The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christian Singers Of Germany

Catherine Winkworth

MacMillan & Company (1869)


The hymns of Germany are so steadily becoming naturalized in England that English readers may be glad to know something of the men who wrote them, and the times in which they had their origin. Scarcely one of the numerous hymn-books which have been compiled here within the last fifteen years is without its proportion--sometimes a considerable proportion -- of German hymns. This is, in fact, one of the many ways in which the literature of each nation now tends to become, through the medium of translations, the common property of both. But hymns form only a part, though an important part, of the religious poetry of Germany, which itself constitutes but one sharply defined branch of the general literature of the country. Yet it is impossible to trace the course historically of even this one channel of national expression, without being brought into contact with those great movements which have stirred the life of the people, and finding the passing fashions of each successive age, in thought or phraseology, reflected from its surface. Such a work as the present cannot attempt more than an outline of a subject which is thus linked on the one side to the general history and literature of Germany, while on the other it has a separate history of its own, full of minute and almost technical details. Only the principal schools and authors are described, and specimens are selected from their works; but other writers of secondary rank are mentioned, to enable readers who may be inclined to do so, to fill up the picture of any particular school or period more completely for themselves. The choice of the specimens has been determined partly by their intrinsic merits, partly by their novelty to the English public; hence nearly all the great classical hymns are named as illustrating the spirit of certain times, but they are not given in full, because they have been previously translated, and are in many instances familiar to us already. A very few, which it was impossible to pass over, form the only exceptions to this rule.

In reading the poems scattered through the following pages, it must be remembered that they suffer under the disadvantage of being all translations and from one hand, which inevitably robs them of somewhat of that variety of diction which marks, in the original, the date of the composition or the individuality of the author. Still, as far as possible, their characteristic differences have been carefully imitated, and the general style and metre of the poem retained. Verses have been occasionally omitted for the sake of brevity, and once or twice a Trochaic metre has been altered into an Iambic, where the change did not seriously affect the shape of the poem, whilst it enabled the English version to reproduce certain striking expressions in the German. Single rhymes have been throughout substituted for double ones, except where the latter constitute an essential element of the metre; this modification necessitates the addition or the omission of a syllable in the line, but makes it possible to give a more faithful and spirited rendering than can be managed within the very limited range of English dissyllabic rhymes. The frequent recurrence of particular phrases and rhymes is not accidental, but is a peculiarity of all German popular poetry from the Niebelungen Lied downwards. Besides the specimens given in this volume, many of which are rather poems than hymns, between three and four hundred German hymns in English dress may now be found in various collections of translations. Of these the chief are "Hymns from the Land of Luther;" "Sacred Hymns from the German" by Miss Cox; the "Spiritual Songs of Luther" and "Lyra Domestica" of Mr. Massie; "Hymns for the Church of England" by Arthur Tozer Russell; the "Lyra Germanica" and the "Chorale Book for England." Nearly all the German hymns in our ordinary hymnbooks are drawn from some one of these sources or from John Wesley. Where only the first English line is mentioned in this work, the complete hymn may generally be met with in the "Lyra Germanica," or is one of Wesley's well-known versions.

It seems out of place in a work like this to give a list of authorities, which would necessarily be long. German hymns, like our own, have undergone many revisions, and are to be met with in very varying forms; of course these specimens have been taken from what appeared to me the most trustworthy sources at my command. But I may be allowed to express my obligations to the following important works:--Wackernagel's great work, "das Deutsche Kirchenlied," both in the edition of 1842 and the one now in progress; his lives and editions of Heermann and Gerhardt, and his brother's "Altdeutsches Lesebuch;" the "Geschichte des Kirchenliedes und Kirchengesanges," by Dean Koch of Wurtemberg, to which I owe many details of the biographies of the chief hymn writers; the "Geistliche Volkslieder" of Hommel; Von Hagenbach's "Kirchengeschichte," Gervinus' "Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung;" and Gustav Freitag's charming series of sketches of German life, "Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit."

CLIFTON, April 1869.


A copy of this work may be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Christian Singers of Germany, 1869

See also Christmas Poems of Catherine Winkworth

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