Hymns and Hymn-Tinkers

“ MANY gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honor to reprint many of our hymns. Now, they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are ; but I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favors : either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse ; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.” So wrote John Wesley something over a hundred years ago in the preface to A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists. The outburst is both amusing, as showing the decided opinion the Rev. John Wesley, M. A., held in regard to the merits of his own and his brother’s work, and instructive, as indicating the extent to which the practice of hymnmending had been indulged in, even at that day. It has had but little effect, however, as a restraint upon the tinkering tendencies of succeeding compilers. There is hardly a stone in all the noble temple of our English hymnology which has not been chipped or beplastered, sometimes quite out of its original form and color, by these literary deformers. In a few cases they have done really good service, removing ugly projections or filling up unsightly crannies left by the carelessness of the original artist, but as a rule their work has been fearfully and wonderfully bad.

Looked at from the literary point of view, it is as disfiguring as are the names of John Brown and Ezekiel Spriggins cut into the cap-stone of the pyramid of Cheops. Seen from the moral side, it is hard to understand how these emendators defend their work from the charge of absolute dishonesty. Forgery is an ugly word, but there is no other which applies. The attempt to eliminate from Paradise Lost all references to hell, in order to make that poem edifying to such as disbelieve in eternal burnings, would probably be received with little favor, even if honestly undertaken. The words which people of good taste would use in reference to the man who should make it would be either very severe or very contemptuous. Yet the hymn-book compilers, of every denomination, have unhesitatingly and freely remodeled the hymns written by members of other sects, in order to adapt their phraseology to the creeds of the churches in which they were to be used. It is fair to suppose that such divines as Watts, Doddridge, Newton, and the Wesleys had certain well-considered opinions upon the subjects of which they wrote. It is not fair, nor is it honest, that their carefully chosen words should be so transposed or changed as quite to reverse the original sense. Nevertheless, this is frequently done, so that the singer, acquainted only with the hymn-book versions, is often led to suppose that the writers whose names are appended to them were sharers in his peculiar belief, when, as a matter of fact, they would have condemned his faith as absolutely heretical.

The theological aspect of hymn-tinkering, however, can be more safely ignored than discussed, and no reference would be made to it here were it not that in some cases it merges with the literary so as to be hardly capable of differentiation. Hymnology is by no means the least important branch of our various literature ; the hymn-book is to be found in many a library where the only other volumes are the Bible and almanac. The corruptions of Shakespeare’s text are discussed with careful scholarship in ambitious works, yet the much more numerous and radical corruptions in the lines of our hymn-writers, whose words are familiar in homes where Hamlet was never heard of, pass almost unnoted. It may be interesting to some readers to have their attention called to a few examples, merely in the interests of good taste and literary honesty.

In 1562, “The Whole Booke of Psalmes collected into English metre by T. Sternhold, J. Hopkins and others, conferred with the Ebrue, with apt notes to sing them withal,” was first appended to the Book of Common Prayer. For more than a century these paraphrases remained in popular use. The most of them were rough in structure, coarse in expression, and faulty in versification. Nevertheless, the “ Kinge’s Maiestie’s Groome ” and the Suffolk school-master in a few instances produced verses whose rough vigor and healthy, sturdy sweep disarm criticism. One notable example has been preserved to us, after a fashion, in nearly all the modern hymnbooks. It is Sternhold’s version of the eighteenth Psalm, the ninth and tenth verses. Here is the original: —

The Lord descended from above,
and bow’d the heavens hye;
And underneath his feete he cast
the darknesse of the skye.
On cherubs and on cherubines,
full royally he road;
And on the winges of all the windes
came flying all abroad.

And here is the way it is now printed:

The Lord descended from above
And bowed the heavens most high,
And underneath his feet he cast
The darkness of the sky.
On cherubim and seraphim
Full royally he rode,
And on the wings of mighty winds
Came flying all abroad.

This is usually followed by several stanzas taken from Sternhold’s paraphrase of the twenty-ninth Psalm, all exhibiting similar changes. The second line loses much of its majestic simplicity by the addition of that redundant adverb. One is tempted to ask how many sets of heavens the corrector wished us to understand there were, and whether only one was “ bowed ” ! The grammarian who objected to “ cherubs and cherubines ” doubtless had grounds for doing so, and no especial fault can be found with “ cherubim and seraphim,” except that Thomas Sternhold, to whom the conscientious editor credits the psalm, did not write it so. “ Cherub and cherubim,” which is fully as bad as the original, still survives in half the hymn-books. But what shall be said of the taste which prefers the feebly descriptive “ wings of mighty winds ” to the sounding, forceful line of the original ? Yet in every collection of hymns now in use the corrupted version is the one to be found. Nay, so universally has the alteration been accepted that in a recent anthology, prepared by one of the best known literary men of America, it is made to do service in a quotation from this psalm.

Dr. Watts has been one of the most fortunate of the hymn-writers in his treatment at the hands of his editors. Of the one hundred and sixty hymns and psalms written by him which are contained in a recent popular collection, only about sixty have been changed to any extent. Of course such merely verbal changes as “ hath ” and “ doth ” for “ has ” and “ does,” “ mine ” and “ thine ” for “my” and “thy,” “who” and “ which ” for “ that,” the plural form for the singular, and the general interchange of “ and,” “ or,” “ then,” and “ but,” are not considered. Very few hymns are reprinted with accuracy as regards these particles of speech. Many of the other changes in Watts’s hymns are also unimportant, and of such a nature that the only reasonable supposition is that they were originally proof blunders, perpetuated by constant reprinting. If this be the case, what a commentary it furnishes upon the fidelity with which the compilers have done their tasks, and the care with which they have compared the originals ! In that noble prayer, “ Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,” the opening line of the fourth stanza was written, “ Dear Lord, and shall we ever lie ; ” it is now universally printed “ and shall we ever live” “ And Satan binds our captive minds,” Watts wrote in another hymn. According to the present version “ auld Clootie ” is not required to take so much trouble. He simply “holds our captive minds.” “David’s holy Son ” becomes “ David’s only Son.” “ All things but lost for Jesus’ sake " is now “ All things but loss for Jesus’ sake.”

Thy hand, in spite of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread,

are two lines in the paraphrase of the twenty-third Psalm. At least one hymnal prints “Thy hand, in sight of all my foes.” In another hymn the last words of the lines,—

Thy hands, dear Jesus, were not armed
With a revenging rod,

become “ with an avenging rod.” Many examples of such changes, made without apparent motive, occur in the hymns of other writers : the line in E. H. Sears’s ringing Christmas anthem, “ Where wild Judea stretches forth,” is usually printed, “Where wild Judea stretches far;” Wesley’s “ Jesus weeps ! but loves me still,” softens into “Jesus weeps, and loves me still ; ” Mrs. Steele’s “ Let thy kind spirit in my heart ” becomes “ Let thy good spirit,” etc. Newton wrote, —

But our Jesus died to have us
Reconciled to him in God.

The types became mixed here, and as we see them they read “ reconciled in him to God” And so on through scores of similar examples.

These changes are but slight, however, and would justify no severe censure, except of editorial carelessness and laziness. Some of Dr. Watts’s familiar songs have not escaped so fortunately: —

One day amidst the place
Where my dear God hath been
Is sweeter than ten thousand days
Of pleasurable sin.

This becomes in one popular hymnal,—

One day in such a place
Where thou, my God, art seen,
Is sweeter than ten thousand days
Of pleasurable sin.

Another just published collection makes it still different: —

One day amid the place
Where my dear Lord hath been
Is sweeter than ten thousand days
Within the tents of sin.

A third collection of hymns, “ faithfully compared with the original forms, " gives us, —

One day amid the place
Where God, my God, hath been
Is sweeter than ten thousand days
Within the tents of sin.

A fourth hymn-book, whose editors frankly admit that they have treated the hymns which have come before them " as common property,” and have made various changes “ with freedom,” furnishes us with still another variation: —

One day amid the place
Where God my Saviour’s been
Is sweeter than ten thousand days
Of pleasure and of sin.

In the fourth stanza of the familiar hymn beginning, “ Alas, and did my Saviour bleed,” the third line was written by Dr. Watts, “ When God, the mighty maker, dy’d.” This is to be found in one hymn-book in the form, “ When Christ, the great Creator, died,” while others give us, “ When Christ, the mighty maker, died.”

Almighty God! to thee
Be endless honors done,
The undivided Three
And the mysterious One.

“ The mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid ” is no longer mysterious to the hymn-tinker, and the last line becomes in his hands “ The great and glorious One.” He also understands the classification of the angelic hosts better than did uncultured Watts, and accordingly teaches us to sing, “ Bright seraphs learn Immanuel’s name,” instead of “ sweet cherubs,” to whom the latter assigned that labor of love. Moved by the wonders of the incarnation, Dr. Watts broke forth into the beautiful paraphrase,—

Ere the blue heavens were stretched abroad,
From everlasting was the Word.

This did not jingle properly in the ear of our accomplished editor, who gives us, instead of the first line, this : “ Before the heavens were spread abroad.” Too material for him is the doctor’s line, “ Up to the Lord our flesh shall fly at the great rising day,” and so he gives us, “ Up to the Lord we too shall fly,” etc. In the familiar hymn, “ When I can read my title clear,” the poet emphasizes the believer’s security against both the persecutions of the world and the anger of the adversary by exclaiming, —

Should earth against my soul engage,
And hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world.

But the emendators have entirely destroyed the climax in the first two lines by substituting “fiery” for “hellish.” In a paraphrase of the ninetieth Psalm Dr. Watts wrote, —

Teach us, O Lord, how frail is man ;
And kindly lengthen out our span,
Till a wise care of piety
Fit us to die and dwell with Thee.

This, evidently, savored too much of the “ doctrine of good works ” for the esteemed editor. He accordingly gives us, instead of Watts’s third line, his own, “ Till thine own grace, so rich, so free,” which is certainly a very different idea from the original.

O, the sweet wonders of that cross
Where God, the Saviour, lov’d and dy’d,

also seems to have conflicted with the tinker’s theological ideas, and he has changed the second line to “ Where my Redeemer loved and died.” The vigorous line “ To triumph o’er the monster death ” degenerates in our versions to the weaker “ To triumph o’er approaching death.”

Many of Dr. Watts’s hymns were altered by the Wesleys, who, despite their desire to be let alone themselves, did not hesitate to lay their hands on other people’s work. The remarkable thing about their alterations is that they were often real improvements. The hymn on Christ Dying, Rising, and Reigning originally opened in this wise : —

He dies! the heavenly lover dies!
The tidings strike a doleful sound
On my poor heart-strings. Deep he lies
In the cold caverns of the ground.

Wesley transformed this almost out of recognition, and we now wisely sing, instead of the original, his vastly better lines : —

He dies! the friend of sinners dies;
Lo ! Salem’s daughters weep around;
A solemn darkness veils the skies,
A sudden trembling shakes the ground!

Dr. Doddridge has suffered much more severely than Dr. Watts from the “ improvements ” upon his hymns. It was his custom, after he had prepared a sermon, and while its thought was still burning in his mind, to write a short hymn for the congregation to sing at the close of service. His pupil and associate, the Rev. Job Orton, informs us, in his preface to the collected hymns, that they were written “ during a series of many years, amidst an uncommon variety and daily succession of most important labors, by a man who had no ear for music.” They “ want his retouching hand.” “ There may, perhaps, be some improprieties, owing to my not being able to read the author’s manuscript in particular places, and being obliged, without a poetic genius, to supply these deficiencies, whereby the beauty of the stanza may be greatly defaced, though the sense is preserved.” Candid Job Orton ! Let his name be sent down to posterity, followed by the applause of every lover of literary honesty and humility! He is the one hymn editor, “ without a poetic genius,” modest enough to admit that his author was a better poet than he, and honest enough to apologize for possible deviations from the correct rendering, with the plea that he did the best he could with difficult manuscript. At any rate, “ the sense is preserved.” Would that as much could be said of the work done by his successors !

Thine earthly Sabbaths, Lord, we love,
But there’s a nobler rest above;
To that our lab’ring souls aspire
With ardent pangs of strong desire.

So sang Doddridge, looking forward with hungering and thirsting of spirit to the far country and its eternal Sabbath. But the hymn-tinker evidently disapproves of such strong emotions. He gives us, in place of the last lines, these :

To that our longing souls aspire
With cheerful hope and strong desire.

No “ ardent pangs ” for him. “ Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest,” exclaimed Paul. None of that for our friend. He prefers “ longing with cheerful hope ” to the travail of soul with which the disciples were bidden to “ strive to enter in at the strait gate.”

One of the most jubilant pæans of victory which the church still sings, as it marches on its conquering way, is that beginning, “ Hark, the glad sound ! the Saviour comes : ” —

He comes from thickest films of vice
To clear the mental ray,
And on the eye balls of the blind
To pour celestial day.

Instead of the third line is now printed, “ And on the eyes long closed in night.” The poetic figure is weakened by its dilution, and the harmony and rhythm of the line injured. Why? No one but the hymn-tinker could tell, his ways being, indeed, past finding out.

The names of all his saints he bears
Deep graven on his heart;
Nor shall the meanest Christian say
That he hath lost his part.

Thus Doddridge. Nowadays we are given this to sing : —

The names of all his saints he bears
Engraven on his heart;
Nor shall a name once treasured there
E'er from his care depart.

Is this a “ manifest improvement ” ? The hymn-mender gives it to us as such.

Some of the mere word-changes in Doddridge are curious. In one hymn the line “ Soften to flesh the rugged stone ” is changed to “ Oh, turn to flesh the flinty stone.” In another, “ An instantaneous night ” becomes “ At once eternal night.” “ Through horror’s darkest gloom” is remodeled into “ Through death’s impending gloom.” “Nor could untainted Eden give ” is now “ Nor could the bowers of Eden give.” “ Grace taught my wandering feet ” is amended to “Grace led my roving feet,” and “ The gospel’s gentle voice ” becomes “ The gospel’s cheering sound.” " And turn each cursed idol out” is altogether too profane for the tinker, so he makes it, " And turn the dearest idol out.” These are a few of the minor and merely verbal changes to which Doddridge has been subjected. There are many other cases where whole hymns have been mangled barbarously. His sermon on 1 Corinthians vi. 17 was gathered up to be sung by the people, after its delivery, in the hymn beginning, —

My Saviour, I am thine
By everlasting bands;
My name, my heart, I would resign,
My soul is in thy hands.
To thee I still would cleave
With ever-growing zeal;
Let millions tempt me Christ to leave,
They never shall prevail.

The hymn-mender loses entirely the delicate touch of the last lines of the first quatrain, which he fenders, —

Dear Saviour! we are thiue
By everlasting bands;
Our hearts, our souls, we would resign
Entirely to thy hands.

Neither does he allow us to sing, with the sublime confidence of the poet, his preference of his Master over all the millions of earth, but gives us iustead a wisliy - washy expression of his own desire to be prevented from becoming faithless : —

If millions tempt us Christ to leave,
Oh, let them ne’er prevail.

Doddridge’s hymn written to follow his sermon upon Mary’s choice of the “ good part ” is one of the most tender expostulations to be found in the range of our hymnology. Here is the original: —

Why will ye lavish out. your years
Amidst a thousand trifling cares,
While in this various range of thought
The one thing needful is forgot ?
Why will ye chase the fleeting wind,
And famish an immortal mind;
While angels with regret look down
To see you spurn a heav’nly crown ?
Th’ eternal God calls from above,
And Jesus pleads his bleeding love;
Awaken’d conscience gives you pain;
And shall they join their picas in vain ?
Not so your dying eyes shall view
Ihose objects which you now pursue;
Not so shall heav’n and hell appear,
When the decisive hour is near.
Almighty God, thy pow’r impart
To fix convictions on the heart;
Thy pow’r unveils the blindest eyes,
And makes the haughtiest scorner wise.

Compare this with the hymn which is now printed in the hymn-books with Doddridge’s name affixed : —

Why will ye waste on trifling cares
1 hat life which God’s compassion spares,
bile, in the various range of thought,
The one thing needful is forgot ?
Shall God invite you from above?
Shall Jesus urge his dying love ?
Shall troubled conscience give you pain,
And all these pleas unite in vain ?
Not so your eyes will always view
Those objects which you now pursue;
Not so will heaven and hell appear,
When death’s decisive hour is near.
Almighty God, thy grace impart;
Fix deep conviction on each heart;
Nor let us waste on trifling cares
That life which thy compassion spares.

This last version, which retains enough of the original to prove its source, appears in one hymnal, among others, in the preface to which five clergymen declare over their signatures that “ the hymns in this book have been faithfully compared with their original forms, so far as such comparisons were possible; and the original readings have been faithfully adhered to, except where hymns have been manifestly improved by alterations which usage has sanctioned.” In the multitude of five-stanza hymns it is a little curious that the second stanza of this hymn should have been generally omitted. It is certainly equal to the others in manner and matter. As to the other changes, it is safe to leave the question whether or no the hymn has been “ manifestly improved ” by them to the decision of any intelligent taste.

Unquestionably, the most prolific of all our hymn-writers was Charles Wesley. During his eighty years of singing he published over four thousand hymns, and left at his death more than two thousand more in manuscript. Dictated by a glowing poetic nature, imbued with fervent piety, and modulated with rare taste and excellent scholarship, by far the larger proportion merit the great popular favor with which they have been received. Of the eleven hundred hymns in the hymnal of the denomination founded by his brother and himself, three hundred and forty are his, and in the hymn-books in use in other churches those bearing his name are generally more numerous than those of any writer except Watts. But alas, the trail of the hymn-tinker is over them all. John Wesley’s earnest adjuration to hymnbook compilers has been unheeded, nor have they apparently agreed with him in his opinion as to the merits of the originals. “ In these hymns,” wrote he, “ there is no doggerel, no blotches, nothing put in to patch up the rhyme, no feeble expletives. Here are no cant expressions, or words without meaning. We talk common sense, both in prose and verse, and use no word but in a fixed and determinate sense.” The hymnmender is not of this opinion. He conceives himself able to better nearly all of Wesley’s hymns, and sets about the work vigorously. Take, for instance, Wesley’s best known Christmas hymn, the first lines of which were written, —

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“ Glory to the king of kings;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled! ”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature, say,
“ Christ the Lord is born to-day! ”

Instead of the above we now have something like this, slightly varied in different hymnals : —

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born king:
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled! ”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies ;
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem !

One of the most striking examples of the hymn-tinker’s peculiar “ genius ” is furnished by Wesley’s hymn for Ascension Day. The stanzas corresponding to those selected for the hymn-books were written as follows : —

Hail the day that sees him rise,
Ravished from our wishful eyes!
Christ, awhile to mortals given,
Reascends his native heaven!
There the pompous triumph waits ;
“ Lift your heads, eternal gates!
Wide unfold the radiant scene;
Take the King of Glory in.”
Him though highest heaven receives,
Still he loves the earth he leaves;
Though returning to his throne,
Still he calls mankind his own.
Still for us his death he pleads;
Prevalent, he intercedes;
Near himself prepares our place,
Harbinger of human race.
Grant, though parted from our sight,
High above yon azure height,
Grant our hearts may thither rise,
Following thee beyond the skies.

Whatever the Rev. John Wesley may have thought of this hymn, the decided ly irreverend hymn-mender is of the opinion that here are several “ blotches " and much “ doggerel ” which his practiced hand can improve. He accordingly gives us this instead : —

Hail the day that sees him rise,
Glorious, to his native skies!
Christ, awhile to mortals given,
Enters now the gates of heaven.
There the glorious triumph waits,
Lift your heads, eternal gates!
Christ hath vanquished death and sin;
Take the King of Glory in.
See, the heaven its Lord receives!
Yet he loves the earth he leaves ;
Though returning to his throne,
Still he calls mankind his own.
Still for us he intercedes;
His prevailing death he pleads;
Near himself prepares a place,
Great forerunner of our race
What, though parted from our sight,
Far above yon starry height!
Thither our affections rise,
Following him beyond the skies.

“ Pompous triumph ” hardly means now just what it did to Charles Wesley and his contemporaries. Neither does Hamlet’s exclamation, “ By heaven, I ’ll make a ghost of him that lets me.” An occasional archaism is not displeasing to the cultured taste, and can it be that any man of common intelligence ever thought the line “ Enters now the gates of heaven ” a real improvement upon the terse, powerful, picturesque words of the original, “ Reascends his native heaven ” ? Indeed, what possible motive can be conceived of for the perpetration of any one of the changes ?

Occasionally a spasm of conscience seems to twinge the otherwise peaceful breast of the laborious editor. In at least one hymn-book the fact is now and then especially noted that a hymn has been altered. No such sign accompanies either of the preceding, but on a later page appears a hymn of two stanzas, credited “ C. Wesley, alt.” The only changes consist in the omission from the first line of the last two words, “ Forever here my rest [shall be], ” and the omission of “ dying ” in the line “ My [dying] Saviour and my God.” Will some student of metaphysical lore explain by what mental or other process the compiler decided that the alterations in this case were of sufficient importance to be noticed, while those in the Christmas and Ascension Day hymns were not? The next hymn to this marked “ alt.” is also by Wesley. It bears no such apologetic abbreviation to explain or excuse its short-comings, yet of its twenty lines only four are to be found verbatim in the original hymn. Another hymn, also marked “ alt.,” shows changes in three lines. The alterations are of a very slight nature, though the candor of the compiler is to be praised for noticing even such. Here is a hymn, however, to the changes in which he did not feel the necessity of calling any attention : —

Thou hidden source of calm repose,
Thou all-sufficient love divine,
My help, and refuge from my foes,
Secure I am, if thou art mine;
And lo, from sin and grief and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in thy name.
Jesu, my all in all thou art,
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The medicine of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain ;
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown,
In shame my glory and my crown:
In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power;
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour;
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my heaven in hell.

That is what Wesley wrote, and here follows the hymn-book version : —

Jesus, thou source of calm repose,
All fullness dwells in thee divine ;
Our strength to quell the proudest foes,
Our light in deepest gloom to shine ;
Thou art our fortress, strength, and tower
Our trust and portion, evermore.
Jesus, our comforter thou art,
Our rest in toil, our ease in pain ;
The balm to heal each broken heart,
In storms our peace, in loss our gain ;
Our joy beneath the worldling’s frown, _
In shame our glory and our crown:
In want our plentiful supply,
In weakness our almighty power;
In bonds our perfect liberty,
Our refuge in temptation’s hour;
Our comfort when in grief and thrall,
Our life in death, our all in all.

Comment or criticism would seem to be quite unnecessary.

Of the threescore hymns by Charles Wesley in one collection, nearly two thirds have been more or less changed. Of the greater alterations the specimens given must suffice, but many of the lesser are quite as vexatious. In a jubilant paraphrase of the last Psalm, Wesley breaks out into this ascription of praise to the Almighty’s warlike powers:

Publish, spread to all around
The great Jehovah’s name;
Let the trumpet’s martial sound
The Lord of hosts proclaim!

The hymn-mender who “improved” this evidently belongs to the peace society. He is strongly opposed to anything martial, and accordingly gives us,

Publish, spread to all around
The great Immanuel’s name;
Let the gospel trumpet sound,
The Prince of Peace proclaim.

Certainly a very different proclamation from that of either Wesley or his original, the Jewish king, both of whom were good fighters as well as excellent poets, and thus doubly unlike our esteemed tinker. In the familiar hymn, “ Light of those whose dreary dwelling,” we find the lines, —

Come, and by thy love’s revealing
Dissipate the clouds beneath,

changed into, —

Rise on us, thyself revealing,
Rise and chase the clouds beneath.

In the same hymn we have “ all-sufficient merit ” in place of “ all-restoring merit,” and “ Come, thou glorious God and Saviour ” instead of “ Come, thou universal Saviour.” One editor makes the name of Jesus “ music to my ravished ears” instead of “in the sinner’s ears,” and another prints, “ He breaks the power of reigning sin ” for “ He breaks the power of cancell’d sin.” It may be that some of these changes have been justified to the hymn-tinker’s mind by the necessities of adapting the words to music, by the requirements of condensation, or by the changes of a varying theology, but what excuse can that man make who gives us, in place of Wesley’s perfect lines,—

Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high,

these substitutes: —

Jesus, refuge of my soul,
Let me to thy mercy fly ;
While the raging billows roll,
While the tempest still is high.

The acme of asininity, however, is reached by the editor who gives us an “ improved ” version of the third quatrain : —

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, ah, leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.

This was Wesley’s prayer. One accomplished editor, who could perfume the violet and paint the lily, — or who thought he could, — cast it into this shape: —

Other refuge have I none,
Lo, I, helpless, hang on thee;
Leave, Oh ! leave me not alone,
Lest I basely shrink and flee.

A column of exclamation marks down the rest of the page would be the only fitting comment. “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,” according to Shakespeare, have some faculties in common. A comparison of the words of Charles Wesley with those of his editor will show that there are also some differences between the last class and the first, to say the least.

But it is not alone these older singers whose glowing thoughts have been obscured by the flabby words of the hymntinker. It might be supposed that Bishop Heber was orthodox enough to write correct theology, and poet enough to be above the correction of common men. But the hymn-books show that this is not so. The familiar hymns, “ From Greenland’s icy mountains,” “ By cool Siloam’s shady rill,” and “ Thou art gone to the grave, but we will not deplore thee,” all have undergone more or less serious mutilation. His magnificent hymn for the second Sunday in Advent is to English almost what the Dies Iræ is to Latin hymnology. It is the resonant war-cry of an inspired prophet-warrior, who stands, in all the gospel armor clad, fronting his own and his Master’s enemies, the while, with “ faith’s foreseeing eye,” — not “ aspiring eye,” — he looks across the dust of battle for the victorious coming of his Lord. He sends his voice pealing over the heads of his foes in the triumphant shout, —

The Lord will come ! the earth shall quake,
The hills their fixèd seat forsake;
And, withering from the vault of night,
The stars withdraw their feeble light.
The Lord will come! but not the same
As once in lowly form he came,
A silent Lamb to slaughter led,
The bruis’d, the suffering, and the dead.
The Lord will come ! a dreadful form,
With wreath of flame and robe of storm,
On cherub wings and wings of wind,
Anointed Judge of human kind!
Go, tyrants! to the rocks complain!
Go, seek the mountain’s cleft in vain !
But faith, victorious o’er the tomb,
Shall sing for joy, The Lord is come!

The third stanza is left to us unaltered, but the others were not quite to the taste of some one, and he has “ improved ” them into this form : —

The Lord shall come ! the earth shall quake,
The mountains to their centre shake ;
And, withering from the vault of night,
The stars withdraw their feeble light.
The Lord shall come! but not the same
As once in lowly form he came,
A silent Lamb before his foes,
A weary man, and full of woes.
While sinners in despair shall call,
Rocks, hide us! mountains, on us fall !
The saints, ascending from the tomb,
Shall sing for joy, “The Lord is come! ”

This last version is also one which we are told has been compared with the original form, and retained only because it has been “ manifestly improved by alterations which usage has sanctioned.” Verily, there is no accounting for tastes.

The few fine hymns which young Henry Kirke White left us have not escaped. Every one is familiar with his pilgrim song : —

Through sorrow’s night, and danger’s path,
Amid the deepening gloom,
We, soldiers of an injured King,
Are marching to the tomb.

It was not thought best, evidently, to allow the mobile vulgus to sing of their “ injured King,” and the line has accordingly been remodeled into “We,followers of our suffering Lord.” There are several other changes in the succeeding stanzas, but their climax is reached in the last line but one, where, instead of the poet’s intense and vivid words,—

And the long-silent dust shall burst
With shouts of endless praise,

we are given to sing, “ And the longsilent voice awake,” etc. This also, we are to believe, is one of the “ manifest improvements.” It would seem as if a little care would have prevented the almost universal reproduction of White’s glorious anthem, “ The Lord our God is clothed with might,” with its opening line replaced by Dean Alford’s “ The Lord our God is full of might.” The dean’s line is no better than White’s, and it belongs with an entirely different hymn.

No Christmas ever passes but from thousands of churches and Christian homes rise in glad song the words of E. H. Sears’s beautiful hymn, “ It came upon the midnight clear.” This is a modern composition. Dr. Sears has been in his grave but a very few years, yet a comparison of the hymn as it appears in his volume of Sermons and Songs with its form in half a dozen different hymnals shows no less than twelve variations. Some are unimportant : “ earth ” for “ world,” “ heavenly wing ” for “ hovering wing,” and the like. Others are more radical. Here are the last eight lines as Dr. Sears desired them to stand: —

For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Nevertheless, we are still given, in one of the most widely used hymnals, instead of the above, this : —

For lo, the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

The limits of space forbid reference to a great number of hymn - writers whose words have had no better fortune than those of the few already quoted. Cowper, Keble, Newton, Toplady, Mrs. Steele, Bonar, Addison, Hart, Stennett, Bowring, Mant, Montgomery, Perronet, Neale, Tappan, Whittier, Ray Palmer,— all these and as many more have had their words passed under the harrow and mangled with needless and cruel wounds. It is the duty of all who have the interests of an authentic literature at heart to manifest their disapproval of such literary crimes.

Lest any one should think that too harsh words have been applied in this paper, I beg leave to refer him to the opinion of one of the most genial and kindly as well as most accomplished of American critics, who says, “ The compilers of hymn - books used in our churches have taken the strangest liberties in altering the style, and sometimes the meaning, of the religious poets from whom they have made their selections. A lawyer who had strict views regarding the guilt of transposing or omitting words in a written document duly signed, and of substituting different words from those which the signer used, could hardly enter a church in the land without having a strange sensation, compounded of the horrible and the comical, in listening to choirs devoutly chanting or singing verses WITH FORGED NAMES appended to them in the hymn-book he holds in his hands.” 1

A. P. Hitchcock.

  1. Fields’ and Whipple’s Family Library of British Poetry, Introduction, page vii.