Sunday, July 30, 2006

Jerusalem, my happy home

On Tuesday, which was St James's day, we sang a hymn (number 228 in the New English Hymnal) which begins "Jerusalem thou city blest".

The words, according to the foot of the page, are by the EDITORS.

In the English Hymnal there was a hymn in three parts with 26 verses, for a saint's day procession, which began "Jerusalem my happy home." It seems clear that the NEH editors were trying to model their work on that, since they have retained one verse intact:

In thee no sickness may be seen,
no hurt, no ache, no sore;
In thee there is no dread of death,
But life for evermore.

... write the editors of the New English Hymnal, echoing the editors of the English Hymnal.

That verse, however, had already been revised before it made into the EH. This is what F.B.P. wrote:

In thee no sickness may be seen,
no hurt, no ache, no sore;
there is no death nor ugly devil,
there is life for evermore.

F.B.P is the otherwise unknown author of the 16th century manuscript from which the words were taken. They are said to be based on stuff in St Augustine. But the NEH has not much left of F.B.P. Among the gems that have gone missing are the following:

Thy walls are made of precious stones,
thy bulwarks diamonds square;
thy gates are of right orient pearl;
exceeding rich and rare;

thy turrets and thy pinnacles
with carbuncles do shine;
thy very streets are paved with gold,
surpassing clear and fine;

thy houses are of ivory,
thy windows crystal clear;
thy tiles are made of beaten gold--
O God that I were there!

Within thy gates nothing doth come
that is not passing clean,
no spider's web, no dirt, no dust,
no filth may there be seen.

and a bit further on, these:

We that are here in banishment
continually do mourn:
we sigh and sob, we weep and wail,
perpetually we groan.

and these:

There's nectar and ambrosia made,
there's musk and civet sweet;
there many a fair and dainty drug
is trodden under feet.

There cinnamon, there sugar grows,
there nard and balm abound.
What tongue can tell or heart conceive
the joys that there are found?

And some mention of the saints one might encounter there:

There David stands with harp in hand
as master of the choir:
ten thousand times that man were blessed
that might this music hear.

Our Lady sings Magnificat
with tune surpassing sweet,
and all the virgins bear their parts,
sitting about her feet.

Te deum doth Saint Ambrose sing,
Saint Austin doth the like;
Old Simeon and Zachary
Have not their songs to seek.

There Magdalen hath left her moan,
and cheerfully doth sing
with bless├Ęd saints, whose harmony
in every street doth ring.

So what do we have in the NEH to displace all those vivid individuals and their peculiar joys in heaven? Well we have this:

And praise and honour be to him
Whom earth and heaven obey
For that blest saint whose festival
Doth glorify this day.

Enough said.


Cuddly Tiger said...

there is no death nor ugly devil

There is no ugly devil in my [old] English Hymnal, where that line reads In thee there is no dread of death as in the NEH.

The Handbook to the Church Hymnary sheds a little more light on the mysterious origins of these verses. The old EH got them from a manuscript in the British Museum entitled "A Song made by F.B.P. To the tune of Diana." One conjecture is that the author was one "Francis Baker, Presbyter", a priest imprisoned in the Tower of London. But the Westminster Hymnal ascribes the verses tentatively to Fr Laurence Anderton, alias John Brerely SJ, a priest of the time of Charles I.

The Handbook tells us that the tune Diana (found in no modern hymnals) was discussed in The Musical Times, March 1922, p.201, by Sir R.R. Terry, with a conjectural restoration of the melody from the bass part. It also informs us that "A hymn beginning

O mother dear, Jerusalem,
When shall I come to thee?

became very popular in Scotland in the seventeenth century. It has many close resemblances to F.B.P.'s hymn, and [J.M.] Neale characteristically says; 'It ... was most impudently appropriated to himself and mixed up with a quantity of his own rubbish by one Dickson, a Covenanter.'"

It's hardly surprising that little of that long processional found its way into the NEH. The quaint charm of many of the lines really doesn't compensate for their contrived scansion, and All the virgins bear their parts was notoriously liable to ribald misconstrual. But that doesn't excuse the Seven Gents for chopping it down to a one-size-fits-all gradual, with its bathetically dismissive reference to "that blest [nameless] saint".

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