Monday, January 1, 2018

Moore declines to help revise metrical Psalms

Here's something new, not in The Poet of Christmas Eve, Samuel White Patterson's affectionate but now outdated biography of Clement C. Moore. The General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church named Moore to the Committee on the Psalms in Metre in 1829, without Moore's knowledge or consent. As an admired poet and professor of Hebrew, Moore must have seemed ideal for the job of correcting and revising the metrical Psalms. But Moore respectfully declined to modernize the Psalms in any haphazard fashion, or on dubious grounds. And, as he also expressed to Bishop White, Moore felt "vexed and mortified" by some new and in his view unsuitable additions to the good old hymnal. Moore's 1831 letter to William White was reprinted decades later in church periodicals, along with Bishop White's sympathetic reply. Transcribed below, the exchange between Moore and White as published in The Churchman and reprinted in The Church Journal on April 21, 1858; found in the archives of Historical Newspapers at GenealogyBank.
CORRESPONDENCE between Bishop White and Clement C. Moore, LL.D., on the present Collection of Hymns.

NEW YORK, May 1, 1831.

Right Rev. and Dear Sir:-- A few days ago, I received a notice from Mr. Kemper, that you request the members of the Joint Committee of the General Convention on the Psalms in metre, to meet at your residence, in Philadelphia, on the 17th inst. Not being a member of the General Convention, I was placed on the above mentioned Committee entirely without my knowledge; and the notice from Mr. Kemper is the first official information which I have received of my appointment. This, I hope, is a sufficient reason for not having sooner expressed to you the disinclination which I feel to act in this matter. Nothing can be further from my mind than any feeling of disrespect for the reverend and respectable body who have done me the honor to add my name to that of the other gentlemen of the Committee. But this is a subject on which I have so decided an opinion, that it is right openly, though respectfully, to express that opinion, and to act in accordance with it. 
Were it proposed to have a new and better version made of the Psalms, than the one now in use, I should see nothing in principle against which to object; but, to expunge some parts, to make additions and alterations in others, and thus to produce a new-modelled (or rather mangled) mass, which shall neither belong to King David nor to anybody else, is a work in which I must decline to take any part. The spirit of innovation which is abroad in the world, I feel afraid of; and I would rather suffer many inconveniences than see it approach the solid parts of our sacred edifice. It appears to me especially unaccountable why an attack upon the old version itself should now be thought advisable, after the recent addition to the collection of hymns in the Church service. There surely can be no taste that may not be suited in that collection; for, among some hymns that are undoubtedly excellent, may be found love songs for the amorous, rhapsodies for the enthusiastic, definitions for the philosophical, and abundance of jingle for the mere lover of rhymes and rhythm. I must say in sober and serious truth, that scarcely a Sunday passes without my feeling vexed and mortified to see the plain and sometimes homely, but simple and unaffected, and, in many places, nervous and elegant version with which our predecessors were contented, in danger of being supplanted by such a farrago as is exhibited in our present collection of hymns.
I have written thus freely, because I think that the simplicity and dignity of our Church service have already been impaired by these additions of modern fastidiousness and fashionable refinement; and that, if we now proceed to tear down any part of the old edifice itself, it is impossible to say what ruin may eventually be brought upon us. I may be unwarrantably timid, but I trust that you will believe me sincere and honest. Once more, I must decline to take a part in the business committed to me by the General Convention.
With every sentiment of affectionate veneration, believe me, sir, truly yours,

Bishop White replied to Moore from Philadelphia on May 5, 1831, as follows:
Dear Sir:— I received your letter of the 1st inst. The sentiments contained in it so nearly resemble those which I expressed to the Committee on the Psalms and Hymns, from a paper read to them at their first meeting in October, 1826, that I am desirous of furnishing you with a copy of the said document. It consists of about a sheet, and I hope to transcribe it in time for the return of some one of the gentlemen who will be here from your city in the next week.

In the meanwhile, I am yours respectfully and affectionately,

Wm. White.
The short "paper" of 1826 that White hoped to send Moore was probably the one titled "Thoughts on the Proposal of Alterations in the Book of Psalms in Metre, and in the Hymns, now before a Committee of the General Convention: By a Member of the Committee," and eventually published in Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church (New York, 1836).

The Church Journal - April 21, 1858
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The Church Journal - April 21, 1858
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