William Dix’s father was a surgeon in Bristol, England. He wrote a biography of English poet Thomas Chatterton (also from Bristol). And so impressed was he with this eighteenth century author that he gave his son “Chatterton” as a middle name! William Chatterton Dix attended Bristol Grammar School in England, and later became the manager of a marine insurance company in Glasgow. An ardent Christian, he wrote several volumes of poetry and more than 40 hymns.
Mr. Dix has given us two fine Christmas carols: What Child Is This? and As with Gladness Men of Old. Lesser known, but of equal worth, is the hymn Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.
It has been claimed that What Child Is This? was taken from a longer poem called The Manger Throne, but that does not seem to be the case. Rather, it was written as an independent carol. It makes use of the old tune Greensleeves (a melody over 400 years old, that is mentioned several times in Shakespeare’s plays). For some reason recent editors have turned the last half of the first stanza into a repeated refrain for this hymn. But this misses the meaningful words of the second stanza. See if you can find a version that includes the whole song.
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Mr. Dix wrote As with Gladness Men of Old on a Sunday when he was sick in bed and unable to attend church–it was a rarity for him to miss. He thought of the visit of the wise men, and of our need to offer our own gifts and worship to the Lord.
As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.
As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.
There is a lovely last stanza to the hymn that is not included in most hymnals. It brings the story of the incarnation to a fitting conclusion.
In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!
(2) There Are Angels Hovering Round (Data Missing)
This is another of those songs whose origins are lost in obscurity. The earliest publication I’ve seen is in a book called The Millennial Harp, published in 1843. I recall my father tell of hearing Dr. William Ward Ayre and his wife singing it as a soul-stirring duet, one hot summer night. (This would be at the Philpott Tabernacle, in Hamilton, Ontario, likely in the 1930’s.)
There are many, many stanzas of this simple song. Here is the version I’m most familiar with.