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After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

IX. Church Music

AN OFT-QUOTED REMARK OF CARDINAL MANNING is his observation as he heard a boy whistling 'The Church's One Foundation,' passing the window of the Cardinal's house, "That is the strength of your Church. We haven't, in England, enough Catholic hymns."

After the Tractarians came a flood of hymnody, not all of it good, but much of it valuable as a vehicle of Catholic doctrine, expressed in words which have penetrated into homes where such teaching would otherwise never gain a lodgment. Not only were the ancient Office Hymns translated with wonderful skill by Neale, Caswall and others, but hymns like those of S. J. Stone, Dr. Littledale and Dr. Bright, enshrined definite church teaching in verses which are sung wherever our language is spoken. Dr. Bright's hymn 'And now O Father' is printed in full in Dr. Darwell Stone's little book on The Eucharistic Sacrifice, but not all the stanzas appeared in Hymns Ancient and Modern. This, and 'Once only once' have done more than any number of sermons, tracts or treatises to popularize Eucharistic teaching.

[There was little but metrical psalms for congregations to sing until the early years of the nineteenth century. Bishop Mant of Down and Connor in 1825 anticipated the Tractarians by translating all the hymns of the Latin Breviary, some of his translations being still in use. 'Tate and Brady' was still printed at the end of Prayer Books, and congregations condemned to sing such sorry stuff as:

"Forsook by all am I
As dead and out of mind
And like a shattered vessel lie
Whose parts can ne'er be joined." (Ps. 30)


"Unmoved by good advice and deaf
As adders they remain
From whom the skilful charmer's voice
Can no attention gain." (Ps. 58)]

Dr. Littledale was a protagonist of the Faith who has received less than justice at the hands of posterity. An Irishman with all the characteristics of his race, he was at once devout and learned, genial and combative. His learning--he was a first in classics and a gold medallist of Trinity College, Dublin--made him a redoubtable controversialist, but he was far more than a telling writer of articles. The immense width of his knowledge, as well as the depth of his devotion, is exhibited in his commentary on the Book of Canticles, but it is rather as a hymnologist that we are here concerned with him. He was the principal compiler of The People's Hymnal, issued in 1867. This book was in use, until superseded by Hymns Ancient and Modern, in some of the 'advanced' churches of London, and is an excellent collection of 600 hymns. No music edition was issued with it. Littledale was at the time assistant priest at St. Mary's, Charing Cross Road (or Crown Street, as it was then) and that church was a pioneer of the movement in which Gladstone and many others bore a part. Littledale devoted himself mainly to literature in the later years of his life, writing on many subjects in addition to his theological and ecclesiastical output. He used to assist at St. Michael's, Shoreditch and at the chapel of the Sisters at St. Saviour's Priory, Haggerston, and his house in Red Lion Square was the resort of countless enquirers and perplexed seekers for information on theological problems. As a hymn writer and translator (he translated from seven languages) his compositions are characterized by Dr. Julian as marked by simplicity of diction and deep earnestness, good metre and smooth rhythm.

Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, whose tenure of the see of Lincoln extended from 1869 to 1885 was a hymn writer of varying merit, but some of his hymns will undoubtedly live, e.g. 'See the Conqueror mounts in triumph' and 'Hark the sound of holy voices.' These are doctrinally accurate, admirably lucid, and truly poetical, and have done much to advance the cause of Catholic truth. If his other compositions scarcely reach the same level, it is in part due to the severe limitations which he imposed upon his muse, his method being to write verses upon every phase of the Church's year, invariably conveying the doctrinal teaching appropriate to the season.

The Rev. S. J. Stone was vicar of St. Paul's, Hagger-ston, where his father had preceded him, and there he wrote the majority of his hymns, the best known being 'The Church's one Foundation', 'Round the sacred City' and 'Weary of earth and laden with my sin'. He became rector of All Hallows, London Wall, where he died in the early part of this century. His definite Catholic teaching, combined with a masterly condensation of Scripture facts, entitles him to a high place among writers of sacred verse.

It will be seen that the post-Tractarian era was rich in hymn-writers. The highest place of all undeniably belongs to Dr. Neale. His felicitous translations furnished the backbone of The Hymnal Noted and The People's Hymnal, and he was closely concerned in the compilation of the former volume. The Hymnal Noted appeared in two parts, in 1852 and 1854. It afforded translations of the Latin Office Hymns, by Neale, which were faithful yet not pedantic, though here and there omissions were made on doctrinal grounds. The book was, as Dr. Frere says, "too much of one type for it to earn a lasting position," but the editors endeavoured to rectify this in successive editions, the last of which included many mission hymns. For years it was used in conjunction with the St. Alban's Hymnal at St. Alban's, Holborn, while St. Peter's, London Docks, and other churches continued to use it till recent times. The Sarum melodies were given with these hymns, and people soon began to sing them. The Advent Office Hymn 'Creator of the stars of night' had been printed with its proper melody as far back as 1848 in a publication called The Parish Choir. The first of the more elaborate plainsong melodies to be sung in England was 'Urbs beata' translated by Dr. Irons, a noted High Churchman and sung at the Consecration of St. Barnabas', Pimlico, from small sheets specially printed: it found its way later into The Hymnal Noted. After the first few occasions of its use, the whole congregation joined heartily in it; it was the only hymn sung at the services each day of the octave, for the Tractarians and their successors had no love for hymns which savoured to them of Methodistical doctrine.

The principal Office Hymns and Sequences were given, for which the musical edition provided the proper plain-song melodies. These, though not always given in their authentic forms, proved surprisingly popular, and no one who has heard an East-end congregation sing 'Vexilla regis' or 'Pange lingua' need fear the introduction of these majestic hymns and melodies. Few men have exerted so remarkable an influence upon the Catholic Revival as did John Mason Neale whose comparatively short life (he died at the age of 48) was marked by amazing industry, learning and versatility.

Associated with Neale was Thomas Helmore, precentor of St. Mark's College, Chelsea, whose psalter is still to be found in use, though commonly superseded by the revised edition under the name of Briggs & Frere. Whatever its defects and inaccuracies, Helmore made plain-song thoroughly congregational, and those who can remember the heartiness of the evening services at St. Barnabas', Pimlico, or St. Alban's, Holborn, in the last century are tempted sometimes to sigh for the days before correctness in method had killed congregational singing.

Hymns Ancient and Modern, first issued in 1861, proved an immensely valuable means for "administering popery in homoeopathic doses," as a Protestant lecturer put it! Avoiding the opposite extremes of overloading its pages with Mission hymns on the one hand or mediaeval hymns on the other, it commended itself to Churchmen of all types and has held its own in great numbers of churches, though the 1904 edition has never succeeded in displacing the earlier one. To the Rev. Francis H. Murray, rector of Chislehurst, belongs the credit of initiating Hymns Ancient and Modern. He had issued a small collection of hymns in 1852. His friend Sir H. W. Baker, vicar of Monkland, Herefordshire, was at work on the same lines. Mr. Cosby White, Vicar of St. Barnabas', Pimlico, who had issued a collection of Hymns and Introits was drawn into their counsels, and the first meeting of the committee took place at St. Barnabas' in 1857. They resolved on an advertisement, inviting the co-operation of other editors and compilers. A number of eminent men gave their aid: Upton Richards, Vicar of All Saints', Margaret Street, Thomas Helmore, Sir F. Gore Ouseley, and perhaps the most important, Dr. W. H. Monk who suggested the felicitous title and did a large share of the work. The first edition came out in 1861 containing 273 hymns. In 1868 an edition of 386 followed: in 1875 the book was overhauled and re-issued with rather more emphasis on the 'Modern' than the 'Ancient' element. The later edition in 1889 is, possibly, the one most generally in use, but the 1904 edition represents the most thorough revision of the work. It is interesting to note that Convocation made overtures to the Committee in 1892 to get Hymns Ancient and Modern accepted as the authorized hymnal of the Church of England, but these proposals came to nothing, though from time to time they come to the surface in the course of the proceedings of Convocation or Church Assembly. In 1906 appeared The English Hymnal, the second collection of hymns to bear that title, the first being issued in 1852 by the Rev. T. Johnson, Vicar of St. John's, Waterloo Road, Lambeth. This bids fair to displace all other collections, containing as it does all the worthiest modern words and melodies, together with a representative choice of the liturgical hymns of the ancient Church. It has drawn upon sources hitherto scarcely explored, e.g. the folk-songs of England and the psalm-tunes of Scotland, while the Welsh melodies are an attractive feature, popular with congregations and choirs. It met with a certain amount of suspicion on theological grounds at first, as seeming unduly to emphasize devotion to our Lady and the Saints, but now it may be found in use in many cathedrals and college chapels--and in two instances, at least, we have encountered it in Nonconformist places of worship!

The original edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern had provided for Introits as well as hymns. These dropped out of subsequent issues, and The English Hymnal filled a want by providing the liturgical 'proper'. The complete set of Office hymns was also provided, furnished with the ancient melodies and with modern alternatives, but it was not intended to overload the strictly liturgical side of the book, so a large selection of Mission hymns and others of popular character was included. The opportunity was taken to restore, in many cases, the original forms of words and melodies, to the great gain of congregations who have learnt to appreciate the freshness and vigour of the originals in preference to the stock phrases and commonplace sentiments which too often have been inserted as 'improvements'.

For the sake of completeness mention should be made of The Altar Hymnal, 1884, compiled by Mrs. Hernaman, a gifted writer and translator, and Mr. A. H. Brown whose plainchant psalter is still in use. Mr. Brown, the 'Grand Old Man' of Church musicians, was organist of the parish church, Brentwood, and continued his musical activities till his death at an advanced age a few years ago. The Altar Hymnal was introduced by a preface from the pen of the saintly Canon Carter of Clewer, and was an ambitious attempt to provide the liturgical 'proper' throughout the year, as well as affording a large selection of processional and other hymns. It made little headway, though for its period it was a notable achievement. Similarly The Hymnary, compiled by the Rev. Benjamin Webb for his church of St. Andrew's, Wells Street, then at the height of its musical fame, never gained wide support. Mr. Webb was a great friend of Dr. Neale, and was on the committee of The Hymnal Noted, but his own book was less severe in its adherence to ancient models, the translations of the old hymns being rather in the nature of paraphrases, while the musical portion, under the direction of Sir J. Barnby, avoided plainsong entirely.

No record of the post-Tractarians would be complete without mention of Dr. Dykes, Vicar of St. Oswald's, Durham. Fashions change in Church music, and at the moment Dykes and Stainer are out of favour, but his hymn-melodies have real merit and beauty and some of them, e.g. the familiar tune of 'Holy, holy, holy' will outlast many less tuneful compositions. The story of Dr. Dykes' persecution at the hands of his bishop is a sad one, not unlike that of Dr. Neale. From 1862 to 1876, this devoted priest laboured in a populous parish in Durham, harried by the authorities for the mildest innovations in his conduct of the services. He died in 1876 having enriched the Church by his saintly life and example, as well as by a wealth of melodious compositions for use in the worship of God.

Dr. Dykes serves as a link between the subject of hymns and that of services, for he composed one or two simple settings for the Eucharist, at a time when few were available. A certain number of cathedral choirs had been accustomed to sing the choral portions of the liturgy up to the Creed, but after that, no more was attempted. There is a tradition that Jackson, the celebrated organist of Exeter, used to group the choirboys round the altar to sing the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus as 'anthems' at a late celebration, but these were nowhere else set to music. From the Church Revival has poured a stream of 'Services', some of high musical merit, but most of them somewhat pedestrian and scarcely worthy of the sacred liturgy. Merbecke was sung every Sunday at St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, from its foundation in 1853, the only variety afforded being the singing of Motets by the choir at the Offertory and Communion. Gradually other settings came into use, and a tribute should here be paid to the late Rev. Jas. Baden Powell who did much to raise the level of Church music at the pioneer South London church of St. Paul, Walworth, in the 'seventies. He seems to have been among the first to adapt Continental masses to the English text. These have proved but a doubtful blessing, but it must be owned that the work has been skilfully done, and at such churches as All Saints', Margaret Street and St. Alban's, Holborn, they have been worthily rendered. Whatever the purist may feel about the advisability of employing such operatic settings in ordinary churches, there is no question of the beauty of such a rendering as that of Dvorak's Mass or Beethoven in C in St. Paul's Cathedral on its Patronal Feast, when a perfectly balanced orchestra lends its assistance. Of recent years a new type of Mass music has begun to supplant the florid variety which was found unsuitable except under special conditions. Dr. Charles Woods' Mass in the Phrygian mode is a good example of the type in question, and shows that the Catholic Revival has within it a spring of vitality which is by no means exhausted.

To return to St. Paul's Cathedral, the work of Dean Church and his successor, Dean Gregory, has made a lasting impression upon the Anglican Communion. It was to St. Paul's that the generation of the past half-century looked as the model of what a cathedral should be, and these two great men were exceptionally blessed in the constellation of helpers without whose aid their work could scarcely have achieved the success it attained. Sir John Stainer and his successor, Sir George Martin, developed the musical side of the work, while Dr. Scott Holland succeeded Canon Liddon as the foremost orator of his time. Canon Newbolt brought to the Cathedral a devotional spirit which was not content with the ideal of the cathedral as a setting for great public functions but was concerned to build up a quiet devotional life around it by means of the Amen Court Guild and similar efforts. The lectures and retreats arranged by the St. Paul's Lecture Society were, and are, highly valued by City men, and owe much to his interest and encouragement. Musically and liturgically, St. Paul's reached a high level of excellence under these great men, and the remark of the famous musician Gounod has often been quoted that St. Paul's provided, musically, the most satisfying worship to be found in Europe.

Reflections on the present state of Church music invariably take the form of fault-finding. Nobody writes to the papers to decry our architecture or our stained glass or our Church furnishing (though all are capable of improvement) but everyone criticizes the music of the Church. Yet, looking back over the period which has elapsed since the Tractarian revival of teaching passed into the parochial revival of practice, there is no department in which so much work has been done or so much progress recorded. Our hymns can bear comparison with those of any part of the Church, and we owe them almost entirely to the Catholic Revival. A few such as 'Rock of Ages' must be set to the credit of the Evangelical Movement, but even there the familiar tune which has always accompanied the words is drawn from Catholic sources: it is an adaptation by Redhead, the well-known organist of St. Augustine's, Kilburn, of a Spanish plainsong melody to 'Pange lingua.' The uprising of this spring of poetry and melody was not confined to a few: the number of those who may, without offence, be called 'minor poets' has been enormous. Fr. T. B. Pollock, Dr. F. G. Lee, the Rev. Sir H. W. Baker, the Rev. S. Baring Gould, and many another, wrote hymns which attained more than passing popularity, and perhaps no better example can be given to conclude this survey than that of the late Canon Lacey, whose noble hymn 'O Faith of England' deserves, and has attained, the distinction of being called 'the battle song of the Church'.

Less satisfaction will undoubtedly be felt with those other departments of the Church's music of which mention has been made, but in one respect we have no reason to feel ashamed. The growth of the study and practice of plainchant in the English Church has earned the commendation of authorities of the Latin Church, as well as of musicians owning no allegiance to any religious denomination. The Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society by its labours in the field of research, and the Gregorian Association by its endeavours to promote the practice of plainchant, have deserved well of Churchmen. Their work is by no means at an end. The number of psalters which have set forth the principles of plainsong (Helmore, Doran and Nottingham, A. H. Brown, Ravenscroft and Rockstro, Redhead, Croft, Briggs & Frere and others) have exhibited a progressive attempt to commend its use to choirs and congregations, and the fact that the most recent attempts to recast the 'Anglican Chant' have accepted the principle of free rhythm, shows that much has been learnt in this direction. The revival of 'Gregorian' music can be dated as far back as 1839 when Redhead's Laudes Diurnae was issued: it was used at the old Margaret chapel. In 1849 The Psalter Noted was in use at St. Andrew's, Wells Street and St. Barnabas', Pimlico. This was Mr. Helmore's psalter, and it held the field for many years. St. Andrew's and St. Barnabas' changed places musically, for St. Andrew's became a preserve of Anglican music, while St. Barnabas', after the departure of Gore Ouseley, specialized in plainchant, under the expert guidance of the veteran Dr. Woodward, happily still with us. The English language, it has been proved, can be wedded to the Church's ancient music, and despite experiments and eccentricities, there has been steady advance.

Plainsong was introduced in the Midlands as far back as 1849 by the Rev. F. H. Bennett, of St. John's, Worcester, brother of the better-known W. J. E. Bennett. Here the results were more exciting than gratifying, for Mr. Bennett was fired at by a member of the congregation as he was leaving the vestry! This seems to have been the nearest modern parallel to Saul's throwing the javelin at David, the alleged inventor of 'Gregorian tones'.

There was a flourishing 'plainsong choir' in Dr. Oldknow's parish of Holy Trinity, Bordesley, in 1865, anditwas this body of enthusiastic Church people which brought Fr. James Pollock from London to take up mission work in Birmingham. Psalms were sung to 'Gregorian tones' at the Consecration of St. Saviour's, Leeds, in 1845.

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