The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

William Sandys

William Sandys, F.S.A., was born in 1792, educated at Westminster, and was an English solicitor (lawyer) by profession from 1814 until 1873. His Christmas publications include:

His first carol book, published in 1833, contained an lengthy introduction of 136 pages, followed by three sections of music. Part 1 contained 34 "Ancient Carols and Christmas Songs from the early part of the fifteenth to end of the seventeenth century." Part 2 contained a selection of 40 carols "still used in the West of England.' The third part contained six French Provincial carols. In all, he reproduced 80 carols, all without music. He also reproduced 18 tunes on 12 pages of music. In addition, he contained a copy of "The Christmas Play of St George as represented in Cornwall." It is substantially the same as the version printed in his 1852 volume (see below).

His second carol book, published in 1852, is similar to the first, but was intended for the popular market as opposed to the scholarly market which was the target of the 1833 volume. The introduction runs 214 pages, but the number of carols drops to 42 (without music). He also prints 12 tunes, plus two plays:

While he is considered to be not as good a musician as his predecessor, Davies Gilbert (another Cornish gentleman and antiquary, who published two small carol collections in 1822 and 1823), Sandys was the first major collector of the 19th century, and was a primary source for many subsequent collectors. His publications, together with those of Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol, 1843, et al), redefined, continued, and intensified the trend of Christmas celebration in England following the drought created by the Puritans during the English Civil War, and the devastation occasioned by the Industrial Revolution.

He had a wide variety of interests and published several other volumes on various topics. He was well known in his day as an antiquary, with a special interest in music; he was also a member of the prestigious Percy Society in the 1840s. He collaborated with Simon Andrew Forster (1807 - 1870) — the younger son of 'Royal‘ Forster, the violin maker — in The History of the Violin and other Instruments Played on with the Bow (1864).

He died in London on February 18, 1874.

Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvestre" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887).

Books by Sandys

Other Sandys literary contributions:

These two plays share a common theme, and some common dialogue.


Note: F. S. A stands for "Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries." The society still exists. According to their web page, "To be elected persons shall be 'excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations' and be 'desirous to promote the honour, business and emoluments of the Society'." The Society one of the UK's oldest learned societies, having held their inaugural meeting in 1707 and having received their Royal Charter in 1751. See: Society of Antiquaries of London. Their library contains over 100,000 books. Membership is by invitation only.

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