Posted by: rcottrill | January 24, 2010

Today in 1818 – John Neale Born

John Mason Neale is known mainly as a translator of ancient Greek and Latin hymns.

Neale’s translated hymn Christian, Dost Thou See Them, was written by Andrew of Crete in the seventh century. He also produced the carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and hymns such as Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain, The Day of Resurrection, and Jerusalem the Golden, from ancient texts. For Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid? he took an idea from an eighth century hymn by Stephen of Mar Saba, but almost the entire text of the hymn is Neale’s own work. (“Languid” means fainting and weak.)

Art thou weary, art thou languid,
Art thou sore distressed?
“Come to Me,” saith One, “and coming,
Be at rest.”

If I ask Him to receive me,
Will He say me nay?
Not till earth and not till heaven
Pass away.

Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
Answer, Yes!

Graphic Good King WenceslasJohn Neale also wrote the carol Good King Wenceslas, based on the life of a godly king from nearly a thousand years before his time. Wenceslas, who lived around 907 to 935 A.D., was Duke of Bohemia (part of the Czech Republic). Raised by his godly grandmother, he determined to rule Bohemia on Christian principles.

It was a great pleasure for Wenceslas to do all in his power to aid the poor. Long before Christmas became a time known for gift-giving, he himself developed that practice.  Sadly, Wenceslas’s twin brother was an unbeliever who plotted to return Bohemia to pagan ways. One day, he met the king, and without warning stabbed him to death. It is reported that Wenceslas sank to the ground murmuring, “Brother, may God forgive you.” He was only about thirty years old at the time.

Though Neale’s song does not give us much in the way of Bible doctrine, it tells a story of Christian charity and sacrificial giving. The moral comes in the last stanza: When we bless others with the love of Christ, we ourselves are blessed.

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

(2) Data Missing – Blessed Be the Name
This is one of those popular gospel songs I wanted to include, though we have little data concerning its origin. The words were written in the nineteenth century, by a man named William H. Clark, about whom we know nothing else. The tune seems to have been that of an old camp meeting song, worked over by hymn writers Ralph Hudson and William Kirkpatrick. Sometimes the refrain is paired with Charles Wesley’s O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.

All praise to Him who reigns above
In majesty supreme,
Who gave His Son for man to die,
That He might man redeem!

Blessèd be the name! Blessèd be the name!
Blessèd be the name of the Lord!
Blessèd be the name! Blessèd be the name!
Blessèd be the name of the Lord!

Redeemer, Saviour, Friend of man
Once ruined by the fall,
Thou hast devised salvation’s plan,
For Thou hast died for all.


Responses

  1. The Robert Shaw Chorale also has a wonderful rendition of this song, although I don’t think it’s available online.

    An explanatory note: I grew up hearing this song, always around Christmas, but I could never figure out why, since it doesn’t mention Christmas. At some point I learned that the “Feast of Stephen” referred to St. Stephen’s Day — which is December 26 in the High Church calendar. Hence the connection with Christmas.

    • Don’t know if you celebrate Boxing Day (Dec. 26th) where you are, but we do here. It has become a day for merchandising mania! Folks descend on the stores in hordes, to take advantage of after-Christmas sales. Ironic, give the original purpose of the day. In the Middle Ages, it was a day of benevolence to the poor, and especially to servants. The latter had to work especially hard to prepare for all the Christmas feasts and social events. But on Boxing Day, they were given a “box” of leftovers, and other treats (kind of an old-time “doggy bag!”). This also ties in with the theme of Neale’s carol. (Just didn’t have enough space to tell the tale.)

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