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THE EVOLUTION OF A GREAT HYMN.
By LOUIS F. BENSON, D. D.
The special purpose of this article is to study the origin and textual development of the hymn, "Before Jehovah's Awful Throne."
But in attempting to follow accurately the single thread of its history, it has been found expedient to include somewhat wider breadths of the hymnody into which it enters, and of which it becomes a part; especially in the case of the obscure first edition of Dr. Watts's Horae Lyricae.
Although Watts's verses are based upon, and somewhat closely follow, the 100th Psalm, the designation" hymn,' rather than "psalm," seems proper.
seems proper. On the one hand they fill out so well the definition of what a hymn should be, while on the other, neither by their author's intention nor by their literal fidelity, can they claim to be a metrical psalm-version in the stricter sense.
I. THE ORIGINAL TEXT.
It is a curious fact that the earliest appearance of this hymn, and the original text of it, should have escaped the notice of those who have written upon the subject hitherto. In Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, the notice of the hymn is by Dr. Julian himself. He states * that it was "1st pub. in [Watts's] Psalms of David, &c., 1719, p. 256, in 6 st. of 4 1.” The same date and source are given by Miller in his Singers and Songs of the Church, by Nutter in his careful Hymn Studies, by Duffield in his English Hymns, and by all other annotators whom the present writer has consulted.
In spite, however, of this unanimity, Dr. Watts originally published the hymn in the first edition of his Horae Lyricae, about thirteen years before the date of his Imitations of the Psalms. There has been some confusion about the precise date of this first edition of the Horae. In the earlier pages of Julian's Dictionary it is frequently referred to as 1705, but in the list of Dr. Watts's works later on, it is given as 1706. The imprint of the book itself (at least in the writer's copy, in one advertised by Pickering and Chatto in 1894, and in Henry D. Sewall's copy sold in New York, January 18, 1897) is “London, 1706." But in Dr. Watts's MS. entitled "Memorable Affairs of my Life,'' * occurs the following entry:
* P. 1059.
“Published my Poems, Dec. 1705" and in his Life, etc., of Dr. Watts (London, 1834), Mr. Milner enters the Horae in his Chronological List of Dr. Watts's works as of 1705. It may be that Dr. Watts's entry anticipates a little the actual publication, or that the publisher issued some or all of the copies before the date printed on the title page. The fact remains that the copies at hand of the first edition bear the date of 1706; and in any event that date cannot be many days apart from the actual publication.
The confusion in regard to the first edition of the Horae has not been confined to its date, but extends to its contents also. Hymnologists seem to have assumed that this first edition had no particular differences from those that followed it, and they write concerning it in such a way as to imply that they had not seen it, or at least had not examined it. +
* See his Life, by Hood, p. 342.
| Even in the case of the Dictionary of Hymnology, the evidence of this seems clear. In annotating “ Eternal Power, Whose High Abode” (p. 356), Dr. Julian begins by saying: “This hymn supplies what the author called * The Conclusion' to his Horae Lyricae, 1705.” It is so called in the second edition of 1709, but not so in the first edition. It “ is entitled,” Dr. Julian goes on to say, 'God exalted above all Praise.'” This again is the title of 1709, but in 1706 the title reads, “ The GLORIES of GOD Exceed all Worship.” Dr. Julian refers also to an alteration being made by Wesley at a point where Wesley's text does in fact agree with that of the first edition. The evidence accumulates in the annotation of Watts's “ Father, how Wide Thy Glory Shines” (p. 367), as 1st pub. in his Horae Lyricae, 1705, and headed “God glorious and Sinners saved.'' Now it was so headed in the
As a matter of fact the first edition of the Horae is a very different book from the second and later editions, and from the American reprints, which were made from these later editions. Indeed, ample notice of this fact was given by the author. The title page of 1709 described the book Altered and much Enlarged.” The preface speaks of “The Multitude of Alterations in this Edition," adding:
"There is so large a Difference between this and the former in the Change of Titles, Lines, and whole Poems, as well as in the various Transpositions, that’twould be useless and Endless, and all Confusion for any Reader to compare them throughout.”
In the preface Dr. Watts also intimates that his poems had then attained their final form, “so that [his] Friends may be perfectly secure against this Impressions growing waste upon their Hands, and useless as the former has done." If his friends took him at his word and treated their own copies as “waste," and he destroyed such as remained unsold, it becomes less difficult to explain what otherwise seemed so curious, viz., that it has been left to the JOURNAL, nearly two centuries afterward, to discover the original publication of this, one of the most familiar of Dr. Watts's hymns, and for the first time to reprint the original text.
The feature of the first edition which particularly concerns us now is the appearance of a group of imitations of the Psalms, done in the manner afterward so familiar, and all of which were omitted from later editions. They made a part of “Book I. Songs and Hymns Sacred to DEVOTION," and are headed,
second edition, but in the first the heading was, “GOD Appears most Glorious in our Salvation by CHRIST." The annotator adds that the full original text is contained in modern editions of the Horae ; which in fact seem to modify the original text in not less than three places.
Such errors in an authority so remarkably accurate indicate that the first edition was not at hand when these notices were penned, and this is to be explained by the scarcity of the book. In 1874 Sir W. Tite's copy brought £2. 11s. in London; the Pickering copy already referred to was priced at £2.10s.; while the Sewall copy, catalogued as " badly stained,” brought $12 50. These prices indicate that the book is not of common occurrence.