, and the following may be compared with Hymn 105
I do not seek to justify all the alterations of originals which may be found in this book. I admit that the responsibility of altering the work of another is one of the heaviest that the compilers of a hymnal have to bear. do earnestly contend that the privilege of making alterations in accordance with their judgment ought in fairness to be conceded to them. That it is a most dangerous privilege no one will deny, who has studied the alterations (made in many instances by the revered author of the “Christian Year") of the hymns in the “ Salisbury Hymn-book.”
There can be no absolute rules to include every instance in which alteration is justifiable, but it may fairly be applied to remedy faults of expression or of rhyme : it is necessary where doctrine is erroneous, ambiguous, or too dogmatically asserted. To take an instance from a well-known hymn, who is there among the believers in a literal Millennium, that would desire to restore in the first verset of Hymn 39 the positive statement of so controverted a doctrine? To the other rules which have been quoted, it may be a sufficient objection that they are violated by three of the most popular hymns in this book, # hymns which are neither plural in their language, nor addressed as praise to GOD.
The general outline and plan of a good hymn-book remain to be considered. It can scarcely be the compilation, it can never be the composition of an individual. It must follow, in its arrangement, the fasts and festivals of our Church. It must be truly Catholic in spirit, embracing impartially things new and old, translations of the hymns of all Churches, Eastern, Western, and German, together with at least as large a number of
“Many of these hymns will be found with the original text restored in the enlarged and revised edition.”—Lord Nelson.
+ Compare the last line of the original (given in the margin) with the altered version. I Hymns I, 101, 142 (Parts II. & III).