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Lewis ' s Collection of Hymns ,
To the Editor . Dorchester , Sir , Jan . 14 , 1831 . In your number for January , you were favoured with a notice of a Selection of Hymns which I lately published , and intended for the use of such Societies as employ the Exeter Collection . That notice appears to me to require a few observations . The Reviewer enters his protest against the " common practice" of altering hymns , and yet this practice has been adopted by Unitarians for many years , and sanctioned by some " dear and venerated fellow-servants of Jesus . " Without formally examining if the maxim of doing evil that good may come , be truly applicable to this practice , a task which I shall leave to those who " have taken far greater liberties" than myself , I may be permitted to offer a remark on one of the Reviewer ' s " strong reasons" against alterations . He says that " succeeding Editors restore the name , but often neglect to repair the damage , " of what he calls the ' * corruptions of the text ;" " and thus an author is made responsible for words and sentiments which he never put together . " Taking all this for granted , ( which common honesty , one would think , might prevent , ) to whom should the blame be attached ? Certainly not to those who have scrupulously avoided that «* damage , " by entirely omitting the names of any authors .
The Reviewer , to serve his " own purpose , " has made au exception to his rule , where his strong reasons shall be powerless . It is *• where ihe doctrine is so objectionable as to annihilate all sympathy betweeu ourselves and ihe writer . " " Suus cuique raos . " Who is to determine where this sympathy begins , and where it ends ? May not others think they find in some autiquated phraseology , or ludicrous ideas , in grammatical inaccuracies or awkward collocations , in impertinent metaphors or disagreeable allusions , a sufficient cause to annihilate this inuch-cherifshed sympathy between them and the writer ? May not these things furnish good ground for changing * ' woids , lines and stanzas , " without justly incurring the charge of ' sin" and 4 shame" ? " Why , above all , " asks the Reviewer , " is Mrs . Burbauld ' s excellent poem , ' * " Sweet is the scene , " &c , to begin , " How blessed the righteous" ? &c . Simply because the latter is thought
better adapted for general congregational singing . Then he adds , with something of the ardour belonging to the " genus Irritabile vaturo , " * ' if the two succeeding stanzas must be omitted , what hand has had the temerity to substitute for them the following V " A holy quiet reigns around , A calm which life nor death destroys ; Nothing disturbs that peace profound , Which his unfetter ed soul enjoys . " Must he be told that this temerity is to be laid to the charge of Mrs B . herself , with the exception of some slight verbal alterations ; the original stanza , as it stands , at least in all the copies I have seen , being as follows :
" A holy quiet reigns around , A calm which nothing can destroy ; Naught can disturb that peace profound , Which their unfetter'd souls enjoy . "
The Reviewer is very tender of disjoining the hymns used by Christian worshipers from the names of their authors . Is it always desirable to connect the name of the writer with the " divine song" ? Have we not known or heard of hymn-makers whose names would not well serve to excite any very pleasant sensations or devout recollections ? Besides , how few among the generality of our congregations have much acquaintance with the character of ' the writers of Hymns ! " and this number would be still less if the questionable practice of attaching names to Hymns , as weJl as to Prayers , designed for public worship , were altogether discontinued . What is it to the heart , engaged in its holy musings in the sanctuary , whether its sacred stirrings be excited by a Watts or a Doddridge , a Moore or a Montgomery , a Steele or a Barbauld , or by any others who think it best to make some alterations , taking the sufficient precaution by omitting all names , of not " lowering " the literary " reputation" or poetic taste of the original authors ? As to the view which the critic has taken of the alterations , designating them indiscriminately and " per saltum " as " no improvements , " I will only observe , ** valeat quantum valere potest . " The selection is before the public ; and may I be allowed to say , that in the course of six months from its publication , five hundred copies of it were bought up . I never entertained the vain hope that it would suit the taste and feelings of all ; but it has met with a far more general reception and approba-
132 Miscellaneous Correspondence *
Monthly Repository (1806-1838) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), Feb. 2, 1831, page 132, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/mruc/issues/vm2-ncseproduct2594/page/60/