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Evan Roberts Quote : Christian Books : III ARCHAISMS IN THE HYMNS

The Hymns Of Methodism In Their Literary Relations by Charles H. Kelly


The style of Wesley's hymns is distinctly the most modern poetical style of the period. There are, however, a few archaisms, all of which are dealt with, we believe, in the following notes. In the examples from the hymns, the numbers given are those of the Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780).



Thou our sacrifice receive,

Acceptable through Thy Son.

The older pronunciation, as in Milton:

Thy perfect gift, so good,

So fit, so acceptable, so divine.


Cemented by love divine,

Seal our souls for ever Thine!

The older pronunciation, as in Shakespeare:

The fear of us

May cement their divisions, and bind up

The petty difference.

But this pronunciation was already giving way before Wesley's time. Witness the lines of Swift, in the City Shower (1710):

Sole coat! where dust cemented by the rain,

Erects the nap, and leaves a cloudy stain!


His friends and confessors to own,

And seat us on our glorious throne.

This is the historical pronunciation, which did not give way until the beginning of the nineteenth century. After this, for a while, both pronunciations were current, and there was an attempt to distinguish the two senses of the word by the differing accents -- cónfessor, one who witnesses for religion in the face of danger -- the meaning of the word in the hymn -- conféssor one who makes or receives confession of a fault.

But Wesley's pronunciation was universal up to his time, and for years after. So in Dryden (using the word in the second sense):

For sundry years before did he complain,

And told his ghostly confessor his pain.


Give the sweet relenting grace,

Soften this obdurate stone!

The older pronunciation, as always in Shakespeare and Milton:

His baleful eyes,

That witnessed huge affliction and dismay,

Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.


Where shall I wander now to find,

The successors they left behind?

The older pronunciation as in Dryden:

I here declare you rightful successor,

And heir immediate to my crown.



He prevents His creatures' call,

Kind and merciful to all.

This, of course, is the old and primary sense of the word, as in the collect:

Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with Thy most gracious favor.

And in Izaak Walton, who records that be rose early to go fishing, preventing the sunrise.'


Whate'er I have was freely given;

Nothing but sin I call my own:

Other propriety disclaim.

Thou only art the great I AM.

This is the Latin sense of the word -- what we mean now by property, proprietorship.' So, in Milton:

Hail, wedded Love, mysterious law, true source

Of human offspring, sole propriety

In Paradise of all things common else!


My inmost bowels shalt resent

The yearnings of Thy dying love.

When the word was first introduced into the language, in the seventeenth century, it simply meant, as the French ressentir still does, to feel -- to have a sense or feeling of that which had been done to us, but whether a sense of gratitude for tbe good, or of enmity for the evil, the word said nothing' (Trench, Select Glossary, p.186). It was only gradually that the sense of the word was narrowed to express angry feeling alone.

The earlier and wider significance of the word (as in the hymn) is seen in these examples:

It was mighty well resented and approved of.

'Tis by my touch alone that you resent

What objects yield delight, what discontent.


The Unitarian fiend expel,

And chase his doctrine back to hell.

Remarks have often been ignorantly made on the bitter intolerance of these lines, which many have understood as referring to the teaching of those whom we now call Unitarians. The fact is, of course, that they refer solely to Mahometanism. The hymn is headed, in the Collection of 1780, For the Mahometans' (in the pamphlet in which it was originally published, For the Turks'), and it is full of specific allusions to Mahomet, That Arab-thief, as Satan bold, Who quite destroyed Thine Asian fold.' The use of of Unitarian in reference to Moslem doctrine is quite correct, and, in the eighteenth century, was quite common. Gibbon, in describing the rise of Islam, refers again and again to the march of the Unitarian armies, the advance of the Unitarian banners. Those Christians who deny the Divinity of Christ were always called Socinians in Wesley's time; it was only at the end of the eighteenth century that they began to be generally called Unitarians. Indeed the next hymn but one to this in the Hymns of Intercession for all Mankind (1758), is entitled For the Arians, Socinians, Deists, Pelagians, &c.'


There is one grammatical archaism which frequently recurs in the hymns -- the use of the Preterite for the Passive Participle, as in

The Sun of Righteousness on me

Hath rose with healing in his wings.

Holiness unto the Lord,

Still be wrote upon our heart.

and innumerable other examples.

Wesley, in his Short English Grammar, published in 1748, gives rose' and strove' as being both the Imperfect and the Passive Participle of rise' and strive.' He gives writ' or wrote' as the Imperfect, and written' as the Participle of write.'

In the Gentleman's Magazine of 1758 there is a witty poem by Dr. Byrom, The Passive Participle's Petition:

Till just of late, good English has thought fit

To call me written, or to call me writ:

But what is writ or written, by the vote

Of writers now, hereafter must be wrote,

And what is spoken, too, hereafter spoke,

And measures never to be broken, broke.

I never could be driven, but in spite

Of Grammar, they have drove me from my right.

None could have risen, to become my foes:

But what a world of enemies have rose!

Who have not gone, but they have went about,

And, torn as I have been, have tore me out.

The poem, which was probably suggested by The Humble Petition of Who and Which, in the Spectator, ends with the appeal:

Let all The learned take some better heed,

And leave the vulgar to confound the due

Of preter sense, and participle too.

Dr. Lowth also protested against this usage, and declared: This abuse has been long growing upon us, and is continually making further encroachments.' On the other hand, Home Tooke, in the Diversions of Pitney (1786), maintained that it was not a growing usage, but one which had greatly decreased; that it was not an innovation, but the idiom of the language'; and that examples of it might be given from every writer in the English tongue.' The pioneer of English philology was right. Byrom was mistaken in thinking the usage of recent introduction. It occurs more or less in all English writers until the middle of the eighteenth century. So Shakespeare, where Queen Katherine says in Henry VIII (ii.4,30)

Or which of your friends

Have I not strove to love, although I knew

He were mine enemy?

and where Edmund says in King Lear (i.2, 93):

I dare pawn down my life for him, that he hath wrote this to feel my affection to your honor.

And often in Dryden:

I made a sacred and a solemn vow

To offer up the prisoners that were took.

Nevertheless, we have a strong impression that the practice of using the Preterite instead of the Participle was commoner in the early eighteenth century than it had ever been before, and we would suggest that this was because the age had become sensitive to the confusion, and was endeavoring to reach a consistent usage -- either by making the Preterite regularly serve instead of the Participle, as the Wesleys did, or by distinguishing regularly between them -- the usage which finally prevailed. Lowth and Byrom felt that the use of the Preterite for the Participle was becoming more common, as in some writers it probably was, through an effort after consistency, and they concluded that it was a new abuse, which it was not.

And, finally, there is the use of rent' for rend':

My stony heart Thy voice shall rent,

Thou wilt, I trust, the veil remove.

John Wesley, in his Short English Grammar, gives rend' as the Present Tense, and rent' as the Imperfect; but Charles Wesley, in the hymns, consistently used rent' as the Present Tense of the verb. There is warrant for it in earlier writers, as in Shakespeare:

And will yon rent our ancient love asunder

To join with men in scorning your poor friend?

And in George Herbert:

Better by worms be all once spent,

Than to have hellish moths still gnaw and fret

Thy name in books, which may not rent.

Rent' as the Present Tense occurred in several passages of the Authorized Version of the Bible, but it has been altered in later editions in every case but one (Jer.4:30).

Rend' and rent' would appear to have been used indifferently for the Present Tense -- as they are in Shakespeare -- until nearly Wesley's time.

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