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'SCORN not the Sonnet,' says Wordsworth : and with equal justice it may be said, 'Scorn not the Hymn:' for the hymn has its scorners. They are chiefly those who, misapplying the old adage about mediocre poetry, refuse to acknowledge any poetic merit falling short of the highest standard. Yet what is this but to give judgement against the primrose for wanting the fragrance and splendour of the rose ? Though dealing with subjects the highest and the deepest, the Christian hymn is obliged to move within the limits of scriptural truth, and to adapt itself to the comprehension of mankind at large, as well as to the requirements of sacred music. By these rules the flight of imagination is curbed, and the play of fancy controlled. The hymn, in short, poetically considered, is a minor poem, having laws of its own, and not entering into competition with the larger and freer works of inventive genius. But to the meek and loving Christian it must always be peculiarly dear; for it finds its type in the inspired Book of Psalms and other canticles of the Sacred Volume, and it has the highest precept and example to recommend its use. After singing a hymn our Saviour went forth to His Agony and Passion. The Ephesians are advised by St. Paul to utter their common emotions in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.' And they of whom the world was not worthy, the persecuted children of the primitive Church, lifted their hearts to the Lord in hymnal melody from the moor, the mountain, or the catacomb. And if, laying authority aside for the moment, we look only to the influence of hymns in promoting religious feeling, we shall find it, in permanent vitality at least, to surpass,
of sermons. An able sermon, when preached, may powerfully awaken or instruct, convince or edify: when published, it may affect its readers in like manner : but all experience shows, that even the best sermons, be they ever so popular for a while, gradually lose their readers, and sink to slumber on the shelf, to be disturbed only by a few students of rare diligence. A good hymn, on the other hand,
lives in the household books and memories of the people : it
from mouth to mouth, it echoes from soul to soul, it leaves its sting, as was said of the ancient orator, in the public heart and conscience. Take, for example, three, illustrious men of different times and countries : Ambrose of Milan, Martin Luther, and Reginald Heber. All three were eloquent preachers and powerful writers : yet we venture to say that, for one student of their sermons in the present time, there are thousands who know their hymns by heart: and, whilst the Church of the Future can afford to dispense with all their homiletic works, it will never cease to store in its treasury of sacred song such gems as “Te Deum laudamus,'
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,' and 'O Saviour, is Thy promise fled ?' And while we are speaking of the future Church militant, may we not ask whether any religious work of these later times bids so fair to live in the warm affections and daily exercises of its members as Christian Year? '*
If hymns have this power and influence, it surely follows that their use cannot be too zealously promoted, nor too much care taken to guard against their abuse. A good hymn should be cordially recognised, approved, and received; a bad one faithfully censured, reproved, and rejected. This, it may be said, is a barren truism. For who shall
every case what is a good hymn, and what a bad one ? A hymn may be good in doctrine and bad in poetry, or good in poetry and bad in doctrine. And doctrinal opinion and poetic feeling differ in different minds. To what tribunal does the appeal lie to decide between conflicting judgements ?
It would seem that the matter can only be trusted to time and the common sense of most.' An authorised Hymn-book would be accepted by Churchmen only, and by them not universally; and it would be open to grave objection, if no provision were made for its improvement from time to time, as new hymns of higher excellence appear.
It is clear that, on doctrinal grounds, a hymn may be very differently estimated by persons of equal poetic taste. And every collection runs
* The Christian Year' is not, strictly speaking, itself a Hymn-book, but its materials have enriched many Hymn-books, and this among the rest. I believe, however, that, with one exception, every hymn belonging to it in this volume was extracted from other books, and not from. The Christian Year' itself.
† There can hardly be a graver warning against the abuse of authority in such matters than the retention in our services of Tate and Brady's Version of the Psalms. We must, indeed, always look for champions of the Quieta against the Meliora. But in this case it might seem that one question answered sincerely by any person of ordinary taste and judgement should settle the controversy. What would be said to this Version if it had been written last year, and were proposed now for use in our churches ?
the risk of being disapproved by some on account of certain hymns which may not exactly square with their views of doctrine. The present volume cannot expect to be free from this danger. But, though it has doctrinal limits, it is conceived and executed in no narrow spirit; and it appeals to large-minded Christians, who can cheerfully accept a great and general consent without exacting literal agreement with themselves in every minor particular. The poetic element, though not to be placed on the same level of importance with the doctrinal, is yet of great moment, and it has certainly not been disregarded in this volume. But we must allow that here, too, no standard of opinion exists: and an Editor will always find it hard to satisfy the fastidious, and at the same time to obtain just appreciation from readers naturally indifferent to the beauties of poetry.
I have, for many reasons, been more free to exclude hymns than to include them. There was no obligation binding me to receive any hymn which, for whatever reason, I might not approve; yet I must own that some few have been inserted more in deference to the opinion of friends and to popular feeling than from my own individual liking. In no instance, however, have I gone so far as to accept a hymn on account of its supposed popularity, when I deemed it either gravely wrong in doctrine, or seriously faulty in style. Thus, on the former ground, I have, with some hesitation, omitted Watts's lines, “When I can read my title clear,' &c., and, on the latter, I have excluded his wellknown hymn, “There is a land of pure delight,' &c. : for, in this hymn, although the two first stanzas are good, and the two next not bad, the fifth and sixth, in which lie the pith of the subject, are so poorly and so incorrectly worded, that they effectually spoil the entire hymn.*
* The two stanzas in question are these :
O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy doubts that rise,
With unbeclouded eyes ;
And view the landscape o'er,
Should fright us from the shore. Here, besides the ungainliness of the words, 'Make our doubts remove,' view the landscape o’er,' besides the poorness of the second line, too evidently framed for rhyme alone, the idea of climbing, metaphorically, where Moses stood, is strange and even absurd. But the worst confusion of thought is in the two last lines. For, although, in the second stanza of the hymn, it was said - Death, like a narrow sea, divides that heavenly land from ours,' yet the poet should have remembered that, when Canaan was introduced as the representative of heaven, the Jordan necessarily became the representative of death, and thus the words .not Jordan's stream, nor Death's cold flood,' are reduced to the glaring tautology_not death nor
As I have necessarily been restrained by various causes from inserting many good hymns, which came into my hands either printed or in manuscript, so I doubt not there are many others existing unknown to me: and some have met my eyes for the first time since these pages were in type.* I would therefore willingly hope that this may become the basis of a future collection, at once fuller and more select.
The Psalms are chiefly extracted from the Oxford (Parker), Cambridge (Deighton and Bell), and Cleveland Psalters. But they include also many of the best passages found in the two authorised Versions, and a few by other translators.
Of the Hymns, about a hundred, more or less, are translated from Latin originals of the Early and Mediæval Church : nearly the same number from the Christian poets of Germany: the remainder are by various authors, of the English Church and other religious societies.
The Psalms and Hymns are arranged, according to their subjects, under the several seasons of the Christian year, regard being had not only to general topics, but also to the Epistles, Gospels, Collects, and sometimes to the Lessons of the Church. But, as most hymns are applicable to more than one season, and many to all seasons, I have subjoined to the Preface an Index of subjects, by reference to which the reader will discover at a glance all those which are suitable to each occasion. It were to be wished that a greater number of good hymns existed in the Church relating to the characters and events of Scripture, and also to the parables of the New Testament.
I have, here and there, but as sparingly as possible, used the license assumed by most hymnological editors, of adapting the original composition to the purpose of the work. I am not unaware that this license is condemned by some writers of authority ; but it seems to me that a distinction may fairly be drawn in this matter. If the book in which the piece is incorporated have for its professed design to exhibit the thoughts and utterances of certain authors, then assuredly no liberties ought to be taken with the text: even blunders or vulgarisms must be retained. But if the end and object of the book be the edification and advantage of those who use it, as in the present case, the Editor must look at every composition in this point of view; and he will often have no choice before him but that of either altering or rejecting altogether. For instance, in the hymn beginning with the words, “Lord, when we
death.' The admission of so faulty a poem into Hymn-books innumerable, shows how little critical acumen has been often applied to the selection of words proper to be used on the most solemn of all occasions. My opinion of this particular hymn does not impair the great respect I entertain for Watts, as a writer whose true poetic feeling can no more be questioned than his true Christian piety.
Among these I would especially name Canon Wordsworth’s ‘Holy Year.'