Friday, October 16, 2015

Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Unitarian hymn writer and hymnal editor Frederick Lucian Hosmer was born today in 1840, in Framingham, Massachusetts.  In 1872, following graduation from Harvard Divinity School a few years earlier, he was "ordained to a fruitful ministry," as described by the Handbook to The Hymnal (1935 - Presbyterian), serving both Unitarian and Congregational churches in different states.

Writing hymns came later, and he was considered the finest hymn writer of his day (a worthy successor to Samuel Longfellow) among the Unitarians, but several of his texts were taken up by hymnals outside that denomination as well.

In the fourth volume of Heralds of a Liberal Faith (1952), American Unitarian Association president Samuel Atkins Eliot wrote of Hosmer:

...a poet intent on making his hymns as perfect an expression of his thought as possible. He had a wide knowledge of hymnody and sound theories of hymn construction which he expounded in lectures at the Harvard Divinity School in 1908. His hymns are the expression of a cheerful faith and are carefully wrought out in simple and facile forms which do not disclose the labor and care which went into their making.

In today's hymn, Hosmer only wrote the second stanza.  The first had been written nearly a century earlier, by Reginald Heber, and over the years other people have added stanzas of their own.  The stanza by Hosmer was written in 1912, and may have first appeared in The New Hymn and Tune Book (1914), a Unitarian collection that Hosmer had helped compile. 

God that madest earth and heaven,
Darkness and light;
Who the day for toil hast given,
For rest the night;
May thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet thy mercy send us,
Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
This livelong night.

When the constant sun, returning,
Unseals our eyes,
May we, born anew, like morning,
To labor rise.
Gird us for the tasks that call us,
Let not ease and self enthrall us,
Strong through thee, whate'er befall us,
O God most wise.

Reginald Heber, 1827 (st. 1);
Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1912 (st. 2)
Tune: AR HYD Y NOS (
Welsh traditional melody; harm. Luther O. Emerson, 1906

The idea of adding a stanza or two to an existing hymn is not particularly novel and may be done for various reasons, though some consider it unnecessary tinkering with the original author's intent.  In this case I suspect that people just thought that a hymn with a single stanza was too short and was less likely to be sung at all.  Certainly the stanzas added to Mary Lathbury's Break thou the bread of life seem intended to "correct" her original concept of seeking God "beyond the sacred page" (of scripture).  I believe that several hymnal editors before the twentieth century, when scholarship around hymns and their origins became more widespread, often added stanzas to hymns either original or borrowed from other hymns, and since those books often didn't include any credits at all, no one knew the difference.

This continues in more modern times; I am particularly thinking of the stanza added by Georgia Harkness to This is my song, O God of all the nations by Lloyd Stone, found in a number of modern hymnals.  And I've even done it myself a few times, such as this instance seen here a few years back.

Seven Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Six Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Five Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

One Year Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

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