Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Search After Happiness

The following hymn is an excerpt from A Search After Happiness: A Pastoral in Three Dialogues, written by “A Young Lady” (Hannah More), in 1762/1773.[i] In the second edition, the title was changed to The Search After Happiness: A Pastoral Drama, and this portion of the poem was expanded to seven 4-line stanzas.[ii] The poem/hymn as used in The Sacred Harp and other shape-note books has some word changes, and only six stanzas (the third stanza is not used).

In later printings, the “Preface” explains the purpose of the “Pastoral Drama”:
The object of the following Poem, which was written in very early youth, was an earnest wish to furnish a substitute for the very improper custom, which then prevailed, of allowing plays, and those not always of the purest kind, to be acted by young Ladies in boarding schools. And it has afforded a serious satisfaction to the Author to learn that this little Poem, and likewise the Sacred Dramas, have very frequently been adopted to supply the place of those more dangerous amusements. If it may be still happily instrumental in promoting a regard to Religion and Virtue in the minds of young persons, and afford them an innocent, and perhaps not altogether unuseful, amusement in the exercise of recitation, the end for which it was originally composed, and the author’s utmost wish in its re-publication, will be fully answered.
In the drama this portion is sung by the character Florella, a young shepherdess.

1. While beauty and youth are in their full prime,
And folly and fashion affect our whole time;
O let not the phantom our wishes engage,
Let us live so in youth that we blush not in age.

2. The vain and the young may attend us a while,
But let not their flattery our prudence beguile;
Let us covet those charms that shall never decay
Nor listen to all that deceivers can say.

3. I sigh not for beauty, nor languish for wealth,
But grant me, kind Providence, virtue and health;
Then richer than kings, and far happier than they,
My days shall pass swiftly and sweetly away.

4. For when age steals on me, and youth is no more,
And the moralist Time shakes his glass at my door,
What pleasure in beauty or wealth can I find?
My beauty, my wealth, is a sweet peace of mind.

5. That peace! I’ll preserve it as pure as ’twas given
Shall last in my bosom an earnest of heaven;
For Virtue and Wisdom can warm the cold scene,
And sixty can flourish as gay as sixteen.

6. And when I the burden of life shall have borne,
And death with his sickle shall cut the ripe corn,
Reascend to my God without murmur or sigh,
I’ll bless the kind summons, and lie down and die.

The third stanza that Florella sings is:
How the tints of the rose, and the jessamine’s perfume,[iii]
The eglantine’s fragrance, the lilac’s gay bloom,
Though fair and though fragrant, unheeded may lie,
For that neither is sweet when Florella is by.
This is the stanza not used in songbooks. The other six stanzas are used with the tune Morality, number 136 in The Sacred Harp. It is in other shape-note tune books as well, such as The Southern Harmony. It can be found on YouTube sung at Waycross Primitive Baptist Church.

Hannah More was born February 2, 1745 in the village of Fishponds in Gloucestershire. She was a daughter of Jacob and Mary Grace More. He was a schoolmaster. She was taught by her father, then attended a girls’ school of her oldest sister Mary. Hannah later taught at the school, and wrote A Search After Happiness circa 1762.[iv] She left teaching and earned most of her living through writing. After a religious conversion she became close friends of John Newton and William Wilberforce. She was one of the most successful writers of her time. She died September 7, 1833 and is buried at All Saints Churchyard in Somerset, England.

[i] A Search After Happiness: A Pastoral in Three Dialogues, A Young Lady, Bristol: S. Farley, 1773, pp. 30-31
[ii] The first printed version had 26 lines rather than 28 lines.
[iii] The first version appears to have jessamine (jess’mine’s), while later versions change this to “jasmine.”
[iv] The “Advertisement” in the Google version purported to be printed in 1773 strongly suggests that this is the first printed/book version of A Search After Happiness.

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