Friday, September 17, 2010

Josiah Conder

Author Josiah Conder was born today in London in 1789. His father was a bookseller, and Josiah worked in the shop as a boy, eventually taking it over when he was twenty-one. However, he had already begun his writing career by this time (his first published essay appeared when he was ten) and nine years later he gave up the bookshop for writing and editing.

For twenty-three years he was the editor of The Eclectic Review, a popular and respected literary magazine, and later of The Patriot, a Nonconformist newspaper that was a strong supporter of abolition. In 1839 Conder became a founding member of the British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society for the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave-trade Throughout the World, an organization still in existence today as Anti-Slavery International. He was one of the main organizers of the world's first anti-slavery convention held in London in 1840.

Conder published several books of his own, including The Modern Traveler, which was a thirty-volume collection covering the geography of many of the countries of the world. His first book of religions verse, The Star in the East, from where his earliest hymns have been taken, appeared in 1824. This was followed by The Choir and the Oratory (1837), his second collection.

In 1836 he published the first Congregational Hymn Book which had been authorized by a resolution of the Congregational Union three years earlier. It contained 620 hymns by eighty different writers (including fifty-six of his own), and was to be used in conjunction with the Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts, Watts being so revered by the Congregationalists that he deserved a separate volume devoted to his works. Conder too believed in the primacy of Watts and later wrote The Poet of the Sanctuary (1851), a centenary commemoration of Watts, and edited a revised version of Psalms and Hymns (1852), hoping that Watts would continue to have his own volume in the Congregational pew-racks.

Conder's many hymn texts are largely unknown today. The most recent US Congregational hymnal, Hymns for a Pilgrim People (2007), which was intended to emphasize hymns by Gongregationalist authors, unfortunately contains none by Conder. In looking over several possibilities for today I settled on this Trinitarian text that probably hasn't appeared anywhere for a while.

'Tis good, with tuneful verses,
Our God's high praise to sing;
Creator of all mercies,
Our Maker and our King.
Praise God for all creation,
The wonders of our birth;
For daily preservation
And all the joys of earth.

And for the the great Redemption,
Let equal anthems swell,
For pardon and exemption
From woes no tongue can tell.
To Christ all glory render,
Himself, who freely gave;
Our Shepherd, our Defender,
Omnipotent to save.

We bless the Holy Spirit,
For all the means of grace;
The hopes that we inherit,
The faith that we embrace;
The seal of our high calling,
The word that makes us wise,
And strength to keep from falling,
And win the heav'nly prize.

Josiah Conder, 1836; alt.
Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch, 1693
harm. Felix Mendelssohn, 1847

Conder died in 1855 from an attack of jaundice. The following year, one of his sons, Eustace, a Congregational minister, compiled his hymn texts into one volume, Hymns of Praise, Prayer, and Devout Meditation.

P.S. - The "portrait" of Josiah Conder above is actually excerpted from a much larger painting by Benjamin Haydon which depicted the delegates at the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840. You can't even make him out in the full painting online, he's somewhat near the speaker but in the third or fourth row.

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