The English Hymnal, 1906

The English Hymnal, 1906 was an important landmark in 20th century British hymnody for several reasons:

1. It contained an often-quoted preface which declared the book to contain "the best hymns in the English language" and ventured the epic statement that "good taste is a moral rather than a musical issue."

2. It included, for the first time in an Anglican book, a group of hymns embracing liberal theology and the social gospel, such as these hymns of American origin:

Immortal love, forever full (John Greenleaf Whittier)
It came upon the midnight clear (Sears) -- UMH #218
Thy kingdom come,' on bended knee (Hosmer)

3. It contained newly written hymns, including:

O God of earth and altar (Gilbert Chesterton)
Judge eternal, throned in splendor (Scott Holland)
From thee all skill and science flow (Charles Kingley)

4. Most memorably, it represented the first hymnic use of a large number of traditional English folk songs. Thanks to the sure editing of Vaughan Williams, many folk melodies were rescued from England's past, including:

KINGSFOLD (O sing a song of Bethlehem, UMH #179)
KING'S LYNN (O God of earth and altar, H82 #231)
FOREST GREEN (I sing the almighty power of God, UMH #152)


5. Vaughan Williams' craftsmanship was applied to composing original tunes, including:

RANDOLPH (God be with you till we meet again, UMH #673)
DOWN AMPNEY (Come down, O love divine, UMH, #475)
SINE NOMINE (For all the saints, UMH #711)

The latter two are generally considered among the great tunes of the 20th century.

[From Sing with Understanding, by Harry Eskew and Hugh McElrath (Nashville: Church Street Press, 2nd edition.]


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