Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Edward Caswall

Sometimes it seems like all the Anglican hymnwriters followed the Oxford Movement in the 1840s, left the Church of England and became Roman Catholics. It wasn't quite that many, but a number of prominent ones did. Today we mark the birthday of yet another of these, Edward Caswall.

Caswall was born in 1815 in Hampshire, the son and grandson of Anglican chergymen. Educated at Oxford, where he would have become familiar with the writings and ideas of John Henry Newman, he was ordained a deacon after graduation and went on to become the
perpetual curate at Stratford-sub-Castle, near Salisbury.

However, in 1846 he converted to Roman Catholicism, and following the death of his wife a few years later, he became a priest at the Roman Oratory of St. Philip Neri, where Newman was the leader. He wrote several hymn texts of his own, some of which remain in use (primarily in Catholic hymnals) but it is his translations from Latin texts that are more widely known (some of which we have already seen here).

Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest Name,

Savior of humankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
All of Christ's loved ones know.

O Jesus, thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Jesus, our only joy be thou,
As thou our prize will be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th c.;
tr. Edward Caswall, 1849; alt.
Herman A. Polack, 1910

There are several more verses, but most hymnals only use four or five. Bernard of Clairvaux we have encountered before. The ubiquitous tune ST. AGNES, by John Bacchus Dykes, is most often used with this text, but see how you like CLAIRVAUX, an American tune written specifically for these words.


Dorothy said...

I like Clairvaux. Its more stately.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I agree, Clairvaux is an improvement, and St. Agnes will still find gainful employment with 37 or so other texts. I hadn't seen it (Clairvaux) before. In my index list this hymn occurs 34 times, 30 of them to St. Agnes, 3 to Windsor, and one to Holy Trinity, neither of which seems to me to have much to recommend itself over St. Agnes save a more modest frequency of occurrence. But Clairvaux is quite nice.