Chapter XI

CHAPTER XI.

HYMN-MENDERS.
"For the ear trieth •words as the mouth tasteth meat."

No man was ever more apt at writing an effective preface than John Wesley. Never did author more decidedly assert his own claims and powers, or more strikingly advertise the virtue of his own pages. Bead the notice on the title-page of his remarkable "Pocket Dictionary:"— "N.B. The author assures you he thinks this is the best English Dictionary in the world!" And then, who does not enjoy the satirical humour and playful earnestness of his address to the reader, "as incredible as it may appear, I must avow that this dictionary is not published to get money, but to assist persons of common sense and no learning to understand the best English authors; and that with as little expense of time and money as the nature of the

thing will allow I should add no more, but that

I have so often observed, the only way, according to the modern taste, for any author to procure commendation to his book is, vehemently to commend it himself. For want of this deference to the public, several excellent tracts lately printed, but left to commend themselves by their intrinsic worth, are utterly unknown or forgotten. Whereas if a writer of tolerable sense will but bestow a few violent encomiums on his own work, especially if they are skilfully ranged on the title-page, it will pass through six editions in a trice; the world being too complaisant to give a gentleman the lie, and taking it for granted he understands his own performance best. In compliance, therefore, with the taste of the age, I add, that this little dictionary is not only the shortest and the cheapest, but likewise by many degrees the most correct which is extant at this day. Many are the mistakes in all the other English dictionaries which I have yet seen. Whereas I can truly say, I know of none in this; and I conceive the reader will believe me; for if I had, I should not have left it there. Use then this help till you find a better." This is all anonymous, and some might doubt its authorship, but for its unmistakable claim to the same parentage with the preface to "A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists, by John Wesley, M.A." Who can doubt the identity of the self-reliance, firm decision, strong sense, straightforward sincerity, and transparent purity of pur'pose? "The hymn-book you have now before you," says the writer, "is not so large as to be either cumbersome or expensive; and it is large enough to contain such a variety of hymns, as will not soon be worn threadbare. . . As but a small part of these hymns is of my own composing, I do not think it inconsistent with modesty to declare that I am persuaded no such hymn-book as this has as yet been published in the English language. In what other publication of the kind have you so distinct and full an account of Scriptural Christianity? Such a declaration of the heights and depths of religion, speculative and practical? So strong cautions against the most plausible errors; particularly those that are now most prevalent? and so clear directions for making your calling and election sure; for perfecting holiness in the fear of God? May I be permitted to add a few words with regard to the poetry? Then I will speak to those who are judges thereof with all freedom and unreserve. To these I may say, without offence—1. In these hymns there is no doggerel; no blotches; nothing put in to patch up the rhyme; no feeble expletives. 2. Here is nothing turgid or bombast, on the one hand, or low and creeping on the other. 3. Here are no cant expressions; no words without meaning. Those who impute this to us know not what they say. We talk common sense, both in prose and verse, and use no word but in a fixed and determinate sense. 4. Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language; and, at the same time, the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity. Lastly, I desire men of taste to judge (these are the only competent judges) whether there be in some of the following hymns the true spirit of poetry, such as cannot be acquired by art and nature, but must be the gift of nature."

This is a fair challenge, and the majority of those to whom the appeal is made seem to have a growing conviction that Wesley's judgment was quite equal to his poetic taste and power; but now comes the assertion of other claims. "And here," continues the writer, "I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now, they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are; but I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours—either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men." "Who does not recognise here the voice of the humorous, trenchant, and self-possessed compiler of "the best English Dictionary in the world"? John Wesley feels himself equal alike to lexicography and hymnic composition. He might be called a prophet too. At all events, there is something in his preface like a forecasting of times, when the rage for compiling hymn-books would lead to all sorts of hymn-mending. Did he foresee this age of literary sacrilege? He seemed to deprecate the early attempts to improve his hymns, as foretokens of the days which have fallen upon us; days of adaptation hymn-books, when churches high and low, congregations great and small, communions close and open, connexions loose and tight, schools both wholesome and ragged, associations young and old, all sects, all parties, all shades and standards of doctrine and feeling, all and each must have a hymn-book; '' yea, every one hath a psalm, hath' a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation"? Poor Wesley! the reckless menders began while he was yet alive, and surely his critical sense must have been painfully touched when, among many other violations, the first verse of his brother's jubilant hymn on the name of Jesus was weakened into compliance with another creed. The original hymn sings—

Let earth and heaven agree,

Angels and men be join'd,
To celebrate with me

The Saviour of mankind;
To adore the all-atoning Lamb,
And bleaa the sound of Jesu's name.

But, instead of this closing couplet, the menders would make us sing—

To fall before the atoning Lamb,
And praise the blessed Jesu's name.

In another noble hymn "for the Jews," we are taught to pray—

Come, then, Thou great Deliverer, come!

The veil from Jacob's heart remove;
Receive thy ancient people home!

That, quickened by Thy dying love,
The world may their reception find,
Life from the dead for all mankind.

This, however, is too large a prayer for some, and, to suit their narrower views, the last lines are softened down to this—

That, quickened by Thy dying love,

The world may their reception view,

And shout to God the glory due!

Of all that Charles Wesley ever wrote, nothing ought to have been held more sacred from the touch of mere senseless mutilators than the hymn which has hushed and cheered so many souls amidst the tempests of this mortal life. How many voices from both worlds pronounce it sacrilege to alter that hymn! One heart, at least, still beats by whom it is held as an invaluable treasure, nor is it for ever enshrined in that heart without good reason. About twenty years ago, on a winter's night, a heavy gale set in upon the precipitous rock-bound coast of one of our western counties. A tight, bravo little coasting vessel struggled hard and long to reach some shelter in the Bristol Channel, but the struggle was vain; one dark fearful headland could not be weathered; the bark must go on shore, and what a shore it was the fated men well knew. Then came the last pull for life; the boat was swung off and manned; captain and crew united in one more brave effort, but their toiling at the oar was soon over, their boat was swamped. They seemed to have sunk together, "and in death they were not divided," for, when the morning dawned, they were found lying all but side by side under the shelter of a weedy rock. They might have been saved had they stayed in the ship, for she had been borne in upon a heavy sea close under the cliff, where she was jammed immovably between two rocks, and in the morning the ebb tide left her lying high and dry. There was no sign of life on deck, and below scarcely anything told of her late distress. One token of peace and salvation there was; it was the captain's hymnbook still lying on the locker, closed upon the pencil with which the good man had marked the last passages upon which his eye had rested before he left the ship to meet his fate. A leaf of the page was turned down, and there were pencil lines in the margin at several passages of Charles Wesley's precious hymn—

Jemis, lover of my soul,

Let me to Thy bosom fly;
While the nearer waters roll,

While the tempest still is high!
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,

Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide;

Oh receive my soul at last!

Other refuge have I none;

Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,

Still support and comfort me:
All my trust on Thee is stay'd,

All my help from Thee I bring:
Cover my defenceless head

With the shadow of Thy wing!

Wilt Thou not regard my call?

Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall!

Lo! on Thee I cast my care!

Reach me out Thy gracious hand!

While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,

Dying, and behold I live!

Thou, O Christ, art all I want;

More than all in Thee I find:
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,

Heal the sick, and lead the blind!
Just and holy is Thy name;

I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am,

Thou art full of truth and grace!

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,

Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;

Make and keep me pure within!
Thou of life the fountain art;

Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,

Rise to all eternity!

This was the pious captain's death-song. And who that loves his memory, or who that has mused by his green seaside grave, where his dust awaits the resurrection, or who that has learnt to sing his favourite verses, "with the spirit and with the understanding also," but must be painfully touched at finding any part of the hymn mangled and flattened, until its spirit and life are all but gone? Yet to such grief some of our hymn-manglers would subject the lovers of original poetic beauty and power. Alas! for the taste of the man who could blot out Charles Wesley's first four exquisite lines to substitute his own thus—

Jesus, refuge of my soul,

Let me to thy mercy fly;
While the raging billows roll,

While the tempest still is high!

But even this is nothing, compared with the stupid impertinence exemplified in some of the little spiritual song books which swarm from the press for the use of various parties professing to be the unsectarian representatives of spiritual revival. The two shores of St. George's Channel seem to strive for the mastery in doggerel. One manual gives a version of Wesley's glorious hymn—

Oh love divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart

All taken up by Thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,

The love of Christ to me!

The glowing climax of the last three lines, so finely expressive of the rising warmth of the soul in its longing for Christ, breaks down into flatness at the touch of the emendator's pen—Oh may I faint, and thirst to prove The greatness of redeeming love— The love of Christ to me!

Wesley keeps up the swell of the soul's devotion in the following verse—

God only knows the love of God:
Oh that it now were shed abroad

In this poor stony heart!
For love I sigh, for love I pine:
This only portion, Lord, be mine,

Be mine the better part!

But our modern editor thinks the "poor stony heart" too cold, and makes it a "poor longing heart"; yet falls immediately into doubtfulness as to the reality of its present desires, and awkwardly changing both mood and tense, timidly promises, that if the love

- were shed abroad

In this poor longing heart,

he would sigh for it still, and pine for it still— For love I'd sigh, for love I'd pine!

The sublimest strain is not safe from the damaging touch of conceited hymn-menders. Evidence of this is found in the humiliating fact that the inimitable hymn founded on St. Paul's saying, "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named," has been published in a mutilated form. The first verse begins—

Come let us join our friends above

That have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love

To joys celestial rise.

Such eagle flights are beyond the power of some songsters, and they change it by singing—

Come let us join our friends above

Who have obtained the prize,
And happy in the Saviour's love,

To joys celestial rise.

Nor can that grand expression of realizing faith at the close of the hymn be allowed to remain, but instead of

Our spirits too shall quickly join,
Like theirs with glory crown'd!

The weaker and more wavering confidence says—

The morning comes when all shall join,
Alike with glory crown'd.

Another of Charles "Wesley's joyful outbreaks of Christian assurance needs to be checked and qualified, as his censor thinks. The original hymnist shouts—

Away with our sorrow and fear,

"We soon shall recover our home;
The city of saints shall appear,

The day of eternity come.
From earth we shall quickly remove,

And mount to our native abode!
The house of our Father above,

The palace of angels and God.

The second line is tamed down to

"We soon shall have enter'd our home.

And as if the good people were afraid to mount in Wesley's style, they sing—

From earth we shall quickly remove,

To dwell in our native abode,
In mansions of glory above,

Prepared by our Father and God.

And then follows a jumble of stanzas gathered from several hymns of the same metre, the heterogeneous mixture being introduced by a distinctive Irishism—

Ah ! who upon earth can conceive
The bliss that in heaven we'll share?

The writer of course means the bliss that we shall share; but, like many of his incurable countrymen, he must have it will, expressive, doubtless, of his fixed determination to have his own share of hymning in the other world, as well as his own way of hymn-mending in this. But enough has been said to show that John Wesley had reason for shrinking from being "accountable for the nonsense or the doggerel of other men." It is not surprising, however, that the unskilful multitude should try their hands at hymn-mending, when masters in the art have set such examples. Critical inquiries into the history of hymnology open up some curious scenes. The Wesleys are seen mending Herbert and Watts, Toplady and Madan are found hashing and re-cooking Charles Wesley. Somebody else is trying to improve Toplady. Heber makes free with Jeremy Taylor. Montgomery is altering and altered. Keble, and Milman, and Alford are all pinched, and twisted, and re-dressed in turn. Among all these menders John Wesley was perhaps one of the best. He was positively sure that nobody could mend his own hymus; but he was not scrupulous in mending other people's. His critical power and poetic taste, however, were exercised chiefly on the productions of his brother Charles, and generally his emendations were improvements. And perhaps, too, it was happy for Charles that he had a brother so severe; for one who wrote so many verses and so fast, needed another eye and another hand to guard him from the consequences of voluminous rhyming. In dealing with other authors, whose hymns are brought to enrich his hymn-book, John Wesley's touches are, for the most part, delicate but effective. By the slightest stroke he sometimes turns weakness into strength, commonplaces into beauties, and irregularity into order. A transforming word or two from him, now and then, makes questionable things pure, and calls up grandeur from what was puerile or mean. Witness the transformation of some verses in Watts's hymn on " Heavenly joys on earth." The original first verse is—

Come, we that love the Lord,

And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,

And thus surround the throne.

Wesley takes away the sign of weakness by rendering it—

Come, ye that love the Lord,

And let your joys be known,
E'en in a song with sweet accord,
While ye surround His throne.

The rise from something akin to silliness into grandeur is still more strikingly seen in the change of the fourth verse from

The God that rules on high,

And thunders when He please,
That rides upon the stormy sky,

And manages the seas, into

The God that rules on high,
That all the earth surveys,
That rides upon the stormy sky,
And calms the roaring seas.

The noble hymn ic thus equalized, and saved from those occasional lapses into weaknesses which so sadly break the grand march of some of Watts's best productions. What additional dignity Wesley gives to Watts's version of the Psalm cxlvi. by a slight alteration of two lines, changing

I'll praise my Maker with my breath,

into

I'll praise my Maker while Fve breath,

and rendering

The Lord hath eyes to give the blind, thus—

The Lord pours eyesight on the blind. /

Still more remarkable is the improvement in the hymn on "Christ dying, rising, and reigning." Watts's first verse begins too fondly, and then becomes puerile.

He dies! The heavenly Lover dies!

The tidings strike a doleful sound
On my poor heart-strings. Deep He lies

In the cold caverns of the ground.

Wesley's improvement opens with great beauty of thought and grandeur of imagery, consistently leading the mind into the noble strain of the following verses—

He dies! The Friend of sinners dies!

Lo! Salem's daughters weep around;
A solemn darkness veils the skies,

A sudden trembling shakes the ground.

The Christian Church will never cease to enjoy the grand swell of the Psalm c. as given by Watts; hut thanks will ever be due to Wesley for making the first verses worthy of the last. Watts's verses begin without much promise :—

Sing to the Lord with joyful voice;

Let every land TTia name adore;
The British isles shall send the noise

Across the ocean to the snore.

Nations attend before His throne
With solemn fear, with sacred joy.

Wesley drops the first verse, and begins the second thus:—

Before Jehovah's awful throne,
Te nations, bow with sacred joy;

giving a noble completeness to the hymn, opening it with a majesty suitable to its continued swell, and preparing us for that sublime close which leaves the devout multitude rapt before God in solemn joy.

We'll crowd thy gates with thankful songs,

High as the heavens our voices raise;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues,

Shall fill Thy courts with sounding praise.

Wide as the world is Thy command,

Vast as eternity Thy love;
Firm as a rock Thy truth shall stand,

When rolling years shall cease to move.

The Wesleyan hymn-menders are not always as happy, in dealing with other hymnists, as in their emendations of Watts. For instance, when they alter that beautiful hymn by Berridge—

Jesus, cast a look on me,

and place the altered form in their collection as beginning with

Lord, that I may learn of Thee.

The original should have been held sacred. It is founded on Psalm cxxxi. 2, "My soul is even as a weaned child." Thus :—

Jesus, cast a look on me,
Give me sweet simplicity;
Make me poor, and keep me low,
Seeking only Thee to know.

Weaned from my lordly self,
Weaned from the miser's pelf,
Weaned from the scorner's ways,
Weaned from the lust of praise.

All that feeds my busy pride,
Cast it evermore aside;
Bid my will to Thine submit,
'Lay me humbly at Thy feet.

Make me like a little child,
Of my strength and wisdom spoil'd;
Seeing only in Thy light,
Walking only in Thy might.

Leaning on Thy loving breast,
Where a weary soul may rest;
Feeling well the peace of God,
Flowing from Thy precious blood!

In this pasture let me live,
And hosannas daily give;
In this temper let me die,
, And hosannas ever cry!

It must be said of John "Wesley, that whether he worked as compiler, or critic, or hymn-writer, he evidently worked with a pure aim. His object ~was to provide for his people a hymn-book distinguished by completeness of rhyme, a large variety of metre, energy of thought and expression, sound argument, thorough evangelical orthodoxy, and pure and warm religious feeling. The great popularity and widening usefulness of his collection show the measure of nis success. Many people would naturally ask what sort of hymns such a hymn-mender as he could write. He wrote but few. But these few fairly sustain his claims as a •worthy member of a poetic family, and a leader among the hymnists of his day. One of his hymns is highly characteristic at once of his genius and his religious character, and marks some peculiar phases of his experience, as well as some points of his personal history. The hymn may be called " the Pilgrim's Hymn: "—

How happy is the pilgrim's lot!
How free from every anxious thought,

From worldly hope and fear!
Confined to neither court nor cell,
His soul disdains on earth to dwell,

His only sojourn's here.

His happiness in part is mine,
Already saved from low design,

From every creature love;
Blest with the scorn of finite good,
My soul is lightened of its load,

And seeks the things above.

The things eternal I pursue;
A happiness beyond the view

Of those that basely pant
For things by nature felt and seen;
Their honours, wealth, and pleasures mean,

I neither have nor want.

I have no babes to hold me here;
But children more securely dear,

For mine I humbly claim;
Better than daughters or than sons,
Temples divine of living stones,

Inscribed with Jesu's name.

No foot of land do I possess,
No cottage in this wilderness;

A poor wayfaring man,
I lodge awhile in tents below,
Or gladly wander to and fro,

Till I my Canaan gain.

Nothing on earth I call my own;
A stranger, to the world unknown,

I all their goods despise;
I trample on their whole delight,
And seek a country out of sight,

A country in the skies.

There is my house, my portion fair;
My treasure and my heart are there,

And my abiding home;
For me my elder brethren stay,
And angels beckon me away,

And Jesus bids me come.

I come—Thy servant, Lord, replies—
I come to meet Thee in the skies,

And claim my heavenly rest!
Now let the pilgrim's journey end;
Now, 0 my Saviour, Brother, Friend,

Receive me to Thy breast!

One stanza is now generally omitted. It was written probably while he was unmarried; and under the influence of views sometimes peculiar to unmarried life—

I have no sharer of my heart,
To rob my Saviour of a part,

And desecrate the whole:
Only betrothed to Christ am I,
And wait His coming from the sky,

To wed my happy soul.

There have been many Christian souls who, during some period of their life, would take up the language of this remarkable hymn, and sing it on their lonely way. It may be said of some one part of many a man's life-journey, "it was desert"; and that desert part he may have gone over single-handed, scripless and alone. How often, in such cases, has the music of this hymn risen on the silent air, as an acceptable sacrifice of holy confidence, gratitude, and joy. Of one singular character, at least, it may be said that he could adopt it, and use it from his first starting in Christian life to his final hour. To those who knew him, and many, many in the west of England were thankful to know him, it seemed as if the hymn were made for him. Nor was there a day through his somewhat lengthened life in which some stanza of it was not on his lips. "Foolish Dick," people called him, and not without some share of reason. In early life he was enough of an idiot to be unequal to any labour that required a tolerable amount of regulated thought or skill. But he proved to be one of those whose history strikingly shows the quickening, expanding, and regulating power of vital religion on the human intellect, even in its nearest approaches to hopeless idiocy. Dick was one morning on his way to the well for water, when an old Christian man who was leaning over the garden gate said, "So you are going to the well for water, Dick?"

"Yes, sir."

L

"Well, Dick; the woman of Samaria found Jesus Christ at the well."

"Did she, sir?"

"Yes, Dick."

That was enough. A quickening thought had struck into his half-awakened mind. The thought worked; and when he came to the well, he said, within himself, but loud enough to be heard by his Saviour, "Why should not I find Jesus Christ at the well? Oh that I could find Him! Will He come tome?" Yes, his prayer was heard; and Dick returned bearing his full pitcher; but bringing in his heart, too, the joy of which Jesus said, "It shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." From that hour, Dick "left his watering-pot"; and gave himself up to the work of telling his neighbours the story of his conversion at the well, and indeed to the work of preaching Christ, in his way, in discourses marked by strong sense, warm feeling, and stirring appeals to the sinner's conscience and heart. Every faculty of his mind, and all the passions of his soul now seemed to unfold new powers and fresh life. He was verily born again. His memory soon showed marvellous power. To hear a chapter in the Bible, or a hymn read to him, was to know it, and to have power to reproduce it. His new gifts were used for Christ. He went forth as an itinerant evangelist; going without purse or scrip; and through a life-long pilgrimage round and round his native county, and sometimes over the Border, he went everywhere preaching Jesus. He never lacked food or raiment, and when he entered into rest, many, many happy spirits hailed him as the instrument of their salvation from sin and death. He was indeed a pilgrim preacher, rude and unpolished, as some thought, but certainly taught of Christ. The "Pilgrim's Hymn" was always in keeping from his lips. It was his favourite hymn, and every home that welcomed him had its hearth cheered by his music; for he would sit and wave too and fro, and sing, in a way that set forth the elegant simplicity of the lines—

No foot of land do I possess,
No cottage in this wilderness;

A poor wayfaring man,
I lodge awhile in tents below;
Or gladly wander to and fro,

Till I my Canaan gain.

This was his song all through the land of his pilgrimage. And not long ago, followed by the blessings of his generation, the weary old pilgrim departed, to realize the full answer to his last stanza—

Now let the pilgrim's journey end;
Now, O my Saviour, Brother, Friend,
Receive me to Thy breast!