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HERE are two ideals of hymn-book composition.
One is, to endeavour to provide as far as possible for each several occasion that arises either out of the course of the Christian Year or out of the common vicissicudes of human life. The other is, to make a more restricted selection of those hymns which appear to satisfy a certain standard and to be content with a more approximate application of them to particular occasions.
We should expressly wish to disclaim any thought of competing with the former type of hymn-book, which is already well represented. The nearest example of the
type that we have really had in mind is the hymnbook used in our own University Church. Our book might be called an expanded edition of this; though even here we have not hesitated to carry our principles a step further and to omit a few hymns that are not quite in harmony with them.
The kind of ideal that has hovered before our minds in making our selection may be taken as expressed in Newman's well-known lines:
Prune thou thy words, the thoughts control
That o'er thee swell and throng;
And change to purpose strong.
In soft luxurious Aow,
And saints at every woe. The qualities that we have looked for most have been simplicity, directness, and genuineness of religious feeling. A certain sort of cheap sentiment, of conventional and rhetorical form, of weak and honeyed phrase, is what we have most sought to avoid. On the other hand, we have not been afraid of what some may think prosaic baldness, if it had the stamp of reality and if it was relieved by a few good lines. These are sometimes set off all the more by their plain surroundings. We have preferred the objective type of hymn, where it was to be had; but we have not felt ourselves precluded from accepting the expression of personal experience, especially where the experience could be shared by a larger or smaller class of worshippers. We have allowed for the possibility that some hymns or poems of apparently restricted interest might at times be used with special felicity. We have even admitted one or two that may be more suited for reading than for singing
It will be seen at once that our choice has gravitated towards what may be called the Old Masters—Watts, the Wesleys, Doddridge, Cowper, Newton. We have taken
excerpts rather freely from the New Version of Tate and Brady; and we have been more attracted than repelled by the archaism of some of the seventeenthcentury writers. We have added a few Latin hymns at the end of the collection.
In one respect we have made a very considerable departure from the book used in the University Church: we have supplied tunes to the words. The selection of tunes has been guided by somewhat similar principles to those used for the words. We have searched through a large number of printed sources, and have for the most part endeavoured to present the tunes in an authentic shape, though we have not felt bound invariably to reject all modifications of the original text.
The harmonies applied to plainsong tunes are of course meant for purposes of accompaniment only. The Old English tunes present some difficulty. They were written in free time, and in the older harmonized Psalters were printed without bars, with the melody in the tenor part. We have transferred it in accordance with modern practice to the treble; but the harmony has been strictly kept, and where possible we have simply transposed the parts. In the case of these tunes, and the elaborately harmonized
Chorales of J. S. Bach, it will probably be found better for all except trained choirs to sing them in unison. . More generally, we may perhaps venture to say that the guiding principle in our selection has been to look for tunes of a broad and dignified character. We have endeavoured to avoid harmony of a luxurious and chromatic type, and we have not used any adaptations from modern secular melodies. We have freely used the old Psalm tunes of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries as being, through their smooth and flowing melody, essentially congregational in character. Throughout we have gone mainly to English sources; and we wish to call special attention to the fine tunes and harmonizations of S. S. Wesley which we have taken from the European Psalmist. Many of these are curiously little known, and it will be a great satisfaction to us if we can recall attention to these compositions of so great a writer. A few tunes have been specially composed for metres so unusual as to be incapable of adaptation to any existing tune, and for commoner metres which happen to be ill-provided with tunes. A glance at the Metrical Index of
any large collection of hymns will show that tunes are very unequally distributed among the various metres; and it appeared to us desirable in places to meet this deficiency. The words of some few hymns are so