Tuesday, December 16, 2008

John Ellerton

Hymnwriter and hymnologist John Ellerton was born in Middlesex on December 16, 1826. He attended Trinity College at Cambridge University and was ordained in 1850.

He began to write and translate hymns, editing his first hymnal, Hymns for Schools and Bible Classes in 1859. He refused to register copyrights on his hymns, saying that if they were "counted worthy to contribute to Christ's praise in the congregation, one ought to feel very thankful and humble."
He was on the committee (with Saturday's Bishop W.W. How) that produced Church Hymns in 1871 for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and wrote the companion notes for that hymnal which were published in 1881. Later, he joined the Hymns Ancient and Modern editors for their revised volumes of 1875 and 1889. He was widely consulted for his hymnic knowledge by other editors and compilers.

His enthusiasm for the subject was evident in his letters. Writing to Godfrey Thring, who was wrapping up work on A Church of England Hymn-Book in 1879, he first disparages a hymn of his own that they were discussing, saying that it was "very bad." He continues:

"Don't be angry with me for not doing an Easter Eucharistic Hymn; I always use (and rejoice in) At the Lamb's high feast we sing, but even without that I could not add a mediocre one to the stock of really fine Easter hymns we possess. Don't you like the rough force too of Luther's Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands? I do think that is so full of Easter life and joy and strength."

I think that if Ellerton was alive today he might be writing a hymn blog.

He wrote and translated at least eighty-six hymns. Following his death in 1893, Henry Housman, a former curate of his published John Ellerton: Being a Collection of His Writings on Hymnology (1896).

I like his hymns very much; we have already seen a number of them over the last year. This is probably his most popular one in England, and has consistently ranked at or near the top in various polls there.

The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The shadows fall at thy behest;
To thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank thee that thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world its watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

So be it, God; thy Word shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy mercy stands, and grows forever,
Till all thy creatures own thy sway.

John Ellerton, 1870; alt.
Clement C. Scholefield, 1874

"The voice of prayer is never silent,/Nor dies the strain of praise away" is one of my favorite phrases in any hymn -- the world keeps turning and every hour there are people praying and praising.even while we are asleep.

Clement Cotterill Scholefield was a friend of Arthur Sullivan, the musical editor of Church Hymns, where this tune first appeared. In recent years, some Sullivan scholars have suggested that this tune was actually by Sullivan, and that as a gift he allowed Scholefield to claim credit for the tune. It's true that Sullivan re-harmonized several of the tunes in Church Hymns, and may have done so for ST. CLEMENT, but the theory that the whole tune is his doesn't really account for the three other tunes credited to Scholefield in Church Hymns. It was probably Sullivan who named the tune, though; Scholefield would have had to be quite the egotist otherwise.


Dorothy said...

I've never seen (or sung) this hymn before, C.W.S., but I love it! Like you, I love thinking about the fact that while we are sleeping others of the church universal are praising our God. I also love the way this hymn speaks of God's sovereignty especially in those first two lines. And then there is God's eternal nature in the last verse. Its just a wonderful, praise-filled hymn all the way through!

And, yes, I agree that quite possibly John Ellerton would be writing a hymn blog were he alive today. And I'd be happily benefiting from it as I do from yours!

AuntE said...

This is one of my favourite hymns. I almost always get weepy by the last verse; for me, this is where God's sovereignty comes through so powerfully in Ellerton's text. (No offense, Dorothy) My one regret about this hymn is that I so seldom have a chance to sing it as we have very few evening services where I play.

Another wonderful text by Ellerton is "Saviour, again to Thy dear name". Perhaps, CWS you have already posted on this one?

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I applaud Ellerton's stand on copyright. And it occurs to me that Scholefield might have named a tune after his patron saint without egotism, naively blind to the egotism he would appear to have in doing so.

Thanks for another oldie but greatie, CWS. I show it in 16 of the hymnals I've indexed thus far; ten of these have it set to St. Clement, but 4 (including the Harvard Hymn Book 3rd ed. and the 1937 Unitarian Hymns of the Spirit) set it to Les Commandemens, the Yale New Hymnal gives a new tune called Cedar Springs (©), and the Abilene Christian University's Great Songs of the Church gives the Chinese tune Sheng En.

Leland aka Haruo

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Oops, forgot the link. Les Commandemens, 1543, Louis Bourgeois.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

Yes, Savior, again... appeared on June 30, the birthday of Edward Hopkins, the composer of ELLERS (with a restored verse I had not seen before). I think that is the Ellerton hymn most familiar to US worshippers, as we have far fewer hymnsinging churches with any kind of evening worship, where they might use The day thou gavest.

Those four hymnals that do not use ST. CLEMENT are simply prejudiced against the Victorian composers!