Sunday, January 15, 2017

Joy Without a Tear

Some churches will mark tomorrow's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in worship today, and many of them will probably sing Precious Lord, take my hand, which was King's favorite hymn. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang it at his funeral in 1968, as she had often sung it at King's request for civil rights rallies.  The hymn text was written in 1932 by Thomas Dorsey, set to a melody he adapted from the older hymn tune MAITLAND. 

That tune was most often matched to this older text, and still appears in hymnals today (though it may not be sung as often as Precious Lord). 

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.

How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.

The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.

And palms shall wave, and harps shall ring
Beneath heav'n's arches high,
For Jesus lives, the saints shall sing,
Who lives no more to die.

O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Jesus Christ from heav’n comes down
And bears my soul away.

Thomas Shepherd and others, 17th-19th cent.; alt.
George N. Allen (?), 1844

The provenance of both the text and tune have eluded hymnologists for a long time, and sources differ greatly in the details.  Only the first stanza has a definite author, Anglican (later Nonconformist) minister Thomas Shepherd (1665-1739), who published it in his Penitential Cries (1693), though in a somewhat different form:

Shall Simon bear the cross alone,
And other saints be free?
Each saint of thine shall find his own,
And there is one for me.

Sometime in the nineteenth century, this was altered, "Simon" replaced by "Jesus" and additional stanzas written; the second comes from an unnamed collection published in Norwich, England around 1810, and no text writer was named. The third stanza first appeared (also anonymously) in the Social and Sabbath School Hymnbook (1844) published in Oberlin, Ohio. This book was edited by George Nelson Allen (1812-1877), and although the tune is generally attributed to him, none of the seven known editions of the book contained music for any of its texts. Later appearances in other books do credit the third stanza to Allen.

Three more stanzas appeared when the hymn was published in the important Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes (1855) edited by Henry Ward Beecher, including the final two above. These were credited to Charles Beecher (one of Henry's brothers) in the first edition, but his name was removed in subsequent printings. It was in that book that this tune first appeared, called CROSS AND CROWN, and identified only as a "Western Melody" (no mention of Allen). However, MAITLAND is the name by which is it now generally known, and for more than a century Allen was listed as the composer. The most up-to-date sources now only credit him as the "probable" composer. The hymn's inclusion in the influential Plymouth Collection ensured that it spread to many other hymnals before long.

Interestingly, it's possible that Allen and the Beecher brothers were acquainted; as a young man Allen left his home in Massachusetts intending to study with their father Lyman Beecher at the newly-opened Lane Seminary in Cincinnati. However, illness along the way caused him to stop in northern Ohio, where he was to remain. If he did know the Beecher family before and after their exodus to Ohio, this may be one reason why a text of uncertain origin from a hymnbook published in Oberlin made it to Brooklyn ten years later.

Another Martin Luther King Hymn: O pure reformers! not in vain

Eight Years Ago: Louisa Putnam Loring

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