Изображения страниц

Of these lines two were in Watts's earlier text. And it would seem to follow that from the beginning of his work upon the Psalms he had put Dr. Patrick's version before him as something of a model for psalm-versions intended to be understood and sung by the people.


While a “missioner in Georgia,” John Wesley published a little Collection of Psalms and Hymns, interesting as being the first hymn book published within the bounds of the Church of England. The question of its date exactly parallels that of Watts's Horae. The imprint is “Charles-Town, 1737,” but in an account of his life drawn up by Wesley in 1740 he mentions publishing a Collection of Psalms and Hymns in 1736. The book was completely lost sight of until a single copy with the above imprint recently turned up in London, which appears to be the missing hymn book.

In making this collection Wesley drew freely from the Hymns and Imitations of Dr. Watts, and he did not hesitate, then or ever, to make such alterations in the text of the hymns as commended themselves to his editorial judgment. In this matter of hymn-tinkering, Wesley's views and practice are often referred to as inconsistent, but the charge can hardly be sustained. The protest in his famous preface, dated October 20, 1779, to A Collection of Hymns for the use of the People called Methodists, does not deal with hymn-tinkering as a general proposition, but only with the alteration of his own and his brother's hymns by other hands. "I desire," he says, “they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse." But along with this total lack of confidence in the ability of other hands, he sincerely felt himself perfectly competent to revise the hymns of other people (including Dr. Watts and his brother Charles) to the great advantage of the hymns. There is nothing inconsistent in the two positions.

If anything is needed to justify Wesley's confident faith in himself, his treatment of Watts's 100th Psalm, it may freely be admitted, goes a good way in that direction. It stands as No.

4 in the little collection, altered by Wesley's hands into the following form: *

Psalm C.
1 BEfore Jehovah's awful Throne,

Ye Nations, bow with sacred joy.
Know that the Lord is God alone;

He can create, and he destroy.
2 His sovereign Power without our aid

Made us of clay and form’d us Men;
And when like wandring Sheep we stray'd

He brought us to his Fold again.
3 We'll crowd thy Gates with thankful Songs,

High as the Heavens our Voices raise;
And Earth with her Ten Thousand Tongues
Shall fill thy Courts with sounding Praise.

4 Wide as the World is thy Command.

Vast as Eternity thy Love:
Firm as a Rock thy Truth must stand
When rolling Years shall cease to move.

We see the extent of Wesley's dealings with Watts's text. He omits altogether the first verse, and one line and a half of the second, prefixing to the remainder of the second verse, these words of his own:

“Before Jehovah's awful Throne,

Ye nations, bow"

thus making an opening verse. He takes Watts's third verse unaltered as the new second, drops out Watts's fourth, and closes the hymn with what were Watts's fifth and sixth verses.

Though Watts's fourth verse is open to some criticism, its omission seems to the present writer to be no gain but rather a distinct loss to the continuity of thought, as it certainly is to the integrity of the piece as a paraphrase of the Psalm. for the new opening of the hymn it may be questioned if the whole history of English hymnody records an emendation so

But as

* This text is taken from the (so-called) facsimile reprint of the 1737 book, issued without date by T. Woolmer, London.

successful. Wesley had both the poetical and critical gifts; and his alteration here reveals sound criticism, while his poetic touch transfigures the hymn. He laid his finger on the exact border of the weaker part of the hymn; the “solemn fear” he discarded being as weak as the “sacred joy" he retained is happy. And the new opening line in place of Watts's line is hardly other than a stroke of genius. " Before Jehovah's awful Throne:"—that great object makes an unfailing appeal to the imagination; makes it seem inevitable that the nations should gather there ; becomes at once a centre of the hymn's action, securing its unity; and, as the hymn closes, is felt to be still standing, august and immovable, “when rolling years shall cease to move."

As revised by Wesley, Watts's hymn has taken its place among the great hymns of the language. And while the body of the hymn remains as Watts wrote it, it can hardly be denied that its successful career must be ascribed to Wesley's hand. It would, no doubt, have continued to be sung in its original form, along with pretty much everything else of Watts, so long as his supremacy lasted. But it can safely be affirmed that it would have dropped out, along with the great bulk of his productions, when the day of his supremacy waned, simply because of the dullness (to say nothing of the questionable taste) of the opening of the hymn. For a hymn must make a quick appeal, and against this a dull opening presents an effective barrier.

IV. THE LATER HISTORY. The printing of John Wesley's recast in the American missionary hymnal gave it of course no publicity in England. But his English adherents so increased that suitable provision was demanded for their Sunday services as well as week-day meetings; and in 1741 Wesley published in London a larger book of 165 hymns. It bore the same title as the Charles-Town book, being indeed his third collection under that name. It became a very popular book, often reprinted and continued in use among Methodists for the better part of a century, generally known as “The Morning Hymn Book.

In this book Wesley reprinted “Before Jehovah's Awful Throne" with the 1737 text, and the hymn became in this way widely known, not only among Methodists but throughout the Church of England.

The editors of the earliest group of hymnals in that church knew it; and it is included in Martin Madan's collection (1760), in that of the Rev. R. Conyers (1767), as well as in the more famous collection of Augustus Toplady (1776). In all these hymnals the text is that of Wesley.

In the later years of his life Wesley was induced to prepare the large hymn book, to cover all the needs of Methodism, whose preface has already been quoted from. This he printed in 1780, living to issue a seventh edition in 1791. He revised the book more than once, and had hardly passed away before it fell into the hands of other revisers, where it may be said to have remained ever since. Oddly enough, “Before Jehovah's Awful Throne" was omitted by Wesley from this, his final hymn book. It came in afterwards, among the supplementary hymns. The repudiated edition of 1797 is the first in which the writer happens to have found it. It stands there with Wesley's text, except that the third line of the last verse reads: “Firm as a rock Thy truth shall stand," instead of “must stand,” as Watts wrote it and Wesley left it. One may say with some confidence that Wesley never approved that change. He would not have impaired the roll of the last line by anticipating its shall ” so closely before. Yet the line still stands in that way in the English Wesleyan hymn book, and in the American Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church [North], as indeed it does in Hymns Ancient and Modern and other Anglican hymnals. The Southern Methodists have restored the line to its proper form.

Watts's 100th Psalm had come to this country even before the date of Wesley's Charles-Town book, simply as a constituent part of the Imitations,* and continued to be printed and sung here for many years in the text of 1719, literally fulfilling the prophecy of its first verse:

[ocr errors]

* A complete reprint of the Imitations was issued in Philadelphia by Franklin and Meredith in 1729.

" The British Isles shall send the Noise

A-cross the Ocean to the Shore."

But these words themselves will suggest that this was one of the imitations especially calling for revision when in the course of time the American colonies threw off the British yoke. The earliest example of such emendation in the writer's possession occurs in a Boston reprint of the Imitations dated 1761. Some one (“Wensley Hobbys” is inscribed on the title page) has drawn his pen through every allusion of Dr. Watts to Great Britain, and substituted in now faded ink a more patriotic text. In the third line of the 100th Psalm “The British Isles" has been cancelled, and “ America" written in the margin. Both the cancelling line and the interlineation were afterwards erased, as if to restore the text. It is likely that the MS. changes in this copy were made to conform it to an American revision of Watts printed by John Mycall, Newbury-Port, 1781, described in the title as “The Fortieth Edition, corrected, and accommodated to the use of the Church of Christ, in America;'' in the text of which Mycall had the assistance of some neighboring ministers. * In this revision the substitution of " America” for “The British Isles" is the only change in the text of the 100th Psalm.

Of the authoritative American revisions of Watts's Imitations, the first was that committed to Joel Barlow, and published at Hartford in 1785. As regards the 100th Psalm, Barlow's revision was undoubtedly successful. He had the good taste to take Wesley's text, restoring to it the omitted fourth verse of Dr. Watts. The only variance in Barlow's text is "the heaven” for “the heavens” in the second line of Watts's fifth verse, and that very probably a mere slip. This restoration of the omitted verse was the only improvement that seems to have remained to be made in the hymn, † and completes, one may anticipate, what is likely to remain the accepted text.

* See The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D. D., LL. D.; 3 vols., 8vo, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1901, vol. ii, p. 571.

† It was first made, so far as the writer has observed, as early as 1769, in a well-known English Baptist hymn-book, edited by Drs. John Ash and Caleb

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »