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Now, if this be not poetry, the one-and-twenty enormous and unreadable volumes of Chalmers' English Poets, containing some four or five millions of lines, must be burnt down to the size of “ THE CHRISTIAN PSALMIST,” before they will yield a residuum of finer standard. Yet will a profane world never be “smit with the love of Sacred Song.” The language of devotion, whether in prose or rhyme, cannot be relished, because it is not understood, by any but those who have experienced the power of the Gospel, as bringing salvation to them that believe; for the same reason that the Bible itself is neither acceptable nor intelligible to those who are not taught by the Spirit of God. To such, though “ J speak with the tongues of men and of angels” about divine things, “ I am as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” To those, on the other hand, who have “ tasted the good word of God, and felt the powers of the world to come,” it will be easy to comprehend, that poetry and piety may be as surely united on earth, as they are in heaven before the throne, in the songs of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect.
A hymn ought to be as regular in its structure as any other poem ; it should have a distinct subject, and that subject should be simple, not complicated, so that whatever skill or labour might be required in the author to develope his plan, there should be little or none required on the part of the reader to understand it. Consequently, a hymn must have a beginning, middle, and end. There should be a manifest gradation in the thoughts, and their mutual dependence should be so perceptible that they could not be transposed without injuring the unity of the piece; every
line carrying forward the connection, and every verse adding a well-proportioned limb to a symmetrical body. The reader should know when the strain is complete, and be satisfied, as at the close of an air in mu
while defects and superfluities should be felt by him as annoyances, in whatever part they might oc
The practice of many good men, in framing hymns, has been quite the contrary. They have begun apparently with the only idea in their mind at the time; another, with little relationship to the former, has been forced upon them by a refractory rhyme; a third became necessary to eke out a verse, a fourth to begin one; and so on, till, having compiled a sufficient number of stanzas of so many lines, and lines of so many syllables, the operation has been suspended; whereas it might, with equal consistency, have been continued to any im
and the tenth or ten thousandth link might have been struck out, or changed places with any other, without the slightest infraction of the chain; the whole being a series of independent verses, collocated as they came, and the burden a cento of phrases, figures, and ideas, the common property of every writer who had none of his own, and therefore found in the works of each, unimproved, if not unimpaired, from generation to generation.Such rhapsodies may be sung from time to time, and keep alive devotion already kindled; but they leave no trace in the memory, make no impression on the heart, and fall through the mind as sounds glide through the ear,—pleasant, it may be, in their passage, but never returning to haunt the imagination in retirement, or, in the multitude of the thoughts, to refresh the soul. Of how contrary a character, how transcendently su
perior in value as well as in influence, are those hymns, which, once heard, are remembered without effort, remembered involuntarily, yet remembered with renewed and increasing delight at every revival! It may be safely affirmed, that the permanent favourites in every collection are those, which, in the requisites before-mentioned, or for some other peculiar excellence, are distinguished above the rest. This is so remarkably the case with the compositions of Watts, Wesley, and Newton, the most prolific writers of this class, that no further illustration is needful than a recurrence to their pages, when it will be found, that the most neglected are generally inferior in literary merit to the most hackneyed ones, which are in every body's mouth, and every body's heart.
It may be added, that authors, who devote their talents to the glory of God, and the salvation of men, ought surely to take as much pains to polish and perfect their offerings of this kind, as secular and profane poets bestow upon their works. Of these, the subjects are too often of the baser sort, and the workmanship as frequently excels the material ; while, on the other hand, the inestimable materials of hymns, the truths of the everlasting Gospel, the very thoughts of God, the very sayings of Christ, the very inspirations of the Holy Ghost-are dishonoured by the meanness of the workmanship employed upon them; wood, hay, straw, and stubble, being built upon foundations which ought only to support gold, silver and precious stones; work that will bear the fire, and be purified by it. The faults in ordinary hymns are vulgar phrases, low words, hard words, technical terms, inverted construction, broken syntax, barbarous ab
breviations, that make our beautiful English horrid even to the eye, bad rhymes, or no rhymes where rhymes are expected, but above all, numbers without cadence. A line is no more metre because it contains a certain concatenation of syllables, than so many crotchets and quavers, pricked at random, would constitute a bar of music. The syllables in every division ought to “ ripple like a rivulet,” one producing another as its natural effect, while the rhythm of each line, falling into the general stream at its proper place, should cause the verse to flow in progressive melody, deepening and expanding like a river to the close;'or, to change the figure, each stanza should be a poetical tune, played down to the last note. Such subservience of every part to the harmony of the whole, is required in all other legitimate poetry, and why it should not be observed in that which is worthiest of all possible pre-eminence, it would be difficult to say ; why it is so rarely found in hymns, may be accounted for from the circumstance already stated, that few accomplished poets have enriched their mother tongue with strains of this description.
From the foregoing remarks, (if correct) it may be gathered, that though we have hymns without number, few of them lay claim to great literary merit. There are, however, unequivocal examples of every species of excellence desirable or attainable. In the present collection, among the older specimens, No. 131, page 127, “ In Thee I live, and move, and am, &c. is nervous and full of thought, though there are some homely phrases. Two stanzas may be quoted :
“ The daily favours of my God
I cannot sing at large :
Yet let me make this holy boast,
I am the Almighty's charge.
O let my house a temple be,
That I and mine may sing
And praise our heavenly King."
No. 213, page 188, “ Thousands of thousands stand around,” &c. is of the same character, in a higher degree,-more energetic, but more quaint and rugged:
“How great a being, Lord, is thine,
Which doth all beings keep!
To sound so vast a deep.
Thine upper and thy nether springs
Make both thy worlds to thrive;
Thou keep'st two broods alive.
Thy arm of might, most mighty King,
Both rocks and hearts doth break;
But what should prove Thee weak.”
Bishop Kenn has laid the church of Christ under abiding obligations by his three hymns, Morning, Evening and Midnight. Had he endowed three hospitals, he might have been less a benefactor to posterity. There is exemplary plainness of speech, manly vigour of thought, and consecration of heart, in these pieces. The well known doxology, “ Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” &c. is a masterpiece at once of amplification and compression :-amplification, on the burthen, “ Praise God,” repeated in each line; compression, by exhibiting God as the object of praise