CHAPTER VI. CHRISTIAN BALLADS.
Echoes of Hebrew thought, if not Hebrew psalmody, may have made their way into the more serious pagan literature. At least in the more enlightened pagans there has ever revealed itself more or less the instinct of the human soul that "feels after" God. St. Paul in his address to the Athenians made a tactful as well as scholarly point to preface a missionary sermon when he cited a line from a poem of Aratus (B.C.272) familiar, doubtless, to the majority of his hearers.
Dr. Lyman Abbot has thus translated the passage in which the line occurs:
Let us begin from God. Let every mortal raise
[Footnote 17: [Greek: Tou gar kai genos esmen.]]
"RISE, CROWNED WITH LIGHT."
Alexander Pope, a Roman Catholic poet, born in London 1688, died at Twickenham 1744, was not a hymnist, but passages in his most serious and exalted flights deserve a tuneful accompaniment. His translations of Homer made him famous, but his ethical poems, especially his "Essay on Man," are inexhaustible mines of quotation, many of the lines and couplets being common as proverbs. His "Messiah," written about 1711, is a religious anthem in which the prophecies of Holy Writ kindle all the splendor of his verse.
The closing strain, indicated by the above line, has been divided into stanzas of four lines suitable to a church hymn-tune. The melody selected by the compilers of the Plymouth Hymnal, and of the Unitarian Hymn and Tune Book is "Savannah," an American sounding name for what is really one of Pleyel's chorals. The music is worthy of Pope's triumphal song.
The seas shall waste, the skies to smoke decay,
"OH, WHY SHOULD THE SPIRIT?"
This is a sombre poem, but its virile strength and its literary merit have given it currency, and commended it to the taste of many people, both weak and strong, who have the pensive temperament. Abraham Lincoln loved it and committed it to memory in his boyhood. Philip Phillips set it to music, and sang it—or a part of it—one day during the Civil war at the anniversary of the Christian Sanitary Commission, when President Lincoln, who was present, called for its repetition. It was written by William Knox, born 1789, son of a Scottish farmer.
[Footnote 18: This account so nearly resembles the story of Mrs. Gates' "Your Mission," sung to a similar audience, on a similar occasion, by the same man, that a possible confusion by the narrators of the incident has been suggested. But that Mr. Phillips sang twice before the President during the war does not appear to be contradicted. To what air he sang the above verses is uncertain.]
The poem has fourteen stanzas, the following being the first and two last—
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
* * * * *
Yea, hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
'Tis the wink of an eye; 'tis the draft of a breath From the blossom of health to the paleness of death, From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,
Philip Phillips was born in Jamestown, Chautauqua Co., N.Y., Aug.11, 1834, and died in Delaware, O., June 25, 1895. He wrote no hymns and was not an educated musician, but the airs of popular hymn-music came to him and were harmonized for him by others, most frequently by his friends, S.J. Vail and Hubert P. Main. He compiled and published thirty-one collections for Sunday-schools and gospel meetings, besides the Methodist Hymn and Tune Book, issued in 1866.
He was a pioneer gospel singer, and his tuneful journeys through America, England and Australia gave him the name of the "Singing Pilgrim," the title of his song collection (1867).
"WHEN ISRAEL OF THE LORD BELOVED."
The "Song of Rebecca the Jewess," in "Ivanhoe," was written by Sir Walter Scott, author of the Waverly Novels, "Marmion," etc., born in Edinburgh, 1771, and died at Abbotsford, 1832. The lines purport to be the Hebrew hymn with which Rebecca closed her daily devotions while in prison under sentence of death.
When Israel of the Lord beloved
* * * * *
Then rose the choral hymn of praise,
* * * * *
By day along th' astonished lands
* * * * *
And O, when gathers o'er our path
The "Hymn of Rebecca" has been set to music though never in common use as a hymn. Old "Truro", by Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814) is a grand Scotch psalm harmony for the words, though one of the Unitarian hymnals borrows Zeuner's sonorous choral, the "Missionary Chant." Both sound the lyric of the Jewess in good Christian music.
"WE SAT DOWN AND WEPT BY THE WATERS."
The 137th Psalm has been for centuries a favorite with poets and poetical translators, and its pathos appealed to Lord Byron when engaged in writing his Hebrew Melodies.
Byron was born in London, 1788, and died at Missolonghi, Western Greece, 1824.
We sat down and wept by the waters
—Written April, 1814. It was the fashion then for musical societies to call on the popular poets for contributions, and tunes were composed for them, though these have practically passed into oblivion.
Byron's ringing ballad (from II Kings 19:35)—
Th' Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
—has been so much a favorite for recitation and declamation that the loss of its tune is never thought of.
Another poetic rendering of the "Captivity Psalm" is worthy of notice among the lay hymns not unworthy to supplement clerical sermons. It was written by the Hon. Joel Barlow in 1799, and published in a pioneer psalm-book at Northampton, Mass. It is neither a translation nor properly a hymn but a poem built upon the words of the Jewish lament, and really reproducing something of its plaintive beauty. Two stanzas of it are as follows:
Along the banks where Babel's current flows
The tuneless harps that once with joy we strung
Like Pope, this American poet loved onomatope and imitative verse, and the last line is a word-picture of home-sick weariness. This "psalm" was the best piece of work in Mr. Barlow's series of attempted improvements upon Isaac Watts—which on the whole were not very successful. The sweet cantabile of Mason's "Melton" gave "Along the banks" quite an extended lease of life, though it has now ceased to be sung.
Joel Barlow was a versatile gentleman, serving his country and generation in almost every useful capacity, from chaplain in the continental army to foreign ambassador. He was born in Redding, Ct., 1755, and died near Cracow, Poland, Dec.1812.
"AS DOWN IN THE SUNLESS."
Thomas Moore, the poet of glees and love-madrigals, had sober thoughts in the intervals of his gaiety, and employed his genius in writing religious and even devout poems, which have been spiritually helpful in many phases of Christian experience. Among them was this and the four following hymns, with thirty-four others, each of which he carefully labelled with the name of a music composer, though the particular tune is left indefinite. "The still prayer of devotion" here answers, in rhyme and reality, the simile of the sea-flower in the unseen deep, and the mariner's compass represents the constancy of a believer.
As, still to the star of its worship, though clouded, The needle points faithfully o'er the dim sea,
It is sung in Plymouth Hymnal to Barnby's "St. Botolph."
"THE TURF SHALL BE MY FRAGRANT SHRINE"
Is, in part, still preserved in hymn collections, and sung to the noble tune of "Louvan," Virgil Taylor's piece. The last stanza is especially reminiscent of the music.
There's nothing bright above, below,
"O THOU WHO DRY'ST THE MOURNER'S TEAR"
Is associated in the Baptist Praise Book with Woodbury's "Siloam."
"THE BIRD LET LOOSE IN EASTERN SKIES"
Has been sung in Mason's "Coventry," and the Plymouth Hymnal assigns it to "Spohr"—a namesake tune of Louis Spohr, while the Unitarian Hymn and Tune Book unites to it a beautiful triple-time melody from Mozart, and bearing his name.
"THOU ART, O GOD, THE LIFE AND LIGHT."
This is the best of the Irish poet's sacred songs—always excepting, "Come, Ye Disconsolate." It is said to have been originally set to a secular melody composed by the wife of Hon. Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It is joined to the tune of "Brighton" in the Unitarian books, and William Monk's "Matthias" voices the words for the Plymouth Hymnal. The verses have the true lyrical glow, and make a real song of praise as well a composition of more than ordinary literary beauty.
Thou art, O God, the life and light
* * * * *
When night with wings of starry gloom
When youthful spring around us breathes,
"MOURNFULLY, TENDERLY, BEAR ON THE DEAD."
A tender funeral ballad by Henry S. Washburn, composed in 1846 and entitled "The Burial of Mrs. Judson." It is rare now in sheet-music form but the American Vocalist, to be found in the stores of most great music publishers and dealers, preserves the full poem and score.
Its occasion was the death at sea, off St. Helena, of the Baptist missionary, Mrs. Sarah Hall Boardman Judson, and the solemn committal of her remains to the dust on that historic island, Sept.1, 1845. She was on her way to America from Burmah at the time of her death, and the ship proceeded on its homeward voyage immediately after her burial. The touching circumstances of the gifted lady's death, and the strange romance of her entombment where Napoleon's grave was made twenty-four years before, inspired Mr. Washburn, who was a prominent layman of the Baptist denomination, and interested in all its ecclesiastical and missionary activities, and he wrote this poetic memorial of the event:
Mournfully, tenderly, bear on the dead;
Mournfully, tenderly, solemn and slow;
Mournfully, tenderly, gaze on that brow;
Mrs. Sarah Judson was the second wife of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D., the celebrated pioneer American Baptist missionary, and the mother by her first marriage, of the late Rev. George Dana Boardman, D.D., LL.D., of Philadelphia.
The Hon. Henry S. Washburn was born in Providence, R.I., 1813, and educated at Brown University. During most of his long life he resided in Massachusetts, and occupied there many positions of honor and trust, serving in the State Legislature both as Representative and Senator. He was the author of many poems and lyrics of high merit, some of which—notably "The Vacant Chair"—became popular in sheet-music and in books of religious and educational use. He died in 1903.
"The Burial of Mrs. Judson" became favorite parlor music when Lyman Heath composed the melody for it—of the same name. Its notes and movement were evidently inspired by the poem, for it reproduces the feeling of every line. The threnody was widely known and sung in the middle years of the last century, by people, too, who had scarcely heard of Mrs. Judson, and received in the music and words their first hint of her history. The poem prompted the tune, but the tune was the garland of the poem.
Lyman Heath of Bow, N.H., was born there Aug.24, 1804. He studied music, and became a vocalist and vocal composer. Died July 30, 1870.
"TELL ME NOT IN MOURNFUL NUMBERS."
Longfellow's "Psalm of Life" was written when he was a young man, and for some years it carried the title he gave it, "What the Young Man's Heart Said to the Psalmist"—a caption altogether too long to bear currency.
The history of the beloved poet who wrote this optimistic ballad of hope and courage is too well known to need recounting here. He was born in Portland, Me., in 1807, graduated at Bowdoin College, and was for more than forty years professor of Belles Lettres in Harvard University. Died in Cambridge, March 4, 1882. Of his longer poems the most read and admired are his beautiful romance of "Evangeline," and his epic of "Hiawatha," but it is hardly too much to say that for the last sixty years, his "Psalm of Life" has been the common property of all American, if not English school-children, and a part of their education. When he was in London, Queen Victoria sent for him to come and see her at the palace. He went, and just as he was seating himself in the waiting coach after the interview, a man in working clothes appeared, hat in hand, at the coach window.
"Please sir, yer honor," said he, "an' are you Mr. Longfellow?"
"I am Mr. Longfellow," said the poet.
"An' did you write the Psalm of Life?" he asked.
"I wrote the Psalm of Life," replied the poet.
"An', yer honor, would you be willing to take a workingman by the hand?"
Mr. Longfellow gave the honest Englishman a hearty handshake, "And" (said he in telling the story) "I never in my life received a compliment that gave me more satisfaction."
The incident has a delightful democratic flavor—and it is perfectly characteristic of the amiable author of the most popular poem in the English language. The "Psalm of Life" is a wonderful example of the power of commonplaces put into tuneful and elegant verse.
The thought of setting the poem to music came to the compiler of one of the Unitarian church singing books. Some will question, however, whether the selection was the happiest that could have been made. The tune is "Rathbun," Ithamar Conkey's melody that always recalls Sir John Bowring's great hymn of praise.
"BUILD THEE MORE NOBLE MANSIONS."
This poem by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, known among his works as "The Chambered Nautilus," was considered by himself as his worthiest achievement in verse, and his wish that it might live is likely to be fulfilled. It is stately, and in character and effect a rhythmic sermon from a text in "natural theology." The biography of one of the little molluscan sea-navigators that continually enlarges its shell to adapt it to its growth inspired the thoughtful lines. The third, fourth and fifth stanzas are as follows:
Year after year beheld the silent toil
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
"Build thee more noble mansions, O my soul.
Dr. Frederic Hedge included the poem in his hymn-book but without any singing-supplement to the words.
WHITTIER'S SERVICE SONG.
It may not be our lot to wield
If this stanza and the four following do not reveal all the strength of John G. Whittier's spirit, they convey its serious sweetness. The verses were loved and prized by both President Garfield and President McKinley. On the Sunday before the latter went from his Canton, O., home to his inauguration in Washington the poem was sung as a hymn at his request in the services at the Methodist church where he had been a constant worshipper.
The second stanza is the one most generally recognized and oftenest quoted:
Yet where our duty's task is wrought
John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet of the oppressed, was born in Haverhill, Mass., 1807, worked on a farm and on a shoe-bench, and studied at the local academy, until, becoming of age, he went to Hartford, Conn., and began a brief experience in editorial life. Soon after his return to Massachusetts he was elected to the Legislature, and after his duties ended there he left the state for Philadelphia to edit the Pennsylvania Freeman. A few years later he returned again, and established his home in Amesbury, the town with which his life and works are always associated.
He died in 1892 at Hampton Falls, N.H., where he had gone for his health.
"Abends," the smooth triple-time choral joined to Whittier's poem by the music editor of the new Methodist Hymnal, speaks its meaning so well that it is scarcely worth while to look for another. Sir Herbert Stanley Oakeley, the composer, was born at Ealing, Eng., July 22, 1830, and educated at Rugby and Oxford. He studied music in Germany, and became a superior organist, winning great applause by his recitals at Edinburgh University, where he was elected Musical Professor.
Archbishop Tait gave him the doctorate of music at Canterbury in 1871, and he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1876.
Besides vocal duets, Scotch melodies and student songs, he composed many anthems and tunes for the church—notably "Edina" ("Saviour, blessed Saviour") and "Abends," originally written to Keble's "Sun of my Soul."
"THE BIRD WITH THE BROKEN PINION."
This lay of a lost gift, with its striking lesson, might have been copied from the wounded bird's own song, it is so natural and so clear-toned. The opportune thought and pen of Mr. Hezekiah Butterworth gave being to the little ballad the day he heard the late Dr. George Lorimer preach from a text in the story of Samson's fall (Judges 16:21) "The Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza ... and he did grind in the prison-house." A sentence in the course of the doctor's sermon, "The bird with a broken pinion never soars as high again," was caught up by the listening author, and became the refrain of his impressive song. Rev. Frank M. Lamb, the tuneful evangelist, found it in print, and wrote a tune to it, and in his voice and the voices of other singers the little monitor has since told its story in revival meetings, and mission and gospel services throughout the land.
I walked through the woodland meadows
I found a young life broken
But the bird with a broken pinion
In the tune an extra stanza is added—as if something conventional were needed to make the poem a hymn. But the professional tone of the appended stanza, virtually all in its two lines—
Then come to the dear Redeemer,
—is forced into its connection. The poem told the truth, and stopped there; and should be left to fasten its own impression. There never was a more solemn warning uttered than in this little apologue. It promises "compensation" and "healing," but not perfect rehabilitation. Sin will leave its scars. Even He who "became sin for us" bore them in His resurrection body.
Rev. Frank M. Lamb, composer and singer of the hymn-tune, was born in Poland, Me., 1860, and educated in the schools of Poland and Auburn. He was licensed to preach in 1888, and ordained the same year, and has since held pastorates in Maine, New York, and Massachusetts.
Besides his tune, very pleasing and appropriate music has been written to the little ballad of the broken wing by Geo. C. Stebbins.
[Illustration: Ellen M.H. Gates]
UNDER THE PALMS.
In the cantata, "Under the Palms" ("Captive Judah in Babylon")—the joint production of George F. Root and Hezekiah Butterworth, several of the latter's songs detached themselves, with their music, from the main work, and lingered in choral or solo service in places where the sacred operetta was presented, both in America and England. One of these is an effective solo in deep contralto, with a suggestion of recitative and chant—
By the dark Euphrates' stream,
I had heard of my fathers' glory from the lips of holy men, And I thought of the land of my fathers; I thought of my fathers' land then.
O church of Christ! our blest abode,
Whene'er I come to thee in joy,
—with the chorus—
Where'er for me the sun may set,
[Footnote 19: See page 316.]
"IF YOU CANNOT ON THE OCEAN."
This popular Christian ballad, entitled "Your Mission," was written one stormy day in the winter of 1861-2 by Miss Ellen M. Huntington (Mrs. Isaac Gates), and made her reputation as one of the few didactic poets whose exquisite art wins a hearing for them everywhere. In a moment of revery, while looking through the window at the falling snow, the words came to her:
If you cannot on the ocean
She turned away and wrote the lines on her slate, following with verse after verse till she finished the whole poem. "It wrote itself," she says in her own account of it.
Reading afterwards what she had written, she was surprised at her work. The poem had a meaning and a "mission." So strong was the impression that the devout girl fell on her knees and consecrated it to a divine purpose. Free copies of it went to the Cooperstown, N.Y., local paper, and to the New York Examiner, and appeared in both. From that time the history and career of "Your Mission" presents a marked illustration of "catenal influence," or transmitted suggestion.
In the later days of the Civil War Philip Phillips, who had a wonderfully sweet tenor voice, was invited to sing at a great meeting of the United States Christian Commission in the Senate Chamber at Washington, February, 1865, President Lincoln and Secretary Seward (then president of the commission) were there, and the hall was crowded with leading statesmen, army generals, and friends of the Union. The song selected by Mr. Phillips was Mrs. Gates' "Your Mission":
If you cannot on the ocean
The hushed audience listened spell-bound as the sweet singer went on, their interest growing to feverish eagerness until the climax was reached in the fifth stanza:
If you cannot in the conflict
In the storm of enthusiasm that followed, President Lincoln handed a hastily scribbled line on a bit of paper to Chairman Seward,
"Near the close let us have 'Your Mission' repeated."
Mr. Phillips' great success on this occasion brought him so many calls for his services that he gave up everything and devoted himself to his tuneful art. "Your Mission" so gladly welcomed at Washington made him the first gospel songster, chanting round the world the divine message of the hymns. It was the singing by Philip Phillips that first impressed Ira D. Sankey with the amazing power of evangelical solo song, and helped him years later to resign his lucrative business as a revenue officer and consecrate his own rare vocal gift to the Christian ministry of sacred music. Heaven alone can show the birth-records of souls won to God all along the journeys of the "Singing Pilgrims," and the rich succession of Mr. Sankey's melodies, that can be traced back by a chain of causes to the poem that "wrote itself" and became a hymn. And the chain may not yet be complete. In the words of that providential poem—
Though they may forget the singer
Mrs. Ellen M.H. Gates, whose reputation as an author was made by this beautiful and always timely poem, was born in Torrington, Ct., and is the youngest sister of the late Collis P. Huntington. Her hymns—included in this volume and in other publications—are much admired and loved, both for their sweetness and elevated religious feeling, and for their poetic quality. Among her published books of verse are "Night," "At Noontide," and "Treasures of Kurium." Her address is New York City.
Sidney Martin Grannis, author of the tune, was born Sept.23, 1827, in Geneseo, Livingston county, N.Y. Lived in Leroy, of the same state, from 1831 to 1884, when he removed to Los Angeles, Cal., where several of his admirers presented him a cottage and grounds, which at last accounts he still occupies. Mr. Grannis won his first reputation as a popular musician by his song "Do They Miss Me at Home," and his "Only Waiting," "Cling to the Union," and "People Will Talk You Know," had an equally wide currency. As a solo singer his voice was remarkable, covering a range of two octaves, and while travelling with members of the "Amphion Troupe," to which he belonged, he sang at more than five thousand concerts. His tune to "Your Mission" was composed in New Haven, Ct., in 1864.
"TOO LATE! TOO LATE! YE CANNOT ENTER NOW."
"Too Late" is a thrilling fragment or side-song of Alfred Tennyson's, representing the vain plea of the five Foolish Virgins. Its tune bears the name of a London lady, "Miss Lindsay" (afterwards Mrs. J. Worthington Bliss). The arrangement of air, duo and quartet is very impressive.
[Footnote 20: Methodist Hymnal, No.743.]
"Late, late, so late! and dark the night and chill: Late, late, so late! but we can enter still."
"No light! so late! and dark and chill the night—
* * * * *
"Have we not heard the Bridegroom is so sweet?
The words are found in "Queen Guinevere," a canto of the "Idyls of the King."
"OH, GALILEE, SWEET GALILEE."
This is the chorus of a charming poem of three stanzas that shaped itself in the mind of Mr. Robert Morris while sitting over the ruins on the traditional site of Capernaum by the Lake of Genneseret.
Each cooing dove, each sighing bough,
Robert Morris, LL.D., born Aug.31, 1818, was a scholar, and an expert in certain scientific subjects, and wrote works on numismatics and the "Poetry of Free Masonry." Commissioned to Palestine in 1868 on historic and archaeological service for the United Order, he explored the scenes of ancient Jewish and Christian life and event in the Holy Land, and being a religious man, followed the Saviour's earthly footsteps with a reverent zeal that left its inspiration with him while he lived. He died in the year 1888, but his Christian ballad secured him a lasting place in every devout memory.
The author wrote out his hymn in 1874 and sent it to his friend, the musician, Mr. Horatio R. Palmer, and the latter learned it by heart, and carried it with him in his musings "till it floated out in the melody you know," (to use his own words.)
[Footnote 21: See page 311.]