The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

CHRISTIANS, AWAKE, SALUTE THE HAPPY MORN

Version 1
Compare: Christians, Awake! Salute The Happy Morn - Version 2

Words: John Byrom (1692-1763). Byrom was also the author of On This Auspicious, Memorable Morn

Music: "Yorkshire," John Wainright (1723-1768), 1750.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

1. Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Savior of the world was born.1
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above,
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God Incarnate and the Virgin's Son.

2. Then to the watchful shepherds it was told,
Who heard th' angelic herald's voice, "Behold,
I bring good tidings of a Savior's birth
To you and all the nations upon the earth;
This day hath God fulfilled His promised Word;
This day is born a Savior, Christ the Lord."

3. He spake; and straightaway the celestial choir
In hymns of joy, unknown before, conspire;
The praises of redeeming love they sang,
And heaven's whole orb with alleluias rang.1a
God's highest glory was their anthem still,
Peace upon earth and unto men good will.

4. To Bethlehem straight th' enlightened shepherds ran1b
To see the wonder God had wrought for man
And found, with Joseph and the blessed maid,
Her Son, the Savior, in a manger laid;
Then to their flocks, still praising God, return,
And their glad hearts with holy rapture burn.2

5. Oh, may we keep and ponder in our mind
God's wondrous love in saving lost mankind!3
Trace we the Babe, who hath retrieved our loss,
From His poor manger to His bitter cross,
Tread in His steps,4 assisted by His grace,
Till man's first heavenly state again takes place.

6. Then may we hope, th' angelic hosts among,
To sing, redeemed, a glad triumphal song.
He that was born upon this joyful day
Around us all His glory shall display.
Saved by His love, incessant we shall sing
Eternal praise to heaven's almighty King.5

Some authorities have an alternate fourth verse:

4. To Bethlehem straight the enlightened shepherds ran,
To see the wonder God had wrought for man,
And found, with Joseph and the blessed Maid,
Her Son, the Saviour, in a manger laid;
Amazed the wondrous story they proclaim,
The first apostles of his infant fame.

Some authorities add the following verse as verse five, and omit verse six, above:

5. Like Mary let us ponder in our mind
God's wondrous love in saving lost mankind;
Trace we the Babe, who hath retrieved our loss,
From his poor manger to his bitter cross;
Then may we hope, the angelic thrones among,
To sing, redeemed, a glad triumphal song.

Sheet Music from Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823, Carol #20.

Gilbert notes: "Sent to the Editor from Yorkshire, since the preceding Carols were in the Press."

Sheet Music by J. Wainwright from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #702
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Melody line only; links at the top of the page at SATB.

Christians_Awake_702.gif (219364 bytes)

Sheet Music "Yorkshire" by R. Wainwright from Mary Palmer and John Farmer, eds., Church Sunday School Hymn-Book (London: Church of England Sunday-School Institute, 1892), #36.

Sheet Music from Rev. Richard R. Chope, Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1894), Carol #32. Although the source of the tune is unidentified, it appears to be that of John Wainwright in the key of D Major.

Carol-032a.gif (279639 bytes) Carol-032b.gif (311287 bytes)

Sheet Music from John Nicholls

Christians_Awake-Byrom-Nicholls-01.jpg (50223 bytes) Christians_Awake-Byrom-Nicholls-02.jpg (110523 bytes) Christians_Awake-Byrom-Nicholls-03.jpg (102762 bytes)

1. Whereon the Saviour of mankind was born  Return

1a. The heaven's whole arch with alleluias rang; Return

1b. Or: the happy shepherds ran Return

2. Or, for the last two lines:

Amazed, the wondrous story they proclaim,
The earliest heralds of the Saviour’s name. Return

3. Or, for the first two lines:

Let us, like these good shepherds, then employ
Our grateful voices to proclaim the joy; Return

4. Or: Treading His steps Return

5. Or: Of angels and of angel-men the King. Return

Editor's Note: The following commentary is by Louis F. Benson from Studies Of Familiar Hymns, First Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1924). At the end of his commentary, Rev. Benson offers "some points for discussion." Please consider these questions as those posed for your own consideration, or for discussion with friends or members of your congregation. Due to a lengthy illness, I regret that I am not able to respond to your thoughts or questions.

THE TEXT OF THE HYMN

1. Christians, awake! salute the happy morn,
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born;
Rise to adore the mystery of love,
Which hosts of angels chanted from above;
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God Incarnate and the Virgin’s Son.

2. Then to the watchful shepherds it was told,
Who heard the angelic herald’s voice: “Behold,
I bring good tidings of a Saviour’s birth
To you and all the nations upon earth:
This day hath God fulfilled His promised word;
This day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.”

3. He spake: and straightway the celestial choir
In hymns of joy, unknown before, conspire;
The praises of redeeming love they sang,
And heaven’s whole orb with alleluias rang:
God’s highest glory was their anthem still,
Peace upon earth, and mutual good will.

4. O may we keep and ponder in our mind
God’s wondrous love in saving lost mankind;
Trace we the Babe, who has retrieved our loss,
From His poor manger to His bitter cross;
Treading His steps, assisted by His grace,
Till man’s first heavenly state again takes place.

5. Then may we hope, the angelic thrones among,
To sing, redeemed, a glad triumphal song;
He that was born upon this joyful day
Around us all His glory shall display;
Saved by His love, incessant we shall sing
Eternal praise to heaven’s Almighty King.

    Benson's Note: Arranged from a Christmas poem of John Byrom, 1750; verse 4, line 1; verse 5, line 6, altered.

Two of our familiar Christmas hymns are associated with the Methodist side of the eighteenth century revival and with the Wesleys themselves. One of the friends whose help they asked in preparing their first hymn book after they had returned from Georgia was Dr. John Byrom; and he is the author of “Christians, awake!” The other Christmas hymn, “Hark! the herald angels sing,” was printed by the Wesleys themselves, in 1739, in the earliest of the three collections they named Hymns and Sacred Poems.

JOHN BYROM AND HIS POEMS

There is no need of a lingering look at Dr. Byrom’s portrait to assure us that he was what is called a character. From under the low slouched hat with its rim projecting like the prow of a racing yacht, the bewigged head bends forward in an inquisitive intentness; and the face is as striking as the hat, with a ruminating look in the eye and a very whimsical but not unkindly mouth. One notes the crook-handled cane and wonders what the color of the long coat may have been. It must have been a very long coat, for Byrom was conspicuously tall. He speaks in his diary of taking walks with John Wesley. Now Wesley was rather short and slight, dressed in conventional clerical clothes, and a model of neatness, so that the couple walking side by side must have presented something of a spectacle.

Underneath these oddities Byrom was very much a gentleman and something of a scholar, a devoted husband and affectionate father, a loyal friend in fair weather and foul; and in spite of a gift of bubbling humor, he walked the earth in a sort of reverential awe that made life very sacred and God very near.

He was the son of a linen merchant of Manchester, England, near which city he was born in February, 1692; and was thus eighteen years younger than Isaac Watts and eleven years older than John Wesley. The biographical dictionaries sum him up as “poet and stenographer,” and he was already both of these while still at college in Cambridge. While there he invented a new system of shorthand, and also printed in The Spectator for October 6, 1714, a playful pastoral poem called “Cohn and Phoebe,” which attracted more attention and admiration than anything he wrote afterwards. When through college he went to the continent to study medicine, and though he never won his diploma he was called “Doctor” for the rest of his life.

Byrom returned to England in 1718 and married a cousin. His elder brother had inherited the family property, and he started to earn a living by teaching his shorthand. His pupils paid him five guineas and swore an oath to keep the secret of his system. They liked him and no doubt had their fun out of him, calling him “the Grand Master”; and among them were some very distinguished men.

Between Byrom and the Wesleys were two bonds — a common love of shorthand and of religion. Charles Wesley adopted Byrom’s system at a very early date, and soon persuaded John to adopt it. Many of their hymns, the diary of Charles, and the vast and invaluable “Journal” of John Wesley, were all written in Byrom’s shorthand.

There was not only a warm friendship between the men, but a religious sympathy deeper than the differences of their temperaments and theological views. Byrom was known at Manchester as a High Churchman and a Jacobite — an adherent of the Pretender as against the king. But he did not allow his churchmanship to interfere with his wide religious sympathies. It is indeed probable that his deep spirituality alienated him from the average clergy of that day and prevented him from becoming a clergyman himself. He was at heart a mystic, caring more about real personal relations with God than about systems of theology or church organizations. He never became a Methodist, and probably never had the peculiar type of religious experience that the great revival produced. But he was sympathetic with the religious work of the Wesleys, attended their services frequently, and was their warm friend in days when so many despised and ridiculed them.

The Wesleys consulted him about their first collection of hymns of 1738 and asked him to contribute some. He responded with excellent advice and with translations of two French mystical hymns. One of these seems to have been the “Come, Saviour Jesus! from above,” that became a well-known Methodist hymn and is in use up to the present day. It may be that John Wesley’s hand touched it up here and there, as was his way. It is not likely that Byrom helped the Wesleys in actual religious activities. Meditation and study and debate were more to his taste than activity. He liked to do his own thinking and to cultivate lettered ease; to let the world wag while he contemplated it with what he calls in one of his poems “calm content.”

In 1740 Byrom’s brother died and he inherited the family property. Henceforward shorthand was rather a hobby than a means of livelihood, and he had all the more time for writing poetry. He had always had a gift for meter and for rhyming, and it got so that he seemed to think in verse, as Mr. Henley puts it. Every subject he wanted to argue about or poke fun at seemed to him a suitable subject for poetry. Descriptions, narratives, criticisms, speeches, essays, theological disguisitions as well as hymns — they were all in verse. It is fair, however, to remember that he wrote for the amusement of himself and friends and seldom printed his verses. They were not collected and published until after his death. His versifying, as he grew older, became more and more religious in its character, and it came to an end only with a long illness. He died on September 26, 1763, and his poems were published in two volumes at Manchester in 1773.

On July 12 of that year John Wesley read them on a journey from Liverpool to Birmingham, and was delighted with them. He said they showed all the wit of Dean Swift, with more learning and piety, and expressed some of the finest sentiments that ever appeared in English arrayed in the strongest colors of poetry. The present writer owns a copy of the same edition of the poems that Mr. Wesley read, but has not found there all that he did. The wit and learning and piety are all there, and the charm of a quaint personality, but the “colors of poetry” have faded out somewhat. Byrom’s verse will have few readers nowadays, but he will be remembered by one of the wittiest of epigrams:

God bless the King, I mean the Faith’s Defender; God bless — no Harm in blessing — the Pretender; But who Pretender is, or who is King, God bless us all — that’s quite another Thing.”

He will be remembered also by this Christmas carol that may very likely be sung as long as the celebration of that day survives among English-speaking people.

CHRISTMAS DAY FOR DOLLY”

On the walls of the librarian’s room of the Chetham Library at Manchester hangs the neatly framed original manuscript of Byrom’s Christmas poem, on a very crowded sheet of note paper. It bears the title “Christmas Day For Dolly.” And from this poem, by omitting some of the lines and arranging the remainder into verses which can be sung, our Christmas hymn, “Christians, awake!” has been made.

Francis Arthur Jones, in his Famous Hymns and their Authors, tells an attractive little story about the poem. “It was written in 1745, and the story of its composition is a pretty tale. John Byrom, the author, had several children, but, like many another father, he had his favorite. This child was a little girl named Dolly, who afterwards became Mrs.* Dorothy Byrom.

    * Used, at that period, as a courtesy title.

A few days prior to Christmas, 1745, Mr. Byrom, after having had a romp with the favored Dolly, promised to write her something for Christmas Day. It was to be written specially for herself, and no one else. The child, highly honored and delighted, did not fail to remind her father of his promise each day as Christmas drew nearer. On the morning of the great day, when she ran down to breakfast, she found several presents waiting for her. Among these was an envelope addressed to her in her father’s handwriting. It was the first thing she opened, and to her great delight, proved to be a Christmas carol addressed to her, and to her alone.” Mr. Jones goes on to add that the present creased and crumpled state of the original manuscript comes “probably from being carried about in Miss Dolly’s pocket.”

It makes a pretty story and one would like to believe it. But how can we? The title of the manuscript does show that Byrom gave it to his daughter. But that he wrote it for her especially is less evident, because the words “for Dolly” are added in pencil, as though they were an afterthought. And there is no evidence whatever that Byrom wrote the poem during Dolly’s childhood. She was born on April 26, 1730, and the earliest date we have for the hymn is Christmas, 1750, at which time Dolly was quite a grown-up young lady. In nearby Manchester there was a young man, John Wainwright, who had some part in the music of the old Church of St. Mary the Virgin, now the Cathedral. He, too, had a copy of Byrom’s poem and saw its possibilities as a Christmas carol. He divided it into verses and composed for it the delightful tune to which it is still sung. And on “Xmas, 1750, the singing men and boys, with Mr. Wainwright” (in other words, the choir of St. Mary’s) paid Dr. Byrom — or was it Dolly? — the compliment of coming out to his home and singing “Christians, awake!” beneath his windows. This in its way is as pleasing an incident as Mr. Jones’s little story, and it has the quite inestimable advantage of being true.

The Wesleys did not put their friend’s Christmas hymn into any of their hymn books, and it was probably unknown to Toplady and the others who soon began to make Church of England hymn books. But in those days of carol singing Wainwright’s tune attracted attention. “It is instinct with the healthy frost and good cheer of the old-fashioned English Christmas”; and it was as a Christmas carol rather than a church hymn that the words and tune so happily mated began their career, and became popular in northern England. The Rev. Caleb Ashworth, a Lancashire man, heard and liked the tune, and put it into his tune book printed in 1760, but he divorced it from Byrom’s words and made it a setting for Dr. Watts’s version of the Fiftieth Psalm:

The God of Glory sends his Summons forth,
Calls the South Nations, and awakes the North.”

Ashworth’s book had only a local circulation. But in 1784 the Rev. Ralph Harrison, another Lancashire man, included the tune in his tune book. His book became very popular and made the tune widely known. Harrison’s book found its way into this country, and in various American editions of “Watts’s Psalms” in the first half of the nineteenth century the Fiftieth Psalm is marked to be sung to “Walworth”; and on turning to the tune books we find that Walworth was simply Wainwright’s tune under another name. It is unlikely that it was much sung. Congregations of the time were not musical and would shrink from six lines of ten syllables. Perhaps sometimes the choirs attempted to render it for them.

Over in England Byrom’s hymn had never been lost sight of. Every Christmas it was sung to Wainwright’s tune, but as an out-of-doors carol rather than in church. It was the poet Montgomery who made a church hymn out of it. He arranged it for the hymn book he compiled for his friend, the Rev. Thomas Cotterill, in 1819; and from that book it has passed into most of the important church hymnals both in England and America. The Presbyterians in Scotland and the Methodists in America are exceptional, in that they have not yet learned the pleasure of saluting the happy morn with “Christians, awake!”

SOME POINTS FOR DISCUSSION

1. What is the difference between a Christmas hymn and a Christmas carol? A hymnologist would say that “Hark! the herald angels sing” was a hymn, and that “Christians, awake!” and “0 little town of Bethlehem” were carols. Is it because a carol treats the subject with a child’s simplemindedness and from a child’s point of view? Or does the distinction refer only to the character of the music used?

2. The reader has before him the full text of Byrom’s poem as first written, except the last six lines, which he can supply from The Hymnal Revised. [Editor's note: see above] He is in the same position as the editor of a hymn book who wants to use the poem, but is confronted with the problem of arranging it so that it can be sung. Probably no editor ever solved that problem to his complete satisfaction, and the reader can if he pleases apply his own wits to it and try for a better arrangement. The conditions are:

(1) Some lines must be omitted. The poem is too long for a hymn.

(2) There should be the fewest possible alterations.

(3) The verses must be of six lines to fit Wainwright’s tune. Nobody wants to sing it to anything else.

(4) Montgomery made six verses, which are too many. An arrangement in four that kept the train of thought unbroken would be ideal.

3. There are two types of hymn tunes. There are choir tunes, of delicate beauty, that one likes to listen to rather than to sing. And there are people’s tunes that make one feel like joining in to swell the volume of sound. “Stockport” is just such a tune. It represents a period when people were getting tired of the old Psalm tunes sung in church, and church musicians were seeking a somewhat lighter and more cheerful type of tune. When one catches the spirit of its bluff heartiness and the swing of its melody it is still quite irresistible. If not sung in our churches as often as one might wish, that may be because it makes no special appeal to the choir, or because our congregations have not become familiar with it.

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