Saturday, June 5, 2010

George Rawson

George Rawson (June 5, 1807 - March 25, 1889) wrote his first several hymns under the nom de plume of "A Leeds Layman." Fortunately, the Congregational clergy in the town of Leeds knew his real identity as well as his extensive knowledge of hymnody, and asked him to join them in compiling a hymnal. The book was eventually known as the Leeds Hymn Book and probably led to a group of Baptists asking Rawson to help them with their hymnal a few years later.

Rawson contributed his own texts to these hymnals (15 to the Congregationalists and 27 to the Baptists) and assisted in the selection of hymns chosen, but he was also known for his editorial work, altering older texts as necessary and adding original stanzas of his own to some texts. He was an early advocate of the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert and adapted some of Herbert's poems into hymn texts for the Leeds Hymn Book, though his adaptations are not those we use today.

This hymn was published in the first collection of Rawson's own texts, Hymns, Verses and Chants (1876).

Transcendent mystery unknown!
O God unsearchable!
O still receding, tow'ring Light

What can we know? Things that are seen
Are faint reports of thee --
Smallest upliftings of the veil
Of thine immensity.

In thy creation, filled with awe,
Thy wondrous hand we trace
In all our witness of thy pow'r
Divine Almightiness!

How grand thy glowing rainbows are,
Thy skies and stars, how bright!
Eternal Loveliness, they gleam
But shadows of thy light.

So we look up, thy little ones,
To thy majestic state;
Our comfort is, thou art so good
And that thou art so great.

George Rawson, 1876; alt.
SONG 67 (C.M.)
Orlando Gibbons, 1623
arr. Henry T. Smart, 19th cent.

You don't see many six-syllable words in hymn texts, particularly ones that take up a whole line (stanza 1).

This tune comes from the work of Orlando Gibbons, whose birthdate is unrecorded, but who died on this date in 1625, so today's hymn is a double commemoration. SONG 67 was originally set to a text for St. Matthias' Day, but was arranged by Henry Smart more than two hundred years later into "the more stately, dignified, measured beat and slow movement of the old psalm tunes" according to Handbook to the Hymnal (1935).

Two Years Ago: Orlando Gibbons

One Year Ago: George Rawson

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