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ment seems to have been universal, for all nations acquainted either with religion or verse, have had songs in honour of the powers and attributes of their divinities. The poetry of the classical ages was closely allied to the national mythology, the choral song occupied a prominent place in the religious ceremonials of the Greeks; not merely did the individual poet recite the praises of the god, in the hearing of the people, but the whole multitude of worshippers in the pagan temple, joined in the strain. Judea was, however in ancient times the special scene of sacred song; sounds of celestial harmony floated in its skies, heard by the Bethlehem shepherds, when the Saviour of the world was born; and in the temple, which, from Moriah's height overlooked its capital, poetry laid down its happiest effusions, and music its most captivating melodies, at the altars of the Lord of Hosts. The timbrel of Miriam, and the harp of David, were attuned to the harmony of religious verse; and both when Israel dwelt in tents in the wilderness, and in the strongholds and fenced cities of Canaan, an attachment to the “ voice of joy and praise,” was one of their national attributes.
There are some well meaning people in the present day, who look with suspicion and instinctive horror upon any thing like poetical embellishment in a religious offering; who would have hymns made of orthodox devout prose, cut up into shreds and patches, and jingled at the ends; whose ideas have no communion with anything less literal than some such strain as
“ Had I the tongues of Greeks and Jews,
And nobler speech than angels use,
Like tinkling brass, an empty sound.” Such deserve pity, perhaps, rather than blame. It is owing to the character of the individual mind that they do not judge righteous judgment," in this matter: they are incapable, by their mental constitution, of entertaining the deep, refined, and exalted feelings which belong to the true spirit of poetry; they have no fancy, no imagination, no passion; and just as the blind man is insensible to beauty, and the deaf man to music, so are they whom nature has made essentially prosaic, incapable either of understanding or loving the poetic. With these persons it is in general useless to argue, further than by reminding them, that of all hymns that ever embodied devout feeling and sentiment, those which were chaunted beneath Zion's fane, are the most gorgeously embellished by the imagination. It was in poetry, in its true sense, that Moses, on the banks of the Red Sea, celebrated the praises of Jehovah, for the wonderful deliverance of his people ; it was in poetry, highly impassioned and boldly figurative, that the Psalmists poured forth the holy and grateful emotions of their bosoms; it was in poetry, in which Hermon's snow, and Sharon's roses, and Lebanon's crest of cedars are introduced, that the Jewish worshippers gave utterance to the piety of the heart; and, above all, it was poetry that inspiration selected as a chosen vehicle to communicate the sublime lessons of revealed truth. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” If poetry and religion have been united at the instigation and under the express sanction of the Almighty, let us be careful to respect and strengthen the union; and while profane men may abuse the gift and faculty divine, and prostitute it to the service of an idol's temple, and thus render it an instrument of evil, be it our part to bring it back to the sanctuary of the Lord, to employ it in honour of its rightful proprietor, that it may be consecrated to a benignant purpose.
The Saviour himself set an example to his followers of singing hymns. On the evening antecedent to his death, amid the solemnity of the Last Supper, he sung a hymn with his disciples—the Hallel, consisting of six psalms; but probably the word úvýourtes, may merely mean a kind of recitative reading, or chaunting. The primitive Christians trod, in this respect, in the footsteps of their Master. When Peter and John were delivered from the council, the second Psalm appears to have been sung by the multitude, or repeated with some considerable inflexion of the voice. In the Corinthian church, in the time of the Apostle Paul, we are told that each one “had a psalm ;” the seventy-third is said to have been the morning, and the one hundred and forty-first the evening psalm of the early Christians. The songs of Elizabeth, of Mary, and of Zacharias, were also in use at an early period, and the “hymn of victory,” in the Apocalypse, “Great and marvellous are thy works,” the “ Alleluia,” being generally added as an accompaniment. Sidonius Apollinaris relates that the Alleluia was frequently sung by the Christian sailors on the Saone :
Curvorum hinc chorus helciariorum
Ad Christum levat amnicum celeusma. At the close of the first century, or the commencement of the second, Pliny speaks of the Christians meeting together on a stated day, before it was light, to “sing a hymn to Christ as God.” Tertullian, in the third century, speaks of singing psalms as a part of the public worship of the church; and Origen, a little later, speaks of singing psalms and hymns to the Father in Christ, in melody, metre, and vocal concert.
The first hymns of the Christian church, were doubtless principally taken from that rich legacy of devotional poetry bequeathed to it by the Jewish; yet it is certain that uninspired productions were used in the public services in the second century. Several of the fathers sought to edify their flocks, and to aid their devotions, by their compositions. In the west, Hilary of Poictiers presented his church with a collection of hymns, and the Milanese Christians, about the same period, were accustomed to assemble at night, to chaunt those composed by their bishop, Ambrose. Augustine describes the effect produced upon him by the Milan psalmody : “ The hymns and songs of the church moved my soul intensely ; the truth was distilled by them into my heart; the flame of piety was kindled, and my tears flowed for joy. This practice of singing had been of no long standing at Milan. It began about the year when Justin persecuted Ambrose. The pious people watched in
the church, prepared to die with their pastor. There my mother sustained an eminent part in watching and praying. Then hymns and psalms, after the manner of the east, were sung, with a view of preserving the people from weariness; and thence the custom has spread through Christian churches.”
Many hymns were written by Prudentius, a soldier, poet, and Christian, in Spain, some of which were used by the Church of Rome, and have still a place in her breviaries. The Hymnus Epiphanie has been much and justly admired; it was used at the matin service on Innocents' Day, the subject being a congratulation of the innocents massacred by Herod :
Salvete, flores martyrum,
Hail, infant martyrs, new-born victims, hail!
Hail, earliest flowrets of the Christian spring !
The cruel sword such havoc dared to fling.
First tender lambs upon the altar laid,
And sported gaily with the murderous blade.
This load of crime that on thy conscience lies?
Now mocks thy malice, and thy power defies.
Drank the red torrents of that carnage wild;
The hand of murder spared the Virgin's child !
And to the Father, and the Holy Ghost;
By saints on earth, and by the heavenly host.
It is a long step from the Latin poet of Spain to the first great hymnist of England from the reign of Honorius to that of Annefrom Saragossa to Southampton—but the limits within which this article must be confined, oblige us to overlook the interval. And in reality, previous to the appearance of Dr. Watts, the hymnology of the church, especially in our own country, was singularly barren and defective. The miserable ditties of Sternhold and Hopkins were sung in the churches, and the equally bald and unpoetical versions of the Psalms by Patrick and Rouse, were employed in the dissenting congregations. Rouse's version was revised and amended under the direction of the Westminster Assembly, and Parliament authorised its Psalms to be used in public worship: in 1673, it was adopted by the Dissenters, under the sanction of Dr. Owen and others, who published an edition of it. How flat and prosaic do David's strains become in the hands of Rouse, though the following is as good a specimen of his work, as any that could be selected :
“ Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
And staff, me comfort still.
But God doth fail me never :
And portion for ever.
My spirit, for thou art he,
That hath redeemed me."
The great Milton had tried his hand at the Psalms, but had failed - Bishop Renn and Addison had written a few incomparable hymns - but not until Watts had attempted sacred song, were there any compositions adapted for congregational use. Then arose a master in Israel.* We know not what were the strains employed in the dissenting congregation at Southampton, when Watts was a mere boy; but the offence they gave to his refined taste and critical ear, first suggested the idea of his attempting to produce something better. In rapid succession, far too rapid, perhaps, for his fame, hymn after hymn appeared, and gradually did they supplant the old
* In a letter of Cowper, addressed to his friend Mr. Newton, and which Dr. Southey has given to the public in the fifteenth volume of the Life and Works of the poet, the following estimate of Dr. Watts occurs :
“ Dr. Watts was, if I am in any degree a judge of verse, a man of true poetical ability ; careless, indeed, for the most part, and inattentive too often to those niceties which constitute elegance of expression, but frequently sublime in his conceptions, and masterly in his execution. Pope, I have heard, had placed him once in the Dunciad; but on being advised to read before he judged him, was convinced that he deserved other treatment, and thrust somebody's blockhead into the gap, whose name, consisting of a monosyllable, happened to fit it.”-p. 92. VOL. I. N.S.
rugged and inharmonious couplets, in the worship of the Noneonformists. Not until the light of eternity shall be poured upon the now dark passages of human life, will the amount of good be known, of which Watts has been the instrument. In the hands of God, his hymns have been the means of improving the religious experience, and increasing the spiritual enjoyments of his people-among the churches of the congregational order, at home and abroad, they form an outward and visible bond of union-and notwithstanding the host of labourers, who have since crowded into the field, which he may be said to have discovered, some of them of no mean note, the hymne book of Watts, including his psalms and spiritual songs, as a devotional standard and a metrical ritual, has not been surpassed.
High as we hold the merits of Watts, justly as we conceive him to deserve the title of the first and best of christian hymnists, we must confess that we have never yet seen the propriety of continuing his book in use, in the exact state he left it. It wants abridgment, for many of the psalms and hymns are obviously unfit to be sung, and consequently never are sung, except where the psalmody is left solely to the management of some intractable clerk ; it wants alteration also, for in not a few of those hymns that should be retained, there are many things repugnant to the sense of propriety, the purer taste, and the more enlightened orthodoxy of the day. We allude more particularly to defective views of the atonement-representations of the divine nature as in a state of furious excitement against our race, and this tempest of passion being calmed down by the Saviour's interposition-a notion which, if we credit our good name, as holding the faith delivered to the saints, we should not suffer for a moment longer to remain in any public manual of devotion. There are other alterations of a verbal character, such as the omission of offensive epithets, and the adoption, in some instances, of more appropriate rhymes, which would materially improve many of these fine compositions. But the question hitherto has been, who is conpetent to remedy the defects and remove the blemishes, which all who are able to judge confess and feel-it has been supposed to be a task too delicate and formidable for any mere earthly genius to execute-such appears to be the opinion of the late accomplished editor of the Eclectic, at least if the first article in the October number of last year is rightly attributed to him. Such, we frankly avow, is not our judgment of the matter-we are not for taking Watts to pieces, and recasting him, for, generally speaking, the hymn is not worth preserving which requires such treatment-we are not for imitating the example of our American brethren, who have used the scalping knife with all the mercilessness of their neighbours in the back settlements-all we wish to see accomplished lies within the compass, we were going to say, of any man of ordinary pretensions to poetry and taste. In the article of the Eclectic referred to, John Wesley is condemned for the liberties he took with the hymns he transposed from Watts into his own collectionnow these liberties are precisely the alterations which meet our views --and sincerely do we wish that a larger number had received revi.