AND HIS HYMNS
Horatius Bonar was born on December 19,1808, in Edinburgh, and, like his brothers, was educated at the High School and University of that city. He had not a mathematical turn of mind, but early in life showed a great liking for English literature and the ancient classics. At school he was fortunate enough to be under masters who grounded him thoroughly in these latter subjects. The only relic of his school-work which I possess is a wonderfully accurate prose translation of the Philoctetes of Sophocles, written by him in his thirteenth year. It is impossible to tell when he first began to write verse, but some pieces of his have been preserved in a Students' Magazine, The College Observer, of which he seems to have been one of the editors. The first of these poems appeared in November 1827, at'which date the writer was not quite nineteen years of age. The titles of a few of these may give some indication of their nature: 'All that's Bright must Fade/ ' The Lonely Hearth,' 'The Departed,' 'Niobe,'' Sunrise,' and 'Our Homes.'
The following (dated November 23, 1827) is one of the very first poems the writer ever published, and as such has a special value:
The Lonely Hearth.
He stood bewildered on his lonely hearth;
Sadness was written on his fixed brow;
For he had witnessed happy days of mirth,
Where silence dwells and desolation now.
The grief he felt he recked not to avow;
Proudly he stood, yet sorrowfully too;—
The latest leaf upon the topmost bough
Of a tall oak, aloft that lately threw
Its hundred leafy arms, when Summer days were
Friendless and homeless, how unlike the past!
Once-honoured scion of a noble stem!
But now forsaken, desolate,—the last
Bright jewel of a kingly diadem:
The last dim dewdrop of all those that gem
The still, grey dawning, ere the sunbeams fall.
He trod his once-glad halls, but found in them
Naught but his shivered household-gods; for all
Was tomb-like, hushed, and dark as with a funeral
Only one piece written at this time was put to any subsequent use. It is dated January 29, 1828, and is entitled 'Ode: with reference to the late events in South America' (i. e. the independence of Chili), and runs as follows:
They sung the song of Liberty,
On mountain and on plain; And every echo of the land
Pealed back the song again.
'Twas poured upon the morning's dew,
In the calm ev'n it floats; And the breeze from Chili's woody heights
Gave back the gladsome notes.
'Twas sung by peasant in his cot,
'T was sung in palaced hall:
Each bondsman shaking free his chain
Answered to Freedom's call.
They planted, 'mid the oppressor's threats,
The flag of Liberty:
That banner floats unthreatened now,—
The land, the land is free!
The morning's newly-wakened ray,
Shot on the Andes down,
Saw Slavery groaning in its bonds,
And saw the tyrants' frown.
The noonday saw the rising war,
Like tumult of the sea; And the evening beam bore back the song,—
The land, the land is free!
If we compare this with 'The Two Eras of the Land' (p. 54 in this volume) we see how this early poem was used as the foundation of the later one, the scene being changed from Chili to Scotland. Though the metre has been altered, every one of the six verses of this boyish ode can be easily identified in the longer piece. The rest of these student verses call for no special comment. They are, naturally, not sacred, but are all of rather a grave tone.
Towards the end of the winter session the little magazine's existence came to an end with the issue of its twenty-third number. On its last page there appears a semi-editorial valedictory poem of my father's which is worth quoting:
Feb. 15, 1828.
As the lone traveller ever turns his sight To gaze upon the beauties left behind,— As a bright torch streams backward to the night On the dark waste, flung back by adverse wind: Oh! even thus returns the musing mind To the glad hours where childhood's lucid streams Flowed in a brighter crystal unconfined. Oh, let me steep myself in memory's beams,— Memory the mirror of the past, the treasury of young dreams!
Wake, wake again, ye days of sunniness! Fair once, but fairer now, when long-drawn years Have hallowed all your haunts of youthful bliss; And fond, fond memory still your joys endears, When on its hill of prospect, all appears Sunshine beneath, and joy; our early morn Clad in unwonted beauty: all griefs tears Pearled into laughter's gem-drops, to adorn, Not gloom the past; ye days of youth, oh, when will ye return?
And ye too, Academics, parting thus, Farewell! And when, in future days, The dreams of other hours come over us Like breathings of the Spring, or twilight rays, The record of gone glory, — holy lays, Of deep-toned melody, that slowly swell O'er the dark spirit, telling of old ways, When our youth's dew all clearly on us fell, Forget us not; and now, once more, companions, fare-ye-well!
These student poems are the only early verses of the writer's which have been preserved. I never knew of their existence till the beginning of this year (1904), when I came upon the slim paperbound magazine among a bundle of old manuscripts. Whatever their poetical merits may be, they show at any rate that their author had, even at this period of his life, some facility in expressing himself in rhyme.
On the completion of his theological course my father was appointed assistant to the Rev. James Lewis, of St. John's Church, at Leith. An important part of his work there was among the young people in the church's mission district. Besides his ordinary services and house-to-house visitation, he had charge of a Sabbath school, which grew and prospered under his supervision. I have in my possession a little red-bound notebook containing the names of the 283 girls and boys who were present at the meeting which bade him farewell when he left Leith to go to Kelso in 1837. When he first began his work among the young, he found himself hampered by the listlessness of the girls and boys in the matter of public worship. This was largely due to the fact that they had hardly any children's hymns to sing. They were accustomed to use in their worship psalms and a few hymns not suited in word or tune to young people's needs, and they cared little for what ought to have been the brightest part of the service. Yet they were fond of music, and on week-days could sing songs heartily enough. Now, though he had little ear for music himself, my father soon realized the reason for this defect in the children's services; and, while considering what steps could be taken to set matters right, it occurred to him that if verses, set to wellknown tunes, were provided, the meetings would be brightened. So he tried an experiment: he chose some of the more lively tunes which the scholars liked to sing, and set himself to write words to them. The first two tunes which he utilized were 'Heber' and 'The Flowers of the Forest.' The words which he wrote to these were printed on little leaflets for the children's use, and were distributed throughout the school. To his delight the experiment succeeded, and the children were interested in the verses specially written for them. This is how his first two hymns,
'I lay my sins on Jesus'
'The morning, the bright and the beautiful
came to be written. But after a little it became obvious that, if the interest and improvement in the service were to be maintained, more hymns must be provided. My father made careful search through various books, and selected a few pieces which seemed to be suitable: these he caused to be printed on sheets, along with three new ones from his own pen:
'I was a wandering sheep'
being the best-known of them. The other two are now little known. They were
'There was gladness in Zion,'
set (like a previous hymn) to the tune of 'The Flowers of the Forest'; and the last of the trio was
'For thee we long and pray,
O blessed Sabbath-morn,'
which was written in the flowing metre of the wellknown version of Psalm 148:
'The Lord of Heaven confess;
On high His glory raise.'
Some other hymns were also written about this time, but were never afterwards reprinted. They served their purpose, and were then allowed to be forgotten.
It was probably in the year 1836 that my father first wrote a hymn not primarily intended for the young. To encourage his faithful fellow workers in his mission district, he wrote (to the tune of the 'Old Hundredth') the now familiar hymn 'Go, labour on.'
He left Leith in November 1837, after four years' work there; and for the farewell meeting a leaflet was printed containing two hymns which were to be sung. One of them (evidently written by some friend for the occasion) began:
'Since we are called to part
From our beloved friend.'
On the other side of the page appeared six verses, the first of which began:
"Tis thus we press the hand and part.'
When this latter hymn was afterwards republished in the Hymns of Faith and Hope it was considerably altered and improved.
My father was ordained minister of the North Parish Church, Kelso, on November 30, 1837. Once fairly settled in a charge of his own, he began to write and publish a great deal of prose of which it is not my intention to say anything here. But after a few years he brought out a little hymn-book for the young. It was a small unbound book, and contained some of the hymns which he had found useful among the Leith children, only a few of his own composition being included.
Gradually, however, the habit of expressing himself in verse grew on him, and he began to jot down in one or other of his many notebooks stray poetical ideas of his own, suggestions for verses, and here and there a hymn or a poem, though years passed before any of them were published. Most of these notebooks are in my possession: as I write now I have seven or eight of them lying before me. They contain most of the better-known hymns, hastily written down in pencil in his spare moments; they are full of contractions, with an occasional word or phrase in shorthand; sometimes a line is struck out and another substituted, yet in nearly every case the complete hymn, almost as it was afterwards published, can be gleaned from this rough draft. Sometimes on the margin, or in a blank corner of a page, several possible rhymes are written down. Sometimes, again, there are quaint little sketches or profiles of faces, drawn half-unconsciously while the poet's thoughts were busy working out the theme of his hymn.
It is not always easy to ascertain when some of these hymns were written, but I find that three can be placed within a year or two of 1840. I mention them specially, because they were among the first pieces written, not for singing, but because the writer had now found that he could speak his message in verse quite as clearly and profitably as in prose. These hymns are not very well known, but they may be of interest as showing how it was that my father was led on towards poetry when he had as yet published nothing but prose. The hymns are:
'The Son of God, in mighty love,' of which there are two or three manuscript versions;
'That clime is not like this dull clime of ours '; and
'I thought upon my sins, and I was sad.'
Then followed the Disruption in 1843, during which year the busy man's life and thoughts were occupied with matters which demanded action rather than contemplation, and I am not able to say with certainty that any hymn was written about this time. But my father began to find that a few of his first hymns had crept into religious periodicals, and had thus reached people outside his own circle, and indeed outside his own country; and this fact showed him that others were being helped by his poetry, and made him turn his thoughts more seriously to this part of his work.
In 1845 he published a neatly-bound little collection of three hundred hymns by various authors, called The Bible Hymn-Book. Some sixteen or seventeen of his own pieces were included in it, but the authorship of none of them (or indeed of any in the book) was indicated; and no name appeared on the title-page or in the preface, which merely stated very briefly that the volume was 'designed both for general use and for Sabbathschools.' Among the hymns now associated with the name of Bonar which appeared in print for the first time were:
'This is not my place of resting'; 'All that I was, my sin, my guilt'; and
'The Church has waited long.'
Somewhere about this time he wrote the very familiar hymn:
'I heard the voice of Jesus say,'
though he did not publish it until several years had passed. In the manuscript book it occupies the next page to 'The Church has waited long.' Though there are several interlineations and alternative readings in this rough pencil draft, a study of it shows that before the author laid it aside, the hymn as we now know it was almost complete. The lines which differ are only (i) 'The Living Water freely take' instead of 'The Living Water, thirsty one,' and (2)
'Look unto Me, thy day shall break,
And all thy path be bright,'
'Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright.'
Once 'and' is changed into 'my' and 'the ' into 'this,' but otherwise the published hymn is the same as the first pencilled version of it. The accompanying facsimile of the page of the notebook will help to explain these remarks.
During the ten years following 1846 many more well-known hymns were written. In one of the notebooks used prior to 1850 I find the manuscript of:
'Oppressed with noonday's scorching heat, To yonder cross I flee';
which, however, in the original version began: 'I come in haste to yonder cross.'
On the next page, written in a bold hand, occurs an idea, to be used at some future time for a hymn. Evidently my father committed it to paper lest the thought should escape him. The two unrhymed lines are of special value and interest, as they are b
the only trace to be found in any of the notebooks of one of the best-known of his hymns. The lines run as follows:
'A few more suns shall rise and set,
A few more years shall come and go;'
presently these words were elaborated into the now familiar:
'A few more years shall roll,
A few more seasons come,'
which was written to be sung to the tune of ' Selma.' In the autumn of 1848 the Quarterly Journal of Prophecy was begun, and my father undertook its editorship: this he retained during all its twentyfive years' existence, and in every single issue he published one hymn of his own. When, some years later, he took up the editorship of the Christian Treasury, several of his poetical pieces first saw the light in its pages.
About 1850 a good many verses which I may call sacred poems rather than hymns were written. They were not intended for public worship, but were simply the expression of the writer's devotional thoughts.
Among these pieces in his notebooks are scattered many outlines of hymns and poems, while very frequently some unoccupied corner of a page is filled in with a couplet or a fragmentary verse or two, never intended to form a hymn, but jotted down to express some idea which seemed to be worth preserving. Many of these fragments are prayers rather than hymns. I quote two of them to show how their author sometimes used verse to express his own personal spiritual longings. There is one which is full of force if not of finished poetic beauty:
'By Thy cross, incarnate God,
Hear me when with Thee I plead;
By the merits of Thy blood
Succour me in this my need!
By Thy Name, all names above,
Oh, regard my bitter cry;
By Thy finished work of love,
Jesus, hear me, or I die!'
There is another fragment, a confession of sin:
'There never came.an emptier soul to Thee,
All want and weariness and sin,
Evil without me and within,
To Thee, O Lord, I flee, I flee!
Wilt Thou say nay to me?'
The first volume of my father's collected poems did not appear till 1857. It may be noted that b a
more than twenty years had elapsed between the writing of his first hymns and their publication in an authorized collection with the author's name attached.
This book was the first of the three volumes bearing the title of Hymns of Faith and Hope, and it contained 115 hymns. Most of those which I have just mentioned were among their number. Others, which have since gained popularity, are:
'Yes, for me, for me He careth ';
'These are the crowns that we shall wear ';
'Calm me, my God ';
'No shadows yonder ';
'Up and away, like the dew of the morning ';
and the well-known Communion hymn: 'Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face.'
It was my father's custom to go once a year to assist his brother Dr. John Bonar, of Greenock, at his Communion; and in response to the latter's request for a hymn to be read aloud at the close of the service this Communion hymn was written, in October 1855.
About this time intervened a journey of some five months in the East. My father went to Egypt, and travelled by camel through the desert of Sinai to Palestine. His visit to these two countries made a very deep impression on him, and coloured to some extent all his subsequent preaching and writing. One effect of the journey was to direct his verse for the time being into fresh channels, and a great many of the poems written at this time were suggested by Eastern scenes or Bible incidents. Curiously enough, no notebooks containing anything written at this time, either in prose or verse, have been preserved.
In 1861 the second volume of the Hymns of Faith and Hope was published. It contained 123 pieces, many of which are now little known, because, being poems on Eastern subjects, they have not been included in hymn-books. But the following hymns which appeared in it are fairly familiar ones:
'Not what these hands have done';
'Thou must be true thyself; and
'Make use of me, my God.'
Shortly after this time he was asked to assist in the compilation of the English Presbyterian Hymnbook. He helped in the preparation of this volume in many ways, both by his counsel, and by allowing the full use of his published hymns. Three hymns appear to have been written specially for this collection, viz.:
'No, not despairingly';
'Glory be to God the Father'; and
'When the weary, seeking rest.'
The origin of the last-named hymn is interesting. My father was asked to provide words to the music, and was specially requested to furnish a fitting refrain to the two lovely lines of Mendelssohn's, with which Callcott's tune 'Intercession' ends. In searching for a Scripture theme containing some reiterated phrase almost of the nature of a refrain, he was struck with Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles vi) in which every separate petition concludes with substantially the same words. This idea was taken for his starting-point, and Solomon's words: 'Hear Thou from Heaven Thy dwelling-place, and forgive,' became the familiar couplet:
'Hear then, in love, O Lord, the cry,
In heaven, Thy dwelling-place on high.'
This foundation once provided, the rest of the hymn was built upon it. This hymn my father liked, as he often told me, as well as any he had ever written; for, though he saw flaws in its poetry, the subject and working out and whole tone of it seemed to him far better than many other of his pieces which had attained greater popularity. These hymns to which I have just referred came out in the third volume of Hymns of faith and Hope, which was published in 1866. It contained about one hundred hymns, and translations of forty-seven of the Psalms.
In this year he left Kelso for Edinburgh, where he undertook the charge of a new church. The pressure of city work slightly retarded the flow of his hymns, though it by no means stopped it. When I look back on the way in which his day was filled with the affairs of his own ministerial work, I wonder how he could possibly make room in his life for anything else. Yet he edited a magazine (for a considerable time, two of them), and was, in addition, perpetually publishing prose works. In fact, one special table in his study was entirely devoted to proof-sheets, and he used to say that for a period of thirty years he had been continually in the hands of three separate printers, for his editorial, his prose and his poetical work.
In 1872 The Song of the New Creation, and other Pieces was published. Few of the poems contained in it were written for congregational use; they were chiefly of a meditative or devotional character, and for this reason not many of them have appeared in collections of hymns.
For several years after this book appeared very few hymns were written, for a long blank-verse poem occupied most of my father's leisure, and absorbed many of the ideas which otherwise he might have put into rhyme. My Old Letters consists of meditations on many subjects, suggested to the writer by his re-reading the letters received in his earlier days from old friends. In this volume there are many pages of only half-veiled autobiography, and there are descriptions of places where holidays were spent, which can be recognized without much difficulty. In it there are many passages which are well worth being preserved; and, although a small volume like this is not the place for them, I cannot refrain from one quotation as a specimen:
'A little bluer, and it will be dawn;
A little fairer, and it will be morn;
A little brighter, and it will be noon:
And then the tide of day begins to ebb!—
Is this the story of our common life?
A little paler, and it will be eve;
A little shadier, and the twilight falls;
A little darker, and the night has come:
And then the blank broad midnight! Is this life?'
This somewhat bulky volume was published in 1877, and about that time hymns again begin to appear in the notebooks, several being specially written for Mr. Sankey, the American evangelist. The story of one hymn which has become generally known may be of interest. Mr. Sankey wished to use as a solo Tennyson's sad and beautiful poem from 'Guinevere':
'Late, late, so late, and dark the night and chill.' He composed a tune for it, but copyright difficulties arose and hindered his including the words in his hymn-book. So, being left with a tune without the words, he asked my father to write a hymn to it, keeping if possible to the same Scriptural theme. This was done, and
'Yet there is room1 was the result.
'Rejoice and be glad!' and
'Watch, brethren, watch!'
were also written about this time. The order of the verses was changed in Mr. Sankey's hymnbook, where this latter hymn is known by the first line of the second verse: 'Pray, brethren, pray!'
In 1879 these and other hymns and poems were brought together in a volume called Hymns of the Nativity, and other Pieces.
Two years later a little collection of thirty Communion Hymns was issued, a few of which had already appeared in previous volumes. Most of these hymns were known to my father's own congregation already. It was his custom at the close of every Communion service to read aloud some hymn or poem bearing on the subject which had been the theme of the sermon and tableaddresses. This was often selected from some old hymn-book, sometimes it was a translation from the German, but many a time it was specially written by himself for the occasion. In this little collection appears that perfect exposition of the author's standpoint before God:
'On merit not my own I stand.'
The last volume of my father's poems, Until the Day Break, was published by me shortly after his death. I collected the best hymns which had not appeared in any of the previously-mentioned books. He left behind him some fragments and unfinished pieces, but also a good many completed poems of great beauty, such as
'When I shall wake on that fair morn of morns';
'Praise goeth up to Thee';
'I know not in what watch He comes'; and that quaint little Christmas piece
'We went to Bethlehem.'
I have often been asked which was the last hymn my father ever wrote, for some confusion has arisen about this matter. It was wrongly stated in print that the lines of 'In Me ye shall have peace,' with its references to sickness and sleeplessness, had been written when he was very near his end. As a matter of fact it was composed in 1880, nine years before his death. It was sent to his old friend and publisher, James Watson, to comfort him in his last illness, and it reached him, and was read to him, the day before he died. So far as I can tell, the verses 'Long years of peace' (which I place at the end of this volume) were the last he ever penned.
Having said so much about the history and chronology of the hymns, let me now give a few facts about my father's literary training and favourite authors.
During his student days he carried his studies far beyond the subjects prescribed for the regular curriculum. Two of his holiday occupations were sketching and geology: he was very fond of history, both ancient and modern, and he never lost an opportunity of reading a good biography or book of travel. For a time philosophy occupied much of his attention; indeed in 1826 he gained a prize in the Moral Philosophy class of Professor Wilson, better known to the outside world as 'Christopher North.' But the man who really influenced his life was Dr. Chalmers, then Professor of Theology, under whose marvellously attractive power the young divinity student was brought when he entered his classes in 1829. My father always considered Chalmers the greatest man he had ever met.
Much might be written about the books and the authors whose influence is to be noted in the hymns. The fact which strikes me is the thorough way in which they were all studied, not only for personal profit or for pleasure, but with a view to their being of use at some future period. My father had an intimate acquaintance with Patristic literature, and with the Greek and Latin hymns of the early Church: but it was his profound knowledge of the ordinary classics which always impressed me most, as he was so much at home among them. I do not think that he loved any secular writer as he loved Homer. In conversation he frequently quoted and alluded to the Odyssey, and in his own poem My Old Letters he makes frequent reference to it. The following quotation will show what I mean:
'Oh, my own Ithaca, my home, my home!' (Spake he not thus, the wanderer of the isles ?) 'Barren it may be, but oh, beautiful Beyond all other islands of the wave! In thoughts and dreams I turn to thee ...'
Euripides and Sophocles were great favourites also; I have heard him grow enthusiastic over the Antigone. Virgil he knew nearly as well as Homer; often would he read the Aeneid to me and with me. Cicero he read frequently; Horace he cared little for, except the Ars Poetica.
As to his English reading, Chaucer he knew and valued and often quoted; and very familiar he made me with such lines as:
'But of Christe's love and His apostles twelve He taught, but first he followed it himselve.'
Spenser was a poet whose writings he also knew intimately. As to Shakespeare, I have in my possession an early notebook of my father's, devoted entirely to this author. Every single play had been gone through, and from each, the most beautiful passages, the remarkable phrases or striking words, had been noted down. Much the same affectionate study was given to Milton: for a well-worn copy of his poems is marked in a most thorough way, and probably my father knew his writings better than those of any other poet ancient or modern. He did not owe much to the later poets, though he knew and read them all. Sir Walter Scott's verses he much appreciated, for he always loved a narrative poem. Three other favourites of his were Campbell, Cowper, and Coleridge. He used to say that the latter's piece 'Love' was the most perfect love-poem he had ever read. One other poet ought not to be excluded from this list of favourites. My father had a pocket edition of Ossian, which he used to carry about with him in holiday time; and he would often read aloud from its pages as we rambled on the hillside or by the sea-shore.
A word or two about my father's methods of hymn-writing may be added. His pen was perpetually at work, and in every spare moment he was constantly jotting down something or other. But it was generally when he was away from his ordinary work that he wrote poetry. Of course much which he wrote he never published: but when travelling, or on a leisurely country walk, a notebook was always in his pocket; and any idea which occurred to him as likely to be of use in the future was written down, sometimes in prose, sometimes in verse. Much of this he afterwards destroyed; he only kept what seemed the most valuable. He was often surprised at the popularity of some of his hymns of which he himself did not think very much, as e. g. 'I lay my sins on Jesus,' which he used to say might be good gospel, but was not good poetry. But the fact that this hymn had helped so many people outweighed everything else. I cannot help thinking that it was better in its original form, as first written down in the notebook. Here is the draft of its first two verses as they occurred to the writer:
'I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
From all their guilt He frees us,
He bears Himself the load.
I lay my wants on Jesus,
All fulness dwells in Him;
He heals all my diseases,
My soul He doth redeem.
'I lay my griefs on Jesus,
He takes them all from me;
I cast my cares on Jesus,
My shield and tower is He.
I give myself to Jesus,
This weary soul of mine;
His right hand me embraces,
I on His breast recline.'
But he was not concerned about small imperfections in the structure of his verse, if that verse carried his message to his fellow men. The words of one of his own hymns were his constant prayer:
'Make use of me, my God!
Let me not be forgot;
A broken vessel cast aside,
One whom Thou needest not.'
His mind was always full of his work, and even when he was at leisure he was thinking of being of use to others. Therefore to write verses was one of his holiday recreations. And how he loved to take a holiday! No one enjoyed the open air more than he. His love for the sea was deep, and he was more than content when he was on some sea-beach (it might be in Arran, or East Lothian, or Fife), lonely and wave-beaten, where he could wander on the shore and watch the waters. One can understand something of his affection for the sea from his poem ' Summer Ocean, written when staying at North Berwick:
'Summer Ocean, how I'll miss thee,
Miss the thunder of thy roar,
Miss the music of thy ripple,
Miss thy sorrow-soothing shore!
Summer Ocean, how I'll miss thee
When the sea shall be no more!'
Often at the sea-shore as a boy, after our swim, I used to withdraw and sit aloof and watch my father pacing up and down some level beach or stretch of turf, writing, sometimes repeating a line or two aloud to try how it sounded to the ear, ere he committed it to paper. Sometimes, instead of writing, he would read some book of poetry or travel or biography: but from each and all of these, at one time or another, thoughts worthy of being preserved were extracted and jotted down.
One notable feature of his hymns is that they belong to all Churches, and are used in Christian worship all over the world. In this way his message reached many who probably would not have appreciated the prose writings of a Presbyterian.
I can remember his amusement on being told of a High-Church lady at Torquay, a great admirer c
of his hymns, who had been astonished to find herself face to face with a member of his congregation. 'What!' she exclaimed, 'is Bonar the hymn-writer still alive? I always understood he was a mediaeval saint.'
It is a remarkable and instructive fact that a good many of the hymns of so strong a Protestant are used by Roman Catholics in their worship. It was my father's invariable custom, when applied to for permission to use his hymns, to grant this, free of charge, on condition that the words should not be altered. It mattered not who applied, I am not aware that any one willing to accept this condition was ever refused permission. Therefore some of his best-known hymns are to be found in Roman Catholic hymnals. It may be of interest if I quote a few sentences from a letter received by him from an American priest in 1885: '. . . While there are, as you know, not a few hymns in your books containing doctrines which a Catholic priest could not conscientiously sanction or republish, there are very many others which faithfully express the sentiments of a devout soul seeking, above all, the fulfilment of the adorable will of God, and aspiring to a higher and closer union with Him. . . May I use these good and inspiring words. . . and in future editions acknowledge my indebtedness for your kind permission?' From this letter it appears that no less than forty-one of my father's hymns had been set to music for the use of Roman Catholics. I mention five which seem to be the most frequently used by them: 'Thy way, not mine.OLord'; 'Go up, go up, my heart'; 'When the weary, seeking rest' (to which, however, a singularly infelicitous verse has been added at the end); 'I was a wandering sheep'; and 'I heard the voice of Jesus say.' My father was more than once remonstrated with for granting such permission. I can remember his answer to one who strongly advised him to refuse to allow any Roman Catholic to reprint his hymns. He said: 'Would you think it right if I were to decline an invitation to preach to a willing audience merely because they were Roman Catholics?'
One side of his character was scarcely suspected by those who did not know him in private. He had a strong sense of humour, which he very rarely allowed to show itself in public. But it found vent in verse, in a little family manuscript magazine which was maintained among a circle of relatives for many years. We always issued this during holiday time, and received many contributions
from my father and his brother, Dr. Andrew Bonar.
In fact very few numbers appeared without some-
thing from the pen of both of them. The poems
and rhymes which he wrote for this holiday maga-
zine show the writer of the Hymns of Faith and
Hope in a light which would astonish many of those
who only knew him through his published writings.
The fun and happiness of these merry verses is
charming; and never was the writer so well pleased
as when he had an opportunity of quizzing his
brother. I venture to give one instance of this,
and quote some verses from a long poem describing
an incident which happened at Anwoth (in Samuel
Rutherford's country-side), where Dr. Andrew
Bonar spent a holiday shortly after he had held the
office of Moderator in the Free Church of Scotland.
This is how my father describes his brother:
'A second Rutherford he seemed,
But statelier in his mien,
For in the great Assembly he
Had Moderator been.'
Then follows the story of his attempting to rescue
a 'half-smothered duck from a quagmire:
'A duck of noble ancestry,
A Covenanting bird
Whose Anwoth sires had oft been fed
By the great Rutherford.'
At first, we were told, the Moderator shrank from the task:
'His valour in a moment cooled
At touch of that dark ooze,
He would have risked his life to save,
But could not risk his shoes.
'Make haste, poor drowning duck!' he cried,
As to and fro he ran,
Shouting with awful voice, as none
But Moderators can.'
Finally, the bird was brought to land by means of an old basket, its rescuer remaining dry-shod: and
'The grateful duck went curtseying home,
And, though in woful plight,
It turned again and yet again
To gaze upon the knight.
'Ne'er had the great man got before
So shrill a vote of thanks
As on that memorable day
On Disdhu's verdant banks.
'And many a duck shall tell the tale
To ducklings gathered round,
How the great mother-duck was saved
By Andrew the renowned.'
I also append a quotation from another of his pieces, written in rather a sterner mood, about a public character. These lines were the outcome of a study of Carlyle's Reminiscences:
'There's Tammas the Ercildon prophet,—
Him Tammas the Rhymer they ca';
Tammas Boston, the true Ettrick shepherd;
Tammas Chalmers, the grandest of a':
There are Tammases clever and stupid,
There are Tammases big and sma',
There are Tammases no' very canny:—
But here is the queerest of a':
He's Tammas of Ecclefechan,
And he's no' like the rest ava.'
He's aye gruntin' and growlin',
Or greetin' and yowlin',
Or flytin and bitin',
Or moanin' and groanin';
And what he's believin'
In earth or in heaven
Naebody kens ava'.'
In conclusion, I find that, from first to last (excluding about sixty translations of different Psalms), there have been published over 600 hymns and poems by Horatius Bonar. A number of these are translations and imitations from Latin and Greek, and are, therefore, not absolutely original. I have tried to bring together all the best hymns into this volume. I have included, however, a few pieces which I feel are not up to my father's best standard. I have been driven to do this, because incorrect and mutilated versions have appeared in popular collections of hymns set to music. I do not so much complain that to some of my father's grave hymns tinkling choruses have been added, but I do complain that compilers should deliberately have added verses of their own composition to two of them—viz. to 'The cross, it standeth fast,' and to ' Up and away, like the dew of the morning': the text and even the metre of these hymns have been altered mercilessly.
To me my father's hymns bring not only their clear ringing message of faith and hope, but something more. For, through them all (like a quiet persistent undertone) there sounds that other message which was never altogether absent from their author's speaking and writing, from the first day of his ministry till the day when he closed his last sermon with the words: 'In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.'
HORATIUS N. BONAR. July, 1904.