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The Nineteenth Century

Two publications in 1827, Bishop Heber's Hymns and Keble's Christian Year introduced a new epoch into English hymnody, destroying the barrier 32 which had previously existed between the different theological schools of the Church of England. This movement received a great additional impulse from the publication in 1833 of Bunsen's Gesangbuch. From this time hymns and hymn writers multiplied not only in the Church of England, but in Scotland and America also. With such influences as we have mentioned the more recent collections have evidenced an improved standard of taste, and there has been a larger and more liberal admission of good hymns from the German. In this XIXth century when the study of the German language and literature became so much more common than before it is natural that an impulse be given also to translation of German hymns.

Beside the improvement in the standard of taste, additional interest in hymnody had been aroused by the prominence given to congregational singing in English churches. "To love hymns in eighteenth century Scotland was to be accused of heresy: in England, it was to be convicted of that worse thing, 'enthusiasm.'" Since the days of Luther Germany had given her hymns general esteem, but in England it was the middle of the nineteenth century before hymns won anything like popular favor. The congregational hymn in England is the direct although exceedingly slow outgrowth of the German Reformation but it must be borne in mind that the foundations of congregational singing were laid even before Luther. When the Hussites in Bohemia created this hymnody in the vernacular their hymns were designed for worshippers rather than for the choir.118118The earliest extant hymn book is that in the Bohemian Museum at Prague, and bears the date Jan. 13, 1501, but this hymn book is, singularly, never mentioned among the works of the Brethren (Moravians). While German Protestantism developed at once a rich hymnody there was actually no English hymnody until the XVIIIth century.

German hymns and chorals had a place in the Church Psalter and Hymn Book of William Mercer of Sheffield (1854). One who took much interest in its preparation was James Montgomery of whom mention has already been made.119119Cf. p. 31. For Gerhardt's influence on Montgomery cf. p. 139. This was the most successful of all the books of the decade for the reason that it aided in placing the hymnody back in the people's hands and making it congregational. Thus we see that the success of congregational singing of the better type required a return to the Reformation practice of including the tunes, as well as words, in the people's hymn books.

If general congregational singing after the manner that prevailed in Germany for so long has been an incentive to the development of English hymnody, the interest in German hymnody has at the same time been quickened by the good work done in Frances E. Cox's Sacred Hymns from the German (1841) and Henry J. Buckoll's Hymns translated from the 33 German (1842). This also found expression in the Psalms and Hymns, partly original, partly selected (Cambridge 1851) of Arthur T. Russell, in which the German hymns played a very large part, the Latin a very small one; even the arrangement of the hymns is based on an old Lutheran hymn book. In 1854 appeared Richard Massie's Martin Luther's Spiritual Songs, and the first of four parts (1854-1862) of Hymns from the Land of Luther by Jane Borthwick and her sister Mrs. Findlater. In 1855 and 1858 Catherine Winkworth published the first and second series of her Lyra Germanica, following them in 1863 with the Chorale Book for England, and Christian Singers of Germany (1869). The work of this group of translators which has secured so firm a place in English hymnody for a number of German hymns and more particularly those of Paul Gerhardt will be discussed in the following chapter.


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