Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Come, Ye Sinners (I Will Arise)

Praise for the Lord #113

Words: Joseph Hart, 1759; chorus, Walker's Southern Harmony, 1835
Music: Walker's Southern Harmony, 1835 (RESTORATION)

The three stanzas given in this arrangement of Hart's hymn are the same as those discussed in the preceding post, so I will only note here the few changes that appear, and the chorus that was added.

Hart's original six-line stanzas are abbreviated to the more common "ballad stanza" or quatrain by simply lopping off the last two lines. Though there is something of Hart's message lost, of course, he did tend to reach his point by the 3rd and 4th lines of each stanza, and use the 5th and 6th to reinforce his statement. The omission of these lines is thus less catastrophic to the overall meaning of the hymn, and to the structure of the poetry itself, than would usually be the case.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome,
God's free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Ev'ry grace that brings us nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken, full of sin;
If you tarry till you're better,
You may never enter in.

The chorus that follows each stanza, however, is by an entirely different hand:

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O! There are ten thousand charms.

Raymond Glover has identified this as a variant on one of the stanzas of Caleb Jarvis Taylor's "Don't you see my Jesus coming?"(Glover, v.3, p.550)
I will arise and go to meet Him,
And embrace Him in my arms,
In the arms of my dear Jesus,
O there are ten thousand charms
Caleb Jarvis Taylor (1763-1816) was a schoolteacher from Maryland who served as a fill-in preacher for Methodist churches in western Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 1792 he moved to north central Kentucky, where he continued to teach school as his primary support, but preached wherever and whenever he could. Sometimes he preached as an official circuit rider sponsored by a Methodist association, but more often it was his willingness to fill vacancies for other preachers that kept him in the pulpit.(Fry, 403ff.) He was the founder of the Mt. Gilead Methodist Church just north of Paris, Kentucky, also known as the Old Matheny Meeting House, probably the earliest Methodist congregation in that area northeast of Lexington.(City Buzz) By 1795 he relocated to the vicinity of what is now Maysville, Kentucky, along the Ohio River.(Steele & Hulan, 73)

The Mt. Gilead meeting house was less than ten miles from the famous Cane Ridge meeting house, and Taylor's new home was only around 50 miles north on the old road that is today U.S. Route 68, so it was inevitable that Taylor was right in the thick of the Second Great Awakening. And though he was known to be a successful revivalist, he was noted by his contemporaries as well as by modern historians as one of the chief songwriters of this watershed moment in American religious history.(See list of Taylor sources at the end of the References section.)

Though much of the camp-meeting singing was still from Watts and Wesley, this movement sparked an outburst of new songs that seemed to be cut from the same rough timber as a frontier meeting-house, or as the men and women who worshiped in them. The lyrics were direct and unpolished, and the tunes were often the same that might be heard from any backwoods fiddler or balladeer. Many have been traced to the old English and Scottish ballads of earlier centuries. Taylor's lyrics were not the sort to last for centuries, but like King David who "served the purpose of God in his own generation,"(Acts 13:36) they fanned the flames of zeal in a great popular revival of interest in spiritual matters--something we stand sorely in need of today.

Taylor's first publication of hymns appears to have been the Spiritual Songs of 1804. I do not know if "Don't you see my Jesus coming?" was in that collection, but this hymn was in circulation before then, whether orally or in print; Elijah Woolsey, a Methodist preacher working in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, knew it as early as 1802.(Woolsey, 81-83) Interestingly, the particular stanza in question was dropped in some later versions of Taylor's hymn, but in both its original and in its modern altered form it found a second life as a chorus:
  • Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Use of Christians, 8th edition (Baltimore: Warner & Hanna, 1806). Here Taylor's stanza, still close to its original form, is actually made a chorus to the hymn from which it sprang, "Don't you see my Jesus coming."(Hymnary.org)
  • In the Sacred Harp community the revised form of the "I will arise" text is well known as the chorus to "Come, Thou Fount of every blessing," which is sung to the 1835 Southern Harmony tune RESTORATION. This was introduced in  J. S. James's Original Sacred Harp in 1911,(Glover, v.3, p.550) but the association of this chorus with "Come, Thou Fount" goes back much further. A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use, ed. Stith Mead (Richmond, Va.: Stith Mead, 1807) accompanies "Come, Thou Fount" with Jarvis's original stanza as a chorus.(Hymnary.org)
  • Lindsey Watson's Singer's Choice (Louisville, Kentucky, 1874) employs the revised form of this text as a chorus to "Mercy, O Thou Son of David." This is also sung to the Southern Harmony tune, and has a long tradition among Primitive Baptists.(Glover, v.3, p.550)
  • Philip P. Bliss included the revised chorus in his 1874 Gospel Songs (incidentally, this was the publication that popularized the designation "gospel songs"), pairing it with the text "Far, far away from my loving Father." He notes that it was "furnished by S. H. Price," and calls it "one of the old-fashioned camp-meeting spirituals."
  • Other less common pairings are "Listen, sinner, mercy hails you" (Standard Church Hymnal, 1888) and "O'er the weary roads of sadness" (Windows of Heaven, 1894)
The most fascinating aspect of this evolution is the re-invention of the lyrics to suit a completely different subject. Taylor's original hymn is about Christ's second coming, and the stanza in question was an impassioned imagining of the soul's response at the first sight of the long-sought Savior. But with the alteration of just a few words, this became an invitation to come to Jesus for salvation; in particular, the phrase "I will arise and go" connected in people's minds with the words of the repentant prodigal son, "I will arise and go to my father."(Luke 15:18) The actions of the prodigal's father are also suggested, who "ran and embraced him and kissed him."(Luke 15:20)

But there is something else in this text that makes me think it might be at least partially descended from some secular song--the line "In the arms of my dear Savior / O there are ten thousand charms." Substitute "sweetheart" for "Savior," and you have an entirely different song! It is also possible that Taylor had in mind some of the language of the Song of Solomon:
I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.(Song of Solomon 3:2)

My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.(Song of Solomon 5:10)
Many readers will also recognize in the latter quotation a possible inspiration for the line "He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul" in the old song, "I have found a Friend in Jesus." Such expansive and dramatic language of endearment toward Jesus was a part of the spirit of the times--and if it is sung sincerely, what is wrong with that?

About the music:

The tune "I will arise" (RESTORATION in some books) is an old and widely traveled melody. George Pullen Jackson identified connections with other early American hymns and secular songs suggesting a family of related tunes.(Spiritual Folk Songs, #239) Jackson also determined that the most likely ancestor is the very old Scottish ballad "Hind Horn," #17 in the Child ballads.("Some Factors," 368 n.9) Here are some of this tune's different incarnations:

Missouri All-State Choir 2012, a nice arrangement
that is similar to those in modern hymnals.

This is the Sacred Harp version, sung at the 2012 
Golden Gate All-Day Singing in San Francisco.

If you aren't familiar with Sacred Harp: The first time through they are singing the solfege syllables using the old FA-SOL-LA-MI system. And yes, we always sing that loud, with no vibrato. Many of the chords are open 5ths (no 3rds, hollow-sounding), and the melody is in the tenor voice with a "treble" part as the highest women's voice. In some respects it resembles the music of the European Middle Ages. Some people find it harsh-sounding; to me, it's the kind of rugged, no-frills music that suited the New England colonists who created it, and the mountain folk who carried it west.

Finally, an Irish version of "Hind Horn," the ballad from
which this tune probably derived. They are at least cousins!

Jackson tells the amusing story of hearing this tune sung by a former missionary to China, who insisted it was original to the Chinese Christian community.("Some Factors," 366ff.) The simple minor pentatonic scale (MI SOL LA DO RE MI) of this tune in its basic form has certainly contributed to its longevity, and to its wide adoption.

The earliest appearance of this tune in print, however, still appears to be that found in William Walker's Southern Harmony.(Glover, 549) As was typical of the old colonial singing-school music, Walker's arrangement places the melody in the tenor voice; he added a bass part below and a "treble" above. The Sacred Harp version has an alto part, added in later years, to fill out a more typical voicing.

William "Singing Billy" Walker (1809-1875) was a Baptist song leader from Spartanburg, South Carolina. His Southern Harmony (1835) is one of the most important hymn publications in American history, because it preserved many of the melodies of the camp-meeting folk hymns at a time when the generation that created them was passing away. (Earlier publications of camp-meeting songs did not include the music.) One easy gauge of its importance is the fact that Southern Harmony was the first hymnal to pair John Newton's text "Amazing grace" with the Southern tune "New Britain," establishing what must be the most universally recognized contribution of American hymnody.(Eskew)


Glover, Raymond F. The Hymnal 1982 Companion. New York: Church Pension Fund, 1994.

Woolsey, Elijah. The Supernumerary, edited by George Coles. New York: Lane & Tippett, 1845. http://books.google.com/books?id=_N0QAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA81#v=onepage&q&f=false

Jackson, George Pullen. Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America. New York: J.J. Augustin, 1937.

Eskew, Harry. Introduction to Southern Harmony (Online edition). Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Sources on Caleb Jarvis Taylor:

Redford, Albert Henry. The History of Methodism in Kentucky, volume 2, From the Conference of 1808 to the Conference of 1820. Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Methodist Publishing, 1870. http://books.google.com/books?id=D8gYAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA128#v=onepage&q&f=false

Fry, B. St. James. "The Early Camp-Meeting Song Writers." Methodist Quarterly Review, 4th series, 43:3 (Summer 1859), pp. 401-413. http://books.google.com/books?id=Q4dJAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA401#v=onepage&q&f=false

Steele, David Warren, and Richard H. Hulan. The Makers of the Sacred Harp. University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Hinde, Thomas S. "Religious and Missionary Intelligence, an appendix to Short Sketches of Revivals of Religion in the Western Country." Methodist Magazine volume 11 (1828), 189-192, 313-317. N.B. This article is signed "Theophilus Arminius," but the author identifies himself as the compiler of the Pilgrim Songster (1810), who is known to be Hinde.

The City Buzz (Cynthiana & Paris, Kentucky), number 71, 5 August 2011. http://www.thecitybuzz.net/files/City_Buzz_Edition_71_pdf.pdf

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Come, Ye Sinners (Greenville)

Praise for the Lord #112

Words: Joseph Hart, 1759
Music: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1752 (GREENVILLE)

Joseph Hart (1712-1768) was never voted "most likely to become a minister" by the friends of his youth. Though raised among Christian influences, he was not serious about spiritual matters and soon fell into, as he put it, the "vanities and vices" of youth. But as an adult he began to feel a concern for his soul, running what he described as "an uneasy restless round of sinning and repenting."(Hymns, iii) Frustrated by his inner turmoil, he looked for answers elsewhere; and listening to all the wrong voices of the age, fell captive to a doctrine that taught grace unfettered by any responsibility. Among his scholarly writings during this period was a scathing attack on John Wesley titled The Unreasonableness of Religion (1741), which reveals his adherence to the rationalist critics and to a certain extent to deism. But approaching the age of forty, he became convicted of the error of his beliefs and reformed his ways. Over the next few years he began in earnest to seek a truer path, and eventually became a minister to a Congregationalist body in London.(Hymns, vi)

Hymns composed on various subjects (1759), which went through countless editions as "Hart's Hymns," was written during this period of deep soul-searching and repentance beginning around 1757. According to Hart, "They are published not only in the same order, but also in the same manner in which they were first written: for though they have since undergone a cursory revisal, and have been lightly retouched, the alterations I have made in them are neither very numerous nor material."(Hymns, i-ii) His collection is therefore not only an anthology of his work, but a spiritual journal of this period in his life. And for a body of hymns so quickly got together, his work well stood the test of time. Augmented by his supplements of 1762 and 1768,(Julian, 492) "Hart's Hymns" became a staple in Calvinist circles. A search of Worldcat.org shows that new printings appeared every two or three years for more than a century, and the collection was reprinted as recently as 1965 by the Sovereign Grace Union in the U.K., and in 1980 by the Old Paths Gospel Press in Chouteau, Montana.

"Come, ye sinners" is held by many to be Hart's greatest hymn.(Wright, 99) It is #100 in his original 1759 collection, and falls within the last group of hymns in that work (#76-119), probably written in the spring of that year.(Wright, 52) These hymns as a group seem to look back in review of Hart's spiritual journey, though they still shows flashes of that "disorder and darkness of soul" that plagued him over his sins.(Hymns, 1) Frequent themes are the assurance of salvation (as Hart understood it in a strict Calvinist sense), our hopelessness without the atoning work of Christ, the majesty of Christ revealed in His humble sacrifice, and--this in particular--encouragement to the weak in faith.

Hart could speak to this last group from his own experience. His biographer Thomas Wright said, "No man had a deeper knowledge of the needs and depravity of the human heart."(Wright, 53) Most men would cringe to hear that said of them, but Hart's own assessment is far more harsh. He did not mind at all using himself as an example to sinners:
No goodness, no fitness
Expects He from us;
This I can well witness,
For none could be worse.
(Hymns, #83, p. 114)
To this extent, then, "Come, ye sinners" is as much autobiography as invitation.

The title of "Come ye sinners" in Hart's hymnal is "Come and welcome to Jesus Christ," almost certainly borrowed from John Bunyan's work of same name.(Wright, 45 n.1) Bunyan's treatise is an exposition of John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." Though Hart's hymn does not necessarily borrow directly from Bunyan, they are closely tied to the same ideas.

Hart's original text was 7 stanzas, and has undergone so many alterations and revisions that even John Julian threw up his hands and stopped counting.(Julian, 492) The three stanzas given with the GREENVILLE tune in Praise for the Lord are the 1st, 2nd, and 4th from the original, and are probably those most commonly found in modern hymnals.

Stanza 1:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow'r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing: doubt no more.

The opening phrase has a long history in English folk song, so much in fact that there is an entire genre called "come-all-ye" songs. In addition to drawing the attention of the audience, the phrase emphasizes the typical instructional nature of the song, and usually identifies the singer with the people being addressed. A "come-all-ye" could be to members of a dangerous profession--"Come all ye bold sailors," or miners, or firemen, or soldiers--and was then usually a sympathetic story of the trails common to that walk of life. Equally often, there were "come-all-ye" songs addressed to the young--"Come all ye fair maidens," or "Come all ye young fellows"--telling them cautionary tales and exhorting them to avoid pitfalls of life (often detailed from the singer's personal experience).

Hart does a bit of both in using this form of beginning. His audience is sinners, more specifically those who understand and are convicted of their sins. Hart very freely identifies himself with this audience, but his hymn is also an admonition and encouragement to come to Jesus, rather than suffering from pangs of conscience as Hart himself had done for so long. The author fills out his description by calling his audience "poor and wretched [in the original], / Weak and wounded, sick and sore." Hart's language here is mild compared to some other writers; these were the days of calling sin by its name, and calling those who practiced it, sinners. Indeed, Hart believed this full conviction of the terribleness of sin was what he so long lacked: "A wounded soul / And not a whole / Becomes a true believer."(Hymns, #91, p. 123)

King David was a man who knew, to his lifelong sorrow, what it was to be a sinner. But He also knew repentance and forgiveness, and gave this inspired summary of his experience: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."(Psalm 51:17) Jesus taught this truth again, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"(Matthew 18:13) Now, regardless of the 1st-century stereotype of the tax collectors as dishonest, heartless traitors to their own nation, there is no reason to suppose that this man was really any worse a sinner than the Pharisee. He only seems so, because he recognized his true condition, where the other man did not. And his broken, compliant attitude about his sins meant he was far more likely to listen to God's word and to obey it; God can work wonders with the broken spirit of an acknowledged sinner, but He can do very little with the self-righteous Pharisee who sees no need to change.

The antidote to the plague of sin is not to be found among ourselves. "None is righteous; no, not one."(Romans 3:10; cf. Psalm 14:1-3) "Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" may be a wise philosophy in some things, but it is physically impossible, and if we try to rid ourselves of sin by ourselves, we are all in the same predicament. What is needed is an outside power of greater moral authority, and unblemished by sin; but that power must also be willing to aid us, as well as able.

Enter the Christ, "full of pity, love, and power" (originally, "full of pity joined with power.") Jesus, "who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,"(Hebrews 4:15) has the moral authority to stand in judgment over us and pronounce our pardon. But is He willing? Will the perfect, sinless Son of God have sympathy with rebellious and sinful humanity? We know the answer is yes, because His power is joined with pity.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with Him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.(Ephesians 2:4-7)
Stanza 2:
Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome,
God's free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Ev'ry grace that brings us nigh,
Without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

This stanza is closely based on Isaiah 55:1-3,
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.
The Scriptures are sometimes startling in their immediacy; these words spoken more than 2,000 years ago could be talking about the United States today. Will Rogers once said, "We will be the only country in the history of the world that will drive to the poor-house in an automobile." We probably have more of everything in a material way than any nation ever has, but we have less idea than ever how to use these blessings wisely. We have more of everything, but we seem none the happier for it.

At the very same time, the true food and drink we need is available all around us. In the Bible, you have a library of moral guidance, emotional comfort, instructive history, and inspiring poetry, all right at hand. In prayer, you have free 24-hour access to the throne of heaven. But more than this, in the Savior, you have forgiveness of sin, healing of spirit, a new start in life, and promise of a far better future.

Jesus echoed the words of Isaiah chapter 55, among other prophecies, when He sent out His invitation to the crowds in Jerusalem:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"(John 7:37-38)
Jesus had already identified himself as the source of living water in John chapter 4. In John chapter 6 He introduced the challenging idea that He himself is the spiritual feast, "For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink."(John 6:55) What we need, to satisfy that hunger and thirst that cries out in our souls, is the pure, sweet spirit of Christ living in us. Until we come to Him in obedience and accept that free gift, we may find ways to distract ourselves, but we will never be full.

Stanza 3:
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken, full of sin;
If you tarry till you're better,
You may never enter in:
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to win.

"Bruised and broken" is not how people like to think of themselves, but it is the natural consequence of sin. Isaiah called out the nation of Judah for its sinful ways using the same language:
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.(Isaiah 1:4-6)
At the time, Judah was quite prosperous. The economy was strong and the borders were secure. King Uzziah was an effective and popular leader. But the eyes of the Lord saw a sick society, riddled with sin and at the point of moral bankruptcy. They were bound for ruin and didn't even know it. How much more fortunate, really, is the person who feels the weight of sin and realizes his or her need for forgiveness. "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy."(Proverbs 28:13)

An essential theme in Hart's hymn is found in the 3rd-4th lines of this stanza: "If you tarry till you're better / You may never enter in." Now, does Hart use the word "may" in the sense that there is a possibility we will never enter in? Or does he mean it in the sense of permission--that we will never be allowed to enter in? I suggest he intended the latter, and that the import of his words is, "If you wait until you have mended your own sinful state before you come to Jesus, you will never be permitted to enter into His kingdom." Of course repentance of sins, a change of mind leading to a change of behavior, precedes salvation; but repentance alone does not bring forgiveness. We might succeed in making ourselves somewhat better people by our own efforts, but Jesus is not looking for slightly reformed sinners; He wants to make a "new creation."(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Hart's own experience had taught him the futility of a "self-made religion."(Colossians 2:23) In one hymn he reflected on God's clothing of Adam and Eve as a type of our own need to be spiritually clothed, not in righteousness of our own, but with "that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith."(Philippians 3:9)
Of all the creatures God has made
There is but man alone,
That stands in need to be array'd
In cov'rings not his own.
(Hymns, #82, p. 112)
But lest the soberness of this warning be too heavy to bear, Hart ends the stanza with a another Scripture reference that helps us see our situation in the right perspective: "Not the righteous, not the righteous / Sinners Jesus came to win." Hart reminds us that Jesus said, after all, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."(Luke 5:32) We need not despair; we are all in the same boat, and say with Paul, "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."(1 Timothy 1:15) There is no need to carry that burden of sin a step further; Jesus came to take it away.

About the music:

Odd as it may seem, the tune-writer named at the head of this post is none other than the Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the famed philosopher. He was a man of many talents, and actually had a significant impact on the development of European music during the transition from the Baroque era into the Classical period. In particular, Rousseau's belief in the superiority of the "natural man" to the artifices of modern civilization led him to pursue a musical style rooted in the simplicity and directness of folk song. Though his music is not as well known today, many of his ideas were realized in the music of the better-known composers of the era.

Most famous among his works is Le devin du village (The Village Soothsayer), an intermedè (a sort of light one-act opera) for which Rousseau wrote both the libretto and music. It was a semi-comic work, but the libretto was full of Rousseau's Enlightenment-era ideas on the current system of class distinctions and the basic dignity of the working class. This work was a direct influence on Wolfgang A. Mozart, who as a teenager wrote his Bastien und Bastienne as a parody of Rousseau's Le devin.(Heartz)

The tune in question appears at the beginning of a pantomime that concludes the work; it is found on page 64 of the score available through the International Music Score Library Project. (The video at right plays the music for the pantomime in full.) The hymn tune we have today is identifiable in Rousseau's instrumental air, though it has undergone considerable adaptation. So much adaptation, in fact, that it may sound like an entirely different tune--one known in the United States as "Go tell Aunt Rhody" (or Aunt Tempie, or Aunt Nancy), and concerning the demise of a certain gray goose. I am completely in the debt of John Bealle, author of several books on old-time music and Sacred Harp singing, for his unravelling of the twisted tale of this melody!

In 1812, Englishman William Ball printed a song adaptation of this melody (now titled "Rousseau's Dream") with his own lyrics. The "Rousseau's Dream" tune was also a popular subject for piano variations. One of its earliest adaptations as a hymn tune was in Lowell Mason's Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music of 1825, where it is titled "GREENVILLE;" later editions attributed it to Rousseau. But is the folk-song about the gray goose just a humorous adaptation of the hymn tune? Bealle suggests that the widespread distribution of the "Aunt Rhody" family of folk songs, and the existence of that tradition in Afro-Caribbean folk music, suggest a different origin of the two tunes. He also notes that William Augustus Fraser claimed in 1893 to have it on "good authority" (which Fraser unfortunately did not deign to disclose) that Rousseau did not claim to have written the tune, but instead borrowed it from a common gondola-song in Venice. Simple as it is in structure, the tune may have a whole family of variants that came down to us in parallel paths, perhaps influencing each other as they went.(Bealle)

Excursus: Checking the Facts

The massive amount of information so easily available on the Internet is a blessing and a curse. At no prior time in human history have so many people had so much access to knowledge, but at the same time, at no prior time has so much false information (in whole or in part) been in the way of getting at the truth. And all too often, that false information gets repeated, usually without attribution, so that there may be hundreds of websites repeating the same information from one flawed source.

A case in point is the discussion of this hymn tune in The Story of the Hymns and Tunes (1906) by Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth. I have referred to this book often, and nothing I say here is meant to be condemnation of their work as a whole. I enjoy their style, and their desire to highlight the contributions of people who might otherwise have been forgotten. But there are problems with their discussion of GREENVILLE:
It was originally a love serenade ("Days of absence, sad and dreary") from the opera of Le devin du village, written about 1752. The song was commonly known years afterwards as "Rousseau's Dream." But the unbelieving philosopher, musician, and misguided moralist builded better than he knew, and probably better than he meant when he wrote his immortal choral. Whatever he heard in his "dream" (and one legend says it was a "song of angels") he created a harmony dear to the church he despised, and softened the hearts of the Christian world towards an evil teacher who was inspired, like Balaam, to utter one sacred strain.(Brown & Butterworth, 112-113)
There are some factual inaccuracies in this passage, and unfortunately they have been scattered far and wide across the Internet.

The first problem is the authorship of the text "Days of absence, sad and dreary." It is alternately ascribed to Rousseau or to Shakespeare in the sources I have consulted, and a specific citation is suspiciously lacking. (Bartlett's Quotations is sometimes mentioned, but that was only true of the 1909 edition, which attributed the lyric to Rousseau. The modern editions of Bartlett's do not contain the lyric at all.) I cannot believe a Shakespeare quote would be so hard to pin down, and neither can I connect it to anything in the libretto of Le devin du village. I strongly suspect that it is a misattribution, and I believe I know how it happened.

In 1822 these very lyrics appeared in the London Literary Gazette under the initials "J. M." I have not seen this text mentioned earlier than that date. The Gazette suggests singing it to the tune, "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon"--so in that instance, at least, there is no connection to Rousseau, his opera, or his melody. I suspect some enterprising entertainer realized that the "Rousseau's Dream" tune that was also floating around London in those days would fit the lyrics equally well. The popularity of this combination is evident from the set of piano variations titled "Days of Absence, or, Rousseau's Dream" by Ferdinand Lauter, published in Baltimore in 1826. I believe the attribution of the "Days of absence" text to Rousseau simply came about from its connection to the melody bearing his name.

Neither was this tune a "love serenade" in the original; it was part of an instrumental number, as Messrs. Brown and Butterworth could have read in contemporary editions of Grove's Dictionary of Music.(Grove) The function of the music was to introduce the pantomime section at the end of the opera, where the chorus of villagers come on stage. The melody is a simple folk dance style, perhaps a gavotte. The later identification as a "love serenade" probably came with the connection to "Days of absence," and after the tune had been rhythmically transformed into the much more placid "Rousseau's Dream" version.

The "dream" story is not well supported either--as Sir George Grove so delicately put it, "The origin of the title 'Dream' is not forthcoming."(Grove) But the idea of Rousseau as an unwitting agent of God is too appealing to the Brown and Butterworth, who probably held the common conservative view that blamed Rousseau for the abuses of religion that took place during the French Revolution. (Though I disagree with Rousseau's deism, of course, it is hardly fair to hold him responsible for the oppressive statist religion of the Reign of Terror; his views on toleration would have led him straight to the guillotine had he still been alive!) Rousseau gets the last laugh, however, if in fact his "immortal choral" turns out to have been borrowed from a children's song, or an unknown Venetian gondolier.


Hart, Joseph. Hymns composed on various subjects, 10th ed. Elizabeth, New Jersey: Shepard Kollock, 1787. http://openlibrary.org/books/OL25226130M/Hymns_c._composed_on_various_subjects

Julian, John. Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1892.

Wright, Thomas. Joseph Hart. London: Farncombe & Son, 1910. http://www23.us.archive.org/stream/josephhart00wrigiala#page/n5/mode/2up

"Come ye sinners." Hymnary.org. http://www.hymnary.org/text/come_ye_sinners_poor_and_needy_weak_and

Heartz, Daniel. "Rousseau, Jean-Jacques," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. London: Macmillan, 1980, volume 16, pages 270-273.

Bealle, John. "History behind the songs." Liner notes to CD The Bullfrog Jumped: Children's Songs from the Byron Arnold Collection, produced by the Alabama Folklife Association.

Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: American Tract Society, 1906. http://archive.org/stream/storyofhymnstune00buttuoft#page/112/mode/2up

J. M. "Absence." London Literary Gazette no. 303 (9 November 1822), p. 714.

Grove, George, Sir. "Rousseau's Dream." Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians [2nd ed.], 5 volumes, ed. J. A. Fuller Maitland. London: Macmillan, 1904-1910, volume 4, page 168. http://archive.org/stream/grovesdictionar00maigoog#page/n179/mode/1up