Just as John and Charles Wesley, though remaining churchmen, preached their sermons not in churches but in the open air or in the converted iron 'Foundery' at Moorfields (1759), so the establishment, which they effected, of the true English hymn took place as it were outside the church. Once again, as by the reformers' metrical psalms, the church was challenged by some new evolution. The fiery New Testament concoctions of Watts and the Wesleys went to the head after the Old Testament doggerel of Sternhold and Hopkins or Tate and Brady, and even churchmen began to drink of their draughts with relish. The famous 'Olney Hymns', 1779, of the poet Cowper and his converted naval friend Newton helped to settle the new standard. As often before, the question of legality arose, coming to a head in 1820 when a Sheffield parson, Thomas Cotterill, foisted his own hymnbook on an unwilling congregation. In a lawsuit with a characteristic English ending, Cotterill had to withdraw his book, but the Archbishop paid for a new edition out of his own pocket on condition that he supervised the publication. 1820 may thus be taken as the date at which the church accepted the hymn as a definite part of its worship. The Old and New Versions slowly became extinct; no longer were they considered the Mosaic Decalogue of extra-liturgical singing in church.
In the preface to his Psalms of David for the Use of Parish Churches, 1791 - the tunes were arranged by Dr Arnold and J. W. Callcott, organist of St Paul's, Covent Garden - we find the Rev. Sir Adam Gordon writing, significantly enough in these days of the rising tide of hymns, a long apologia for the use of psalms in public Christian worship. The book is also significant for other reasons. We read in the preface:
My chief wish and aim, have been to apply such subjects to their respective seasons, as either in an obvious, or prophetick sense, relate to the history of man's redemption... And as, in all works of a serious nature, the value of authorities cannot be too much consulted, I have profited, in the choice of some subjects, by the ancient custom of singing the introits, which were psalms appointed for each Sunday or holiday, and on some account rendered proper for the day, by their containing something prophetical of the evangelical history. Being driven to, some strait, to accommodate a psalm for every Sunday after Trinity, without being subjected to much repetition, I had recourse to the above precedent for assistance, ...
The psalms in the book are, in fact, arranged by Sundays - an idea suggested by Bishop Gibson as early as 1724 in one of his charges but presumably not carried into effect - and a few seasonal hymns are included: for example, Jesus Christ is risen today [First appeared in the Lyra Davidica of 1768.] makes an appearance and a hymn for sacramental use is found based on the melody of the minuet in the overture to Handel's Berenice, and set, by adding a preliminary note, to the words My God and is thy table spread.
This book, in no way different from many others of the last decade of the eighteenth century, shows a reawakening of the liturgical sense which was perhaps part of a more fundamental idea soon to find expression in the Oxford Movement - that of the authority of the church. It was perhaps also suggested by the new enthusiasm for the study of history by means of contemporary documents, the fashion for which had been set by Voltaire. In 1827 Bishop Heber published his book of hymns and John Keble his Christian Year, both unpractical as hymnbooks but combining the seasonal, liturgical sense with hymns instead of with psalms as private meditations. After 1855, the year of Keble's famous sermon, the appeal to the authority of the church rather than to that of the Bible forced the high church party, hitherto rallied against the hymn, to reconsider its position. The hymn had been an integral part of the medieval service, and provided it now showed liturgical fitness and expressed the voice rather of the church than of individuals it was accepted. Feverish translation from the Latin began, led by the work of Isaac Williams, John Chandler, Mant, Newman, Oakeley and Copeland who used corrupt French breviaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as their sources.
The greatest translator of them all, John Mason Neale, was the first to go back to the medieval originals, copying their metres and producing careful and imaginative versions. His medieval cast of mind demanded too the plainsong melodies and the help of Thomas Helmore, a musical parson, was enlisted. The tunes must have sounded strange to the ears of 1860, but the interest in plainsong was slowly growing in England and throughout Europe; it was to issue ultimately in the paleographic work of Solesmes. Neale's untiring pen produced collection after collection of translations of Latin and Greek Orthodox hymns, all of which have been tapped by subsequent compilers of hymnals, and if his versions are often naively humorous and have had to submit to much editing, his work must nevertheless be considered monumental.
The repertory of translations was further widened by versions of the Lutheran chorales. John Wesley had already awakened the interest, and the enthusiasm of Mendelssohn and S. S. Wesley for the works of the little known J. S. Bach together with the stimulus of a royal household which still conversed in German made the appearance of the famous Sacred Hymns from the German, 1841, of Frances Cox and the Chorale Book for England, 1865, of Catherine Winkworth inevitable. The pietistic and symbolic trend of the texts, however, and the lengthy solidity of the German tunes do not easily strike a sympathetic note in the hearts of most English churchgoers, though there are signs today that the ever-growing popularity of the Bach Passions and Cantatas is making the chorales, at least in their Bachian settings, better known and loved.
Thus, when in 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern was first published, its 275 hymns could justify its title, drawn as they were from all sources - Watts, the Wesleys, and newly-made translations from Latin, Greek and German originals. The evangelical party, who had first welcomed the Watts-Wesley hymn and whose enthusiasm remained unabated, were also responsible for a number of new hymns of the Abide with me type. With its numerous translations of medieval hymns, however, the new hymn-book seemed to its contemporaries to be definitely a high-church book, but it lived to see itself championed by moderate then low churchmen against a high-church newcomer; such are the queer fashions of hymn-singing churchgoers. Despite its alleged high churchmanship in 1861, however, it became immediately popular and went through many editions. In each edition, new hymns were added, chiefly by contemporary authors, so that by the turn of the century it might have been retitled Hymns Modern and Ancient.
The music of the first edition was drawn from old sources for the most part, but Monk, the musical editor, Dykes and Ouseley, both parson-musicians, contributed original tunes. The proportion of contemporary tunes in later editions was considerably higher and caused the book to soar to an astronomical circulation. Between 1906, the date of publication of English Hymnal, and 1930 or so it was just these Victorian tunes which were most criticised. Dykes especially came in for castigation and now that the controversy is less heated it is fitting to form a judgment of his output, the type par excellence of the Victorian hymn-tune. The tunes are very vocal, rhythmically unadventurous and approximate in type to the Victorian part-song with its self-satisfied and unctuous optimism. Their harmonisation, a watering down of the Spohr-Mendelssohn tradition, dates them more than anything else. At its worst, as in Hark! my soul, it is the Lord, it matches the bland pietism of the text by harping with maddening insistence on the dominant seventh, a weak chord of fateful fascination to the Victorian. The melodies of Dykes' hymns are, however, always good and with some simple harmonic changes might be accepted by any musician. These nineteenth century hymns have as definite an atmosphere as a Bourgeois psalm or an eighteenth-century hymn, and man's soul being the varied organism it is these rather personal, sometimes smug, emotional words and tunes can, if we are not just prejudiced, produce an effect of happy confidence. The worst of them are no worse than the dross of any other period; the best of them, especially after careful re-editing of some of the more emotional moments, are quite worthy of a place in the repertory of English hymnody. Dykes, like the rest of his fellow-contributors to Hymns A. & M., was not a great man; he moved in one emotional gambit and in that he had a sure touch though the dominant seventh played perhaps too large a role. No possible objection can, for example, be raised to his excellent tune for The king of love my shepherd is, except for the weak, easy harmonisation of its last line. As with Neale's humourless medievalism, a little judicious editing is all that is needed.
John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Educated at Sherborne, he was a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1856. He was ordained in 1842, becoming at once Incumbent of Crawley, Sussex. In 1843 he travelled to Madeira and on his return three years later became Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, an old almshouse, at a salary of £28 p.a. Eleven times he gained the prize for the Seatonian Prize Poem, and, a great traveller abroad, he is reputed to have spoken twenty languages. In 1854 he founded the Sisterhood of St Margaret, and was much persecuted by bishops and the mob - he was mobbed in Liverpool - for his advanced ritualistic tendencies. He contributed much to the understanding of the Eastern Church.