Saturday, December 13, 2014

William Walsham How

William Walsham How was born today in 1823 in Shrewsbury. In his later years he was Bishop of Wakefield (1889-1897), and was known in his time as the 'omnibus bishop' because he was often seen riding public transportation.  Throughout his life he always identified with the poor and downtrodden, and avoided his own career advancement for many years.

He was ordained in the Church of England in 1846.  His writings included a Commentary on the Four Gospels (beginning in 1863) and a popular manual, Holy Communion: Preparation and Companion (1854)

Some of his views on religion were quite ecumenical.  As a writer of hymns, he first collaborated with the Congregational minister Thomas Baker Morell, with whom he compiled a collection titled Psalms and Hymns (1854).  Some years later he was the chair of the committee that produced Church Hymns (1871) for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.  This book, for which Arthur Sullivan was the musical editor, was for many years the second-most popular hymnal in England, after Hymns Ancient and Modern.  Some years later, How would collaborate with Sullivan again when they  produced a hymn for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria which was sung throughout Great Britain on Sunday, June 20, 1897.

How wrote about fifty hymns in total, the most famous being  For all the saints.  We have seen several others here over the years (click on his tag below this entry). According to the calendar it may not quite be winter yet but this hymn seems appropriate for many parts of the country this week.

Winter reigneth o'er the land,
Freezing with its icy breath;
Dead and bare the tall trees stand;
All is chill and drear as death.

Sunny days are past and gone:
So the years go, speeding fast,
Onward ever, each new one
Swifter speeding than the last.

But the sleeping earth shall wake,
And the flowers shall burst in bloom,
And all nature rising break
Glorious from its wintry tomb.

So, Lord, after slumber blest
Comes a bright awakening,
And our flesh in hope shall rest
Of a never-fading Spring. 

William Walsham How, 1871
Tune: HALLE (
The Psalmist, 1830

Bishop How died on August 10, 1897 while vacationing in Ireland, and was buried in Whittington, where he has been rector for nearly thirty years (1851-1879, during which time most of his hymns were written).  

How currently appears on Broadway, as a character in the revival of Bernard Pomerance's play The Elephant Man, where he is portrayed by actor Anthony Heald.  Apparently How had some contact with Joseph Merrick when he was Suffragan Bishop of Bedford in East London, which is dramatized in the play.

Six Years Ago: William Walsham How

No comments: