The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Sinner's Redemption

Alternate Title: All You That Are To Mirth Inclined


Note: Do not confuse this carol with another, very different carol that has a similar first line All You That To Feasting and Mirth Are Inclin'd, which is also found under the titles Old Christmass Returnd, or Hospitality REVIVED. The first verse of this carol is:

All you that to feasting and mirth are inclin'd,
Come here is good news for to pleasure your mind,
Old Christmas is come for to keep open house,
He scorns to be guilty of starving a mouse :
Then come boys, and welcome for diet the chief,
Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minc'd pies, and roast-beef.


All you that are to mirth inclin'd,
Consider well, and bear in mind
What our good God for us hath done,
In sending his beloved son.

This is the opening verse of an old carol that is commonly found with the title "The Sinner's Redemption," with the subtitle "The Nativity of our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ, With His Life on Earth, and Precious Death on the Cross."

In 1861, Joshua Sylvester wrote "This rude old carol is still an especial favorite with the peasantry.

William Harrison, writing from the Isle of Man, found "this rude old carol" in an old manuscript copy from the middle 1700s. Like Sylvester, Harrison observed that the song "was a favourite one in country districts."

William Hone mentions it in his 1823 list, Christmas Carols now annually Printed, and, he writes, "I find that nearly all the broadside printers include it in their yearly sheets." 

A few years later, William Henry Husk wrote that "This is one of the most popular of carols, ..." and that "It is annually reprinted by the broadside printers, and is included in most of the existing collections of carols."

This is a old carol, although none of the antiquaries who included it in their collections had any firm idea about its age except to say that it was old.


The Broadsides - The Earliest Copies

The earliest copy that I've seen was one from the 1630s, anonymously printed as a Broadside that was saved in the Roxburghe collection of Broadsides, Roxburghe 1.374. It was published by at least three other Broadside publishers in the last half of the 1600s (see below). And Roy Palmer's listing of Birmingham Ballad Printers discloses that the ballad was published by at least six printers in that city between 1758 and 1852/3.

William Sandys wrote that this ballad had been "regularly printed at the Christmas anniversary for many years back", and that he had copies of Broadsides from numerous printers including "three copies by Bloomer of Birmingham, (with variations) and broadside copies by Pitts, Thomson, and Batchelar of London," according to a note that he wrote to James Henry Dixon, which he reproduced in his 1851 edition of The Garland of Good Will.

This very old carol was widely reproduced in the 17th and 18th centuries on Broadsides, single sheets of paper that contained between one and four Christmas songs. The English Broadside Ballad Archive contains five examples of this carol, three from the Roxburghe collection, and one each from the Euing and Samuel Pepys collections. All five were published under the title, "The Sinner's Redemption."

rox_1_374a-375a_2448x2448.jpg (2498406 bytes) - Roxburghe 1.374, ca. 1634, the oldest. Printer: Not stated.

rox_2_422_2448x2448.jpg (1784869 bytes) - Roxburghe 2.422, ca. 1662-1692. Printed for G. Conyers, in Little-Brittain.

rox_3_288-289_2448x2448.jpg (1694362 bytes) - Roxburghe 3.288, ca. 1730-1769, the latest. Printer unstated but located at Newcastle upon Tyne (possibly John White?).

euing_1_333_2448x2448.jpg (2499769 bytes) - Euing 333, ca. 1670-1700. Printer: Unknown.

Pepys_2_0029_iBase.jpg (1991746 bytes) - Samuel Pepys 2.29, ca. 1684-1686. Printed for J. Clarke, W. Thackery, and T. Passinger.

Note: All estimated dates are from the excellent English Broadside Ballad Archive, a recommended site, which will soon have two additional Broadsides of this ballad, both from the Bradford Collection, which they have just begun to incorporate (as of January 9, 2013).

Three Broadsides with the same content, although arranged in a slightly different manner, are found in the Harding Collection in the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads collection. See:

  • Harding B 7(49), A New Christmas Carol, Published by Thompson and Churchill, Printers, 21, East Smithfield (no date). Item # 00771.

  • Harding B 7(50), "A New Christmas Carol," Published by J. Evans & Son, 42, Long-lane, London (between 1813 and 1820). Item # 00772.

  • Harding B 7(51), "The Nativity," "Mirth Inclined," Published by T. Goode, Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell, (between 1847 and 1879). Item # 00773. On the same Broadside is "Behold The Grace Appears," by Isaac Watts, but without attribution.

How similar are these versions? Each contains 28 stanzas. One or two contain a burden. Exclusive of the burden, the song has between 704 and 708 lines, and there are not more a dozen or so differences between each of the five Broadside versions that we can see at this time.


The Books of Carols

As noted above, William Henry Husk wrote that "This is one of the most popular of carols, ... and is included in most of the existing collections of carols." We find copies of this carol in the books by Gilbert Davies (1822), William Sandys (1822), Anonymous (A Good Christmas Box) (1847), William Sandys (1852), Joshua Sylvester (1861), William Henry Husk (1868), Dearmer, et al., (The Oxford Book of Carols. 1928), and more. Of the major collections in the 19th century, I was not able to find it in only two of them, A.H. Bullen (1885) and Bramley and Stainer (1860s-1870s).

This was a remarkably popular carol when we consider how many Broadsides have been saved in the various collections, together with the number of early collections in which the carol appears. Interestingly, unlike many other old carols, the text is relatively unchanged from the earliest Broadside that has been found (Roxburghe 1.374, circa 1634) to the latest Broadside that has been found (Roxburghe 3.288, ca. 1730?).

This is very unusual. Usually, as a carol travels around the country, passing from one village to another over a course of more than two hundred years, we can expect a large number of changes to have taken place. But that is not the case here, where a side-by-side comparison of the five Broadsides disclosed that except for modernization of punctuation, there aren't more than a dozen individual word changes, and less than a handful of sentences changed.

But it is here, the publication in book form, that we see the changes that were made to the carol over the decades. Several collectors identify the oldest collection in which this song appears. William Sandys wrote in 1833 that

This carol is printed, with little variation, in an edition of Deloney's "Garland of Good-will," (not the black letter copy,) and called "The Sinner's Redemption."

William Henry Husk wrote in 1868:

Possibly the oldest known copy of this carol is that contained in the undated edition of Thomas Deloney, "the ballading silk-weaver's," Garland of Good Will, believed to have been issued in 1709. ... The copy printed in 1709 consists of twenty-eight verses, but wants the burthen, "And to redeem," &c;

Editor's Note: Before he began writing songs, and publishing them in book form, Deloney was a silk weaver.

And in 1928, the editors of The Oxford Book of Carols wrote that they had gone back to the oldest known copy, which was published in Deloney's The Garland of Good Will, etc (London: Printed for G. Conyers at the Sign of the Golden-Ring in Little-Britain, not dated except in pencil, 'printed about 1699'). We know from F.O. Mann's Notes on Thomas Deloney's The Garland of Good Will that George Conyers published a copy of the Garland in 1699 or 1700, as well as volumes as early as 1688 and as late as 1709. Conyers also published the ballad in a Broadside, ca. 1662-1692, preserved in the Roxburghe collection, Roxburghe 2.422. Oddly, the two versions are not identical. Both texts contained 705 words; there were a total of five word differences between the two.

According to William Sandys, "This carol is also to be found in a small, but very good collection of carols, without date, but printed at Bilston, and entitled, 'A new Carol Book for Christmas.' " Cecil Sharp added that it was J. Bates, New Town, Bilston. I haven't found this collection, yet.

While we saw relatively few changes among the Broadside publications of this carol, that was not the case once the carol began to be published in book form. Perhaps the most obvious changes are those that have occurred in the first line, such that now we have versions of this song with the following first lines:

  1. All You That Are To Mirth Inclined / Inclin'd

  2. All You That Are Unto Mirth Inclined

  3. All You Who Are To Mirth Inclined

  4. All Ye Who are To Mirth Inclined

  5. Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined

However, although some changes to the first line have occurred over the centuries, the rest of the first stanza is remarkably similar:

. . . .
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us hath done
In sending His beloved Son.

As time passed, we see more and more changes to the verses — the inevitable tinkering of book editors who prefer to substitute their judgment to that of the original author. In addition, while all the five Broadside versions contain 28 verses, it is rare that all 28 will be seen in carol collections, chap books, or hymnals (the exception being the 28 verses published in Thomas Deloney, The Garland of Good-Will (1709). Some books with fewer verses include:

  • 3 verses: Eric Routley, The University Carol Book (1961).

  • 7 verses: The Oxford Book of Carols (1928, 1964), #51, pp. 104-105.

  • 8 verses: Cecil Sharp, English Folk-Carols (1911).

  • 10 verses: R. Vaughan Williams, Eight Traditional English Carols (1919).

  • 15 verses, William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833).

  • 16 verses: Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1823), and The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992), #140, pp. 490-492.

  • 19 verses: A Good Christmas Book (1847).

  • 22 verses - William Harrison, ed., Mona Miscellany: A Selection of Proverbs, Sayings, Ballads, Customs, Superstitions, and Legends Peculiar to the Isle of Man (1873).

The 15 verses printed by William Sandys and the 16 verses printed by Davies Gilbert and the editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols is that part of the carol that deals with the Nativity of Our Lord; the remaining verses relate to the life, the ministry and the crucifixion of Our Lord, and are often not sung during the Christmas-tide.

In general, the language used in this song is easy for the modern reader to understand — something not always true for a song that dates back to the early decades of the 17th century.

However, there are a couple of words that need a bit of elaboration. Joshua Sylvester wrote,

The word "mirth" was certainly not used by the author in that irreverent sense which it now usually conveys. Religious joy was intended, not boisterous merriment. [Emphasis added]

The word "mirth" also occurs in the second verse.

Sylvestre also notes that the word "silly", found in the last line of the fifth verse (which begins "And mark how all things came to pass"), is an old word for simple or inoffensive. We see this word used in some translations of "Stille Nache, Heileig Nacht" ("Silent Night, Holy Night"), and several other songs, including "I Saw A Sweet And Silly Sight," "Behold A Silly Tender Babe," and "Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass."

Another carol was derived from The Sinners Redemption. It is The Wexford Carol, and its first verse is:

Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.


The Tune

The earliest Broadsides, those from the 17th Century, indicated two different tunes: either "My Bleeding Heart" or "In Creet." However, by the mid-1800s, both tunes had gone missing, and substitutions were being made. According to James Henry Dixon, The Garland of Good-Will (1851), "The carol is now generally sung to a tune which is a version of the one sung to 'Death and the Lady.'"

Sheet Music to "Death and the Lady" from Lucy Broadwood, ed., English Traditional Songs and Carols (London & New York: Boosey & Co., 1908), p. 40.

William Henry Husk, writing in 1868, wrote that "there is extant a sheet of music issued by a London publisher (who withheld his name) about 1775, containing a short version of the carol, differing from Davies Gilbert's — Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined — but commencing in the same way, set to a tune composed by J. A. ... — possibly John Alcock, organist of Lichfield Cathedral, or his son, John." In the Catalogue of the Library of the Sacred Harmonic Society, John Alcock, Jr., was identified as the author of this piece of music. It was published as "A New Christmas Carol for Voices and Instruments"  by C. & S. Thompson, St Paul's Churchyard (No Date, but ca. 1770). It was also said to have been published with seven other anthems, bound in a volume, with Weldon's and others' Divine Harmony, a collection of Psalms and Anthems. No title was given.

Other songs have been attached to the ballad over the years. In 1823, Davies Gilbert published this tune in Some Ancient Christmas Carols, Carol #8.

Carol_8_M_1.jpg (224327 bytes) Carol_8_M_2.jpg (208525 bytes)

That tune became the inspiration for the setting by Richard R. Terry to "Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined" from his Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols (1931); "Words and melody from Gilbert's 'Christmas Carols,' 1822"

20-Let_All_That_Are.jpg (134034 bytes)

Ralph Vaughan Williams, in his Eight Traditional English Carols, provided us with this setting, which was later used in the Oxford Book of Carols (1923):

RVW-Birth_Of_The_Saviour-01.jpg (106928 bytes)  RVW-Birth_Of_The_Saviour-02.jpg (135267 bytes)

In The English Carol (1959), pp. 128, Eric Routley had a discussion of the background of this ballad, and observed that there was no "proper" tune, but that two tunes had been attached, one by Davies Gilbert and one by the editors of The Oxford Book of Carols. Routley thinks that the two are so close as to have a common musical ancestor citing Terry, Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols, p. 29. ("almost certainly versions of a common original").

And Cecil Sharp provided us with this setting from English Folk Carols (1911):

Sharp-Sinners-1.jpg (868867 bytes)  Sharp-Sinners-2.jpg (735311 bytes)  Sharp-Sinners-3.jpg (271789 bytes)

Sharp wrote that "The tune, which is often used by carol singers (see Folk-Song Society’s Journal, IV, pp. 15, 17 et seq.), is a variant of “Searching for Lambs” (Folk-Songs from Somerset. No. 96)."

"Searching for Lambs" from Cecil Sharp, Folk Songs From Somerset, Vol. 4.

Searching_For_Lambs-01-Sharp-Somerset-4.jpg (77570 bytes) Searching_For_Lambs-02-Sharp-Somerset-4.jpg (71224 bytes)

Both Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams collected their versions, at least in part, from old singers in the English countryside. But in both cases, the singer could remember only the first verse. Sharp wrote: "Sung by Mrs. Gentie Phillips, of Tysoe, at Birmingham. Mrs. Phillips could remember no more than the first stanza; the remaining stanzas have been copied from a broadside." Williams obtained the other nine verses from A Garland of the Old Castleton [Derbyshire] Christmas Carols (1094)by the Rev. W. H. Shawcross, vicar of Bretforton.

Eric Routley gave us a musical setting in The University Carol Book (1961), #164, p. 215 (and also observed that his three-verse setting was suitable as an Invitory in a Lent carol service).

As noted above, the editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992), #140, p. 490, used the text and tune from Davies Gilbert, with their own arrangement of the tune. The tune, they wrote, "is a church-gallery version of the folk melody usually sung to "This is the truth sent from above."

"This is the truth sent from above" from Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Carols, p. 46.

Truth_Sent-1-Sharp-1911.jpg (136685 bytes)

The recording by Loreena McKennitt, from her CD To Drive The Cold Winter Away, contains nine of the original 16 verses that relate to the Nativity in the following order: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 2.

With a meter of 88 88 — called "Long Meter," and abbreviated LM — many tunes are available that could be mated to these words.  Two such tunes could include "Waltham (Calkin)" and "Von Himmel Hoch." Of course, it would be best to match the musical rhythms with the literary rhythms, and to find a tune which has the correct mood — distinguishing a lullaby from a jig, for example.


Copies On This Web Site

Here is a listing of the versions currently on the web site:

As noted above, a similar title, but a very different carol, under three different titles:

See also:



William Chappell, ed., The Roxburghe Ballads. Vol. II. (Hertford: Printed for the Ballad Society by Stephen Austin and Sons, 1874)

Percy Dearmer, R. Vaughan Williams, and Martin Shaw, eds., Oxford Book of Carols (London:Oxford University Press, 1928, 1964)

Thomas Delaney, The Garland of Good Will, Divided Into Three Parts. The Second Part. (London: Printed for J. Wright at the sign of the Crown, on Ludgate Hill, 1678). Reprinted by the Percy Society as The Garland of Good-Will by Thomas Deloney, edited by James Henry Dixon. (London: Printed for the Percy Society by T. Richards, 1851)

The excellent English Broadside Ballad Archive, a recommended site.

Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols (London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823)

William Harrison, ed., Mona Miscellany: A Selection of Proverbs, Sayings, Ballads, Customs, Superstitions, and Legends Peculiar to the Isle of Man. Second Series. (Douglas, Isle of Man, Printed for the Manx Society, 1873)

William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

F.O. Mann, Notes on Thomas Deloney's The Garland of Good Will.

Roy Palmer, Birmingham Ballad Printers.

William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

Cecil Sharp, English-Folk Carols (London: Novello & Co., 1911)

Joshua Sylvestre, Christmas Carols - Ancient and Modern (circa 1861, the printed by A. Wessels Company, New York, 1901)

R. Vaughan Williams, Eight Traditional English Carols (London: Stainer & Bell, 1919; Ref. CH104)

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