Sunday, May 10, 2009

Frances E. Cox

Frances Elizabeth Cox was born at Oxford on this day in 1812. Almost nothing is known about her life, but her translations of German hymns have survived and continue to be sung today.

Congregational hymn singing in Germany was part of their worship long before the practice took hold in England. Yet German hymns were nearly unknown in England until the middle of the nineteenth century, except for some that had been translated by John Wesley. Catherine Winkworth would come to be the most prolific translator, but others such as Frances Cox made their contribution.

In 1841, Cox published Sacred Hymns from the German, containing 49 translated hymns. Her second volume, 23 years later, Hymns from the German, contained many of those 49 with an additional 29. Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology says that there were a few other translations published in magazines that appeared in neither collection.

It seems that everyone who ever translated a German hymn took a crack at Martin Luther's Ein feste burg. Cox's translation begins:

A Fortress firm and steadfast Rock
Is God in time of danger
A Shield and Sword in every shock
From foe well-known or stranger.

Two of Cox's translations we have already seen here: one for Easter and one of my favorite hymns, for All Saints' Day. This one is, I suspect, more widely known in various denominations.

Sing praise to God who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love,
The God of our salvation;
With healing balm my soul is filled,
And every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

What such almighty power hath made,
God's gracious mercy keepeth;
By morning glow or evening shade
God's watchful eye ne'er sleepeth.
Within the realm of God's delight,
Lo! all is just and all is right:
To God all praise and glory.

For God is never far away,
But through all grief distressing,
An ever present help and stay,
Our peace and joy and blessing.
As with a mother's tender hand,
God gently leads the pilgrim band:
To God all praise and glory.

Then all my toilsome way along
I sing aloud God's praises,
That all may hear the grateful song
My voice unwearied raises:
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart!
Both soul and body bear your part!
To God all praise and glory.

O ye who name Christ's holy name
Give God all praise and glory;
Let all who know God's power proclaim
Aloud the wondrous story!
Cast each false idol from its throne,
And worship God, and God alone!
To God all praise and glory.

Johann J. Schutz, 1675
tr. Frances E. Cox, 1864; alt.
Bohemian Brethren Kirchegesang, 1566

This hymn by the Lutheran Johann Schutz was originally in eight verses, though most hymnals print only four or five. One that is rarely seen:

I cried to God in my distress --
In mercy, hear my calling!
My Maker saw my helplessness
And kept my feet from falling;
For this, Lord, thanks and praise to thee
Praise God, I say, praise God with me!
To God all praise and glory.

The tune, MIT FREUDEN ZART, may have been traced back to a medieval French secular song, Une pastourelle gentille, though the more martial setting we know today seems a little heavy for a French shepherd girl.

1 comment:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Thanks for the missing verse there. I like it.