The Hymns and Carols of Christmas does not necessarily endorse any advertisers. Please use appropriate caution.
Not So Far Away In A Manger
FORTY-ONE SETTINGS OF AN AMERICAN CAROL
By Richard S. Hill
Even three wise men needed a star when they went searching for the manger where the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head. Unguided, one befuddled reference librarian has no chance at all of finding the true source of the little song that some unknown American has written in honor of the event. The complexity of the route and the number of false road signs which have been set up to confuse the unwary wayfarer would see to that. Nonetheless, it is patently high time that someone undertook to put a modicum of order into the growing confusion of false attributions which at present characterize the carol. Recent Lutheran hymnals, where according to the accepted story the carol might most fittingly appear, have begun to be so suspicious of it that they omit it entirely, and William Gustave Polack, in preparing The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1942), does not even refer to it in passing. Unable to accept the attribution to Luther, they all preferred to ignore the carol entirely rather than attempt to find out who really did write it.
Martin Luther celebrating Christmas with his family, by Gustave F. L. Konig. Reproduced from T. B. Stork's Luther's Christ-Baum, Philadelphia, 1855.
In addition, the multiplicity of settings is beginning to confuse everyone. At least eight compilations have attempted to solve the matter by printing two of the settings, but with so many to choose from, the solution does not advance matters noticeably. Likewise, it only makes more acute the problem that faced a certain school teacher who wrote to the Library of Congress a year ago. She had been teaching her children to sing "Away in a manger" to one tune, and now the Sunday schools in her town were telling them to sing it to another. Both the day school and the Sunday school song book gave their tune as composed by Martin Luther. Which tune did Luther really write? Or was it only the words.
The teacher eventually got an answer, much too late to do her any good. In addition, the answer hedged on several of the chief points. Several trips to the stacks of the Library had only served to confuse matters still further. Later, a process of crystallization set in, but only after many more dozens of volumes had been pulled from the shelves and the pertinent ones stacked on a spare table in the reference section. Even so, the ultimate origin of the carol has not been reached, and possibly it never will be. As Miss O'Meara pointed out to the writer, the chief question was posed in Notes and Queries in 1924 without ever receiving an answer. The explanation may lie in the fact that no one knew where to look for the answer. If the present search has done nothing else, it has limited the probable field of origin very considerably, both in range and in time, and consequently, since these facts may make it possible for some wanderer in the by-ways of nineteenth century religious literature to recognize the first edition of "Away in a manger" as such, it seems worth while to present them. After all, it is the Christmas season, when interest turns once more for a bout with the dozen or so Christmas carols that seem to do more to evoke the spirit of Christmas than any other single factor.
Lest there be any mistake in the matter, let it be stated right at the start that Martin Luther had nothing whatsoever to do directly with the writing of the words or the composing of any of the forty-one musical settings of "Away in a manger." This may come as something of a shock, not only to the editors of several hundred hymn books and collections of carols, but also to the supposedly more *scholarly annotators; of the handbook of several churches, who ought to have known how to check the matter for themselves and to have established it beyond question long ago. Just as one example out of many, it is disappointing to find William Chalmers Covert, D.D., Litt.D., and his associate editor, Calvin Weiss Lauffer, D.D., writing in the Handbook to the Hymnal (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1935, P. 144):
Martin Luther did not often appear as a gentle character. He was generally brusque and uncouth; yet it has not been considered an incongruity to ascribe to him this tender and lovely carol that for centuries, in the several tongues of many lands, has been the lullaby sung over the beds of countless children. This Christmas hymn has been the message to unnumbered little children, by which they have learned to know and to love "the little Lord Jesus."
Such pious and grossly inaccurate fiction is particularly amazing in a scholarly and dignified church publication, particularly since some of Dr. Covert's colleagues had rightly been more suspicious. The Rev. Professor James Moffatt, compiler of the Handbook to the Church Hymnary (London, Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, 1927, p.226) wrote:
Robert Guy McCutchan in Our hymnody; a manual of the Methodist hymnal (New York, etc., The Methodist Book Concern, 1937, p.436) agrees with regard to Luther, and since in addition he is the first one to claim a separate origin for the third verse of the carol, it seems best to introduce here a fairly complete quotation of what he has to contribute:
It will be necessary to come back to this account later, since not all of it is above question. Nonetheless, it seems reasonably certain that in the beginning there were only two stanzas, and it seems desirable to make this distinction early in the discussion.
It is not to be supposed that either of the above statements with regard to Luther's authorship, any more than the present writer's more categorical utterance, is based on a line by line check of the fifty-seven fat volumes in the Weimar edition of Luther's Werke and the twenty-four volumes of supplements thereto. There would be no need for it. Luther is one man whose work and life have suffered no neglect. Down to his Tischreden, every crumb of information has been carefully brushed up and digested. Furthermore, Luther's part in the development of the German chorale has been studied and restudied time and time again. The major works covering this more limited field from Winterfield to Moser's little Die Melodien der Lutherlieder have naturally been checked without finding any possible direct source for "Away in a manger. " Miss Eva O'Meara is my witness that the carol is not in Zahn; and since Zahn covers practically all conceivable German evangelical hymns down to 1888, it would seem to be reasonably conclusive evidence that the carol is not only not by Luther, but that it is not even German. Ask any German! Inquiries have been made both here in Washington and in New Haven, but no German could be found who would admit to any knowledge of any of the tunes or of any antecedent for the words. The" Weihnacht section of innumerable German hymn books and carol collections, published both in Germany and in this country, have been examined in considerable detail. The words "Kripp" and "Kripplein" seem to occur in almost half of them, but otherwise the order of events described and the phraseology bear no possible relation to "Away in a manger."
Indirect, but rather convincing, evidence may also be found in two bilingual collections of carols. In 1918, the Lutheran Publishing Company of Buffalo, N. Y., brought out two parallel collections, compiled with more than usual care by Adolf T. Hanser. The first was entitled The Christmas Song Book, containing forty of the best Christmas songs. The second collection was called The Christmas Song Book, containing thirty of the best Christmas songs; songs in English and German, Volume IL No. 44 on page 32 of the first collection is "Away in a manger" with no author or composer specified and no mention of Luther. Although all but four of the thirty songs in the second collection are the same as those in the larger volume, "Away in a manger" was one of the songs omitted. Both English and German texts had to be supplied in the second collection, and the temptation is strong to suppose that the lack of a German version had something to do with its omission. In 1934, Professor Herbert H. Wernecke solved the problem differently. He published privately in Webster Groves, Mo., a little volume called Christmas Songs and Weihnachts-Lieder, in which he printed the English and German versions on opposite pages. When he had no German translation, he apparently made one, and thus "Joy to the world," words by Isaac Watts and music attributed by Wernecke to Handel (although, of course, it is at most derived from him), becomes: "Freue dich, Welt, dein Konig naht! Mach' deine Thore weit!" On pages 4-5, he gives "Away in a manger," including the third stanza. To simplify the comparison, the English and German versions of the first stanza are given side by side:
Half an ear for natural prosody is sufficient to tell that the German is the translation, not the English.
The point is being belabored overly much for two reasons. First, it seems essential to lay once for all the legend that Luther wrote a carol for his children, which no one else knew anything about, until it suddenly turned up in English dress four hundred years later in Philadelphia. Luther can well afford to spare the honor. He has always exerted the sort of appeal on the popular mind that has drawn legends to him, and scholars have constantly had to struggle to keep these excrescences down to a reasonable number. Strangely enough, however, what was an excrescence as a legend immediately turns into an extremely charming and natural product of American culture as soon as it is returned to its true point of origin. As a new nation last century, we were afraid of our own abilities, and whenever a foreign name or origin could be used to prop up one of our songs, that song was promptly surrounded with all the borrowed glory that could be imported. The process has gone far enough, and it is about time we started claiming--or acknowledging-our own waifs, and letting them travel on their own merits. Some of them can do it, and "Away in a manger" is certainly one such.
Secondly, the break with Luther must be made particularly sharp and distinct, since although Luther himself had nothing to do with the carol, the colonies of German Lutherans in Pennsylvania almost certainly did. If we wished, the background from which the carol must have grown could undoubtedly be traced back to its German sources, but for the present purposes, it should be sufficient to start with a little book of 32 pages called: Luthers Christ-Baum, mit sechs sch5nen Bildern. Geselischaft zur Verbreilung Evangelisch-Lutherischer Schriften. Philadelphia: Lindsdy und Blahislon ... 18.55. Earlier in the century, Gustav Ferdinand Leopold Konig (1808-1869) engraved and painted so many pictures illustrating the life of Luther that he was commonly identified as the "Lutherkonig," a pun that is as bad as many of his pictures. Whatever their quality, the entire Lutheran world of the mid-nineteenth century loved them, and the board in Philadelphia selected six of them to be reproduced in their Christmas book. The one showing Luther and his family with the Christmas tree in the background served as frontis-piece, and since in a sense it is documentary evidence, it has been reproduced from this 1855 copy on page 17. The unacknowledged author of the book was Theophilus Baker Stork (1814-1874). He spent most of his opening pages describing the earlier years of Luther's life, but on page 30 he gets to the subject of his frontispiece:
The pictures and Stork's text became tremendously popular, establishing themselves as a sort of tradition, strong enough for the Lutheran Publication Society to feel justified in bringing out an English paraphrase of the original publication "by request" as late as the year 1916. The blatant Germanism was toned down considerably, but the sense of the text was followed closely.
Meanwhile, Stork had come close to providing a translation himself when he published his Luther at Home (Philadelphia, Lutheran Board of Publication, 1872). On pages 119-120, he wrote:
Earlier in the same little volume, Stork adds another element to the story, which is of very considerable significance. On page 65, he writes:
Please note that the title of the Christmas carol is not specified. For this, as well as for Stork's quotation, we must follow his foot-note to *Evenings with the sacred poets, P-98, issued anonymously by Frederick Saunders (1807-1902) and first published in New York by Anson D. F. Randolph and Co., in 1870, two years before Stork's book. Since the passage in question again appears as a quotation, we need not stop to repeat it, but follow Saunders' foot-note to his original-Catherine Winkworth's Lyra Germanica: hymns for the Sundays & chief festivals of the Christian year, translated from the German. The first edition appeared in London in 1855, followed by a New York edition in 1856. A number of later editions followed in fairly rapid succession, each in a more handsomely tooled leather binding than the last. Miss Winkworth's translations soon became the standard translations, and she is still given the chief credit for many versions that appear in our hymn books. Her influence can therefore be counted as tremendous, and thus the significance of the following transcription from page x of her Preface should not be underestimated:
The chief point of these quotations has at length been reached. Stork, and others like him, vigorously instilled in the minds of Lutheran children a picture of Luther spending Christmas with his children. He told them that Luther wrote a carol for these children, but he neglected to give the carol a name. Had he done so, any Lutheran would have recognized "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her" or its English translation. It was usually printed, normally in truncated form, in both the regular Lutheran hymnals and in many of the Sunday school collections. But it is never identified as "Luther's Cradle Hymn," and in fact, more often than not, it is given in the earlier collections without mentioning Luther at all. As in Stork's account, the connection with Luther seems to have become dim. Now, it would be the grossest nonsense to suppose that the two simple stanzas of "Away in a manger" are a translation--or even a paraphrase-of the fifteen stanzas of Luther's great hymn. Naturally, one could hardly describe a baby lying in a manger, surrounded by cattle, without making use of a few similar words and expressions, but Luther, even when writing for his children, could never throw off his role of educator and doctrinarian. He could, when he wished, be extremely gentle and even playful, but invariably he seems to have felt that simple sentiment was not enough. He must also instruct and elevate the spirit and mind. Thus the flavor and effect of Worn Himmel hoch" is basically different from that produced by the naturalness and simple observation of "Away in a manger." The unknown author of "Away in a manger" was willing to present a picture and let his audience draw their own conclusions; Luther was not. "Vorn Himmel hoch" may be found in so many Christmas collections that it hardly seems necessary to reprint its fifteen stanzas here, even if more space were available, but if there is any doubt in any reader's mind on the dissimilarity of the two poems, it is suggested that he take time out at this point and check the matter elsewhere.
If, then, it be granted that "Away in a manger" is not a translation of "Vom Himmel hoch," what could possibly be more logical than to suppose that some Lutheran in Pennsylvania (the locale is selected for reasons which will become more apparent later) should attempt to make good the supposed deficiency, building his new poem on the mixture of legend and fact that had become associated with Luther's celebration of Christmas with his family.
The tantalizing part of the whole thing is that the name of no poet has been found anywhere except in two collections, both published by Birchards in 1917. One collection is Father Finn's Carol Book, and the other was compiled by the firm's own staff of editors: Standard Songs, No. 4. Christmas carols, ancient and modern (cf. the Check-list at end, item no. 31). In the first, the name, "Samuel Mack," appears where the author's name is usually given; in the second, this is extended to "English text by Samuel Mack." There is no mention of Luther, so that the first form implies that Mack wrote the poem by himself, whereas the second implies that he translated it from some unspecified source. Father Finn has kindly written to say that at this late date he does not remember how the name came to be placed there, or even whether he had anything to do with the matter. Mr. Nelson M. Jansky of Birchards has done everything he could to trace the ascription to its source, but was finally forced to the conclusion that the information was buried with Harvey Worthington Loomis, who seems to have assisted in the editing. "He knew just about everything there was to know about these old songs and most of the sources whence they came. I wish he were here now." This is certainly a sentiment in which the present writer concurs. Miss O'Meara attempted to attack the problem from the genealogical angle, and found that a Mack family started from Essex and Saybrook, along the Connecticut River, and that there had been a Samuel in every generation. One Samuel, 1825-1863, went to Kansas and became a preacher, but there is nothing to indicate that any of them wrote religious verse. If they did, it is not to be found under the name of Samuel Mack in either the Main or the Union Catalog of the Library of Congress, nor in the Bibliographical Center in Philadelphia.
The discouraging part about the whole thing is that, even if Samuel Mack is actually the author-and certainly more about the when and where would have to be known before it could be definitely ascribed to him-there are still too many places where one might search for the poem. Certain clues seem to indicate that the verses were first printed separately without a musical setting. It has been so found, apparently classed as a recitation, printed in Melodies for little people, containing also one hundred recitations . . . By S.V.R.Ford (New York, Hunt & Eaton; Cincinnati, Cranston & Stowe, 1891) ; and Granger's Index to poetry and recitations, together with its supplements, lists twenty-two collections which include it-a rather remarkable total if the poem were extracted from a song. Lastly, the poem turns up four or five times adapted to a standard melody belonging more properly to other words, and the recurrence of such adaptations seems to suggest a poem in search of a melody.
As a matter of fact, the earliest appearance of the poem found thus far Is in an adaptation of this sort. In a Little children's book: for schools and families. By authority of the general council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (Philadelphia, J. C. File, 421 Market Street, 1885), the original two stanzas of "Away in a manger" are printed, not among the other Christmas carols, but as a "Nursery" hymn, the very last item in the volume. The date of copyright is June 16, 1885, but the preface is dated "Christmas 1884." A facsimile of the page is given below.
The tune to which the words are to be sung gives every appearance of being a standard melody used elsewhere for other hymns. There is a possibility, of course, that J. E. Clark wrote his hymn tune, St. Kilda, specifically for these words, but if so, the reason for connecting our cradle hymn with a saint associated with a small English island off the coast of Scotland completely escapes me. Unfortunately, no information on J. E. Clark or any other printing of his tune, previous or later, has been located. Other St. Kildas and other Clarks have turned up, but not these exact two. Presumably, the metrical scheme of the verses — usually given as 220.127.116.11 or 18.104.22.168.13 — was so unusual that the editors had to go fairly far afield to find a suitable tune. They have done an exceptionally careful job in compiling their little book. Not only are the names of authors and composers customarily given, but also the actual books from which the hymns were taken and where necessary the names of translators. Thus the omission of both an author and a source of the words for "Away in a manger" cannot be set aside simply as a piece of carelessness. In its way, it may be taken as a very tenuous clue, indicating something about the type and nature of the source. There are various possibilities. The source itself presented the poem anonymously or in such a way that the name of the author could not easily be determined. The source may have been so ephemeral that there seemed no point in citing it. Such a source might be one of the seven Lutheran Sunday school papers or magazines, carefully graded for the consumption of everyone from a teacher down to The little ones, an illustrated weekly paper for infant schools. Edited by Mr. Robert B. Kinsell. Since the annual subscription rate was only twenty cents, it could hardly have been a very imposing sheet.
If we add to this clue, another "clue by omission," it becomes possible to make even more pointed guesses. The Little Children's book does not mention Luther in any way, shape or form, whereas in the second setting, which appeared two years later, Luther is given as author, and the statements appear that Luther wrote it for his own children and that the carol is still frequently sung-in Germany by mothers to their children. Although the statements are not true, there is no reason for supposing that the composer of the second setting made them up out of whole cloth. Probably, he either took or deduced the statements from the same source as the words of the poem, and just as probably, his source was the same as that used by the editors of the Little children's book. If all these assumptions and deductions are held in suspension at one time, they seem to point to a fairly definite type of source. For one thing, it was prepared for the consumption of children. Luther is somehow involved, but in such a way that one set of editors could see that he had not written the poem (possibly because they knew more about Luther), whereas the second editor got the impression that the poem was written by Luther for his children and that it was well known in Germany. If the source was quasi-fictional-a little play for children to act or a story about Luther celebrating Christmas with his children – one man might easily have appreciated that the poem was written by the author of the playlet or story for dramatic effect, whereas the other man might take it as pure history.
These deductions may not all be strictly accurate. In fact, if they turn out to be the literal truth, the present amateur detective will be more surprised than anyone else. Nonetheless, they form an hypothesis which fits all the known facts, and shapes them into a perfectly logical pattern. And if anyone should find such a story or play containing the words of "Away in a manger," written between the outer limits of 1880 and Christmas of 1884, but more probably in 1883 during the 400th Anniversary of Luther's birth, he will almost certainly have discovered the first edition of this very elusive poem.
Once past this absolute origin, we soon get on reasonably sure ground. The second setting, to which reference has already been made, appeared in a collection, registered for copyright slightly less than two years later than the first, on May 7, 1887 (see above). It bore the title: Dainty songs for little lads and lasses, for use in the kindergarten, school and home, by James R. Murray (Cincinnati, The John Church Co.) On page 110, reproduced herewith in facsimile, appears what is easily the most widely popular setting of them all. Wherever he got the ideas expressed in the heading, Mr. Murray made one serious tactical mistake in saying that Luther "composed" the hymn, and then placing only his own initials where the composer's name is normally given. As a consequence, his fellow compilers of song books apparently supposed that all he had done was to arrange the accompaniment. Presumably, the carol began to show signs of its ultimate popularity almost immediately, and someone pointed out to him his error. The following year, therefore, he brought out another collection, Royal Praise for the Sunday School. A collection of new and selected gospel songs . . . by J. R. Murray (Cincinnati, The John Church Co., (filed Apr. 25, 1888]), and this time he made a slightly different arrangement of the music, transposing it to G major, and adding a repetition of the final phrase. The heading remains the same, except that he adds the definite statement: "Music by J. R. M.," and at the foot of the page appears a separate copyright notice: "Copyright, 1888, by The John Church Co." On June 4th, 1892, the John Church Co. registered a third collection compiled by Murray-Little sacred songs for little singers of the primary department of the Sunday school, and for kindergartens and the home-in which Murray went back to his original setting in F major, and entered his claim to the music simply with his initials.
Under the circumstances, there would seem to be no reasonable grounds on which Murray's claim to having composed the setting can be denied. Nonetheless, although his setting has been found in something over sixty collections and hymn books, his name has never once been given as the composer except in his own compilations. The fault, of course, is his own for giving the impression that the basic work was Martin Luther's. He knew the copyright law, and as editor of Church's Musical Visitor, was constantly writing paragraphs on how the firm was proceeding against persons who infringed John Church's rights. The average compiler of a song book, however, was-and most of them still are-woefully ignorant of many provisions of the copyright law, notably the fact that a new arrangement of an old musical composition gets the same protection as an original work. Supposing that an old song cannot possibly be copyrighted, they do not bother to hunt up a public domain version, but blithely appropriate the handiest new arrangement. Often the publisher of the new arrangement does not catch them promptly, and after a few infringements have taken place, it is extremely difficult to get a favorable judgment from any court, and the new arrangement falls prematurely into the public domain along with the original version. Theoretically, this need not happen, since the law gives full protection to an arrangement, but nonetheless in practice, it happens all the time, and consequently encourages infringers to ply their trade.
In all probability, the infringements against James R. Murray's setting started at a fairly early date, but the first one that has been found was published in 1902, thirteen years before the first period of protection had run its course. Later they become more frequent, and almost all of them clearly betray their origin by reprinting parts of Murray's title and not infrequently reprinting his composition note for note. Naturally enough, however, the middle version, which says "Music by J.R.M." is never copied. It may be of interest for the record to have a list of the earliest of these collections, which have been found.
Please-note in this last collection the new attribution of the music to Carl Mueller. It would certainly not be safe to say that this ascription occurs for the first time in Worship and Song, but it is the earliest that it has been found. From 1921 to the present, however, of the collections upon which notes have been taken, fifteen have come out for Martin Luther as the composer of this particular melody and fifteen for Carl Mueller. Several collections in the early twenties give no composer at all, and since 1934 a trend has developed to pass off the problem entirely by giving the origin of the tune simply as "German" or "Traditional." The more responsible Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist compilations at first gave the composer as "Unknown," and later shifted to a grudging "Ascribed to Carl Mueller."
At one stage of these investigations before the fairly clear-cut evidence in favor of James R. Murray had been discovered, Carl Mueller seemed like the only likely candidate, and a great deal of time was spent and a number of unoffending individuals put to considerable needless trouble in an effort to identify the man. The problem was much like trying to identify one particular John Smith. Eventually, the conclusion was reached that although someone living might be possessed of evidence that would make the attribution to Carl Mueller stick, the general pattern of the evidence as formulated at present made the whole thing look rather like the desperate hoax of an editor who, knowing full well that the melody was not composed by Luther, preferred to put down just any name, so long as it was vague enough, rather than attempt to establish the correct composer. For the present and until the originator of the Carl Mueller attribution has the grace to come forward with something more than a name, the sensible solution would seem to be to forget the man entirely, and award the honor to James R. Murray. He claimed it at a time when his claim makes good sense, and until someone proves the contrary, he should get what little benefit he can from this posthumous glory.
No roaring genius, he was nevertheless a serious and capable member of the musical community during the latter part of the last century, and deserves far better treatment than he has received from the compilers of American dictionaries. So far as can be discovered, F. 0. Jones' A handbook of American music and musicians (Canaseraga, N. Y., 1886) and Granville L. Howe's A hundred years of music in America (Chicago, 1889) are the only two dictionaries to take any notice of his musical activities at all. Samuel Raymond's The record of Andover during the Rebellion (Andover, Mass., 1875, p. 179) supplies a few facts on his birth and young manhood. The son of Walter and Christina Murray, he was born in Andover on March 17, 1841. Jones agrees on the 1841, but Howe, who apparently knew Murray personally, raises the date -to 1842. Both Howe and Jones say that he received his musical education from George F. Root, Lowell Mason, Wm. B. Bradbury, George J. Webb, and Whitney Eugene Thayer, but some of this education must have been acquired through professional association with these men during later years. He was mustered into the army on July 21, 1862 as a private in Co. H, 1st Heavy Artillery, and discharged therefrom on July 8, 1864 at the expiration of his service. While still in the army, he became nationally famous through the composition of the sentimental ballad, Daisy Deane, and immediately after his discharge joined the staff of Root & Cady. Mrs. Epstein refers to him during this period of his career rather frequently, and his compositions and collections were largely published by the firm.
From 1868 to 1871, he assisted Root in the editing of the firm's Song Messenger, and for a time had his name on the masthead as editor. After the Chicago fire, he returned to Andover to teach music in the public schools, remaining there until 1881, when he removed to Cincinnati to edit the Musical Visitor for The John Church Co. Until the magazine was discontinued at the end of 1897, the city directories list him as "Editor Church's Musical Visitor," and thereafter through the issue of 1904 as "musical editor The John Church Co.,- but in 1889 Howe wrote that he had "entire charge of the editorial and publishing department of the house." Neither his middle name nor the exact date of his death has been established as yet, but since his wife, Isabel, continued to live in the Mt. Auburn section of Cincinnati, the disappearance from the directory cannot be simply a question of moving to some other city, and it seems probable that he died during the year 1904.
Mrs. Murray renewed the copyright on Dainty songs. for little lads and lasses on March 18, 1915, and therefore if either she or The John Church Company had realized what they were missing, they could probably have collected a small fortune on his setting of "Away in a manger" before it eventually fell into the public domain on March 18, 1943.
By 1891-but apparently not much before-the carol was sweeping the country. S. V. R. Ford's printing of the poem during this year in his Melodies for little people has already been mentioned. Murray's setting had not yet achieved the character of a folk song, however, and most of the editors of Sunday and day school song books and the compilers of the somewhat too frequent "cantatas" and "Sunday school services" took the precaution of providing their own music. It was the custom at the time to make copyright registrations of new material in a compilation by depositing proof sheets or the pages bearing the works in question, cut from the collection. Often the complete collection was not deposited at all. Flimsy and small, some of the proof sheets seem to have gone astray, and even when they can be found, it is normally impossible to establish the title of the collection in which they were intended to appear. Unsatisfactory as this scanty bibliographical information is, it at least guarantees the existence of a number of early settings, of which otherwise we would probably have no knowledge at all.
With forty-one settings to cover, it is obviously impossible to deal with them separately in the main body of the text. They will all be found listed in their proper order in the check-list that ends this article, and the space thus freed can be devoted to a fuller discussion of the four main settings, plus one additional setting that presents a number of odd aspects. The only point that must be brought out here is that four of these settings appeared during the course of 1891 and three more in 1892. Since only one of these seven settings developed any staying-power, the burst of publishing activity is in itself of relatively little importance, but it demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that Murray's setting was provoking considerable excitement and that all the compilers of song books wanted to take advantage of it.
During the excitement, on October 17th, 1891, the S. Brainard's Sons Company of Chicago deposited The joyful Story. A new Christmas entertainment for Sunday Schools by J. B. Herbert. Similar entertainments, playlets, services, or cantatas for Christmas, Easter, Rally Day, and Children's Day were apparently standard features of most Sunday schools, to judge by the hundreds of them that are preserved in certain classes in the Library of Congress, but the present writer must admit that this is the first time he has ever come in close contact with them, and he rather supposes that this may be true of a goodly number of other people. Since they are a little difficult to believe at first sight, the cover of Herbert's "entertainment," along with a facsimile of the page bearing his setting, has been reproduced on page 18. Unfortunately, the bright red and green on the cover must be left to the imagination. The joyful Story is made up of twenty-two "numbers." The choir sings an unspecified anthem, the chorus follows with "Cheerily Chime." No. 3 is a welcoming recitation in two short stanzas, and then the chorus sings a carol, "Rejoice and be joyful," by Mr. Herbert himself. A "responsive exercise" about the shepherds, written for the occasion, is read by the Superintendent and the School, and this is followed by two hymns and another recitation. At this point, the little children are brought forward for a "Primary Class Exercise." They sing a small carol, and then three girls give a "Recitation, with singing" about "Merry Christmas." Another chorus and recitation build up to No. 16, "Solo for a little child," which is, of course, a setting by "J.B.H." of the "Cradle Hymn / (Written by Martin Luther for his children.)" The concluding numbers mingle a recitation in which "a little girl talks to a large doll which she carries in her arms," the distribution of the Christmas gifts, a chorus, and a quartet, with everyone going home after a performance by the school and the congregation of "Joy to the World." It all goes to form a simple and homely milieu which seems much more than a mere half century away.
John Bunyan Herbert (1852-1927) was probably a homely man also. Born in Ohio, he moved at an early age to Monmouth, Illinois, according to the Historical and biographical record of Monmouth and Warren County, 111. (Chicago, 1927). He went to grade school there, and later to Monmouth College, graduating in 1869. After getting a medical degree from the Hahnemann -Medical College of Chicago, he set up his practice in Monmouth in 1872. Gradually, he became more and more interested in music, and in 1880 he organized a male quartet, which he directed and in which he sang second tenor. It acquired far more than local fame, traveling to several of the national Prohibition Conventions and many Chautauquas. Although the personnel changed from time to time, the quartet remained an entity well into the present century, which probably explains the large number of collections of anthems and secular glees for male voices compiled by Herbert. In addition, he wrote quite a number of political songs, a harmony method, and a book on how to write accompaniments for songs. His last published work, which appeared in 1922, was a collection of settings of songs from the plays of Shakespeare, some by himself and some arranged from earlier composers. His letterhead in 1904 announced that he was prepared to give "Lessons in harmony and composition by mail; manuscripts corrected and arranged for publication." There is no mention of medicine, and judging by the number of his published works, his medical practice must have become a minor interest many years before this.
No other composition of his has attained anything like the popularity of his setting of "Away in a manger." The form in which Herbert published it, with only his initials above the music, had somewhat the same effect on the setting's later history as in the case of Murray. In 1901, only ten years after it first appeared, Mari R. Hofer compiled a Primary and junior songs for the Sunday school (Chicago, Clayton F. Summy), and in 1906, Marion H. P. McFadden edited The Babies' Hymnal (Chicago, A. C. McClurg & Co.). The carol appears in both of these books under the title "Cradle Hymn / (Written by Martin Luther for his children)." This is the exact reading of Herbert's "Entertainment," and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, misled by the ascription to Luther, one or both of these ladies helped herself to the setting from Herbert's pamphlet.
There must have been other publications of the setting in the interim, but the next one to turn up in the present survey appeared in 1921 in Songs for the little child, compiled by Clara Belle Baker and Caroline Kohlsaat, and issued by The Abingdon Press of New York and Cincinnati. The opening phrase, "Away in a Manger," is used as the title, and in the customary spots to the right and left where the composer's and author's names normally appear, there stands the name, Martin Luther. With the customary skepticism of the Lutherans on this point, Gunnar J. Malmin merely "ascribes" the carol to Luther in Hymns for church schools (Minneapolis, Minn., Augsburg Publishing House, 1929). So far as these records go, it was in the following year that the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education first went back to crediting J. B. Herbert with the music. Even so, in their Primary music and worship for church, school, and home, they still "ascribe" the words to Martin Luther. In the later 1930s, as the Herbert setting gradually becomes really popular--even to the point of rivalling Murray's setting-both traditions may still be found, presumably depending on the perspicacity and competence of the ' various compilers of the collections. As late as 1943, Opal Wheeler in her Sing for Christmas (New York, E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc.) not only unblushingly attributes both words and music to Martin Luther, but furnishes an extended and completely imaginative little story on just how and why Martin Luther wrote it. Something ought to be done to restrain such compilers of song books, even if it is only by embarrassing them occasionally in public.
The first edition of J. B. Herbert's setting of "Away In A Manger."
Reproduced from a copy in the Library of Congress
In a collection which appeared the year after Herbert's setting was first published, edited by the late Charles H. Gabriel, Gabriel's vineyard songs (Louisville, Ky., Guide Printing and Publishing Company), there is a setting of Martin Luther's "Cradle Song" which has two very curious points about it. The music is credited simply to "C." And yet when E. O. Excell edited and published two collections in 1900 and in 1902, called respectively Make His praise glorious for the Sunday school and church and International praise for the Sunday school and church, the 1892 melody turns out to be almost identical with that of the setting given by Excell and credited by him to Gabriel. The only difference is that the first melody was in six-eight time, whereas the later version steps up the note values to quarter-notes, and the piece is given in three-four time. A short chorus is added at the end with the word "asleep" sung antiphonally by the soprano and alto. Possibly the "C" is a misprint for "G," in which case everything would be explained. Although not widely popular, the setting was reprinted in at least three collections in 1909, and once each in 1914, 1917, and 1923.
The second curious point is of greater significance by far. In 1892, Gabriel gives the third stanza which Bishop William F. Anderson says John Thomas McFarland wrote sometime between 1904-08, while the Bishop was Secretary of the Board of Education. Obviously, the dates are too far off to accept the story at its face value, particularly since McFarland's claim comes second-hand. The circumstances as related by Bishop Anderson permit the interpretation that the Bishop merely thought McFarland had just written the stanza for his use, whereas actually he had written it much earlier for another occasion. Or McFarland may have simply copied it for the Bishop from some source known to him, and the Bishop deduced his authorship from the fact that the copy was in McFarland's hand. In either case, the 1892 publication renders the Bishop's story suspect, and additional evidence must be found before McFarland can be safely credited with the writing of the third stanza.
To return to Gabriel, the variant forms of his 1892 setting are not his only claim to fame. In 1899, Henry Date, representing the Hope Publishing Co., copyrighted still another setting by him, once more in six-eight time, but with a somewhat wider and more flowing melody. The following year, William J. Kirkpatrick-who, incidentally, had a setting of his own-surprisingly enough included Gabriel's music in his Sacred songs for little voices. It was likewise republished in 1910, 1915, and 1923, always by the Hope Publishing Co. Finally, in 1906, Gabriel "prepared" and published a Sunday school service, called The Counselor, in which a totally different setting in five flats and three-four time is given on page 7. No author or composer is specified, but under the circumstances, the latter is undoubtedly Gabriel again. This places him a considerable distance out in front with three settings of the carol, one of which appeared in two quite distinct forms.
Returning to the main series, there is a slight break – quite possibly bridged by settings which have not been discovered as yet-from 1892 to 1895. In the latter year, however, we get another of what might be called the four "major" settings-the one by William J. Kirkpatrick. Like Gabriel, Kirkpatrick has been fortunate in keeping his name associated with his setting, and in seeing that a separate copyright notice appeared below the music. Possibly this is because the Kirkpatrick setting has appeared almost entirely in hymnals, the editors of which, either by natural instinct or by hard training, seem to be a little more averse to lifting a composer's labors than are the predominantly feminine compilers of children's song books. Nonetheless, the exact place of first publication seems to have eluded even the editors of the various Handbooks. The Rev. Professor James Moffatt in The Handbook to the Church Hymnary (Oxford University Press, 1927) writes on page 226: "The tune CRADLE SONG was composed for the hymn by W. J. Kirkpatrick, in an American book towards the end of last century; but the exact date and title of this work cannot be ascertained;" and Dr. William Chalmers Covert in the Handbook to The Hymnal (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1935) says the same in words which are so similar that they suggest that Moffatt was his only source. To set the record straight, on October 2, 1895, William J. Kirkpatrick sent in proofsheets of seven songs, either by himself or his chief collaborator, John R. Sweney. On Dec. 9, 1895, Cranston & Curts registered a small pamphlet containing these seven songs, plus some additional material. The title of the pamphlet was: Around the world with Christmas. A Christmas exercise. Words arranged by E. E. Hewitt. Music by John R. Sweney and Wm, Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis: Cranston & Curls; New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco: Hunt & Eaton. The service is made up of the usual mixture of recitations and vocal numbers, the latter ranging from "The Doxology" to a song by George F. Root. Halfway through, the service begins to justify its title by introducing numbers depicting "Christmas in England," "The Land o' Cakes" [Scotland], "The German Fatherland," "Denmark," "Austria," and lastly a carol, "All over the world." On page 11, No. XIV-see the facsimile [below] — "Luther's Cradle Hymn," music by Kirkpatrick, is used to exemplify "The German Fatherland — Represented by Singing of the Primary-school, or selected Scholar." Note the inclusion once more of the third stanza. Although Kirkpatrick was not misled into thinking that either Murray's or Herbert's setting went back to Luther, and hence he provided his own, he apparently believed that the poem was typical of Germany-sufficiently typical to make the Germans forget that the music was written for the occasion by Kirkpatrick himself. This is just another of the absurd contradictions that everyone seems to have peacefully accepted.
Illogical as this may have been, it was Kirkpatrick's setting that first carried the words beyond the confines of the United States-only not to Germany, France, or Italy. On the European continent, the carol is still as good as unknown. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921) was a prodigious hymn writer. Most of the sources say that he was a native of Pennsylvania, although David J. Beattie maintains with considerable assurance in his The romance of sacred song (London and Edinburgh, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd., 1931, p. 184) that he was born in Ireland. At any rate, he was in Pennsylvania by a comparatively early age, and during the Civil War served as a fife major with the 91st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. During the twelve years that followed, according to Beattie, he "was connected with a furniture manufacturing company, but in 1878 he abandoned all commercial pursuits and gave his undivided attention to the writing of sacred music, gradually gaining the ear and admiration of the English-speaking world." Sankey played a part in carrying his earlier productions to England, and once he was known over there, it is only natural that his setting of the "Cradle Hymn" would reach their shores. His popularity there was further facilitated by his almost unbelievable productivity, which supplied a hymn on almost any conceivable subject. As a rough indication of how many hymns he must have written, perhaps it will be sufficient to point out that, after Lizzie E. Sweney Kirkpatrick of Germantown, Pa., widow of the composer, renewed the copyright on his setting of "Away in a manger" on Jan. 26, 1923, she assigned the rights of one group of 1049 of his hymns to the Hope Publishing Co., all on March 3, 1924. And this was by no means his total output.
The last of the major settings is by rights no setting at all, - but merely an adaptation of the words to an earlier tune. Inappropriate as the tune is - it was formerly a summer love song-it has become so closely associated with "Away in a manger" that many people have completely forgotten its proper origin, and some of them know no other. The music was originally published in 1838 (not in 1830 or 1834 as is usually stated) by George Willig in Philadelphia with the heading Flow gently sweet Alton. A ballad written by Robert Burns, music composed & arranged by J. E. Spilman. It is not, of course, the old Scottish tune to which Burns wrote his words, but a relatively modern American setting of them. The Sears' Song index gives numerous references to volumes in which both tunes may be found with Burns' words. Unfortunately, practically nothing seems to be known about Spilman. Even his first initial is sometimes extended into "Jonathan" and sometimes into "James;" and once, presumably because of his relation to "Away in a manger," he is given as "Rev. J. E. Spilman." Flow gently was apparently Spilman's first and only "hit," although for a time he kept trying, and Willig published six other songs by him between 1840 and 1845. If by any chance this can be taken to mean that he was a native of Philadelphia, it is possible that he was one of the sons of Charles Spilman, a barber-dentist, who appears in the Philadelphia directories from 1837 to 1849. From 1845 to 1853, a whole series of Spilmans gradually appear, some of them following the original Spilman's profession at the same or other addresses, so that the idea of a growing family with a number of sons is not entirely fantastic. In addition, a Jacob became a grocer, John a painter, and James-for a single year in 1853-an upholsterer. None of them give a middle initial, and with so little to go on, it is sheer speculation to even suggest an identification. Nonetheless, the family of Spilmans in Philadelphia ought sometime to be checked when more adequate records are available.
Whoever he was, his melody has been found published with the words of "Away in a Manger" approximately half as often as Murray's setting, which is considerably more than any of the others. In recent years, however, its vogue does not seem to be increasing anywhere near as rapidly as that of the Herbert setting. The tradition almost certainly goes back much further than the first published example that has been located-The life hymnal; a book of song and service for the Sunday school (Boston, Universalist Publishing House, 1904, p. 58). In 1908, The Lorenz Publishing Co. issued a collection of organ pieces by S. C. Umlauf, which contains a rather horrible "chorale prelude" entitled "Luther's Carol." (Arranged from hymn written for his own child)." The tune used is Flow gently, sweet Afton, and hence even at this date, the tradition must have been strong enough to fool Mr. Umlauf into believing that it was written for the carol by Luther himself. Conceivably, the practice of using this tune could go back to the earliest existence of the poem, when there was no other adequate setting, or it may have grown up much later when some compiler of a collection needed a tune which was not protected by copyright.
Having presented the principal versions, it now becomes the turn of those in the checklist. The list is undoubtedly incomplete. Every expedition into the stacks of the Library of Congress seems to turn up new ones. Nonetheless, the total has already grown to a point where even the author finds it hard to believe, and there seems no point in stretching the credence of his readers further. Unimportant as they may be when taken separately, together they prove beyond the semblance of a doubt that "Away in a manger" is by all odds the favorite carol native to the United States.
The various adaptations and settings – each entry representing an essentially different tune - are listed chronologically according to the earliest date of publication found or the date of separate registration in the Copyright Office, whichever is earlier. Prior dates of copyright printed on the music have not been followed when the earlier edition could not be located. To economize on space, the barest possible bibliographical information is supplied. Where the compiler is also the composer, the name is not reprinted; where it is different, the composer is generally given without further ado in square brackets at the end of the entry.
Editor's Note. Another recently discovered setting is "Cradle Hymn" by Harold Darke (1914). Sheet music is available from Stainer and Bell, London.
Collections of Christmas Carols & Poetry
Other Books by Doug Anderson
A Psalter – A Book of the Psalms Arranged by Luther's Categories
Betbüchlein: A Personal Prayer Book, a recreation of Luther's 1529 prayer book
Luther's Writings on Prayer: A Selection
Devotions for the Advent – 2009
The Lenten Sermons of Martin Luther, Second Edition
Descriptions of all these volumes can be seen at
Christmas is a wonderful, cheerful holiday. Whether we spend it by a real tree or some Balsam Hill artificial Christmas trees, at the end of the day what matters is that we enjoy our time together with our loved ones.
The Hymns and Carols of Christmas
© Copyright 1996, All Rights Reserved.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.