The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

George Wither

1588-1677

"Pope in his Dunciad refers to Wither s 'sleeping among the dull of ancient days, safe where no critics damn,' but the appreciation of Wordsworth, Southey, Lamb, and George Macdonald has released him from this limbo and brought him among the critics again, many of whom deal more kindly with him than with Pope himself.

"Wither's life was full of adventure. He was imprisoned by James I for his outspoken satire, Abuses Stript and Whipt. He served as Captain of Horse in the army raised by Charles I to fight the Covenanters, and afterwards as a Major among the Roundheads [during the English Civil War]. At the Restoration he was again imprisoned for outspoken verses on People's Rights.

"Although James I disliked his satires he so approved his Hymns and Songs of the Church, 'the earliest attempt at an English hymn-book,' that he granted a patent under which they were directed to be bound up with the metrical Psalms. The patent, however, was objected to by the publishers of the Psalms, and never came into force. The volume contains a number of Scripture paraphrases and a series of hymns for festivals and holy days. Some of these were set to music by Orlando Gibbons. Another volume, entitled Hallelujah, or Britain's Second Remembrancer, contains 233 hymns on a curious variety of subjects, such as: For a House-warming, For Sheep-shearing, For Washing, For Members of Parliament, Tailors, Jailers, Lovers, Widows and Widowers, Cripples, Poets.

"Among Wither's hymns still in use may be mentioned Behold, the sun that seemed but now; The Lord is King and weareth."

Source: Rev. Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, Fourth Edition, 1908), pages 26-7.

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