The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

John Mason Neale

Photograph of John Mason NealeJohn Mason Neale, an eminent English clergyman and author, the son of Rev. Cornelius Neale, was born in London on Conduit Street January 24, 1818. His father died when he was five years old. As a boy of fourteen, he began a translation (published in 1833-34) of the poetical writings of Coelius Sedulius, who flourished about 450 AD, and was counted among the founders of Christian hymnody. 1 Here are two significant lines from one of his compositions—

Great things are they I ask, Thou giv'st great things;
And more he angers Thee, who trifles craves.

As a student books were his passion; he read at meals, read walking, read driving, read everything that came to hand, and what he read he never forgot. Simeon 2 was still alive when Neale entered Cambridge, and he used to attend his sermons, feeling profound reverence for the great evangelical divine, though the bent of his own mind was already set towards another school. When Simeon was on his deathbed, Neale wrote in his journal, "I do think at this moment Mr. Simeon must be the happiest man in the world." And then when the end had come, "What a meeting he and Henry Martyn must have had." Martyn was one of a generation of ministers greatly influenced by Simeon, and died bringing the Gospel to Persia.

He was educated at Shelbourne Grammar school and by private tutors before he entered Trinity College in Cambridge in 1836.

While a student he developed an extraordinary interest in church archeology, especially in architecture, and with a few others organized in 1839 the Cambridge Camden Society, afterwards the Ecclesiological Society, which exercised an immense influence on the architecture and ritual of the English Church and which lasted till 1845.

Their periodical promptly addressed itself to the dilapidated condition of many English church buildings; their recommendations were very influential in the Victorian campaign of church construction, and they came to have many supporters in Church ranks. Americans apt to think affectionately of the tastefulness and charm of English churches will be impressed by the descriptions of ruinous buildings encountered by Neale and his contemporaries. Neale also crusaded against the ugly stoves that were placed in some churches to heat them. One issue of The Ecclesiologist, for example, recorded "a large Arnott stove" in the middle of the chancel, whose flue rose to the height of the priest and crossed his face before exiting the building via a hole in the glass of the north window. Neale especially raged against the high walled box pews—"pues" or "pens," the Society called them—where wealthy families sequestered themselves in the midst of the common people. In their pews, they might recline at their ease upon sofas, and one local aristocrat even ate lunch during the service.

The Cambridge Society championed the cause of "Victorian Gothic." The edition of a medieval text on ecclesiastical symbolism that Neale and a friend prepared set forth their convictions about architectural details. The Ecclesiological movement, which wanted more ritual and religious decoration in churches and which closely associated with the Gothic Revival, was a natural partner to Tractarianism (The Oxford Movement), for both movements looked back to the Middle Ages as a time when the Church met the needs of its parishioners both religiously and aesthetically.

He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge (A.B., 1840), was ordained deacon in 1841, and priest in 1842. In this year also he married Sarah Norman Webster. For a few months of 1842 he was incumbent of Crawley in Sussex, but after six weeks his health broke down due to a chronic lung disease and he was compelled to resign.

The next winter went to live in the Madeira Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Fortunately for Neale and theology there was a fine library in connection with the cathedral there, from which he drew materials for his History of the Eastern Church, and for his great Commentary on the Psalms, as well as for those liturgical studies for which he became so well known. Here too, it was, he took St. Bernard 3 into his "heart sad head" so as to be able ever afterwards to quote his writings with facility. See: Hora Novissima.

He returned to England finally in 1845, and from 1846 till his death was Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, Sussex. In fact, the college was an almshouse – a charitable institution –  for the aged, and the salary was only £27 a year.  Sackville College was an institution resembling that of a fictional Victorian clergyman, Anthony Trollop's "Warden," Septimus Harding. Like Harding, Neale gave much thought to church music.

Left: Sackville College, founded as an almshouse in 1609 by will of Robert Sackville, Earl of Dorset.4

There he wrote voluminously — history, theology, travel books, poems, hymns, and books for children. By one standard his life was a failure: 'he spent nearly half his life where he died in the position of warden of an obscure Almshouse on a salary of £27 a year.' (Julian)

Neale was an enthusiastic supporter of the High Church movement (also known as the Oxford Movement); and was an outspoken and consistent champion of Puseyism (named after Edward Bouverie Pusey, a prominent leader of the Oxford Movement). 5 However, this won him not only suspicions but condemnation. He was under the "inhibition" of his bishop, the Bishop of Chichester, from 1846 to 1863, three years before his death (that is, he was prohibited from performing any ministerial duties).

One source wrote that the inhibition may have also been caused by the bishop's resentment of Neale’s church furnishings, etc., at Sackville College.

He was the author of numerous published volumes, many of them evincing his antiquarian and ritualistic tastes. Among his works are fifteen volumes of hymns and translations. He is perhaps the most successful of all modern translators of hymns from the Latin and Greek. In translating the hymns of the Greek Church especially Dr. Neale's work is not only more extensive than, but incomparably superior to, that of any other translator. Indeed, this field is one that he occupies almost alone.

He is best known for his numerous translations of Greek and Latin hymns. In 1859 appeared his translation of a sizable part of Bernard of Cluny's De contemptu mundi, (Hora Novissima; see note 3) from which several of Neale's best-known hymns are taken. Neale also translated the Eastern liturgies into English, and wrote a mystical and devotional commentary on the Psalms.

Another object of Neale’s interest was the history of the Eastern Churches. In 1847, Neale’s book on the Patriarchate of Alexandria appeared. In 1850, it was followed by a General Introduction to the Orthodox Church of the East. A third volume, edited by George Williams, appeared in 1873.

One aspect of Neale’s outlook not dwelt upon much by his biographers is his conviction that divine judgment was the lot of those who appropriated property that had been consecrated. With an associate, in 1846 he published, anonymously, an updated edition of Sir Henry Spelman’s History of Sacrilege. The book shows how disasters, the failure of the male line, and/or great excesses of moral depravity came upon persons who took land that had been given to the Church, or their successors. When such lands had belonged to the Church, revenues from these lands had been employed to feed the hungry as well as to support the sometimes luxurious way of life of certain clergymen. Here we see the antiquarian and the man of Christian compassion united.

However, almost everything which he wrote provoked controversy. He had strong convictions and the full courage of them: in his own view he was a witness of a system of absolute truth. On almost every page of his writings, whether prose or verse, learned or popular, his point of view and his resolute purpose are apparent: they are books of faith and of intention. To him "religion was the solidest of all realities," and religion and the Church were inseparably one. Nowhere is this more marked than in his wonderful stories for children and young people. Most of these have a historical foundation; many of them recite real or supposed facts, dealing with ancient or obscure trials and martyrdoms.

At times it seems that his sympathies seem more Catholic than Protestant and dubious legends are accepted with unquestioning belief. But the charm of style, the minute knowledge of distant times and places, the vivid realization, the subdued feeling, at once profoundly devout and intensely human, form a combination which few English popularizers of Christian history have approached.

His writings included, in part:

Many of his works can be found at Google Books and the Internet Archive.

Neale was very fond of children and wrote beautiful tales for their use (some collections of which were included in the list above). It is pleasant to read of his Sunday evenings at East Grimstead with his own little ones, telling them Bible stories, capping verses, and composing Scripture acrostics. In his Diary, 1st June 1846, he notes, "First told Agnes," his eldest child, "about God." Over his study mantelpiece, adorned with fine icons which had been sent him by the Metropolitan of Moscow in recognition of his work in connection with the History and Liturgies of the Eastern Church, he had as motto, "Per Angusta ad Augusta," ("By the 'strait' to the ' great'"); and he lived up to it.

Hymns and Poetry
Neale is best known as a hymn writer and translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and mediaeval hymns translated from Latin and Greek. He was passionately fond of music, and had an exquisite ear for melody in words, but "he had not a note in his voice."

He was a translator of genius. He may be said to have revealed to the Church the treasures of Greek hymnody. In this field as he said himself he had neither "predecessor nor master." But some of the loveliest of medieval Latin hymns as well, for instance, those of Bernard of Morlaix, were known only to scholars until he took them and so translated them, with an art concealing art, that they are never thought of by those who sing them as having had birth in a foreign tongue.

Of hymns from Greek sources that we owe to Neale, the following are among the best known: The day is past and over; The day of resurrection; O happy band of pilgrims; Let our choir new anthems raise. And from the Latin these: Christ is made the sure foundation; Come take by faith the body of your Lord; The royal banners forward go; Of The Father's Love Begotten; The strain upraise of joy and praise; Jerusalem The Golden; Brief Life is Here Our Portion; For thee, O dear, dear county; Jesus the very thought is sweet; All glory, laud, and honor. The eleven Christmas-tide translations found in Hymns of the Eastern Church was one source for his many translations, including the following:

S. Anatolius of Constantinople (d. 458)

St. Cosmas of Jerusalem, surnamed The Melodist (A.D. 780), "Canon for Christmas Day":

Some of his hymns, indeed, such as Those eternal bowers, man hath never trod and Art thou weary, and thou languid are adaptations rather than translations, but others are a very marvel in their faithful rendering of the Greek and Latin into graceful, spirited English.

A copy of the rare 1582 edition of Piae Cantiones was acquired by Thomas Helmore and John Mason Neale in 1853 from G. J. R. Gordon, Her Majesty's Envoy and Minister at Stockholm. Helmore adapted the carol melodies and Neale either paraphrased the carol lyrics into English or wrote entirely new lyrics. Both the music and words were published in a Carols for Christmas-tide (London: Novello) in 1853 and Carols for Easter-tide in 1854; both collections contained 12 carols.

The songs included in Carols for Christmas-tide include

  1. Here Is Joy For Every Age

  2. Earthly Friends Will Change And Falter

  3. Gabriel's Message Does Away

  4. Christ Was Born on Christmas Day

  5. Earth Today Rejoices

  6. Good Christian Men Rejoice

  7. From Church To Church

  8. In The Ending Of The Year

  9. Royal Day That Chasest Gloom

  10. O'er The Hill And O'er The Vale

  11. Good King Wenceslas

  12. Toll! Toll! Because There Ends To-night

Although this volume is extremely rare, all twelve are contained in the collection Collected Hymns, Sequences and Carols (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914), but lack Helmore's musical scores.

Fortunately, Neale and Helmore published The Condensed Vocal Parts to the Carols for Christmas-tide in 1854, which contains all of Rev. Helmore's musical settings, plus all of the lyrics and settings to Carols for Easter-tide! These scans of his settings have been added to all 12 carols. You can get a scanned copy from Google Books: The Condensed Vocal Parts to the Carols for Christmas-tide. [Thanks, Mary!]

In addition, the Helmore settings have been reprinted in other sources in the last century and a half. See: George Ratcliffe Woodward, Piae Cantiones: A Collection of Church & School Song, chiefly Ancient Swedish, originally published in A.D. 1582 by Theodoric Petri of Hyland. (London: Chiswick Press for the Plainsong & Medieval Music Society, 1910).

Dwight's Journal of Music contained this review

A beautifully engraved selection of twelve of those ancient melodies, which were sung at Christmas time, all over medieval Europe, the ground-work of words and music being the same, in spite of national peculiarities. Their quaint old words, half Latin, half vernacular, are in this case freely and very cleverly imitated. The music is given without alteration, as found in the Piae Cantiones, published by the Lutheran Communion in Sweden, in 1582; and the melodies are harmonized in plain old church style for our voices, with piano. The Carols have the charm of antiquity, of hallowed association, of quaintness and a certain rude intrinsic beauty.

An advertisement near the back stated that the cost of this volume, "folio music size," was $1.13. This collection was published in several formats. In the 18mo size, for example, the cost ranges from 13 cents to 25 cents ("bound in scarlet cloth").

His three famous carols are clean illustrations of Neale's varied qualities. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is in effect a medieval carol that did not exist before the nineteenth century. "Good King Wenceslas" is a most peculiar blend of a delightful melody and, in the opinion of some, horrible lyrics. And "Good Christian Men Rejoice" is an adaptation of another leading carol: In Dulci Iubilo.

In 1851 he translated some Latin verses entitled "Veni, Veni, Emanuel" and produced the hymn Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel, which became the well-known lyrics "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Three years later, in 1854, his associate Thomas Helmore (1811-1890) arranged some music of then uncertain origin to go with Neale's lyrics, and the superlative international song was published. The tune, which is said to be adapted from plainsong, probably was derived from a fifteenth-century processional used by Franciscan nuns, and if so, the music is about three centuries newer than is commonly believed. If this was the melody used by Helmore, and if it is from France as suspected, the music would be early modern. Furthermore, the Latin words, which are conjectured to be derived from short sixth- or seventh-century verses called "The O Antiphons" or the "Great Antiphons" can only be traced back as far as 1710, and so there is no real evidence that they are from the medieval era either. In reality, then, what Neale and Helmore created was a medieval carol of nineteenth century origin. Due to strong identity with two different eras, an appropriate description for this anachronism might be "a carol of two centuries."

The uncertainty and contradictions in its historical background, though, have not detracted from its effectiveness and popularity as a Christmastime song. Neale's antiquated lyrics fit well with the old style of the music, although some of his verses are usually replaced by verses from a translation by Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954). And the smooth-flowing, mystical, hauntingly beautiful melody is magnificent. In mood and style, there is no other holiday song like it except possibly the early hymn, "Of The Father's Love Begotten." Because of its unique spiritual qualities, it could be called the musical soul of the Christmas season.

The publication of Good King Wenceslas created a firestorm among scholars of Christmas hymns and carols that remains unabated to this day. Elizabeth Poston noted in 1965: "When Dr. John Mason Neale launched 'Good King Wenceslas' in England in 1853, he left us the legacy of one of the classic ribaldries of song, an aftermath which proved to be less felicitous for carols….Dr. Neale’s words, tritely tricked out as they are with the romantic trimmings of his time, preached a moral tale less acceptable now than it was to the Victorians’ concept of charity to the poor, are harmless enough in themselves, but they debase a splendidly gay and virile dance tune."

Other commentators were even less forgiving. But to their credit, both Eric Routley and William E. Studwell are more tolerant. Routley wrote:

Poor Neale! He wanted a carol for St. Stephen's Day, [December 26] and he had heard of the Bohemian legend of St. Wenceslas; so he writes what is to most ears a picturesque and agreeable narrative with a cozy moral that meant business in the nineteenth century. Myself, I am unable to see what is wrong with "Good King Wenceslas" as a sociable carol. It lacks pious unction, and looking at the nineteenth-century productions that have it, we may be thankful for that.... 6

Finally, the song from which Neale extracted "Good Christian Men Rejoice" is, like Neale, decidedly esoteric. In 1853 Neale published a free paraphrase of the Macaronic (combined Latin and vernacular) fourteenth-century jewel "In Dulci Iubilo," which is by tradition reputed to have been the offspring of angelic singing and dancing. By using the same spirited melody that was affixed to the earlier carol, Neale was assured that his "new" song of joy would be successful. Although some doubts could be cast on various aspects of Neale's life and activities, his attachment of lyrics to the exceptional melodies for "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "Good King Wenceslas," and "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" leave no question as to his ability to recognize good tunes.

Neale held that the hymns of Isaac Watts and other popular composers imparted erroneous doctrine, as well as offending against taste. Concerning current hymnology, Neale wrote:

Among the most pressing of the inconveniences consequent on the adoption of the vernacular language in the office-books of the Reformation, must be reckoned the immediate disuse of all the hymns of the Western Church. That treasury, into which the saints of every age and country had poured their contributions, delighting, each in his generation, to express their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, in language which would be the heritage of their Holy Mother until the end of time—those noble hymns, which had solaced anghorets on their mountains, monks in their cells, priests in bearing up against the burden and heat of the day, missionaries in girding themselves for martyrdom—henceforth became as a sealed book and as a dead letter. The prayers and collects, the versicles and responses, of the earlier Church might, without any great loss of beauty, be preserved; but the hymns, whether of the sevenfold daily office, of the weekly commemoration of creation and redemption, of the yearly revolution of the Church's seasons, or of the birthdays to glory of martyrs and confessors—those hymns by which day unto day had uttered speech, and night unto night had taught knowledge—could not, by the hands then employed in ecclesiastical maters, be rendered into another, and that a then comparatively barbarous, tongue. One attempt the Reformers made—the version of the VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS in the Ordinal; and that, so far perhaps fortunately, was the only one. Cranmer, indeed, expressed some casual hope that men fit for the office might be induced to come forward; but the very idea of a hymnology of the time of Henry VIII may make us feel thankful that the prelate's wishes were not carried out.

The Church of England had, then, to wait. She had, as it has well been said, to begin over again. There might arise saints within herself, who, one by one, should enrich her with hymns in her own language; there might arise poets, who should be capable of supplying her office-books with versions of the hymns of earlier times. In the meantime the psalms were her own; and grievous as was the loss she had sustained, she might be content to suffice herself with those, and expect in patience the rest.

Quoted from Neale, "English Hymnology: Its History and Prospects," in the periodical The Christian Remembrancer, 1849.

The listing of the other hymns that Rev. Neale would fill pages. It is estimated Neale and his collaborators produced over 400 hymns, sequences and carols.

More than anyone else, he made English-speaking congregations aware of the centuries-old tradition of Latin, Greek, Russian, and Syrian hymns. In the monumental Carols Old and Carols New by Rev. Charles L. Hutchins (1916), Neale was represented with more settings (48) than any other author. The next closest, by the way, was William Chatterton Dix, with 17 settings.

As a poet, Neale eleven times won the Seatonian prize. An edition of his Seatonian Poems (Cambridge, 1864) was dedicated, by permission, to the Bishop of Chichester, the year following their reconciliation. His Songs and Ballads for the People (London, 1843) and Songs and Ballads for Manufacturers (1850) are secular only in name.

Sisterhood of St. Margaret
As Warden of Sackville College at East Grinstead, Neale came to know the poverty of some of the nearby villagers. Fever victims might die unattended. So, a nursing sisterhood that Neale had founded in 1854 as their pastor-confessor-administrator was moved to East Grinstead in 1856 and continued there as St. Margaret's Sisterhood. The purpose of the sisterhood was to "minister to the bodily, and then to the spiritual, needs of the sick and suffering poor — going to their homes whenever called for, living with them, sharing their discomfort & refusing no difficulty, and adapting themselves to all circumstances." It was thought so wild and Utopian a scheme that one of its warmest promoters said of it, "It is a very interesting experiment, and I wonder whether Anglicanism can carry it out."

Many Anglicans in his day, however, were very suspicious of anything suggestive of Roman Catholicism. Only nine years earlier, John H. Newman had encouraged Romish practices in the Anglican Church, and had ended up joining the Romanists himself. This encouraged the suspicion that anyone like Neale was an agent of the Vatican, assigned to destroy the Anglican Church by subverting it from within. Once Neale was attacked and mauled at a funeral of one of the Sisters. From time to time unruly crowds threatened to stone him or to burn his house. In 1857, the "Lewes Riot" occurred, instigated by an Evangelical clergyman whose daughter had been one of the Sisters, and who had died of scarlet fever, bequeathing 400 pounds to the Society.

However, his basic goodness eventually won the confidence of many who had fiercely opposed him, and the Sisterhood of St. Margaret survived and prospered. Although extremely unpopular for a time, the order was before Neale’s death in strong demand, as furnishing the best nurses in England and having branches in Scotland, America and Ceylon as well as many in England. From this work there also grew an orphanage, a middle class school for girls and a house of refuge for prostitutes.

But in his lifetime, he received virtually no honor or preference from the Church of England. He was offered the Provostship of St. Ninian's, Perth by the Scotch Episcopal Church, but by the patrons of his own Church he was practically ignored. Neale’s Doctor of Divinity degree was conferred by Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1860.

In time, but not in his lifetime, the oversight of his own Church would be corrected. Archbishop Trench called him "the most profoundly learned hymnologist of our church"; another wrote "one of the most erudite scholars, one of the best linguists, one of the most profound theologians, and the foremost liturgist of his time." Neale could read, write and think in 21 languages and was especially conversant in Latin and Greek. At Neale’s funeral the highest ranking clergymen were Orthodox.

A final anecdote, which we owe to the Rev. Gerald Moultrie,7 illustrates both his sense of humor and his extraordinary mastery of Latin. The occasion was a visit to Hursley Parsonage, the residence of Rev. John Keble8; the invitation was issued by Rev. Keble and the Bishop of Salisbury to assist them with their new hymnal:

Mr. Keble having to go to another room to find some papers was detained a short time. On his return Dr. Neale said, "Why, Keble, I thought you told me that the Christian Year was entirely original." "Yes," he answered, "it certainly is." "Then how comes this ? ' and Dr. Neale placed before him the Latin of one of Keble's hymns for a Saint’s day (possibly St. Luke's). Keble professed himself utterly confounded. He protested that he had never seen this "original," no, not in all his life. After a few minutes Neale relieved him by owning that he had just turned it into Latin in his absence.

This account is quoted Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers, p. 118 (1909) and in A. G. Lough, The Influence of John Mason Neale (London, SPCK 1962, p. 95). Both appear to be quoting from an earlier unidentified work.

His last work — much of it done on his deathbed — was a volume of original hymns, which opens with a beautiful prologue in "dear memory of John Keble." When the end drew near and he could neither write nor compose, they sang to him — as so many love to have sung to them in like case, since he showed the world their beauty — the hymns of Bernard of Morlaix.

A man of "scrupulously delicate and honorable character," he died as his conditioned worsened in August 6, 1866 at the young age of 48 at East Grinstead (23 miles south of London), his home for the preceding 20 years. At his funeral they sang a adaptation from St. Joseph the hymnographer, a special favorite with Neale for its music's sake: here is the first verse:

Safe home, safe home in port!
Rent cordage, shatter'd deck,
Torn sails, provisions short,
And only not a wreck;
But oh! the joy upon the shore,
To tell our voyage perils o'er!

On his coffin there was inscribed by his own direction:  J. M. Neale, miser et indignus sacerdos requiescens sub Signo Thau ("J. M. Neale. Poor and unworthy priest resting under the sign of the cross"). 9

Please also see:


1. Coelius Sedulius, ca. 450. Author of Carmen Paschale; a minute and vivid peom on the gospel story, extending to 1700 hexameters. Little is known of him, save that he was converted late in life, and is named by Fortunatus as one of the first five Christian poets. From east to west, from shore to shore is a translation by Mr. Ellerton of some stanzas from a "triumphal song" concerning Christ, alphabetically arranged. How vain the cruel Herod's fear, is a translation from the same poem by Neale.  From Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers. Return

2. Charles Simeon was born in Reading, England, September 24, 1758 and was baptized in the parish church exactly one month later. At a young age he was sent to the Royal College of Eton, and at the age of nineteen received a scholarship to Kings College, University of Cambridge.

When Simeon arrived at Cambridge in 1783, the gospel had not been preached there for over 40 years. The university required that every student come to the Lord’s Table at least once a year. Unfortunately during times of spiritual decline, this requirement meant that many students received Holy Communion without due regard to these "Holy Mysteries." The disturbed young Simeon underwent a spiritual reawakening as a result.

The Bishop of Ely ordained Charles a Deacon on the 26th of May 1782 (Trinity Sunday). The Bishop of Peterborough ordained him priest in the Chapel of Trinity College on the 28th of September 1783.

On November 10, 1782 Charles Simeon began his ministry at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. As Vicar of Holy Trinity church, he declared the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ courageously and clearly against fierce opposition from both the University and the townspeople. Things did not begin smoothly upon his appointment to this church. Simeon’s description of the reaction from the church members is alarming,

"The disappointment which the parish felt proved very unfavorable to my ministry. The people almost universally put locks on their pews, and would neither come to church themselves, nor suffer others to do so…I put in there at my own expense a number of open seats; but the church wardens pulled them down and cast them out of the church.

During the early years of his ministry, his sermons were punctuated by the sound of breaking glass as University students threw bricks through the church windows. He was pointedly ignored on the streets and privately ridiculed by both citizens of the town and scholars.

It was nearly ten years of labor at Trinity Church before Simeon saw a change in the spiritual condition of his parishioners. The great Evangelical Awakening of the following century sprang directly from Simeon's ministry and had a tremendous impact around the world through its accompanying revival in missionary outreach.

Simeon remained at Trinity for over fifty years. His pastoral labor was rewarded and Cambridge became the center of Evangelical revival in the Church of England. Bishop McIlvaine wrote in an article On the State of the Church of England, that Simeon lived "to see all Cambridge filled with the belief and love of the truth which he preached; every parish church therein occupied with a ministry of kindred spirit." (Christian Observer, 1839, p.55)

On Sunday, November 13th, 1836 the bells of St. Mary’s in Cambridge were ringing to announce the morning service. Charles Simeon who was to deliver the sermon that morning died comfortably in his sleep at the age of seventy-eight. Highly unpopular at first both because of his message and his manner, scorned and abused for many years, he carried on regardless until, in the end, he had become one of the most highly-regarded and warmly-loved men in England. Much of this biography is extracted from Charles Simeon for "At Stack Theological Journal," Rt. Rev. Scott D. de Hart, Rector, St. Stephen's Reformed Episcopal Church, Provincial Bishop, Mississippi. Several other of his essays can be found at this site, including The Influence of J.M. Neale and the Theology of Symbolism. Return

3. St. Bernard, ca. 12th Century, sometimes styled of Morlaix (the place of his birth), sometimes of Cluny or Clugny (the name of his monastery), may be the reference here. Neale, in his tribute to John Keble, distinguishes Bernard of Morlaix from Bernard of Burgundy ((1091-1153):

Bernard, Minstrel of the Cross,
  And Bernard, who with home-sick view,
Counting all other joys but loss,
  Jerusalem the golden drew.

Little is known of Bernard of Morlaix's history.  Brief life is here our portion; Jerusalem The Golden; The world is very evil, are from a poem entitled De contemptu Mundi rendered into English as A Rhythm on the Celestial Country by John Mason Neale. From Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers. Also known as Hora Novissima, this translation was the source of at least four modern hymns including "Jerusalem The Golden," "The World Is Very Evil," "Brief Life is Here Our Portion," and "For Thee, O Dear, Dear Country."  Return

4. Sackville College, founded as an almshouse in 1609 by will of Robert Sackville, Earl of Dorset. He provided a sum of money with which to buy land and "build a convenient house of brick and stone" to be used as an almshouse. For many years the College had a second use too: providing overnight accommodation for the Sackville family as they journeyed to and from their estates in Sussex.

It is a beautifully designed and preserved early Jacobean building of Sussex sandstone, completed circa 1619. It includes a Chapel with the original lock still in use, a Quadrangle with well, a Hall, and the Common Room. The Warden's Study, where Neale composed many hymns and poems, it remains an excellent example of a Victorian study. Much original furniture is on display. It is still administered by a Warden, and continues as a sheltered home for the elderly to this day. Today the College Warden lives in part of the wing that once served the Sackville family. It is open for guided tours during the summer months.

Sackville College was officially recognized as having historical or architectural interest and therefore legally protected from alteration or demolition. Return

5. Edward Bouverie Pusey was born August 22, 1800 and studied at Oxford, a member of Christ Church. He received a B. A. and an M. A. While at Oxford, he befriended John Keble and John Henry Newman, both early supporters of the Oxford Movement, first known as the Tractarian movement, it was an attempt to revitalize the spirituality of the Anglican Church. In 1828 he was ordained Deacon. He was then appointed regius professor of Hebrew in Oxford and given canonry at Christ Church. He married "in a rather romantic manner" Maria Catherine. She died of consumption 11 years later. Three of their four children died in Pusey's lifetime.

He was influenced by Dr. Charles Lloyd to fear the contemporary German theology (Rationalism) and its danger to the English Church. His earliest publication was An Historical Enquiry into the Probable Causes of the Rationalist Character lately predominant in the Theology of Germany, in 1827.

Upon Newman’s departure from Oxford in 1841, Pusey assume active leadership of the Oxford Movement. His emphasis upon ritual earned the movement the nickname of Puseyism. He continued publication throughout his life, but was briefly suspended (1843-1846) as a university preacher following a sermon titled "The Holy Eucharist: a Comfort to the Penitent."

He died and was buried in the cathedral at Oxford in 1882. Return

6. Eric Routley, The English Carol, p. 193. Return

7. Rev. Gerald Moultrie, 1829-1885. Poet and son of John Moultrie (1799-1874), Rector of Rugby, Warwickshire. He was born and brought up in the town, attending Rugby School before going on to Exeter College, Oxford. He became as Assistant Master at Shrewsbury School, then Vicar of Southleigh and Warden of St. James College, Southleigh. He was very close to his sister Mary Dunlop Moultrie (1837-1866) with whom he collaborated and whom he sorely missed after her early death at the age of twenty-nine. His life of high-church spirituality is reflected in his work which, although more technically accomplished than that of his father, lacks his freshness and simple sincerity.

Two of his poems may be read online at The Literary Heritage: The Loss Of The London and St George, Patron Saint of England. Moultrie was also a translator/author of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, and was co-editor of The People's Hymnal, 1837 (with: R. F. Littledale). There were several editions, including the 5th edition, 1873. Source: Literary Heritage Return

8. Rev. John Keble was an Anglican priest, a theologian, and a poet who originated and helped lead the Oxford Movement, which sought to revive in Anglicanism the high-church ideals of the later 17th-century church. His sermon on July 14, 1833, "On the National Apostasy," is said to have been the start of the influential Oxford Movement in the Church of England (a copy of which can be found at The Victorian Web. The sermon attacked Parliament's plan to disestablish — that is do away with the official status of — the Anglican Church of Ireland in that primarily Roman Catholic country. Liberals argued that since most Irishmen were Roman Catholics, their taxes should not support the Anglican Church. In contrast, Keble, Pusey, and the other Tractarians held that since the Christian religion was superior to government, secular powers had no right to interfere in spiritual matters whatever the cause.

John Keble (1792-1866) was born April 25, 1792, Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, the son of the vicar of Colne. After a brilliant career at Oxford University, he took Holy Orders and became curate at East Leach and Burthorpe. In 1827, he published The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, which was an instant success. In 1831, Keble became a professor of poetry at Oxford. In 1833, he laid the foundation of the Oxford Movement by delivering his famous Assize Sermon (see above). In 1835, he accepted the vicarage at Hursley, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

Keble was a modest man, and probably thought less of his own work than did the least of his admirers. He once accompanied the vicar of a parish in southern England on his visit to the Sunday School. The superintendent asked Keble to say a few words to the children, who were already acquainted with his hymns, so that they might more easily remember them. Keble demurred, but when the superintendent persisted, said "May they sing something?" When they finished, his face was beaming as he said:

My dear children, you sang most beautifully in tune; may your whole lives be equally in tune, and then you will sing with the angels in heaven.

He was also the author of numerous hymns. Keble died March 29, 1866, Bournemouth, Hampshire, England, and was buried at Hursley, Hampshire, England. (Sources included the Cyberhymnal and the Victorian Web) Return

9. Ezekiel ix 4 in the Vulgate reads: — Transi per mediam civitatem in medio Jerusalem et signa Thau super frontes visorum. […Go through the city, Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads (of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.)] Return


Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols (London: Penguin, 1999)

Rev. Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, Soho Square, Fourth Edition, 1908), pp. 114-119

Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College for an biography of John Mason Neal, for the text copy of Hymns of the Eastern Church (Fifth Edition), and for an article on John Mason Neale from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. VIII: Morality - Petersen.

Rev. S. D. de Hart, Charles Simeon for "At Stack Theological Journal," reproduced at

Dwight's Journal of Music, Volume 8, No. 11, December 15, 1855, p. 87.

East Grinstead Tourist Information Page, including a photographic tour of the area.

Google Books, Hymns of the Eastern Church. Several editions have been scanned, including the 1862 edition. There is no charge for any of these PDF files (CCEL charges $2.95 to obtain a copy from that site.)

Rev. Charles L. Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916). PDF is also available at Google Books.

The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, 10th Edition, 1992.

Internet Archive, Hymns of the Eastern Church. Several formats available; all downloads are free. The text version seems to be an electronic conversion from the PDF (source is Google Books); it is not recommended. The text copy at CCEL is preferred. The Internet Archive contains numerous works by and about John Mason Neale.

Notes from the Hymnuts

Information Please

James E. Kiefer, The Biographical Sketches home page

Literary Heritage, for a biography of Gerald Moultrie

Dale J. Nelson, English Department, Mayville State University, Mayville, North Dakota, John Mason Neale and the Christian Heritage, found at The Cyberhymnal

Eric Routley, The English Carol (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959)

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995) Notes Concerning O Come, O Come, Immanuel and Notes Concerning Good Christian Men, Rejoice

William Studwell and Dorothy E. Jones, Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music (New York: Haworth Press, 1998)

The Victorian Web for articles on The Oxford Movement and many of its primary supporters.

Bishop John Freeman Young, Great Hymns of the Church (New York, 1887; edited by Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr.). Rev. Neale notes that eleven of his Hymns from the Eastern Church are contained in Bishop Young's volume, with Greek and English lyrics, together with musical scores.

Several sources also cited A. G. Lough, The Influence of John Mason Neale (1962).

Other bibliographical sources cited included:

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