Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sir John Bowring

John Bowring (October 17, 1792 - November 23, 1872) was raised in the Unitarian faith, but his hymns, which he began writing in the 1820s, were not limited in any way.  His most well-known text, In the cross of Christ I glory, is especially unlikely to have appeared in any Unitarian collections in the last 150 years or more (though the first line was inscribed on his tombstone).  Bowring also wrote a total of thirty-six books, including poetry, essays, and political treatises.

First elected to the House of Commons as a Radical in 1835, he promoted his ideas of free trade and prison reform, and was largely responsible for the establishment of the first decimal coin in Britain, the florin (1/10 of a pound sterling).  Following his political career he was knighted in 1854 and became a successful diplomat in China and later Governor of Hong Kong.

This hymn by Bowring is probably a bit fanciful for a modern hymnal but it's just the sort of thing I like. has found it in 37 different older hymnals, more appearances than several of Bowring's other texts.

The heavenly spheres to thee, O God,
Attune their evening hymn;
All-wise, all-holy, thou art praised
In song of seraphim.
Unnumbered systems, suns, and worlds,
Unite to worship thee,
While thy majestic greatness fills
Space, time, eternity.

Nature, a temple worthy thee,
Beams with thy light and love;
Whose flowers so sweetly bloom below,
Whose stars rejoice above;
Whose altars are the mountain-cliffs
That rise along the shore;
Whose anthems, the sublime accord
Of storm and ocean-roar.

Our song of gratitude is sung
By spring’s awakening hours;
And summer offers at thy shrine
Its earliest, loveliest flowers;
But autumn brings its golden fruits,
In glorious luxury giv'n;
While winter’s silver heights reflect
Thy brightness back to heav'n.

John Bowring, c. 1830; alt.
George Job Elvey, 1887

Contemporaneous opinions of Bowring were decidedly mixed.  The author Harriet Martineau described him as "a supreme charlatan and worse." While he was successful in various spheres, his finances were usually in disarray.  A new biography, Free Trade's Missionary: John Bowring in Europe and Asia by distant relative Philip Bowring was published just last year.

P.S. - One of Bowring's other texts, seen here on May 7, 2008, is now up on Facebook (at "Conjubilant W. Song") for your perusal.

Seven Years Ago: John Bowring

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