Among the old melodies which it is the chief object of this book to restore to use, some will be found which will be quite new to the public, while others will be familiar though in a somewhat different form; and since the sources whence all the tunes are taken are well known, and have been already largely drawn upon by the compilers of Psalters and Hymnals, any melody which is new in this book may be considered as having been hitherto overlooked or rejected, while in the alternative case it is to be understood that the original cast of the melody has at some former time been altered (frequently to suit the English common metre to which it was not at first conformable), and is now restored.
The plain-song tunes, of which an account is given in the preface to the notes, and the few other old tunes which do not fall into either of the two above-mentioned classes, were included for the sake of their settings.
With respect to the vocal settings in four parts it may be said that, in the numerous cases in which such settings were not added by the composer of the melody, the editors have done their best to supply the want in a suitable manner, and with some attempt towards the particular qualities of workmanship upon which much of the beauty of the old vocal counterpoint depends; and this latter aim has also governed the composition of the six tunes not derived from old sources which have been included in the work.
This book is offered in no antiquarian spirit. The greater number of these old tunes are, without question, of an excellence which sets them above either the enhancement or the ruin of Time, and at present when so much attention is given to music it is to be desired that such masterpieces should not be hidden away from the public, or only put forth in a corrupt and degraded form. The excellence of a nation in music can have no other basis than the education and practice of the people; and the quality of the music which is most universally sung must largely determine the public taste for good or ill.
Since such information as might be looked for in an introduction is given in the notes at the end of the volume, there is nothing to add here but a list of the sources and composers in order of date, which should in the eyes of musicians go far to justify this attempt.