Our upper-division English classes occasionally break the routine of class discussions and presentations with a little something out of the ordinary, whether that's a trip to visit William Faulkner's house in Oxford, Mississippi or a tea party on the grounds.
In October, students enrolled in our Romantic Poetry and Prose class met to sing selections from The Olney Hymns, published in 1779. Most of the almost 350 selections were written by John Newton ("Amazing Grace"), but his friend William Cowper ("God Moves in a Mysterious Way"), known to students of Romantic poetry as the author of The Task, contributed more than 60 hymns to the collection. Newton states in his preface to the hymns that his two major reasons for publishing the book were his desire to "promote the faith and comfort of sincere Christians" and to provide a record of his friendship with Cowper.
FHU music professor Sarah Burns was also on hand to talk about hymn singing in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Often hymnbooks of the period were printed without music; worshippers sang the words to a variety of tunes. This was the case for The Olney Hymns. Probably the hymns were sung to any tune that fit the metrical pattern of the song, most likely music from 16th and 17th century metrical psalms. At our hymn sing, we sang words to tunes from current hymnbooks as well to popular tunes like "Greensleeves" and "America the Beautiful."
Other hymn traditions of the period included the practice of "lining out," in which the song leader would sing a line of the hymn solo. Then the congregation would repeat the line in unison.
Here is one of the songs from the collection, "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," written by Newton. The metrical pattern is common meter (8.6), the meter of many popular hymns, such as "Amazing Grace."
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds / In a believer's ear! / It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, / And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole, / And calms the troubled breast; / Tis manna to the hungry soul, / And to the weary rest.
Dear Name! the rock on which I build / My shield and hiding place; / My never-failing treasury, fill'd / With boundless stores of grace.
Jesus! My Shepherd, Husband, Friend, / My Prophet, Priest, and King; / My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End, / Accept the praise I bring.
Weak is the effort of my heart, / And cold my warmest thought; / But when I see Thee as Thou art, / I'll praise Thee as I ought.