Page 4, 12th December 1958

12th December 1958
Page 4
Page 4, 12th December 1958 — by the Rev. Desmond Morse-Boycott

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Locations: Exeter, London, Birmingham, Oxford


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by the Rev. Desmond Morse-Boycott

the whole Christian world, if for the oddest of reasons.

The most unrelenting of Protestants. for instance, gladly calls Francis of Assisi Saint, because he loved birds and they loved him. Birds are what the modern entertainment world would call his "gimmick".

We may smile, but it might be worse, as it makes everyone love him. (It has just occurred to me, since writing the above, that his twin-soul St. Clare has been made patron saint of television.)

The world-wide " gimmick " for Newman will undoubtedly be the hymn "Lead, kindly light": for, whatever prayer is offered by whatsoever sort of Christian, sooner or later its sorrowful loveliness is breathed to Heaven.

"The Dream of Gerontius", whether considered as poetry, or as a musical epic. or as the most understandable exposition of the Christian's passage from this world to the next, is sublime, and the fragments we sing as hymns (e.g. " Praise to the holiest in the height") transport the soul to Heaven, but it is in a different category and has not what the makers of films (with their eyes on the Teddy Boy element in cinemas) call " universal appeal".

Orange boat

THE hymn's only enemies have been organists. Let me explain.

Newman wrote it as an Anglican whilst recovering from a dreadful illness in Sicily and trying to get back home. The orange boat in which he lay so helpless and dispirited was becalmed for a whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio whilst he composed the hymn with the thought of some great work awaiting him. In his modesty he always attributed its popularity to Dykes' tune, but as poetry it lives in its own right, whilst the tune would die without it.

Anglo-Catholics as a whole haven't liked it, and organists, disliking Dykes' tune. imposed their wills on clergy, in the way only organists can, and thus, although enshrined in A. and M. and Ell., it has been made a present of to the whole wide, dissenting, evangelical world. which simply loves it. There it %,+, ill never die. It has gained a corner in some Catholic Hymn Books.

Efforts have been made (even by myself) without success to make a new tune for it. Dykes' declines to die. This, I think, is because he really helps the singer o'er moor, o'er fen, o'er crag, o'er torrent, whilst the new composers don't; indeed, one eminent musician takes you along at a hand gallop.

For all this I tried, in a way, to atone when, with the Singing Boys of St. Mary-of-the-Angels Song School, we sang a little service outside Newman's historic Cottages at Littlemore during the centenary celebrations of the church he built there.

Pirate verse

AS one of the processes of t h e Court is to examine Newman's writings I must give it a fragment that it can not gain elsewhere, as being perhaps by now the only living person who has seen the original, which may not now exist, but of which I took a copy. The episode is a startling example of " evangelical piracy" opposed by " Catholic tactfulness ".

The Rev. Edward Henry Bickersteth, the composer of the hymn " Peace, Perfect Peace ", who became Bishop of Exeter, decided, as editor of the " Hymnal Companion ", to add a fourth verse. as follows: Meantime along the narrow rugged path.

Thyself bast trod, Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith, Home to my God In the cairn light of everlasting life, To rest for ever after earthly strife.

That followed, of course, the lovely ending, reminiscent, it has been thought, of visions of angels vouchsafed to the child Newman. Born in 1801, the son of a London banker. he was French on his mother's side. and the early influences which formed him were Calvinistic.

He himself says of his childhood; " I thought life might be a dream. or I an angel. and all the

browsing amongst ancient records to see if Newman originally used a capital A. I find that he must have, since an 1856 edition of " Lyra Apostolica " reprints it so from the " British Magazine," with a large number of his other poems, under the Greek letter "delta," authorship up to that time being secret.

Newman wrote thus to the pubfishers of the "Hymnal Companion


I doubt not I gave leave for my lines " Lead, kindly Light " to be inserted into your collection of hymns—and did so readily—but a stranger has been kind enough to inform me that your compiler has added a verse to it not mine. It is not that the verse is not both in sentiment and language graceful and good, but I think you will at once see how unwilling an author must be to subject himself to the inconvenience of that being ascribed to him which is not his own.

I have not seen it myself in the " Hymnal Companion " but the stanza has been quoted to me. It begins " Meanwhile, along the narrow, etc."

I beg you to pardon me, if this letter is grounded in any mistake. I am, Gentlemen,

Your faithful servant, John H. Newman.

The gentle chiding of this beautiful letter led to the expunging of the " pirate verse " in succeeding editions, but liberties continued to be taken in other directions, for instance in "Church Hymns with Tunes ", edited by Arthur Sullivan, who reduces the capital A to the lower case, puts his own name to a new tune, and does not mention Newman, who by that time, no do bt. had given up all hope of controlling the triumphal progress of his hymn to the four corners of the Christian world.

Dr. Bloxam

TO return from the hymn to the Court. When I read that part of its duty to examine Newman's writings, I thought of the writings. on Newman, and I wondered whether, in search of stray information, it would have to read them all, and, if that was so, how even a multitude of readers could ever cover the ground, since the Newman literature, if piled high, would over top Mont Blanc.

But it can be grateful to the Anglican Church in that his lifelong friend, his first curate at Littlemore, Dr. Bloxam, of Magdalen, and later Rector of Upper Beeding in Sussex, spent a lifetime in doing for him what Boswell did for Johnson. An intimate friend and benefactor of the Oratory at Birmingham, he collected and kept every record, letter, and cutting he could get relating to Newman or by him, in several folio volumes, which he bequeathed to the library of Magdalen College.

The cream of all this may be read in a quite entrancing book published in 1947, by R. D. Middleton, entitled " Newman and Bloxam" (0.U.P.). It will do Anglicans and Catholics much good to read this book, which is devoid of all controversy, except one pathetic plaint to Newman by Bloxam that an infallibility pronouncement would make it harder for Anglicans, already beset by so many difficulties.

But for Dr. Bloxam much would have been scattered and lost, which is at hand as evidence.

His Violin


1 think that Newman reached a height of sanctity

when, loving his violin as he did, he abandoned all use of it, as taking his mind off God. At Oxford be had been an ardent and accomplished player; he writes at Littlemore, whimsically, of getting hold of a violin, re-stringing it and accompanying the hymns there.

But the instrument lay in a corner of Edgbaston, in its green baize bag, for a number of years unused. until one day he heard that the strings were being taught the boys on Sunday afternoons. He had a great regard for violin playing, as being the best thing in the world, better even than drawing, for keeping a boy's mind disciplined.

And so. one Sunday. to everyone's huge delight, he descended to the music room, to play (as he insisted) second fiddle in his own odd way, with the violin perched on his stomach. And rich, rare music he made.

But here I must end by providing the advocatus diaboli with a straw. One day he lent his violin to a boy and the boy lost the green baize cover (how, no one knew). And every time the miserable boy met Newman, the latter would inquire: " Have you found my green bag?"

But boys with violins are a species. One of my own took his violin up to a remote nook in school to practise, and having tuned it, laid it on the floor, whilst propping up his music, at which moment another boy rushed out of the dormitory, trod upon the violin and crushed it.

A little later the two tearful boys presented themselves to me but in honour of John Henry Newman and the green baize bag I found the grace to forgive them and bury the wreck. I think, could he but hear this reminiscence. the great Cardinal we love and revere '' on our side ". would enjoy it.

"The author of this article, who first published the story of the violin in the green baize bag in his book " They Shine like Stars ", would be grateful to have it authenticated or otherwise, as the reference now eludes him. But in his unsuccessful researches he has come across the following in " Newman Se his friends" by Henry Tristram (Bodley Head): " [Dean] Church and Rogers cornbined to give Newman a violin as a moment() . . . to him the violin proved an undiluted joy. 'Think of my not having a good one till I was between sixty and seventy,' he said in writing to thank Church, 'and beginning to learn it when I was ten! However, I really think it will add to my power of working, and the length ofsmy life.

"I never wrote more than when I played the fiddle. .1 always sleep better after music. There must be some electric current from the strings through my fingers into the brain and clown the spinal marrow. Perhaps it is music.' That violin he used constantly, and kept until 1883; and then he in turn passed it on to Church's daughter . . ."

The above, read in the light of the story, seems to lend it verisimilitude.

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