Littell's Living Age/Volume 179/Issue 2318/Francis Turner Palgrave

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287942Littell's Living AgeVolume 179, Issue 2318 : Francis Turner Palgrave

In the preface to “The Christian Psalmist” James Montgomery says that the hymns of earlier days seem to have been written by all kinds of persons except poets, and adds, “Cowper therefore stands alone among the mighty masters of the lyre, as having contributed a considerable number of approved and popular hymns for the purposes of public or private devotion.” But since Montgomery’s time things have been improving, and the ranks of the hymnists are being more and more reinforced by men who may fairly claim the name of poets.

Among this number we should be disposed to include the name of Francis Turner Palgrave, who, if he cannot be called a great poet, assuredly holds a very high place among the critics of poetry — proof of which may be found not only in the fact that he now occupies the chair of poetry in the University of Oxford, but that he is the editor of what is certainly the finest collection of English lyrics yet produced. In his post at Oxford he worthily holds a place once filled by John Keble, Matthew Arnold, and John Campbell Shairp. And while he has written not a few poems that deserve remembrance, he has, if I mistake not, bent his energies still more earnestly to the production of hymns which should be suited to express the special sentiments and feelings of the present age — hymns destined to become still more valued as Christian thought grows more spiritual.

Our readers will be glad to hear a little of a man whose hymns often express their worshipping feeling.

Francis Turner Paigrave is the eldest son of Sir Francis Palgrave, the well-known historian, and his wife Elizabeth, from whom he derives his second name. He was born at Great Yarmouth on the 28th of September, 1824, and is now, therefore, sixty-four years of age. From 1838 to 1843 he was at the Charterhouse School, whence he passed to Balliol College. Oxford, of which he became a scholar in 1842. In 1846 he was elected fellow of Exeter College, and in 1847 took a first-class in the classical schools. Leaving the University of Oxford Mr. Palgrave was engaged for a considerable time in the education department of the Privy Council, from which he retired in 1884. He then became private secretary to Earl Granville, who was at that time lord president. In the following year he was elected professor of poetry in the University of Oxford.

The following works have proceeded from his pen: “Idylls and Songs” (1854), “Art Catalogue of the Great Exhibition” (1862), "Essays on Art" (1866), and “Lyrical Poems” (1871). He has also edited “The Golden Treasury of English Lyrics” (1861), “Sir Walter Scott’s Poems, with Life” (1867), and “Chrysomela: a Selection from Herrick.” He is best known, however, by his collection of English lyrics, which is a model of editing, and by his “Original Hymns,” of which the first edition appeared in 1867, followed by enlarged editions in 1868 and 1870. His object was “to try to write hymns which should have more distinct matter for thought and feeling than many in our collections offer, and so, perhaps, be of a little use and comfort to readers.” His hymns admirably fulfil this purpose. To those who are familiar with the monotony and dulness of the vast mass of hymns, it is a great relief to turn to Mr. Palgrave’s with their distinctiveness of theme, their marked individuality, and delicacy of phrasing. The exaggerated tone, expressive of feelings far above the range of ordinary mortals, so often found in hymns, is conspicuous by its absence, and in its place there is what Mr. Keble, in the preface to his “Christian Year,” calls “a sober standard in matters of practical religion.” Then his hymns are expressive of the feelings which are characteristic of the Christian heart in our own day — its difficulties, its perplexities, its longings. Professor Palgrave seems to me to have a singularly true idea of what a hymn should be, and how poetry and religious feeling should be blended in its production. If I may quote from a letter addressed by him to myself: “The main reason for the inferiority of hymns to ordinary lyrics lies, I think, simply in the fact that the true end of poetry is pleasure, not instruction. It may and should often teach, but always through such pleasure as this fine art can give. Hence, the didactic element which hymns always do and ought to include is very apt to lower the poetical quality. The strict laws of poetry are in fact inapplicable in this region, and it is only a criticism which has no sypathy with the object of hymns that can complain that these laws are more or less set aside.” But it is quite clear from Mr. Palgrave’s own hymns that he regards the poetic as an essential element in every hymn worthy of the name — that the didactic purpose should be suffused with keen and high emotion which is sure to take on lyric forms; whilst in hymns of pure worship this didactic element falls quite into the background. The stronger the lyric element is, the more will the hymn bear the soul aloft. And the more cultivated taste of the present day is not satisfied with the mere rhymed prose which passed current in earlier days, but demands verse in which the religious feeling is so strong that it naturally takes on lyric forms. Hence, the hymns most frequently sung in our day are those which are the product of the vision and faculty divine. In this respect the advance is very evident. Sternhold and Hopkins had to give way to Isaac Watts. Watts was largely eclipsed by the more lyric Charles Wesley, whilst all but the finest of his have had to yield to the selected ones of many a poetic hymnist of our own time. Twenty years ago Mr. Miller, the author of “Singers and Songs of the Church,” criticised Bishop Heber’s hymns as being too poetical. How differently they are now regarded by the public at large is clear from the fact that every hymn he wrote is in common use, a thing unique in hymnody. The age, too, demands verses which shall express its own feelings and not those of a bygone time. And those hymnists are the most popular who, being in deepest sympathy with the real feeling of the age, are able to give it the fullest and most lyric expression. Amongst these Professor Palgrave deserves a place of high honor for the sobriety of thought, the fidelity to the actual feeling of the time, the refined and yet lyric expression of his hymns. Here and there he fails in melodiousness of utterance or in suitability of metre, but these defects are so slight that I do not care to dwell on them.

Perhaps the best known of his hymns are those for morning and evening. The former beginning, “Lord God of morning and of night,” and the latter, “O Light of Life, O Saviour dear,” both of which conclude with the fine doxology (second only in merit to the well-known one of good Bishop Ken): —

Praise God, our Maker and our Friend;
Praise Him through time, till time shall end,
Till psalm and song His name adore
Through Heaven’s great day of evermore.

The child’s hymn, “Thou that Once on Mother’s Knee,” is one of the few really fine children’s hymns in the language These are too well known for it to be necessary to quote them; but others which are only gradually finding their way into use and favor are not so well known, and I will therefore append them.

How true, how free from other-worldliness is the conception of the kingdom of God in the following hymn, suggested by our Lord’s saying, "For behold the kingdom of God is within you"!

O Thou not made with hands,
Not throned above the skies,
Nor walled with shining walls.
Nor framed with stones of price,
More bright than gold or gem,
God’s own Jerusalem!

Where’er the gentle heart
Finds courage from above;
Where’er the heart forsook
Warms with the breath of love;
Where faith bids fear depart,
City of God! thou art.

Thou art where’er the proud
In humbleness melts down;
Where self itself yields up;
Where martyrs win their crown;
Where faithful souls possess
Themselves in perfect peace.

Where in life’s common ways
With cheerful feet we go;
Where in His steps we tread
Who trod the way of woe;
Where He is in the heart,
City of God! thou art.

Not throned above the skies
Nor golden-walled afar,
But where Christ’s two or three
In His name gathered are;
Be in the midst of them,
God’s own Jerusalem!

How accurately but how tenderly is the difficulty, and yet the longing, of our day for faith in the unseen Christ set forth in the following verses!

faith and sight in the latter days.

Iprae: sequar.

Thou sayst, “Take up thy cross
O man, and follow me;
The night is black, the feet are slack,
Yet we would follow Thee.

But O, clear Lord, we cry,
That we Thy face could see!
Thy bessèd face one moment’s space —
Then might we follow Thee!

Dim tracts of time divide
Those golden days from me;
Thy voice comes strange o’er years of change;
How can I follow Thee?

Comes faint and far Thy voice
From vales of Galilee;
Thy vision fades in ancient shades;
How should we follow Thee?

[Unchanging law binds all,
And Nature all we see;
Thou art a star, far off, too far,
Too far to follow Thee.

Ah, sense-bound heart and blind!
Is nought but what we see?
Can time undo what once was true;
Can we not follow Thee?

Is what we trace of law
The whole of God’s decree?
Does our brief span grasp Nature’s plan
And bid not follow Thee?]

O heavy cross — of faith
In what we cannot see!
As once of yore, Thyself restore
And help to follow Thee!

If not as once Thou cam’st
In true humanity,
Come yet as guest within the breast
That burns to follow Thee.

‘Within our heart of hearts
In nearest nearness be
Set up Thy throne within Thine own:
Go, Lord: we follow Thee.

The verses enclosed in brackets are scarcely suited for public worship, and are therefore generally omitted.

How true is the abasement of spirit before the thought of God in this terse and yet pathetic hymn which he calls —

through and through.

Infelix, quis me liberabit?

We name Thy name, O God,
As our God call on Thee,
Though the dark heart meantime
Far from Thy ways may be.

And we can own Thy law,
And we can sing Thy songs,
While the sad inner soul
To sin and shame belongs.

On us Thy love may glow,
As the pure midday fire
On some foul spot looks down;
And yet the mire be mire.

Then spare us not Thy fires,
The searching light and pain;
Burn out our sin; and, last,
With Thy love heal again.

This moves along the same lines as the following hymn — the only one be ever wrote — by Thomas Hughes, betterknown as “Tom Brown,” who for it alone deserves mention among the lay hymnists of our time, — a hymn which seems to me to gather up and express the whole spirit of the man, and to be worth a host of the mere rhymed prose of a multitude of hymn-writers —

O God of Truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath.
Look down on Thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death.

Set up Thy standard Lord that we,
Who claim a heavenly birth,
May march with Thee to smite the lies
That vex Thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of Him the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

We fight for truth, we fight for God,
Poor slaves of lies and sin!
He who would fight for Thee on earth
Must first be true within.

Then, God of truth, for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our prayer,
Do Thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

Still smite! still burn! till naught is left
But God’s own truth and love;
Then, Lord, as morning dew come down,
Rest on us from above.

Yea, come! then, tried as in the fire,
From every lie set free,
Thy perfect truth shall dwell in us,
And we shall live in Thee.

Touched with a like spirit, but yet suffused with faith, is the hymn which follows, “Lost and Found,” in which the real influence of sin is seen and traced out with rare insight —

Though we long, in sin-wrought blindness,
From thy gracious paths have strayed,
Cold to Thee and all Thy kindness,
Wilful, reckless, or afraid
Through dim clouds that gather round us
Thou hast sought, and Thou hast found us.

Oft from Thee we veil our faces,
Children-like, to cheat Thine eyes;
Sin, and hope to hide the traces;
From ourselves, ourselves disguise;
‘Neath the webs enwoven round us
Thy soul-piercing glance has found us.

Sudden, ‘midst our idle chorus,
O’er our sin Thy thunders roll,
Death his signal waves before us,
Night and terror take the soul;
Till through double darkness round us
Looks a star, — and Thou hast found us.

O most merciful, most holy,
Light Thy wanderers on their way;
Keep us ever Thine, Thine wholly,
Suffer us no more to stray!
Cloud and storm oft gather round us;
We were lost, but Thou hast found us.

How full of emotion, how picturesque, in its description of the course of our Lord is his “Litany to the Name of Jesus”!

Thrice-holy name! — that sweeter sounds
Than streams which down the valley run,
And tells of more than human love,
And more than human power in one;
First o’er the manger-cradle heard,
Heard since through all the choirs on high;
O Child of Mary, Son of God,
Eternal, hear Thy children’s cry!
While at Thy blessèd name we bow,
Lord Jesus, be amongst us now

Within our earth-dimmed souls call up
The vision of Thy human years;
The mount of the transfigured form;
The garden of the bitter tears;
The cross uprear’d in darkening skies;
The thorn-wreathed head; the bleeding side;
And whisper in the heart, “For you,
For you I left the heavens, and died.”
While at the blessèd name we bow,
Lord Jesus, be amongst us now!

Ah! with faith’s surest inmost eye
The riven rock-hewn bed we see,
Untreasured of its heavenly guest, —
Triumphant over death in Thee!
And O! when Thou, our Saviour Judge,
Again shall come in glory here,
With love upon Thy children look,
And bid us read our pardon clear!
While at the blessèd name we bow,
Lord Jesus, be amongst us now!

These are but examples of Professor Palgrave’s styles. The reader will see how varied and how distinctive they are. Their author seems never to write until some strong idea has possessed his mind, and then with the deep earnestness of a Christian soul, and the skill and taste of the accomplished scholar, he gives it apt and beautiful expression. Like a true artist, Mr. Palgrave is reticent in utterance. His collected hymns are all included in a tiny pocket volume of fifty-one pages, but nothing is included which is without worth. If I am not greatly mistaken there is in store for many of his hymns a growing popularity, since they are well calculated to foster and keep alive a piety, not of a noisy kind, but after the manner and spirit of the great master, Christ.