He was born July 15, 1814, at Yateley, Hampshire, England. Caswall was the son of Robert Clarke Caswall, vicar of Yateley; a brother was also a clergymen of distinction in the Church of England. He attended Chigwell Grammar School, Marlborough School, and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he graduated with honors. Before leaving Oxford, he published, under the pseudonym of Scriblerus Redivivus, "The Art of Pluck," in imitation of Aristotle, a satire on the ways of the careless college student (which was still popular in the early 20th century).
In 1838, he was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England, and 1839 as an Anglican priest. In 1840 he became perpetual curate at Stratford-sub-Castle near Salisbury. He resigned his ecclesiastical position in the Church of England in 1846 with a view to joining the Roman Catholic Church, which he and his wife did in 1847. When she died suddenly in 1850, he became a priest in the Congregation of the Oratory, which John Cardinal Newman established at Birmingham, where he remained until his death. It was at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri at Edgbaston that he did most of translations of hymns; he also wrote original lyrics.
He died January 2, 1878, at Edgbaston, Warwickshire, England, and was buried at Rednal, Warwickshire, England. Newman lies nearby.
His life was marked by earnest devotion to his clerical duties and a loving interest in the poor, the sick, and in little children.
According to Rev. Matthew Britt, Father Caswall, despite the great names of Newman, Faber, and others, is pre-eminently "The Poet of the Oratory" (citing Father Matthew Russell, S.J.). "With Dr. Neale, Father Caswall shares the honor of being the most felicitous of the translators of our Latin Hymns;" he also translated the Roman Breviary text.
John Julian noted that "Caswall's translations of Latin hymns from the Roman Breviary and other sources have a wider circulation in modern hymnals than those of any other translator, Dr. Neale alone excepted. This is owing to his general faithfulness to the originals...." (Dictionary of Hymnology). Dr. Julian also noted that Caswall's translations featured an especial purity of rhythm, which made his hymns easy to set to music and easy for congregations to sing.
His translation from St. Bernard, beginning, "Jesus, the very thought of thee," is one of the finest. His translations remained true to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. As such, many were edited before they could be incorporated into Protestant hymnals.
His translations appeared in his Lyra Catholica, in 1848, the year following his reception into the Church, and also occurred in Masque of Mary and Other Poems, 1858, and A May Pageant and Other Poems, 1865. The contents of all these volumes are contained in his Hymns and Poems, 1873.
Other works include:
Sermons on the Seen and the Unseen
The Catholic’s Latin Instructor in the Principal Church Offices and Devotions
See Amid The Winter's Snow or See, In Yonder Manger Low
Come, Thou Holy Spirit, Come (Veni Sancte Spiritus)
Glory Be to Jesus
I Met the Good Shepherd
Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee (Dulcis Jesu memoria)
Let Alverna’s Holy Mountain (Crucis Christi mons Alvernae)
My God, I Love Thee (O Deus, ego amo te)
Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling
O Hope of Every Contrite Heart
O Jesus, King Most Wonderful
O Saving Victim, Open Wide (O Salutaris Hostia)
O Zion, Open Wide Thy Gates (Templi sacratas pande, Sion, fores)
Sun Is Sinking Fast, The
Rev. Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, Fourth Edition, 1908)
Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B., Hymns from the Breviary and Missal (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1922), Hymn 37, pp. 363-364.
John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1892, 1907)
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