FATHER FABER S HYMNS.
All Father Faber's works are struck in the same key. A unity of thought and feeling pervades everything this gifted soul penned. There is an undercurrent of purpose moving along in silence, but with irresistible force, collecting and harmonizing the vast wealth of thought and imagery that floats through his richly-endowed mind, till it asserts itself in a powerful effort to lift man up out of the plane of his fallen human nature into the sphere of the supernatural, and to place him nearer his God by bringing heaven and earth together in a closer bond of union. Faber's merit and the chief excellence of his writings consist in this: that he deals with man in his relations with the Creator and with the channels of grace established by the Creator—not as though God and His sacraments and His redemption were outside of him, or existences far away from his own existence, but rather as an inseparable part and parcel of the vast system of relations in which his being is merged. He has made us feel that grace and redemption are as intimately blended with our spiritual life as is the air we breathe with our physical organism. He has brought home to us the truth that all men are bound up in their influence and their action for time and eternity. He has thus raised up the popular intelligence a degree nearer the theological manner of looking at things. He has placed the material and spiritual world under a new aspect. It is one in which the severer and more sombre views of life are mellowed by a cheerfulness and a contentment and a hope ihat diffuse themselves through one's soul and make one resolve upon taking a fresh start towards the goal of saintliness. He does not ignore any of the realities of life. All its miseries enter into his calculations; hut he does not, like the older spiritual writers, make them the hurden of his thoughts. He sees sin and its consequences; he notes crime, and folly, and wickedness; he looks with unflinching eye down the depths of degradation into which fallen humanity plunges; but he also watches souls struggling nobly and manfully upward and onward, surrounded by an infinite world of mercy; he sees sunshine everywhere, and the music of nature and the music of love reverberate through his soul; and in the beauties of earth, and the beauties of moral action, and the beauties of truth, he catches glimpses of the Beauty ever ancient and ever new, and reflects It from his glowing page. And the glamour of his own poetic nature occasionally makes more sunshine than there really is. For Father Faber is a poet first and a theologian after.
From the outset of his literary career, Faber's poetical talent was recognized. When he announced to Wordsworth his intention of taking a curacy in the Anglican Church, the poet remarked: "I do not say you are wrong; but England loses a poet."* Be it so. England has lost a poet; the Anglican Church afterwards, in losing him, lost one of its most zealous ministers; but, at the same time, Catholics throughout the English-speaking world, in gaining him, gained one of the sweetest singers of the Church's mysteries, her sacraments, her saints, her ceremonies and her glories. A man of exquisite delicacy of feeling and generous impulse and continuous elevation of thought, the poet embodied in his book of Hymns the flowering of all the
*Life and Letters of Frederick William Faber. Bowden, p. 173. sublime enootions and visions that passed over his heart and mind. These Hymns represent in their heavenward aspiration and spiritualizing tendency, the poet's eminently Christian spirit and deep concern for his soul's salvation. So beautifully does he sing at times that it would seem as though in him heaven and earth came nigh, and he heard the waves of time as they pulsed on the shore of eternity. And he does it all with the purple of making truth and virtue sink more deeply into the hearts of those who listen to his sweet words. He was not unmindful of the power of song. He had read and noted what a large factor it was in sowing Arianism broadcast. He had witnessed the effects of Wesley's Hymns upon the people of Wales and Cornwall. He therefore started the practice of the singing of hymns in the Oratory. Time has proved the wisdom of this step. Several of the hymns contained in the present volume are echoed Sunday after Sunday, and feast-day alter feast-day, in churches throughout all parts of the world in which the English language is spoken. And very often the thousands into whose hearts they have sunk, are ignorant of the source from which they welled forth!
These Hymns are well calculated to give food for reflection on all the phases of the spiritual life. They open a new world of thought, and they assert truth in a manner so striking and so beautiful that they leave a lasting impression on the reader. For the soul rising: above the material, and making a study of the spiritual life, and anxiously striving to ascend the rugged path of religious perfection these Hymns are invaluable. Their subjectiveness makes them all the more attractive. They are the expression of a pure heart and an enlightened mind. They are the inner thoughts of a man of God. They are the music of a soul highly and delicately strung, over whom every wave of grace sweeps in harmony and awakens love, and in whom love seeks fitting words for the yearnings of the heart.
"New passions are waking within me,
New passions that have not a name;
Divine truths that I knew but as phantoms
Stand up clear and bright in the flame."
So sang the poet, in one of his most admired pieces, upon the effect of music on his soul. It describes the inner workings of that same soul beneath the more mysterious music of poetry as stirred up by the movements of grace and the visions of religious life in all its phases.
There is one work especially with which the Hymns will bear comparison. It is the Christian Year. Both frequently deal with the same subjects. Both are intended to promote piety and devotion. Both are based on the principle that" next to a sound rule of faith, there is nothing of so much consequence as a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion."* The authors of both were intimate friends and mutual admirers. They were devoted students of Wordsworth's poetry and imbibed some of what was best in that great poet's genius and spirit. But, both Keble and Faber soared into higher regions than were within the range of Wordsworth's muse. Whilst recognizing with the latter the power and influence, the loveliness and grandeur of Nature and its intimate blending with man throughout the whole sphere of his life; whilst distinguishing back of the mere material form the more spiritual ideal under
* Christian Year. Pref. p. iii.
lying that form; whilst acknowledging each with the patriarch of Nature-seers that—
"Beauty—a living Presence of the earth,
Surpassing the most fair ideal Forms
Which craft of delicate Spirits hath composed
From earth's materials—waits upon my steps;
Pitches her tents before me as I move,
An hourly neighbor"
above and beyond all this—and not dissevered from it but intimately connected with it, they saw the world of grace which is the complement and perfection of the world of Nature. And beautifully, indeed, is Nature, in the hymns of both poets, made the framework of some grand spiritual truth. Not Nature, cold and abstract as read in books or drawn in fancy, but the living, palpitating Nature that they met face to face, and that, poetlike, they conversed with, till its form, its beauty and its expression sank into their minds and inflamed their imaginations. Keble, for instance, is reading Spenser under shelter of a rock; the winds are sighing around him; but their voice has entered his heart and their music echoes through his fancy, and the whole scene he sets, in one of his hymns, in these delightful verses:
"Lone Nature feels that she may freely breathe,
And round us and beneath
Are heard her sacred tones; the fitful sweep
Of winds across the steep,
Through withered bents—romantic note and clear
Meet for a hermit's ear." *
Faber takes up his abode at Cotton Hall. "Standing at a considerable elevation on the north-east side of a
* Christian Year, the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity. The late Robertson of Brighton considered these lines the best in the Christian Year. See Keble's Life, by Sir J. Col«ridge.
deep valley, the lower part of which was filled with thick wood, it looked across to the opposite bank, crowned by a clump of Scotch firs." * The scenery ot the place grew into Faber's fancy. And so we find the lawn, the spring, the garden-plots, the thyme and the lilacs have all been transferred into one of those sweet and simple rhymes which the poet so well knew how to weave for children:
"See! the sun beyond the hill
Is dipping, dipping down
Bight above that old Scotch fir,
Just like a golden crown.
Children! quick, and come with me,
Handfuls of cowslips bring,
Hawthorn bright with boughs of white,
And inayflowers from the spring.
Lucy has fresh shoots of thyme
From her own garden plot:
Jacob's lilac has been stripped—1
A gay and goodly lot I" f
In thus making the nature of sense a vestibule to the world of spirit both poets not only learned, but improved upon, the lessons of their master in the poetic art. But their points of divergence are no less striking than those of resemblance. Not always is Faber as polished as Keble. He throws off lines and stanzas that seem weak and prosy by side of his better efforts. The poem is made heavy by their presence. True also is it that in reading Keble one is sometimes struck by the effort, almost painful, to give unity to the poem; but still, the whole presents a finish as smooth as an exquisite mosaic.
There pervade the Christian Year a uniformity of tone and a unity of design that are lacking in the Hymns.
* Life and Letters, p. 300.
t Hymns, No. 92. Flowers for the Altar, p. 311.
And while both works show art-power, Keble's is the more sustained, inasmuch as he makes the whole series of his compositions subordinate to the spirit of the Anglican Prayer Book. Faber writes with more freedom and desultoriness. His verses possess more warmth, fire and energy. He sings of holy things in a spirit of familiarity that is born of an intimate union with God. He is impatient with those who fear to love God too much. "It is so grand," he says writing to a nun, "to be allowed to say daring words to our dearest, dearest Lord."* And in one of his sweetest and simplest hymns he thus alludes to the puritanical coldness of the forms of worship outside the Church:
"The solemn face, the downcast eye,
The words constrained and cold,—
These are the homage, poor at best
Of those outside the fold.
They know not how our God can play
The Babe's, the Brother's part;
They dream not of the ways He has
Of getting at the heart." |
Now though there was no coldness in Keble's own religion, still he wrote with a deference that is sometimes painful. One feels that he has the whole truth in his grasp, but he trembles to say it. He is writing for readers whom he knows to be disposed rather to sit in judgment on him than to receive his beautiful Christian lessons with the docility of learners and disciples. His genius, his heart, his poetic inspiration, all impel him to give full and free utterance to that which is in him; but there is the cold and stern face of Anglicanism constantly before his eyes, holding up to his view her
* Life and Letters, p. 432. t Tiue Love, No. 117, p. 381.
standard of respectable devotion and negative teaching— and forcing him to strain the sense of a Scripture text, and to put footnotes of explanation, even of apology.* No such hampering thought weighs down the genius of Faher. He not only sings with a freedom and s familiarity that are the outcome of prayer and piety, but he sings for Catholics who know not the stranger's reserve in their Father's House. What, for instance, can be more touching than the verses giving the poet's childhood impressions of God ?—
"They bade me call Thee Father, Lord!
Sweet was the freedom deemed,
And yet more like a mother's ways
Thy quiet mercies seemed.
I could not sleep unless Thy Hand
Were underneath uiy head,
That I might kiss it, if I lay
Wakeful upon my bed." f
In his hymns commemorating the saints, the poet makes them our companions; he strikes the bonds of harmony and unison between them and us; his words inspire confidence in them. And we feel the intimate union there is between heaven and earth. But it is in speaking of the Queen of Saints that the glow in his heart especially shines in his verses. Some of his best and strongest flights are in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His devotion to her is unbounded. He knows that such great love is displeasing to those of his fellow
*See, for instance, Hymn for Christmas Day, in which the authcr apologizes for using the Catholic Vulgute version of the Gloi in in excchis Deo.
t No. 11. The God of my Childhood, p. 55.
men outside the Church. But hear how beautifully he pleads his case:
"Bat scornful men have coldly said
Thy love was leading me from God;
And yet in this I did but tread
The very paths my Saviour trod.
They know but little of thy worth
Who speak these heartless words to me;
For what did Jesus love on earth
One half so tenderly as thee ?" *
* Hymns. No. 38, p. 155. There has been published in New York (E. P. Dutton & Co.) an edition of Faber's hymns, mutilated, marred and distorted for the benefit of those hating the sweet name of Mary. Poems are given as Faber's, with stanzas omitted and lines changed, without the least indication. Now, a poem can no more be cut up without destroying its beauty and its effect than can a picture or a statue. Let us take an instance to show how far the iconoclastic tendency of the non-Catholic editor has carried him. We turn to the poem on the Descent of the Holy Ghost. In the first stanzas the poet represents the Blessed Virgin Mary as the central figure in the Upper Boom:
"She sat: beneath her shadow were
The Chosen of her Son;
Within each heart and on each face
Her power and spirit shone."
The mutilated version omits nine such stanzas at the beginning, and all in order to eliminate the name of her most blessed among women. But in the tenth, with which this version opens, the allusion to her becomes unintelligible, and makes one think that the poet scarcely knew his own mind:
His uncreated freshness fills
His bride as she adores.
Now, the omitted stanzaB make it plain that Mary is the bride here meant. But prejudice can go to a depth still deeper. It can place in the mouth of the elegant Faber such English as this:
"One moment—and the spirit hung
O'er them with dread desire;
Then broke upon the heads of all
In cloyen tongues of fire."
But the class of poems in tliis volume that, perhaps, will give most universal satisfaction is that dealing with the spiritual life in all its moods and phases. Faber had intimate acquaintance with the human heart. Its inmost folds were all familiar to him. There was
When the poet said (hem, he said all. That is a piece of tautology of which Faber could never have been guilty. Nor did he ever write it. Mary being the central figure, the poet pictured the Holy Spirit first hanging over her "with dread desire," and then breaking upon the heads of all:
One moment—and the Spirit hung
O'er her with djead deyire;
Then broke upon the heads of all
In cloven tongues of fire.
This stanza says quite another thing from the version given. Nor is this all. Still another specimen of prejudice's patchwork. Here is the distorted stanza:
Those tongues still speak within the Church,
That Fire is undecayed.
Its well-spring was the Upper Room,
Wliere the disciples met and prayed.
Note the discord in the last line. It spoils the whole stanza. Nothing could be weaker. It is so different from Faber's usual clear-cut style. What he did write was this:
Its well-spring was the Upper Room,
Where Mary sat and prayed.
This last line gives unity and beauty to the whole poem; for it brings the imagination back to the point from which the reader started.
Here, then, is a single poem, mutilated beyond recognition, nearly half of it omitted, stanzas altered in such a manner as to mar the beauty of the whole; and the poem still given as the author's own. And this is only one among many such in the book under notice. We are sure that taking such unwarranted liberties with the poet, is as offensive to the sense of literary propriety of Protestants, as it is insulting to the religious feelings of Catholics. To impose such pinchbeck alloy as the author's pure gold, is a piece of charlatanism unworthy of a publishing firm of respectable standing.
not a pulse of its beating that he did not know how to interpret. His pathos could strike its most tender chords.* His insight could reach its most hidden recesses.f And he not only knew its weaknesses, but, skilful physician of souls that he was, he knew also how to apply the remedy to all its ailments and diseases. Then, his treatment is always soothing and encouraging. He invariably presents the bright side of things. He loves to bask in the sunshine of God's mercies; even God's justice has in his eyes a kindness of its own:
"There's a wideness in God's mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth's failings
Have such kindly judgment given." f
These Hymns have a place in the study of our spiritual progress. They give shape to our religious sentiments and make palpable the vague yearnings of our soul; they elevate our views of heavenly subjects; they refine our grosser conceptions of the truths and mysteries of our Faith; they instil into our hearts au undertone of Christian music. They are a sweet perfume exhaled from the saintly life of a favored soul.
Rock Hill College,
May 1, 1880.
* See, for instance, that pathetic poem on the death of a child. No. 146, p. 488.
t See No. 143, p. 474.
JNo. 102. Come to Jesus. W'th this poem contrast the rigid doctrine of Keble ° the Hymn for the second Sunday in Lent. AUTHOR'S PREFACE
do i\t Jonbon dbition of 1861.
The present collection of Hymns was first published in 1848, at Derby, and sold largely both in England and Ireland. It consisted then of a very few Hymns. It appeared again in London in 1849, very much enlarged, and under the title of "Jesus and Mary." The thousand copies were sold; and in 1852 a fresh edition, still further enlarged, containing sixty-six hymns, was published. The edition consisted of ten thousand copies. This was followed in 1854 by another edition, called "The Oratory Hymn Book," and containing seventy-seven Hymns. This omitted some of the previous Hymns, and gave only select verses of others; but it also contained many which were altogether new. Moreover, at the request of a publisher, a penny Hymn Book, a selection from the others, was published, and sold largely, under the title of "Hymns for the People." Since then leave has been given to the compilers of about a score of Hymn Books to reprint several of these Hymns in their collections.
Thus at the present time there is no single book which contains all the Hymns. Moreover, the different compilers oi other Hymn Books have themselves, often with permission, sometimes without, altered the language or metre or choruses of the Hymns^ either to suit their own taste, or to accommodate them to particular tunes. In one instance the doctrine has been changed, and the Author is made to express an opinion' with which he is quite out of sympathy. In many cases the literary or metrical changes have not been such as met the Author's own judgment and taste. Nevertheless Hymns are purely practical things, and he was only too glad that his compositions should be of any service, and he has in no one instance refused either to Catholics or Protestants the free use of them: only in the case of Protestants he has made it a rule to stipulate, wherever an opportunity has been given him, that, while omissions might be made, no direct alterations should be attempted. Hence he wishes to say that he is not responsible for any of the Hymns in any other form, literary or doctrinal, than that in which they appear in this Edition.
This is a perfect collection of the Hymns, the only one; but it contains also an addition of fifty-six new Hymns, fulfilling with tolerable accuracy his original conception of what the Hymn Book should be and should contain. It is published in its present sb ipe, not only as the Author's text and as a library edition, matching the 1857 edition of his Poems, by.t chiefly as xvi