British Nineteenth-Century Children's Hymns
In today’s society, hymns, when they are still sung at all, are primarily sung in church, or church-related activities (camps, etc.), and they are usually sung as the entire congregation, of all ages. Popular music dominates what children sing on their own, even what might be sung in schools and at home. In the nineteenth century, in both England and America, folk songs and popular music existed but what children—of all classes—would sing on a daily basis were hymns: they sang them at home, they sang them at church, they sang them at the church-sponsored schools, they sang them at public (boarding) schools, later they sang them in the national schools.
Yet this culture of children’s hymn-singing has not been studied thoroughly. My study stems both from my personal love of hymn-singing, as a youth and now as an adult, and from my two areas of scholarship—Victorian aesthetics and children’s literature—as they converged into a study of Victorian children’s hymnody. It focuses primarily on the situation in England and spans the entire nineteenth century. It is based on three research trips to England, 2006-2014, as I delved into archives and libraries for extant hymn books (I am using the 19th-century term, not "hymnals" that we might use today) for children of the era, which was an incredibly rich--and unique--genre of book-publishing for children rarely seen in such quantities before or since: in my study along, I amassed a bibliography of over 100 hymn books.
In my analysis of these various hymn books and the culture of hymn-singing, I make the following claims:
- Hymns challenge and empower children, placing deep theology and rich poetry within the grasp of children.
- The music is just as powerful, and perhaps even more inspirational at times, as the text, making hymns for adults with engaging tunes very popular in children’s hymn books.
- Victorians offered hymns to children as a way that those children could impact the world around them, in missionary work, temperance work, and even animal welfare (temperance leagues for children were called Bands of Hope and animal-welfare organizations were called Bands of Mercy).
The results of this 10-year project are a book published by Ashgate Publishers (now Routledge) in 2016: British Hymn Books for Children, 1800-1900: Re-Tuning the History of Childhood with the following chapters/foci:
- Creating Communities of Song: Class and Gender in Children’s Hymn-Singing Experiences;
- Re-Writing the History of Children’s Literature: Three Periods of Children’s Hymnody;
- Erasing Child-Adult Distinctions: “Crossover” Children’s Hymn-Texts and Tunes;
- Staging the Child: Agency and Stasis for Children in Art and Hymn-Book Illustrations;
- Reforming Society: Missionary, Bands of Hope, and Bands of Mercy Hymns; and
- Resurrecting the Child: The Cult of the Deathbed, Hymns of Faith, and Children of Life.
I invite you to purchase the book, now in paperback!
As part of my research, I calibrated the number of times a hymn appeared in each of 100 19th-century children's hymn books to determine its frequency, and thus popularity. In the following table, then, "No." is the order of that frequency; % is the percentage of frequency (of 100 hymn books); with additional information given of text and tune (hymns could be set to different tunes throughout the century). The title of each hymn is linked to a page with more information about the hymn: interpretation, audio recording, hymn text and musical score.
|No.||%||Title||Date||Author of the text||Tune (composer if known)|
|1||46||I think, when I read that sweet story of old||1841||Jemima Thompson Luke||Greek tune|
|2||43||Awake, my soul, and with the sun||1674||Thomas Ken||"Morning hymn"|
|3||42||Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear||1827||John Keble||"Hursley"|
|4||41||From Greenland’s icy mountains||1823||Reginald Heber||"Missionary Hymn" by Lowell Mason|
|5||40||Hark! The herald angels sing||1739||Charles Wesley||"Berlin" from Mendelssohn|
|6||38||There is a happy land||1843||Andrew Young||"Happy land"|
|7||33||Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty||1826||Reginald Heber||"Nicea" by J. B. Dykes|
|8||33||Rock of Ages, cleft for me||1776||Augustus Toplady||"Redhead" by Richard Redhead|
|9||31||All hail the power of Jesus’ name||1779||Edward Perronet||"Diadem" by James Ellor|
|10||31||Glory to Thee, my God, this night||1695||Thomas Ken||"Tallis’ Canon"|
|11||29||Abide with me, fast falls the eventide||1847||Henry Francis Lyte||"Eventide" by Wm. H. Monk|
|12||29||I sing the almighty power of God||1715||Isaac Watts||"Washington"|
|13||26||Nearer, my God, to thee||1841||Sarah Flower Adams||"Horbury" by J. B. Dykes|
|14||25||Around the throne of God in heaven||1838||Anne Shepherd||"Glory"|
|15||25||Great God, and will Thou condescend||1810||Anne and Jane Taylor||"Holley" by G. Hews|
|16||25||There’s a Friend for little children||1859||Albert Midlane||"Children’s Friend"|
|17||24||Gentle Jesus, meek and mild||1742||Charles Wesley||"Innocent"|
|18||23||Here we suffer grief and pain||1832||Thomas Bilby||"Joyful"|
|19||22||Christ the Lord is risen today||1739||Charles Wesley||"Easter Hymn"|
|20||22||Jerusalem the golden||1861||John Mason Neale||"Ewing" by Alexander Ewing|
|21||20||Hushed was the evening hymn||1857||James Burns||"Samuel" by Arthur Sullivan|
|22||18||We are but little children weak||1850||C. F. Alexander||"Alstone"|
|23||16||Once in Royal David’s City||1848||C. F. Alexander||"Irby" by H. J. Gauntlett|
|24||9||Jesus, Lover of my soul||1740||Charles Wesley||"Hollingside" by J. B. Dukes|
|25||8||I love to tell the story||1866||Katherine Hankey||"Hankey" by Wm. Fischer|
|26||7||Jesus bids us shine||1881||Susan Warner||"Little Soldiers"|
|27||1||Father, in high heaven dwelling||1896||unknown||Music by W. Jackson|
|28||1||One day, dear children, you must die||1862||unknown||Music by John B. Dykes|
|29||1||Voice of the Helpless (Band of Mercy)||1897||Carlotta Perry||Music by L. B. Marshall|
|30||1||Lift aloft our banner (Band of Mercy)||1897||Thomas Timmons||"Battle Hymn of the Republic"|
|31||1||There is a happy time (Band of Hope) ||1861||unknown||"Happy Land"|
My daughter, Annetta Itnyre, grew up during the writing of this book, accompanying my husband and me to England all three times and learning quite a few of these hymns to record by herself or with friends. Then, in June 2015, with immense help from my colleague Dr. Jessica Raposo, director of music at Indiana University East, I auditioned for and created a “Hymn Camp” of 18 children grades 4th through 8th, boys and girls, to learn some of these hymns. For a week, we taught them about 17 hymns which we then recorded. It was inspiring to see children of today become as excited about hymns as I imagine many nineteenth-century children becoming! Go to CREDITS where I recognize these talented young people and the many others who made this first camp such a success.
FEATURES ON THIS SITE:
Please use the drop-down INDEX in the top left corner to find additional resources. For example, you can also view all the SCORES of the hymns as taken from nineteenth-century children’s hymn books that I own. Separate pages also give all the RECORDINGS, and a chronological TIMELINE of the hymns. I also include many pictures from the children's camp (used with permission) throughout the website, including the one here showing children AFTER the official picture above--"being goofy"--as children certainly can, then and now!
It is thanks to Jessica and the children that I may share the joy of children’s hymn-singing with the world. Enjoy!
Dr. Alisa Clapp-Itnyre
Professor of English,
Indiana University East