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English Congregational Hymns in the Eighteenth Century

English Congregational Hymns in the Eighteenth Century

Madeleine Forell Marshall
Janet Todd
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    English Congregational Hymns in the Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    Historians of the English congregational hymn, focusing on its literary or theological aspects, have usually found the genre out of step with the rationalist era that produced it. This book takes a more balanced approach to the work of four writers and concludes that only eighteenth-century Britain, with its understanding of public verse, common truth, and the utility of poetry, could have invented the English hymn as we know it.

    The early hymns sought to inspire, teach, stir, and entertain congregations. The essential purpose shifted slightly in line with each poet's setting and in accord with the poetic thought of his day. For Isaac Watts's Independents, powerful traditional imagery was appropriate. Charles Wesley's enthusiasm proceeded from and served the spirit of the revival. John Newton's prophetic vision particularly suited the impoverished community at Olney. William Cowper's masterful handling of formal conventions and his idiosyncratic personal hymns reflect his poetic, rather than clerical, vocation.

    Despite such temporal variations, the great poetry by each man displays themes of general Christian relevance, suggesting common experience, showing normative features of the genre, and bearing a complex and intriguing relationship to secular literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6175-4
    Subjects: Music, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. I The Congregational Hymn: Requirements & Resources
    (pp. 1-27)

    The congregational hymn as it came into being in the eighteenth century is a highly distinctive type of religious poetry, easily recognized by the metrical limits within which the hymn writer labored and by the short lines and stanzaic repetition required of congregational song. Despite such instant formal recognizability of hymns as hymns, the scholar who attempts a simple definition of the genre in terms of either its purpose or its content encounters immediate difficulty, the result of the varied uses to which hymns were put and the many different subjects and spiritual states that hymns were designed to treat....

  4. II Isaac Watts’s Divine Delight
    (pp. 28-59)

    The acceptance of hymns for congregational use, necessary for the establishment of the hymn tradition, depended on a departure from the principle, formulated by Calvin and upheld by the Reformed churches, that Christian song must confine itself to biblical texts, the proper piety of which was guaranteed by divine revelation. Someone had to write hymns that could overcome this resistance. Ideally the champion of hymns would belong to a denomination unbound by church hierarchy, with its need to be persuaded. He would be a man of irreproachable piety, who would speak with authority of the devotional life. And he would...

  5. III Charles Wesley: Self, Sense, & the Revival
    (pp. 60-88)

    John Wesley regarded the movement he had led as involving enlightenment of the spirit and understanding, encompassing sense and poetry, and the hymns of his brother as evangelical tools, performing the work of conversion essential to religious revival. In 1757, after twenty successful years, he could write of Methodist singing:

    When it is seasonable to sing praise to GOD they do it with the spirit and with the understanding also; not in the miserable, scandalous doggerel of Hopkins and Sternhold, but in psalms and hymns which are both sense and poetry, such as would sooner dispose a critic to turn...

  6. IV John Newton, Olney Prophet
    (pp. 89-118)

    The title of theOlney Hymns,in its “local habitation,” suggests the characteristics of John Newton’s best work. These are the hymns that convey the exciting adventure of Christian life, both the individual daily variety and existence in its larger eschatological frame, and demonstrate Newton's compassionate understanding of the perfect suitability of the Gospel message to his poor, struggling singers. A new kind of hymn, essentially simpler if no easier to write, was devised for a setting and a time in which neither the theatrical tableaux and devotional sensibility of Watts nor the revivalistic enthusiasm of Wesley was appropriate. While...

  7. V William Cowper: Exemplary Tradition & the Loss of Control
    (pp. 119-146)

    William Cowper was considered a “maniacal Calvinist” by Lord Byron and a “poet of the fields” by John Clare, a difference of opinion that suggests the complex diversity of Cowper’s large poetic oeuvre. Lines written during a period of tormented insanity, a poem likeThe Castaway,expressing extteme despair of Calvinist election, and poetic accounts of Wordsworthian walks in the countryside find their places among pleasant occasional, satiric, and moral poems perfectly unextraordinary in tenor and expression. Given this variety, the relationship of Cowper’s sixty-sevenOlney Hymnsto his later and more famous work is difficult to determine. Understanding of...

  8. VI Conclusion
    (pp. 147-166)

    THIS STUDY of representative hymn writers cannot yield authoritative conclusions about the development of the hymn tradition. Too much material has necessarily been omitted; too many writers and hymns of different and important denominational traditions, particularly the Presbyterians and the Baptists, have been ignored. Moreover, we cannot view the sequence of chapters above as a true progression. To some extent, each writer knew and expanded upon or reacted to the work of his predecessors, but the different historical circumstances and theological principles under which each contributor labored were equally influential, and to a limited degree each writer had to reinvent...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 167-176)
  10. Index
    (pp. 177-181)