Posted by: rcottrill | August 22, 2010

Today in 1831 – William Cummings Born

William Hayman Cummings was a British soloist, organist, and musicologist. He began his singing career as a boy soprano and matured into an outstanding tenor, acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1847 he was privileged to sing at the premier performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s superb oratorio, Elijah, with the composer himself conducting. He taught voice at the Royal Academy of Music, and later became principal of the Guildhall School of Music.

Cummings is known in hymnody for one contribution only. Felix Mendelssohn had written a cantata in 1840 celebrating the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. William Cummings took one of the melodies and adapted it for use with the carol Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. It’s the tune we use to this day.  And fittingly, the tune is sometimes called Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn, a born again believer, seems to have had an intuition that the melody might have a later usefulness. Several years before Cummings appropriated it, he wrote, “I think there ought to be other words to this tune. If the right ones are hit at I am sure the piece will be liked very much.” However, his crystal ball seems to have failed him at this point, because he added, “It will never do to sacred words.”

Graphic Christmas AngelHark, the Herald Angels Sing is recognized as one of the two greatest hymns of thousands written by Charles Wesley–rivaled only by his Jesus, Lover of My Soul. It is also one of the finest in the English language. The hymn was published by Wesley in 1739, with the now-familiar tune being added about a century later. Wesley’s original first line was “Hark, how all the welkin rings”–welkin being an old word for the heavens or sky. The alteration to what we know now was made 14 years later by evangelist George Whitefield.

The great hymn clearly speaks of the deity and incarnation of Christ, and of the salvation made possible through the new birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

 (2) I Am Praying for You (Data Missing)
Ira Sankey discovered the poem when the Moody-Sankey team visited Ireland in 1874. He wrote a melody to suit it. We know little of the man who wrote I Am Praying for You, other than his wonderful name: Samuel O’Malley Gore Cluff [or Clough] (1837-1910). You can see the full text of this touching invitation hymn, and hear to tune, on the Cyber Hymnal.

I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory,
A dear, loving Saviour though earth friends be few;
And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me;
And oh, that my Saviour were your Savior, too.

For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.

I have a Father; to me He has given
A hope for eternity, blessèd and true;
And soon He will call me to meet Him in heaven,
But, oh, that He’d let me bring you with me, too!

I have a robe; ’tis resplendent in whiteness,
Awaiting in glory my wondering view;
Oh, when I receive it all shining in brightness,
Dear friend, could I see you receiving one, too!

When Jesus has found you, tell others the story,
That my loving Saviour is your Saviour, too;
Then pray that your Saviour may bring them to glory,
And prayer will be answered—’twas answered for you!


  1. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog and allowing me to discover yours! There are so many great stories about the creation of even our most familiar hymns, and we (unfortunately) do not know very many of them. I’m excited to discover more through your blog entries.

    • You’re right that most church-goers sing the hymns week by week, with little awareness of where they came from. But learning a bit about that can enable us to sing with better understanding. It’s my goal to enable folks to do that.

  2. […] Wordwise Hymns (William Cummings) The Cyber […]

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  4. I live in Samuel O’Malley Gore Cluff’s village. What do you want to know about him?

    • How interesting, John! I love it when reader’s who have some personal connection with a hymn writer get in touch. Sometimes I learn added facts that way that aren’t generally available. In Pastor Cluff’s case, do you happen to know the dates of his birth and death (i.e. the day and month, in both 1837 and 1910)? Also, I believe he wrote something like a thousand hymns, but only one has continued in common use. Is there a book where others can be found? Thanks for any help you can give.


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