PSALMS AND HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS
The 18th century is to English hymnology what the Augustan age is to Latin literature. By the side of such names as Watts, Hart, Toplady, Charles Wesley, Doddridge, Cowper and Newton, the names of all hymn-writers, previous or subsequent, look pale indeed. The 19th century did not produce a single man worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with any of the seven. It produced hymns but no hymn-writer.
Toplady not only wrote a hymn that has gone beyond the work of any other man; he also wrote at least three other hymns that are among the best in our language, and many more hold high places in the second rank. It is a favourite sport with our pedlars in verseÂ—our makers of jingle and doggerelÂ—to cast at the eighteenth century giants that some of their rhymes are defective. There are defective rhymes in nearly all the great hymns, whether by Toplady or others. It is only the poet-taster whose lines are absolutely smooth. While the words, hissing hot or trembling with emotion, pour from the ecstasied or over-wrought soul, the question of an exact rhyme becomes a ludicrously minor one. The writer seeks to express his devotional fervour, and he succeeds. When Christian is in deadly strife with Apollyon, when darts fly thick and the ground is slippery with scales, blood and spume, his chief thought is not whether the coat on his back is of the latest cut from Paris. Indeed he is so busy with his adversary that he does not know whether he has a coat or a back either. In a quieter moment he can polish his stanza, that is if his stanza admits of polish; but he will in no wise sacrifice his original meaning, or weaken even so little as a single line, just for the purpose of tickling the foolish ear of the pedlar or the dilettante. Compare these eighteenth century giants with the majority of the nineteenth and twentieth century hymn-writersÂ—men as a rule with no prophetic fervour, no individuality, who sit down and write in cold blood a pretty jingle, or some sickly sentiment which does good neither to themselves nor to anybody else. They call it a hymn. Its rhymes are perfect. Attractive tunes are made for it. It is sung in a thousand churches by complacent people who would sing any inept effusion that might be selected. But life is not all make-believe. There comes a time of suffering and pain. There comes old age. And when men seek real comfort, they quit these sickly sweetmeats, these rattles, these coloured balloons at the end of a stringÂ—they quit all these follies, and go back to “Rock of Ages”, “God moves in a mysterious way”, “Our God, our help in ages past”, “There is a land of pure delight”, “Glorious things of thee are spoken”, “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord”, and the rest of the glorious hymns of the eighteenth century.