6 NOVEMBER 1942, Page 13


Sut,—While agreeing in a very minor degree only with Canon Fox's criti- cisms of the English Hymnal and Songs of Praise, both excellent books in their special sphere, I feel it would be very remiss not to say how strongly I disagree with Mr. Lionel James' wholesale condemnation of Hymns Ancient and Modern. He admits that it did splendid service in its day to the Anglican Revival. (And it may be said that it is still doing it.) Yet he is quite prepared to abolish the book entirely, and suggests that there can be no good hymn singing unless one uses the English Hymnal or Songs of Praise. fie further complains that many of its hymns are out of touch or not in complete harmony with our modern ideas, and that quite half the hymns in it should never be sung. As to the former complaint, that is to some extent true. It would be strange if some of the 600 odd hymns in the book had not been proved in the course of time and by experience to be unsuitable to our present-day needs. And as to those hymns which Mr. James says should never be sung, the answer is that they are not sung. Barely a half of the hymns in the book are at all regularly used, some because they are not good poetry, or their tunes are poor, some because both words and tunes are cheap and meretricious, but that still leaves at least 300 or more hymns and tunes of proved worth, which is all that any congregation requires ; and that does not include the 140 fresh hymns in the new Second Supplement.

Hymns Ancient and Modern being to some extent a pioneer (though there were other good hymn books in existence), in its desire to be as comprehensive as possible undoubtedly included some hymns which we, out of our experience, would not now consider worthy of retention. Perhaps at some later date the publishers may bring out another edition from which unsuitable hymns could be excluded. Hymns Ancient and Modern is not the only hymnal containing hymns out of touch with modern thought or ideas, and, like most other hymn books, whether English Hymnal, Methodist Hymn Book, Scottish Church Hymnary, it is far too long, with the result that only a proportion of the hymns in this, as in other books, Are ever regularly sung.

Let me point out that the Second Supplement of 1919 is edited by Dr. Sidney Nicholson (whose services in the improvement of English church music, both through his college at Chislehurst and his own personality, simply cannot be measured) and is a guarantee that the 140 new hymns with tunes which have been added to the older book are all of a very high standard, both in words and music. Let me mention a few. "0 Little town of Bethlehem," by Bishop P. Books, with a tune by Dr. Walford Davies ; "The Spacious Firmament on High," Joseph Addison, to a tune by J. Sheelas (5720); George Herbert's beautiful and characteristic poem, "King of Glory, King of Peace, I will love Thee," to a seventeenth-century tune by G. R. Adle (1660), which ideally matches the quaintness of the words ; R. F. Littledale's beautiful translation from the Italian of Bianco da Siena "Come Down 0 Love Divine " ; John Bunyan's "Who would true Valour see " ; Tennyson's "Sunset and Even- ing Star," to a tune by Sir Hubert Parry ; "Think 0 Lord in Mercy, On the Souls of Those." This last is a translation from the Swahili set to a fine eighteenth-century tune by Ju Schultz (1785). The fact that Hymns Ancient and Modern is over 8o years old, is no good reason to