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HISTORY OF ENGLISH HYMNODY AND THE GERMAN INFLUENCE UPON ENGLISH HYMN WRITING FROM THE EARLY XVITH THROUGH THE XIXTH CENTURY.110110Inasmuch as Gerhardt's influence was not fully felt in England till the middle of the XIXth Century, this chapter deals with the development of the English hymn up to that period.

Any direct traces of literary intercourse between Germany and England before the XVIth century are hard to find; however, with the invention of printing, the establishment of the universities, the Renaissance and the Reformation the literary relations were increased and became important.

In the wide region of satire which was at that time serious and often steeped in theological ideas Germany's works left enduring traces. Brant's "Narrenschiff" translated in the first years of the century helped essentially in accelerating the development of this type of literature in England: reprinted there after an interval of sixty years it was still an inexhaustible model of satire. Another source of dramatic effect destined to have great success on the English stage was found in some hero endowed with supernatural powers, such as Faustus. Thus by introducing a new class of situations into English drama the unusually gifted Germany of the sixteenth century was of great moment for its neighbor, England. Not a little of the quality of the Minnelied, too, reappears in much of the verse of the English lyric writers of this century, when the rose, the nightingale and daisy serve as interpretations of the play of love. In the Mystery Plays there existed doubtless germs of the Meistersänger school: the occasional strophic passages in the Towneley plays resembled to a great extent the normal Meistergesang. This germ, however, did not develop markedly because in England the cultivation of poetry never became a serious occupation. These literary influences from Germany in satire, in Minnelied and in Meistergesang had direct effect upon English intellectual life, and continued uninterrupted through the centuries. The record, on the other hand, of German influence in History, Lyrics and Hymns was more broken and disconnected.


In order to get the story of the development of the hymn we must go back a little. Church music in the mediaeval times belonged to the choir, not to the congregation. The choral hymns in England, as in Germany, were in Latin and many of them were exceedingly beautiful. Although the early English Church received from the continent the most of the Latin hymns used in its service, nevertheless there were a few English authors of Latin hymns. Among this number were Bede, commonly called Venerable Bede (673-735?) who wrote "Adeste, Christi, vocibus," and Anselm of Canterbury, a great architect and theologian, and Thomas à Becket. While psalms and hymns have been used by the Christian Church since its beginning, the particular form of psalms and hymns now in use originated with the Reformation. A wonderful development of this religious lyric poetry sprang up in England and Germany at the beginning of the XVIth century. The reformers in both countries were chiefly concerned in simplifying religious worship, and in giving to the laity a more active participation in it; the choir and anthem, the old liturgic hymn and antiphonal chant gave way to a great extent to hymns in the vernacular, set to the simplest music and sung by the whole congregation. This change was first made by Luther and eagerly copied in England.

When Miles Coverdale in his ungifted way translated Luther's hymns into English his unpoetical and lumbering versions were ill received and were soon proscribed by the Crown. Sternhold and Hopkins who were translators of the psalms became more noticed, but their versions too seem to have been deficient in taste and feeling of lyric poetry. The criticism of the poet Campbell seems to be justified when he says of the authors that "with the best intentions and the worst taste they degraded the spirit of Hebrew Psalmody by flat and homely phraseology; and mistaking vulgarity for simplicity turned into bathos what they found sublime." Although these bleak translations were read in England for a time, they soon disappeared leaving only small traces which were picked up by Wesley more than two centuries later.

So with the royal proscription of Coverdale's work111111It must be remembered, however, that although Coverdale's writings had little influence upon the people of his own time, they have been appreciated by later generations and are among the most sincere monuments to Luther in the English language. Cf. A. Mitchell: The Wedderburns, Edinb., 1868. An example will show the nature and degree of Coverdale's imitation. Here is the first stanza of his version of "Ein' feste Burg": "Oure God is a defence and towre A good armour and good weapen, He hath ben ever oure helpe and sucoure In all the troubles that we have ben in. Therefore wyl we never drede For any wonderous dede By water or by londe In hilles or the sea-sonde. Our God hath them al i his hond.", the dying out of Sternhold and Hopkins' and other similar attempts at translation, the 29 imaginative poetry of German Protestantism which had been caught up in England with such momentary enthusiasm was as rapidly forgotten. Church music was again sung by the choir. The first effort, therefore, in the early XVth century to introduce Lutheran hymnody into the English world contributed little.

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