Monday, May 4, 2015

Rest, Noble Martyr!

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was buried in Springfield, Illinois, 19 days after he died on the morning of April 19. It was the culmination of a grand commemoration of the murdered leader that began with the informal procession of mourning that accompanied his body from the boardinghouse (across from Ford's Theater) where he died, back to the White House. Hundreds followed along the streets of Washington on that day, and in the weeks to come thousands would come to see the funeral train that traveled from the capital to Springfield, and to pay homage as they filed past the body that lay in state in several cities along the route.

There were many musical tributes along the way, including some original works.  On this last day 150 years ago, the ceremonies around the interment included the hymn Children of the heavenly King (perhaps not including all those stanzas listed at the Cyber Hymnal), an anthem with words set to the Dead March from Handel's oratorio Saul, and a chorus from Mendelssohn's oratorio St. Paul. George Root composed another funeral anthem: Farewell, Father and Friend.  The final hymn sung was also an original text written for the occasion by the Reverend Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, where the Lincolns worshipped.

Rest, noble Martyr! rest in peace;
Rest with the true and brave,
Who, like thee, fell in Freedom's cause,
The nation's life to save.

Thy name shall live while time endures
And men shall say of thee,
"He saved his country from its foes,
And bade the slave be free."

These deeds shall be thy monument,
Better than brass or stone;
They leave thy name in glory's light,
Unrivaled and alone.

This consecrated spot shall be
To Freedom ever dear;
And Freedom's sons of every race
Shall weep and worship here.

O God! before whom we, in tears,
Our fallen Chief deplore;
Grant that the cause for which he died
May live forevermore.

Phineas D. Gurley, 1865
Tune: DUNDEE (C.M.)
Scottish Psalter, 1615

The hymn was concluded with a generic doxology stanza, presumably in the same meter. I have yet to find any reference to the specific tune that was sung, even in a recent doctoral thesis entitled The Mystic Chords of Memory: Musical Memorials for Abraham Lincoln. The information may exist in a contemporaneous newspaper account, but history often records only the titles of hymns sung at historic occasions without telling us the tune.  The text was certainly published in newpapers at the time and so the hymn may have been sung in other places

Dr. Gurley was not, apparently, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, but he was the President's pastor, and had assisted at the funeral of the Lincolns' son Willie in 1862. He was among the people at the President's bedside when he died, he conducted the White House funeral on April 19th, and accompanied Lincoln's casket along the funeral train route to take part in the Springfield ceremonies, including the final benediction after his hymn was sung.  Some time after the end of the initial mourning period he publicly admitted that he thought it unfortunate that Lincoln had gone to the theater on Good Friday to see a comedy.

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