Monday, October 4, 2010

Harriet Auber

Anglican hymnwriter Harriet Auber was born today in 1773. In 1829 she published The Spirit of the Psalms, a collaboration between herself, only referred to in the book as "the Author," and the editor, who wrote the preface of the book, and was only referred to as "A Clergyman of the Church of England." Years later it was learned that the unnamed editor was a Reverend Mr. Harvey (first name apparently still unknown) of Bristol, who was married to Auber's niece.

Harvey and Auber produced this book to offer a more modern look at the Psalms, which in many places in the Church of England were still being sung to the seventeenth-century verses of the New Version by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. Harvey writes in the Preface to The Spirit of the Psalms:

Of the Authorized versions of the Psalms it is generally admitted, that they are unworthy appendages to (the) admirable Book of Common Prayer (...) deficient in poetical merit, often faulty in doctrine (...) alike unsatisfactory to the educated, the ignorant, and the devout.

In some cases, Auber took the Tate and Brady psalms and partially rewrote them, though mostly she wrote her own original texts. Generally her paraphrases were shorter and in more modern language, and the syntax was somewhat less convoluted. Still, she was clearly not trying to produce close paraphrases of the original.

Today's hymn is Auber's version of Psalm 61, 'in the spirit' of the original, at least.

O gracious Source of every good,
Our Savior, our defense,
Thou art our glory and our shield,
Our help and confidence.

When anxious fears disturb our rest,
When threatening foes are nigh,
To thee we pour our fervent prayer,
To thee for help we fly.

Blest Tow'r of strength, exalted Rock,
Whence living waters flow,
O Jesus Christ, the blessed hope
Of every soul below.

To thee we heavy laden come,
To thee our sorrows bring;
O hear! and save us from the storm
Beneath thy shelt'ring wing.

Harriet Auber, 1829; alt.
Hugh Wilson, 1800

Though some of her texts did appear in many other hymnals (a few until the present day), The Spirit of the Psalms did not supplant the older paraphrases. However, she was neither the first nor the last hymnwriter to believe that better versions of the psalms were desirable, and even today, hymnwriters are still producing their own paraphrases for modern congregations to sing.

Two Years Ago: Harriet Auber

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