The Hymns and Carols of Christmas


The Book of Praise

Sir Roundell Palmer, 1st Earl of Selborne

London and Cambridge, 1864.

"... motives of (real, or supposed,) convenience and edification has introduced a system of tampering with the text of hymns, which has now grown into so great an abuse, that to meet with any author's genuine text, in a book of this kind, is quite the exception."

"In the present volume, while the Editor has not thought it necessary to give the whole of every composition, from which a selection of parts might, in his judgment, more advantageously be made, it has been his desire and aim to adhere strictly, in all cases in which it could be ascertained, to the genuine uncorrupted text of the authors themselves."
[emphasis added]

Sir Roundell Palmer, 1st Earl of Selborne PC (27 November 18124 May 1895), was a British lawyer and politician. He served twice as Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.

I share with Lord Selborne the frustration obtaining the true text of certain hymns and carols due to the habit of some editors to change the words of those hymns and carols, without notifying the reader that this had happened. Such changes occur for several reasons. One is mere preference in language, the editor modestly substituting his wisdom for that of the original author. More often, the changes are due to perceived doctrinal purity of the editor -- which is sadly lacking in the original author, who undoubtedly is a member of a different denomination -- that requires the editor to "fix" the text in question.

This practice is so prevalent that it is often impossible to obtain the true, original text of a hymn or carol without locating a copy of the original publication. In the past, this has been extremely difficult, especially with volumes published prior to 1900 due to the scarcity or fragility of any existing books.

Fortunately, there are several initiatives that favor the researcher in the 21st century. Google and Microsoft have independently undertaken to scan and publish without cost to the public copies of books and periodicals from major libraries at sites such as Google Books and the Internet Archive. Likewise, organizations such as Project Gutenberg, Project Wittenberg, Project Canterbury and numerous others have provided thousands accurate texts of original volumes. There are several individuals and groups that have undertaken to post the texts of hymnals on-line, such as Oremus Hymnal, The Hymnary, The Net Hymnal, The HymnSite, The Hymnal Net, CCEL (the Christian Classics Ethereal Library), and many others. Musicians can find high quality scores at several locations, such as International Music Score Library Project , Free Scores Com, the Sheet Music Archive, the Choral Public Domain Library, and numerous others. Finally, there are other groups that have undertaken to provide, for example, English Broadsides that are an invaluable source of songs sung by people of distant decades to celebrate the common festivals of life. One example is the University of California, Santa Barbara, which hosts the English Broadside Ballad Archive; other universities and libraries are also joining this and similar efforts. Most of these sites offer their resources free of charge, although a few will charge for "premium" access. I hasten to note that at The Hymns and Carols of Christmas, all content is free; there are no texts that require payment for any type of "membership."

Notwithstanding these initiatives, researchers such as myself must still first look to collections of hymns and carols to find unique examples. Such results are often tainted, requiring careful analysis and footnoting.

If you are such an editor, I beg you to make a note of any such changes to a hymn or carol. For members of your denomination, this can become an opportunity to educate. For the rest of us, it is a shining example of integrity.




The Book of Praise

London and Cambridge, 1864.

The present is an attempt, not to add to the great and constantly increasing multitude of hymn-books intended for congregational use; but to present, under a convenient arrangement, a collection of such examples of a copious and interesting branch of popular literature, as, after a study of the subject which for several years has occupied part of his leisure hours, have seemed to the Editor most worthy of being separated from the mass to which they belong.

A good hymn should have simplicity, freshness, and reality of feeling; a consistent elevation of tone, and a rhythm easy and harmonious, but not jingling or trivial. Its language may be homely; but should not be slovenly or mean. Affectation or visible artifice is worse than excess of homeliness: a hymn is easily spoiled by a single falsetto note. Nor will the most exemplary soundness of doctrine atone for doggrel, or redeem from failure a prosaic didactic style.

There are many hymns in the English language, which will bear the test of these rules, as well, perhaps, as those of Germany, or of the ancient Latin Church. But they are apt to be presented in such company, or in such a manner, as to detract much from their effect. From the operation of causes connected with the nature of such compositions, it happens, that writers, who do not in general rise above mediocrity, sometimes produce beautiful hymns; while, on the other hand, there is far more dross than gold in the works of all voluminous hymn-writers Nor are the principles, on which popular collections of hymns for congregational use are formed, favourable to that kind of selection, which is here attempted. In such collections, as a general rule, the taste of the compilers is regulated by their theology: they seem to be very easily satisfied with all that they think orthodox and edifying, or liturgically appropriate; they do not submit hymns, derived from sources which they respect, to any free or independent criticism; and, on the other hand, they reject, with morbid fastidiousness, every sentiment and expression in which they think they detect the traces of opinions which they dislike. It is also their frequent habit to cut down the compositions which they approve, with little discrimination or judgment, to such arbitrary dimensions, as suit their ideas of the time which ought to be occupied, during Divine service, by congregational singing.

The same regard to motives of (real, or supposed,) convenience and edification has introduced a system of tampering with the text of hymns, which has now grown into so great an abuse, that to meet with any author's genuine text, in a book of this kind, is quite the exception. Censurable as this practice is, in a literary point of view, it must be confessed that those who adopt it may plead, in their excuse, the examples of many of the writers, whose compositions they alter. The Wesleys altered the compositions of George Herbert, Sandys, Austin, and Watts. Toplady, Madan, and others, altered some of Charles Wesley's hymns, much to his brother John's discontent, as he testifies in the preface to his Hymn-Book for Methodists. Toplady's own hymns, even the "Rock of Ages," have not escaped similar treatment. James Montgomery complains much, in the preface to the edition of his collected hymns published in 1853, of his share in this peculiar cross of hymn-writers, as he calls it. But he had himself, about thirty years before, altered the works of other men, in his Christian Psalmist. Bishop Heber, scholar as he was, and editor of Jeremy Taylor's works, silently altered Taylor's Advent Hymn in his own hymn-book; and the hymns of Heber himself, and of writers still living, such as Keble, Milman, Alford, and Neale, are met with every day in a variety of forms, which their authors would hardly recognise. Perhaps, when the masters of the art have taken such liberties, it may be explained on the same principle as that on which musicians, and particularly the composers of anthems, produce variations from, and improvements upon, the works of their predecessors: and, indeed, some such variations of hymns are sufficiently good to take rank as new compositions; better than those by which they were suggested. But this is a rare felicity; and the result is widely different, when the work of alteration is undertaken by incompetent hands.

In the present volume, while the Editor has not thought it necessary to give the whole of every composition, from which a selection of parts might, in his judgment, more advantageously be made, it has been his desire and aim to adhere strictly, in all cases in which it could be ascertained, to the genuine uncorrupted text of the authors themselves. Great pains have been taken to trace out and ascertain the true authorship of such hymns, as were either without names of authors, or attributed to authors by whom they were not really written, in the books from which the Editor in the first instance took them. This was a task, which he could himself scarcely have undertaken, and in which he certainly could not have hoped to succeed, but for the assistance of Mr. Sedgwick, of No. 81, Sun Street, Bishopsgate; who has bestowed much time and attention on this branch of literature, and has attained to a knowledge of it, probably not possessed by any other Englishman. By his valuable help, the authorship of all but seventeen of the compositions here collected has been traced, and the text, whenever it was possible, collated with the original works of the authors. Thus aided, the Editor has been enabled, before finally completing his selection, to go through all, or almost all, the original publications containing hymns or sacred poetry of (amongst others), George Herbert, Sandys, Wither, Quarles, Crashaw, John Austin, Baxter, Bishop Taylor, Bishop Patrick, Bishop Ken, John Mason, Thomas Shepherd, Samuel Crossman, and Lancelot Addison (of the seventeenth century); Joseph Addison, Watts, Simon Browne, Ralph Erskine, Doddridge, Hammond, John and Charles Wesley, Cennick, Seagrave, Grigg, Berridge, Olivers, William Williams, Toplady, Cowper, John Newton, Anne Steele, Hart, Gibbons, Michael Bruce, Logan, Byrom, Skelton, Swain, Daniel Turner, Ryland, Stennett, Needham, Beddome, Medley, Henry Moore, and Mrs. Barbauld (of the eighteenth century); Gisborne, Kirke White, Anne Flowerdew, Drennan, Bowdler, Kelly, James Montgomery, Sir Robert Grant, Bishop Heber, Bishop Mant, Bathurst, Lyte, Edmeston, Bernard Barton, Grinfield, and Chandler (of the present century); besides other writers, still living, whom it is unnecessary to name; and many miscellaneous collections, old and modern. Of the names thus enumerated, several are not represented at all in this collection; as the Editor did not find anything in their works which appeared to him to be suitable for his purpose, and equal to the general standard of merit, which he desired to maintain. But of the great majority, as well as of some other writers whose works are not accessible in a collected form, specimens more or less numerous will be found. A few examples of successful variations or centoes (in all instances but two, by known authors) from earlier compositions, have also been included.; together with three original hymns, out of several which have been communicated to the Editor, by the kindness of the authors, in manuscript. Upon the works of living authors generally, the Editor has not thought it expedient to draw with the same freedom, as upon those of earlier generations; although he has not deemed it necessary to forego altogether the advantage of including in his book specimens of those works, especially of such of them as have obtained general currency in popular hymn-books.

The arrangement which has been adopted in this volume (and upon which some care has been bestowed), may be explained in a few words. The Catholic Creeds, and the Lord's Prayer, presenting in their simplest forms, and in their natural order, all the fundamental points of Christianity, both objective and subjective, appeared to the Editor to be the best basis for a classification of those hymns of faith and devotion, which express feelings at all times appropriate to a Christian profession. These two groups of hymns constitute Parts I. and II. of the Collection. The Third Part consists of hymns distinguished chiefly from those of the two former classes, by having a special reference to particular times and occasions. In the Fourth Part will be found distributed, under suitable heads, compositions of a kind intermediate between hymns for general use and private meditations; which (although the distinction is better marked in some cases than in others) seem to breathe, upon the whole, the accents of particular, rather than general, consciousness and experience.

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