Page:Our Hymns.djvu/12

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viii
PREFACE.

But in respect to those authors who have introduced an unusual amount of imagery into their hymns, and an elevation of manner of which the hymn was thought scarcely capable, perhaps it may be said in their vindication, that where their hymns have become favourites, their authors have at once advanced their art, and justified the new and splendid course they have taken. They have achieved what was possible to their sanctified genius, but what men of humbler capacities would in vain attempt to imitate.

Another subject that may demand a preliminary word is that of the alteration of hymns in modern collections. It has been usual to speak in terms of unmeasured censure of those who have ventured to alter the words of an author. But it should be borne in mind that the psalter or hymn-book used in public praise, is not to be judged merely on literary grounds. The first question to be asked is, how far it as a whole, and each hymn in particular, contributes to the high purposes of public Christian worship? Authors of genius have produced noble conceptions which they have not possessed taste, or in some cases have not given time, to clothe in the most appropriate language. They have left them diffuse or inaccurate, or unpleasing in expression, or with their meaning hidden from later generations by obsolete words. Men of taste coming after, have been able by the occasional alteration of a word, by skilful compression, and by sometimes even omitting an inferior stanza, to present the original productions in the serviceable form in which they now appear. To attempt such a thing while the author is still living, and without consulting him, would indeed be an impertinence. But the time comes when if such alteration be carried out judiciously, and in the spirit of the original author, and by those who are themselves hymn-writers, as it has been by the Wesleys, Montgomery, and others, it may be a positive advantage to the productions of the original author,