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ART. IX.-HOLY SONGS AND MUSICAL PRAYERS.
To the Editor of the Christian Teacher.
SIR, In answer to a long letter from the Editor of “Holy Songs and Musical Prayers,” I will reply as briefly as I can.
The work was sent to me by a friend of the Editor, begging my perusal and opinion—which was to appear in print. On opening the book I detected some wants of unity between the Poet and Musician, and I begged to decline entering upon the subject.
I was again strongly urged to criticise the work, and I endeavoured to put my remarks into the form, rather of a disquisition upon psalmody, than of an attack upon the book.
However, in my haste and love of conciseness, it appears, I have not a little disturbed the Editor, by attempting to compress into a few words, ideas spread over an extensive preface. I believe I have done it faithfully (excepting a typographical error) but certainly not in the elegant diction, and style, of the author; and I am sorry he should apprehend it possible, that my language could be attributed to his pen, as I aim not at fine writing. But now to the music, the only thing I propose to meddle with.
The Editor has not understood me. When I talk of the form of a word, I would convey a separate idea from its syllabic distinction, i. e. either long or short.
The word Apt, is musically speaking, a short syllable, and will not carry an open sound, such a one, as a musician would place on the bar. The arbitrary distinctions which classical men, or poets, make in denominating syllables long or short, have little reference to the subject we are discussing.
The word indivisibility, consisting of seven syllables, would be uttered musically in the same time as the monosyllable All.
The size of the word, must be matched with the size or volume of the sound.
One great defect of our language is, that we have not, words small enough-particles, to hit off our shortest notes, and a lyric poet must have an ear for music before he can construct verse, suitable for the composer.
The Editor of “Holy Songs and Musical prayers” need not take offence, at a doubt being expressed, whether some of the Hymns are adapted for musical composition, when he learns that Milton in conjunction with Henry Laws, was engaged to give a complete version of the psalms, with new music; but as there wanted that unity, of which I have been speaking, necessary to a good effect, after the translation of nineteen psalms into miserable verse, the scheme was given up.*
It is true, I have said, that it would be as difficult to set some poems to music, as a catalogue of household furniture ; but I have not said that, of Bishop Heber's hymn. My words are, It is impossible to set hammer and chisel to music, an expression in his poem of Palestine; and following up that idea, I said, neither is it possible to deal with the hymn page 22, written by the same pious and learned Bishop. I reiterate it. No musician can expect agreeable melody to flow from a verse in which the letter S occurs not less than fourteen times.
I remember being in St. James's Church, and on hearing the line,
Sing songs of sacred praise," I was horrified by a chorus of hissing, which surpassed everything that I had heard from an army of geese in Lincolnshire.
Another irreverent effect is cast upon devotion, by the musical phrase terminating before the sense of the words. For instance : at page 17 we find a movement from Beethoven's Fidelio, pressed into the service of devotion. It is in that scene of the Opera, where the prisoners escape from the dungeon, exclaiming,—
“O what delight! to taste the sweet refreshing air !" The four notes which inspire you with salubrious draughts of sound—to express the delight of inhaling the welcome atmosphere! are completely destroyed by their connection with the words “Remit all our," and this is repeated three times, though the contrary is maintained. I have heard a line of poetry sung thus, by very pious people, in a chapel at Leicester,-“ Like a poor poll-Like a poor poll-Like a poor polluted worm."
These observations apply neither to the music, nor the poetry, separately: they may both be individually good—but spoilt when brought together.
The Editor speaks of the excellence of Wesley's and Doddridge's Hymns for music: nothing can be worse, except Tate, Brady, and Merrick. Watts is generally good, but none approach perfection so nearly as Mrs. Steele.
The words “spak’st,” “ hear'st," "mongst," and "reign'st," so completely lock up the voice in the mouth that very little sound can escape. Expressions like the following are utterly destructive of air and melody; Poisonous error's Serpent head;' 'Messiah sent to save;' sleep'st like Lazarus ;'. In saddest strain our songs complain ;' Still his people's bliss ensuring;' Nor let his
* Vide preface to The Sacred Melodies. 1812.
see sin.' The Editor is at much pains to prove that the Hymns in this collection scan well, and are perfect in their metrical structure. It may be so; but such expressions as the above, will never sing well.
The music, especially the harmony, I spoke of in terms of commendation, nor did I censure the poetry; but the points I have alluded to appeared to me not to have been sufficiently contemplated.
WILLIAM GARDINER. Leicester, March 8, 1844.
ART. X.-THE BOOK DEPARTMENT OF THE BRITISH
AND FOREIGN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION.
A SECOND Letter to the Editor of the Christian Teacher,' on this subject, has been sent to us by the Rev. Edward Tagart, who signing himself · Honorary Secretary,' with the addition, in his former communication, of on behalf of the Association, removes from the Committee all responsibility for the contents of both his Letters. We sincerely regret that we were not made fully aware of this, three months ago.
Mr. Tagart sent this letter to the Editor, in a printed form, asking, though not strongly expecting, its insertion in the Christian Teacher. This we declined, for two reasons : first, it was printed already; and secondly, we could not reasonably be expected to publish libels on ourselves.
In this Letter Mr. Tagart thinks it not unbecoming his character and ours, to charge us with a want of candour,—with having forgotten the fidelity needful for an Editor,—and with misrepresentation. And to show his appreciation of the work he enters upon
in the correction of these our offences, and of his own spirit in the undertaking, he selects as his motto:
“ Nothing is degrading which a high and graceful purpose ennobles ; and offices the most menial cease to be menial, the moment they are wrought in love.”
It would be totally foreign to the spirit in which we wish to conduct this Periodical, were we, under any provocation whatever, to disgrace its pages with personal disputes. In after years it shall never pain us with the remembrance, that even justly offended feeling has had a victim in it. We, therefore, decline all further controversy, and shall only quote, in his own words, the
two passages in his former communication to the Christian Teacher, on which Mr. Tagart founds his 'serious' charges. We do not, at all, dispute his own interpretation of his own words,—but we must be excused, when reading them without his aid, for having simply applied to them such knowledge and tact as we have acquired for interpreting the English language.
I. “ Your observations on the poverty of the Catalogue seem to be founded on a misapprehension of the object with which that department is maintained, and the plan on which it has hitherto been conducted. The reason why the Catalogue does not contain the books which you mention is the very obvious one that the Association does not profess to supply the Unitarian Public with works which can be equally well purchased of the Booksellers, and which could not be supplied by the Association to any advantage. The Association neither could perform, nor ever attempted to perform, the part of a general Bookseller. Its object is, as I have been accustomed to understand it, to cherish and keep before the public useful works which need its encouragement, and without its aid would sink into oblivion, or not exist at all.”—p. 112.
We understood this to be an admission of such 'poverty' as we had attributed to the Catalogue of the Unitarian Association, and an argument that this poverty attached no culpability to the Committee, because it proceeded necessarily from the very nature and design of the Book Department. In this it appears we read the writer's mind wrongly. We are sorry for it; but still more sorry that the ordinary construction of English should involve us in heavy offences.
II. “ The Catalogue must needs therefore be much the same from year to year until the said stock is disposed of. Some of their works may appear obsolete or even valueless. In point of importance and value for general circulation, they may bear no comparison with the excellent works which you mention; but you would not have them destroyed or considered as waste paper, especially as they come in well for gratuitous distribution, when the subscribers seem to be fully supplied.”—p. 112.
We understood this passage to contain a concession that a stock which must needs be much the same from year to year until said stock was disposed of,' was, and no wonder, in some respects obsolete,--strengthened by another concession, that said stock would“ bear no comparison with the excellent works” suggested by us as additions,-and closing with the mitigating plea, that such obsolete works must nevertheless appear from year to year in the Catalogue, because it would be a waste to destroy them, and they come in well for gratuitous distribution? to a large part of the public, long after they may be obsolete to the Subscribers. In all this, it appears we were wrong. We are sorry for it,—but, against blame, again plead the immunities of a common reader of the English Language.
“ After all,” it is very satisfactory to find Mr. Tagart, if again we do not misunderstand him, summing up the matter exactly as we, from the first, intended to place it,-and adding the assurance, that some members of the Committee agree with us, in our view.
After all perhaps you only meant to say, without disrespect, that