Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sir Henry Williams Baker

Henry Williams Baker was born on this day in 1821. His father was both a rear admiral and a baronet. Henry was ordained in the Church of England in 1846, and succeeded to his father's title in 1859.

However, in the words of Edwin Hatfield, writing in The Poets of the Church (1884), Sir Henry distinguished himself principally in the line of hymnology. This was perhaps a bit of an understatement, as Baker is now considered to be instrumental in the development of the popular Hymns Ancient and Modern, the hymnal whose various editions have sold more than sixty million copies.

Baker's first hymn texts were written in 1852, and he was sufficiently known in the field that he was invited to serve as secretary to the committee that was compiling Hymns Ancient & Modern. His role as "secretary" turned out to be very influential in the task of forming the collection. It was Baker's idea to solicit suggestions and submissions for the hymnal through advertisements to the clergy; he believed that giving many people the chance to participate would predispose them in favor of the final product and lead them to purchase it, perhaps even to adopt it for their congregations.

The hymnal appeared in late 1860 (in time for Advent, followed by the musical edition a few months later). It was seen as a broad, ecumenical collection, both theologically and musically. Its supporters and its detractors both cited the same reasons for their opinions (the fine line between "plenty" and "too many"). Though the only name that appeared on the title page was musical editor William Monk, it eventually became known that Baker was the de facto editor-in-chief (no longer simply secretary to the committee).

Sir Henry remained with Hymns Ancient and Modern until his death in 1877, seeing it through supplements and new editions.
He had contributed his own texts, several translations of Latin hymns, and even some tunes. This original hymn, yet another paraphrase of Psalm 23, is probably his most well-known.

The God of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am thine
And thou art mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul thou leadest,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedest.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love thou sought'st me,
And on thy shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought'st me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear God, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O, what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.

Henry Williams Baker, 1868; alt.
Traditional Irish melody
arr. Charles V. Stanford, c.1906

Though overall I prefer this tune (surprisingly hard to find in an online version played correctly), I also have a certain fondness for the tune DOMINUS REGIT ME by John Bacchus Dykes that is still used in some denominations, and was written for Baker's text when it first appeared in Hymns Ancient & Modern in the 1868 supplement.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

This is one where I don't go along with your alteration. To my sense of the matter "The God of love" here is a weak substitute for "The King of love".

This October we hope to start a new thrice-annual programmed hymn-sing at Fremont Baptist. The first one is planned to have "Psalm 23/Good Shepherd" as its primary emphasis (with minors in Bates and Boberg), and this is certainly one of the hymns I think must be included. Probably the traditional text, and probably St. Columba (unless another text to it pops up, in which case Dominus Regit Me...) I am actively soliciting other suggestions and will soon post a list of what I think might be the lineup.

Adam said...

The other problem with the alteration is the disruption of the rhyme scheme. That is too intrusive in my book.

C.W.S. said...

No, it's not perfect (I knew I should have chosen a different Baker text). Actually, 25 years ago "Shepherd" was considered overly male and "comfort" was the substitute but I think we are beyond that at least.

I think the Ps 25 hymn sing should include the Ralph Hudson version seen here a few weeks ago.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I quite agree about the Hudson piece.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I've just put up my "short list" of 20 Shepherd hymns for the hymn sing, and as you can see Hudson made the cut. Now to finish off my Top Ten for Semicolon...