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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1831,
BY PERKINS AND MARVIN,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
In presenting to the public such a work as this, it is obviously proper that something should be said of the object and expectation of its compilers. These may be stated in a few words. It has been their aim and hope to make a selection of psalms and hymns of a highly lyrical character, in respect to sentiment, imagery, language, and structure ; possessing sufficient elevation and dignity to render them specially adapted to public worship on the Sabbath, and possessing, at the same time, such a variety of subjects and metres, and such a degree of simplicity, warmth, and animation, as should render them suitable for use in all social religious meetings, and in families. They have aimed, also, to render the selection particularly copious in those classes of hymns which are specially adapted to this period of revivals and of religious benevolent instítutions and labors, and to various important occasions.
The two things to be regarded in hymns for use in public worship, and by which their lyrical character is to be tested, are their Matter and their Structure. In both these respects they may be faulty. Some remarks on the requisites of good lyric poetry will be made under each of these heads.
As to the MATTER proper for lyric poetry.
1. The aim of all lyric poetry should be to express emotion, and the sentiments should be such as are adapted to this end. This is the original and natural office of all poetry; and it is more especially the natural office of all poetry which is designed to be used in connection with music. Poetry itself is the language of emotion; and that only is good lyric poetry, which requires the aid of music to produce its full effect. A kindred office of lyric poetry is to excite or increase emotion in the hearer or performer. Sacred lyric poetry may express every class of emotions which it is proper for man to express in acts of worship; but especially such as are implied in ascriptions of praise. It should generally be addressed directly to God, or else it should consist of rehearsals of truths and events, or exhortations and appeals to the hearts of men, which are directly adapted to turn the thoughts to God, and fill the soul with emotions towards him.
A judicious German writer, treating on the character of lyric poetry, remarks that “ The church secures human sanctification by two means-teaching or preaching, and the worship of God. In both these exercises the intellect
and heart are employed, and act together, but not equally. chiefly designed to enlighten the understanding, while the principal aim of worship is to warm and purify the heart, and
express its emotions.To the first of these divisions of the services of the sanctuary belong the reading of the Scriptures, exposition, exhortations, and sermons. To the second belong prayer and singing. Though these divisions should be kept distinct, yet it very often happens, that exhortation or preaching occupies a large place in the prayers and hymns. * Moderni hymns,” says the author referred to above, “ are not lyrical, but didactic. They only preach in rhyme; and thus they reach the head, but not the beart. If, now, the sermon preaches, and the singing preaches, and the prayer preaches, the monotony of the service will occasion weariness; but if the sermon preaches, and the hyun sings, and the prayer prays, there will be a beautiful variety, to exercise and interest all the faculties of the soul.” One anthor of hymns has filled a large book with picces, most of which were written as supplements to sermons, and seem to be little more
than abstracts, expressed in rhyme, of the sentiments which had just been delivered. As such, they may be very good; but they can scarcely be considered as better adapted io musical effect, than a table of contents, or the synopsis of an argument. They may be set to music, so that each syllable shall correspond to a noie of a tune, but they cannot be sung. This forcibly bringing syllables and notes into contact, and pronouncing them together, is not singing, any more than noise is music. Such hymns may contain excellent statements and discussions of Christian doctrines, expressed in an attractive form, and may be highly valuable to be read and treasured up in the memory; but they are in no degree adapted to musical effect. All truly lyrical poetry, of a religious character, has one of these two objectseither to be a channel through which the full soul may pour forth its strong and holy emotions, or to bring before the mind objects which, in their nature and aspect, are adapted to awaken these elevated emotions ;-it is to express emotion, or to excite it.
2. The sentiments and imagery should be grave, dignified, and conformed to the taste and habils of the age. What would be suited to one nation or age, or to one state of society, might be wholly unsuited to another. When the feelings are addressed, no allowance can be made for difference of age, or nation, or habits, as there may be when the understanding is addressed. Whatever, then, is unscriptural, grovelling, minute in detail, light, fanciful, incongruous, or offensive to the taste and feelings, checks the flow of the soul, and detracts seriously from the effect, and should therefore be avoided. If the prevailing taste is opposed to the precepts and doctrines of the Bible, it should not, of course, be humored. But, so far as manner, imagery, and illustration are concerned, it should be regarded scrupulously. Much, in these respects, which would be appropriate and powerful in an oration, or a heroic poem, would be utterly unfit for the dignity and holy excitement which should always attend a hymn sei to music.
All familiar and fondling epithets, or forms of expression, applied to either person of the Godhead, should be avoided, as bringing with thom associations highly unfavorable to pure
devotional feeling. A similar remark should be made respecting all hymns that wear the aspect of condoling with the sinner, tending to divert his thoughts from his guilt to his calamity, and occasioning in him a high state of agreeable, sympathetic excitement. Scarcely any thing tends more directly and powerfully to destroy a deep conviction of guilt, or erects a more formidable barrier against the exercise of true contrition and humility. A large portion of those hymns which are technically called revival hymns, are of this character; and the very reason, probably, why they are so popular, is, that the use of them makes the sinner feel comfortably, when he ought to feel condemned and undone.
3. Hymns should possess unity. Not that only one subject should come before ihe mind in one hymn. This would be unnatural, and would weaken the effect.
The impression made by any subject is often deepened by viewing it in its connection with others. The effect of a hymn expressive of penitence would be increased by glancing at the mercy of God, the sufferings of Christ, and the free offer of pardon. Still, all the subjects brought into a hymn should be of such a character, and so connected, as to form one group, strike the mind at one view, and conspire to produce one effect.
4. Every line should be full of meaning. At every syllable, the mind should feel that it is making progress, taking some new view, or receiving some additional or deeper impression. The whole hymn should be the overflowing of a full soul, unable any longer to contain its emotions. An unmeaning line or word, thrown in to make out the rhyme or measure, is like a dead' limb on a living body-a cumbrous deformity, better amputated than retained. A hymn in long metre generally possesses less vivacity, and is sung with less ease and spirit, than one in short metre, principally because the stanza in short metre expresses as much of thought and feeling in twenty-six syllables, as the stanza in long metre does in thirty-two. In many instances in this book, hymns in long metre have been changed into common or short metre, by merely disencumhering the lines of their lifeless members.
Under the head of STRUCTURE, the following characteristics are mentioned as being essential to good lyric poetry:
1. Plain style. All inversions and artificial arrangement of the words, all parenthetical, involved, or otherwise intricate clauses, together with all long sentences, and ambiguous and obscure words, are to be avoided. Even those arrangements of words and clauses, and those full periods, which would be perfectly intelligible, and might give beauty and strength to a composition which is to be read or spoken, may be wearisome, unintelligible, and, of course, destitute of all lyrical effect, when sung. For the purpose of conveying his meaning, and giving force to what he uiters, the speaker may avail himseif freely of tones, inflections, pauses, and an otherwise varied enunciation; and a single performer, or a well-disciplined and careful choir, may accomplish something
in the same way, in singing ; but singers generally must, from the nature of the case, be very