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rather than didactic, because the warm inspirations of the heart, and not the cool deductions of the intellect, are its province. Ascriptions of thanksgiving and praise to God, the breathings of filial desire and confidence, the cheering influence of hope, the tremblings of self-distrust and religious fear, “peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," and all the strong feelings which are called forth in a world of conflict and expectation, belong to this department of poetry. Any thing and every thing which pertains to devotion and christian experience, may furnish a subject for spiritual song.
And yet, notwithstanding these well-defined limits, which nature itself has fixed to Lyric Poetry, there are hundreds of Hymns, in our language, which can never be sung to any, good effect, because their subject-matter is foreign to this kind of writing. They can, from their very nature, neither inspire religious emotion, nor become the channels of this emotion already inspired. They contribute to extinguish rather than to kindle up, the holy flame. They are good sermons, but poor songs. This fault in the choice of subjects, is much more rarely to be met with in secular than spiritual odes; and the same may be said in relation to the music by which they are accompanied. The reasons of this may not, perhaps, be easily detected. It cannot be for a moment admitted, that revealed religion is unfruitful in themes. If nature may be sung, why not nature's God? If creation can inspire the lyric bard, why not redemption, with its brighter glories, and its more enduring interests ? If earth has its raptures, why should heaven be poor, and powerless, and without a song? If great and good men who have lived and acted and died, have, by their virtues or heroism, called forth the finest and sweetest tones of the Lyre, why should the praises of the only Great and Good, who lives in his own immortality, and whose wondrous acts are recorded for the admiration of all worlds, sleep in silence and be forgotten? It may be worthy of remark in this place, that few poets of the first order have ever tried their pinions in this upper sky; but when they have, and selected an appropriate theme, they have showed that the waters of Zion can impart a purer inspiration than the fabled Castalian spring.
If the province of Lyric Poetry is to inspire and express emotion, then no Psalm or Hymn can answer the true purpose of christian worship unless it breathes the appropriate spirit. Its execution, as well as its subject, must be lyric. It may be rhyme, and not poetry. It may be poetry, and yet not be adapted to singing. Heroics can
never, with any advantage, be set to music. A Hymn, whether it respects God, our fellow-beings, or ourselves, should be the effusion of the heart, and that heart under proper influences-melted and dissolved by just such cmotions as suit the condition described, or the occasion for which the song is intended. The language should be simple; the images striking, but not gau'y; the figures unincumbered; the sentences uninvolved and short; the structure free from all anbiguity; the whole style and manner chaste, and not loaded with ornament or epithet; and the stanzas, and even lines, express, as far as practicable, a complete idea. In one word, it must be poetry, and lyric poetry, or it will chill the native inspirations of song, and defeat the great end of this part of worship.
A IIymn should possess unity of design, and simplicity in execution. One great object should be aimed at, and every thought and expression should be rendered subservient to this. The piece should be one, tending to a single end, and terminating in one grand impression. One of the first poets of the present age, and one who has written many excellent IIymns too, has described this property so well, that we cannot forbear transcribing his language, as more appropriate than any thing that we can say. “The reader," he says, “should know when the strain is complete, and be satisfied, as at the close of an air in music; while defects and superfluities should be felt by him as annoyances, in whatever part they might occur. The practice of many good men, in framing Hymns, has been quite the contrary: They have begun apparently with the only idea in their mind at the time; another, with little relationship to the former, has been forced upon them by a refractory rhyme; a third became necessary to eke out a verse, a fourth to begin one; and so on, tils having compiled a sufficient number of stanzas of so many lines, and lines of so many syllables, the operation has been suspended.".
As every Sacred Song should have a subject of its own, and form a regular production, having a beginning, a middle and an end, so it should be adapted, in its length, to the purpose of singing. Important as this thought is, it has been greatly overlooked by the writers of Hymns, and the compilers of Books for the use of the sanctuary. The very best authors are not free from this fault. In one volume now before uis of no mean pretensions, hymns may be found of eight, ten and twelve stanzos; and one occurs of eight stanzas of eight lines each, Long Metremaking sixty-four lines; and this Hymn, the author tells us in the preface, “is considerably abridged from the
original.” Various expedients have been resorted to both by authors and compilers, in order to remedy this evil. Here and there a stanza is included in brackets, and pauses are introduced into the middle, or other parts of the production-thus marring the beauty of the page, and often destroying the connection, and always impairing the unity of the piece. The better way, no doubt, is to reduce every Psalm or Hymn, designed for public worship, to a convenient length for this purpose, by rejecting those stanzas which are redundant, which are deficient in lyric spirit, and which destroy the unity of design. There are few long Hymns, in our language, which will not be sufficiently shortened by the application of the above rule. Some of a popular character, and, as it regards portions of them, of standard merit, may be reduced to two or three stanzas; but this is not objectionable, as we often need short Hymns of a striking character, for evening-meetings, and at the close of sermons. And it should not be fors gotten, that much more is lost than gained, by singing what is neither poetical nor appropriate. Indeed it is far better to dispense with some good stanzas, and thus bring the piece at once to a suitable length for singing, than to continue these in books intended for public use, when no choir can perform them with ease and effect. The practice so extensively in use of omitting certain stanzas, as it must be done for the most part on the spur of the occasion, confuses the choir, while it often breaks the connection of thought and the unity of the subject. The author, or editor, is much more competent to do this than the leader of public worship.
From four to six stanzas of the grave and ordinary metres, may be considered a suitable length for a song of social praise. In metres of a brisker movement, the addition of one or two stanzas more, may not be improper. The same ind ulgence may be conceded to some Hymns of a peculiar character, and to those which are to be used only on special occasions. But it is a great practical principle which every minister, and every leader of a choir, should understand, THAT SINGING, IN ORDER TO BE EFFECTIVE, MUST NOT BE TOO LONG.
Having given an exposition of the leading principles on which this work has been constructed, it may be proper to speak a little more explicitly of the materials from which it has been formed.
It is intended that this volume shall contain a complete collection of Psalms and Hymns for the Sanctuary, the Lecture-room, and all other places of social worship. In the arrangement of the Psalms, Dr. Watts is the leading
author. Many other versifications of high merit have been selected from Doddridge, Steele, Kenn, Newton, Montgomery, Conder and others, which have been arrang. ed, in their proper places, with those of Watts, so that it is believed that this part of the volume presents a greater number and a richer variety of Psalms adapted to singing, than any Book yet published in our language. Few alterations have been made in arrangement or expression, and the thought of the poet, for the most part, has been sacredly guarded. Most of the changes, which have been adopted, are those which were necessary in order to conform the work to the principles already stated. Whole Psalms of an inferior and prosaic character have been omitted; the same may be said of stanzas which are redundant, interrupt the unity of design, or lack the spirit of holy song; but it is believed, that those Psalms and stanzas, though they incumber many Books now in use, are rarely ever sung. In making this compilation, it has not been the design to throw away a single stanza of superior merit, or one which could contribute to the grand purpose of singing, except when the production was of immoderate length; but when this was the case, to dis. pense with some good stanzas has been preferred to the common practice of using brackets or pauscs, or what is still worse, of imposing an oppressive burthen upon the choir.
In relation to the Psalms, it may be said, in the language of another, “That the larp of David yet hangs upon the willow, disdaining the touch of any händ less skilful than his own." The older versions of David's Psalms are generally destitute of all poetic merit. Now and then a ray of the genius and the inspiration of the Hebrew bard, breaks through the dullness of their prosaic rhymes, but these are “ like angel-visits, few and far between." If it be alleged, as it often is, that these versifiers entirely adhere to the original-it may be replied, that it is in letter, not in spirit. For the most part, their productions are nothing more nor less than the English translation of David, converted into common rhymes, while the spirit of the original has fled. It is one of the wonders of literature, that the productions of Sternhold and Hopkins, of Tate and Brady, to say nothing of earlier, and still poorer versifiers, should furnish the principal songs of enlightened and cultivated christian coagregations, in the nineteenth century. It shows us how far the human mind may advance in some things, and remain stationary in others;how far taste may be refined, and the entire powers of immortal man be enkindled and entranced by the produc
tions of genius, and yet, under the influence of certain associations, be delighted with ancient dullness and barbarism.
The practical influence of all this upon the tone and vigor of piety-upon the higher feelings of devotion-upon those purer and holier emotions of the christian's heart, by which he often comes near to heaven and enters into intimate converse with his God and Saviour, is a problem of deep import which every minister at the altar may well propose to himself, and endeavor, as far as practicable, to solve.
Dr. Watts struck out a path for himself, and has been imitated by all the versifiers of David, and the composers of hymns, since his day. He is not without his faults, but his best productions are now sung, in every land, and among almost all denominations of christians, where the English language is spoken, and probably will continue to be through the millenium, and to the end of the world. His Psalms, taken as a whole, are superior to his Hymns; and in relation to the former it may be said, that Dr. Watts has drawn sweeter tones from the harp of David, than it has ever given to the church of God, since the hand of the old Hebrew bard swept across its strings, and enkindled the devotions of the faithful: With regard to some of his Hymns, and a large number too, they are not inferior to his best versifications of the Psalms.
The Hymns, contained in this collection, have been selected from the productions of the best writers of this species of poetry, in our language; and such alterations have been made as bring them into a proper form to be used in the worship of the “Sanctuary.” In preparing this work, we have used the most approved editions of Hymns, and no changes have been made unless imperatively called for by the rules already stated and defended. The names of authors, as far as could be ascertained, are given in the Index, and it is not necessary to refer to them here. We cannot, however, forbear recording a sense of our deep indebtedness both to the living and to the dead, for those excellent labors which have furnished us with the materials for the formation of this volume, which we now present to the christian public, in the confident hope that it may increase the Knowledge and Piety of the Church, and promote, among the friends of Zion, the love of holy song.
New York, 1853.