« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Do Thou, O God, redress,
Come, comfort the afflicted thoughts of sumed heart:
O Holy Ghost, grant me
O rid the piercing pricking pains of my tormenting smart;
severity of tone Puritan; but only in so far as Puritanism is to be used to signify, not a distinct sectarian spirit, but the spirit of what was best in the religious feeling of the time. The tone of the hymns is, in fact, a reproduction of the tone of the theology: nor, had the writers been disposed to adopt the more cheerful and animated style of their secular contemporaries, would the politics, whether of Church or of State, under the first Stuarts have encouraged them. Hence, as we advance to the seventeenth century, the hymns of Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and others of that age, including some by Habington the Roman Catholic, are deeply meditative; they are weighty with thought and feeling; there is little in our poetry which bears reading more, or better repays the reader. On the other hand, these later hymns have the faults of the time in their style; they are often oversubtle in thought or in language; they run into obscurity and fantasticality; there is a certain pleasure in quaintness, and the writSir the lower forms of pleasure: they tend to ings of that age give it, but it is one of forget what I may call the congregational character proper to the hymn, and fall rather into the class of the religious meditation. George Herbert. My first examples are from the justly-famous
The next specimen is ascribed to Walter Raleigh.
Rise, O my soul, with thy desires to heaven,
But down in darkness let them lie;
Teach me, my God and King,
Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
A man that looks on glass,
All may of Thee partake;
A servant with this clause,
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
They are all gone into the world of light!
Observe the curious touch of scientific
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
observation about the properties of glass in Their very memory is fair and bright,
Oh what a thing is man! how far from power,
He is some twenty sev'ral men at least
Each sev'ral hour.
One while he counts of heaven, as of his treasure:
Now he will fight it out, and to the wars;
And snudge in quiet: now he scorns increase;
O what a sight were man, if his attires
Did alter with his mind;
And, like a dolphin's skin, his clothes combined
reprinted (Pickering, 1847), and is within reach of any who care for a little volume which they are not likely soon to weary of.
Surely if each one saw another's heart,
No sale or bargain pass; all would disperse,
Lord, mend, or rather make us; one creation
Dear, beauteous death, the jewel of the just!
He builds a house, which quickly down must go, What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust,
And crusht the building: and it's partly true,
There is a strange meditative about this poem; something almost dramatic in its analytic insight into human nature. My next example is an elegy on the loss of dear friends, from Henry Vaughan, a poet far less known than he deserves; a follower of Herbert's, who, if he has not all the strange, passionate intensity of his master, shows a greater fluency and sweetness. I wish I had space to quote from the charming preface (1654) to Vaughan's book, the "Silex Scintillans," in which he sets forth a little of his own life and of his ideas of bymn writing; but it has been beautifully
It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest
I see them walking in an air of glory,
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
O holy hope! and high humility!
These are your walks, and you have show'd
To kindle my cold love.
He that hath found some flegd'd bird's nest may know
At first sight if the bird be flown;
But what fair dell or grove he sings in now,
And yet, as angels in some brighter dreams
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted
I end the first division of my subject with Charles I., rather because the race of hymnwriters seems after that time to grow scanty for awhile, than because there is much dif ference between their style and that of the few hymns which I know dated during the last fifty years of the seventeenth century. Some specimens by Jeremy Taylor, Baxter, Mason, and others will be found in Sir
Roundell Palmer's rich collection. I must pass on to the second period.
To this, which I termed the "Evangelical," belong probably the majority of the hymns sung, or sung till lately, in our churches and chapels. Most of these were either written by, or in spirit connect them
selves with, the great ministers of God who, in the eighteenth century, carried on the torch of English religion, sometimes, perhaps, with too irregular and ecstatic a hand; kindling it sometimes, perhaps (if I may pursue the metaphor), into too lurid and earthly a flame; yet, on the whole, running their race with no small portion of thedivine breath and inspiration." To this remarkable development, however, so far as it is simply theological, I can do no more than allude; and it must be enough to define it by enumerating the names of Doddridge, Watts, Whitefield, the two Wesleys, Scott, Toplady, and Cowper. Indeed, the first very distinguished hymn-writer we meet-Bishop Ken - is not connected with this particular religious movement. His famous hymns may perhaps be regarded as points of transition to the newer manner; they are the earliest which really live in our churches. Addison, again, belongs to no marked theological school. Yet there are few hymns more tender and holy in their sentiment, as there are few indeed more finished in their style, than those which we owe to that all-accomplished in which we genius. The only one I can quote commemorates Addison's thankfulness for his safety during what were, a hundred and fifty years ago, the dangers of a journey to Italy.
I knew thou wert not slow to hear,
How are Thy servants blest, O Lord!
Eternal wisdom is their guide,
Their help omnipotence.
In foreign realms, and lands remote,
Thy mercy sweeten'd every soil,
Think, O my soul, devoutly think,
Confusion dwelt in every face,
Yet then from all my griefs, O Lord,
For though in dreadful whirls we hung
The storm was laid, the winds retired,
The sea that roar'd at Thy command,
In midst of dangers, fears, and death,
My life, if Thou preserv'st my life,
And death, if death must be my doom,
Isaac Watts is so well known a name that I am sure it would surprise some of my hearers to find, if they turned to his own book, in place of the partial selections from it, of how many remarkable pieces they were ignorant. Let me here give one which seems to me amongst the most characteristic of Watts's, whether in its dramatic directness of expression, its straightforward introduction of dogmatic opinions admirable delicacy and elevation of sentiperhaps shall not share, or its ment. yet one hardly envies the power of writing It is a mere baby's hymn, indeed; such a hymn more than the modesty with which the author speaks of it:-"Some copies of the following hymn having got abroad already into several hands, the Author has been persuaded to permit it to appear in public.
To receive the heavenly stranger! Did they thus affront their Lord?
Soft, my child; I did not chide thee, Though my song might sound too hard; 'Tis thy mother sits beside thee,
And her arms shall be thy guard.
Yet to read the shameful story,
How the Jews abused their King, How they served the Lord of Glory,
Makes me angry while I sing.
See the kinder shepherds round him,
See the lovely babe a-dressing;
'Twas to save thee, child, from dying, Save my dear from burning flame, Bitter groans and endless crying,
That thy blest Redeemer came. Mayst thou live to know and fear Him,
Trust and love Him all thy days; Then go dwell for ever near Him,
See His face, and sing His praise!
I could give a hundred kisses,
Hoping what I most desire; Not a mother's fondest wishes
Can to greater joys aspire.
Humble as this hymn is in its aim, hardly know anything like it in its union of simple words and sublime ideas; nor does Reynolds himself paint childhood with a more overpowering tenderness.
You will observe how different are these hymns from those of the earlier period. They contain less expressed thought, less direct argument, but they are animated by a brighter spirit; they are not so weighty in diction, but they are more truly songs of the pious heart; they lean rather towards rendering a reverential faith than a penitential fear. Sometimes, indeed, the fervour of the age passes into an ecstasy hardly suited for public use or public recital. Such we find amongst the many admirable hymns which we owe to the Wesleys, and such also is that hymn, which, in accordance with the opinion of good judges, I should be disposed to put highest within its class Toplady's magnificent "Rock of Ages." One specimen in a less elevated key is all I can introduce, and I content myself thus the less reluctantly,
because I am here in the region most familiar to our memories. It is by Charles Wesley.
The harvest of my joys is past,
The summer of my comforts fled, Yet am I unredeem'd at last,
And sink unsaved among the dead, If on the margin of the grave, Thou canst not in a moment save.
Destroy me not by Thy delay;
Delay is endless death to me: But the last moment of my day
Is as a thousand years to Thee : Come, Jesus, while my head I bow, And show me Thy salvation now!
I might add Doddridge, Haweis, and Beddome, writers in a more meditative style; Logan, under whose name we have a few finished stanzas; the two great series of foreign hymns which we owe to the somewhat mystic piety of the Moravians in Germany and Madame Guion in France; and a vast variety of humble souls, whose names we perhaps read in village churchyards, and do not know that though dead, they speak to us in some of the most valued and most often-repeated of our Christian songs. But I must hasten over these and many more to the one whom I would select as the last, and, in some ways, the highest, of the Evangelical school, William Cowper. The pathetic story of his life is known, or should be known, to every one; no more strangely romantic career, no more tragic scene in the battle between hell and heaven," can be found than that which transacted itself in Cowper's soul within the quiet village of Bedfordshire, with its level fields and calm waters, immortalized in our hearts and memories by the genius of this great sufferer. With that story the production and the character of Cowper's hymns are closely connected; the jarring tones of despair which sometimes break from them, in contrast with the exquisite air of peace and holiness by which they are also pervaded, are but the reflection of the agitated heart of a man too finely made and too sensitive for his own health or happiness. It must be also added that the type of religion accepted by Cowper is of a somewhat rigid and melancholy character, and that, writing as he did rather to relieve his own heart than under the responsibilities of poetry, he has very often lapsed into commonplace and conventional language. Yet throughout all Cowper's hymns we are sensible that they are the work of a real poet; there is a simplicity about them, an etherealness of touch, which other writers, who felt their subject not less strongly than
Cowper, are unable to reach; like Herbert's, like Addison's, like even those which we owe in a later age to Byron, they vindicate the secret supremacy of the poet's art, even in that form of it where art is bound most sedulously to conceal itself. I commend this point to your attention, because it is one which has been little noticed; nay, the judgment just expressed may perhaps be in opposition to that often entertained in respect of hymns. Here, as elsewhere in every form of art, the highest excellence is reserved not for the man most solely and singly penetrated with the Christian idea, but for him who has combined the required devotional spirit with the greatest mastery over poetry as an art. Short single effusions of first-rate merit we owe indeed to those who could not strictly or professionally, be described as poets. But whenever there are a number accepted by the world at large as good, we find that they are due to those who have practised poetry as an art: to Addison or Cowper, to Herbert or Keble. Purity of mind, simplicity, devotion, love of God and one's neighbour, openness of heart, courage of confession all these are essential elements for those who would succeed in hymns; but, after all, and above all, we shall find that the poet has the best of it; that art is justified in her children.
Yet, God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice; For, while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.