Sunday, December 23, 2018

Always Rejoicing, in Endless Song

How Can I Keep from Singing?

These words to a Christian hymn about singing were published in The New York Observer (Friday, August 7, 1868) with the title “Always Rejoicing” and attributed to “Pauline T.” This author is otherwise unknown. It is a possibility that “Pauline T.” is the person who submitted the hymn to the Observer, rather than its author.[i] Some reference Anna B. Warner (1820-1915, author of “Jesus Loves Me”) as having written this hymn, but without supporting evidence.[ii]

The Lesser Hymnal: A Collection of Hymns, Selected Chiefly from the Standard Hymn-Book of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Henry White Warren, New York, NY: Nelson & Phillips, 1875)[iii] credits this hymn to F. J. Hartley, as does Winnowed Hymns (C. C. McCabe, D. T. MacFarlan, New York, NY: Biglow & Main, 1873), Songs Of Joy And Gladness (W. McDonald, Joshua Gill, J. R. Sweney, W. J. Kirkpatrick, Boston, MA: McDonald & Gill, 1885), and Beulah Songs (W. McDonald, L. Hartsough, Philadelphia, PA: National Publishing Association for Promotion of Holiness, 1879). McDonald and Hartsough list it as copyrighted 1869 by Biglow & Main, with F. J. Hartley as the author of the words. It appears in Lowry’s 1869 Bright Jewels for the Sunday School (published by Biglow & Main) but the words are not credited to anyone. The references to Hartley apparently (though not beyond question) intend Fountain John Hartley (1817-1890), one-time secretary of the London Sunday School Union.[iv]

The tune (Endless Song or Sicilia) was composed by Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826-1899) and published in Bright Jewels for the Sunday School. It is the tune to which the hymn seems most commonly sung – but it is also set to Wrocław by Ira David Sankey,[v] and sometimes with Materna by Samuel A. Ward.

The hymn has been credited to various authors, including:

  • F. J. Hartley – credited with the hymn at least as early as 1873.
  • Robert Lowry – though sometimes the words are credited to Lowry (e.g. Celebrating Grace Hymnal, 2010; Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013; Hymns of Promise, 2015; Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, 2013), it is clear that he never claimed them.[vi]
  • Doris Plenn – author of the added stanza[vii]
  • Ira Sankey – sometimes the hymn is incorrectly attributed to Sankey, but he merely supplied a tune for the words.
  • Pauline T. – the earliest known attribution at this time belongs to the elusive “Pauline T.” in The New York Observer in 1868.[viii]
  • Anna Warner – credited with the hymn at least as early as 1875.
The hymn/song has been published under various titles, some of which are:

  • Always Rejoicing (The New York Observer, 1868; The Cottage Visitor, 1869)
  • Endless Song (Joy to the World: or, Sacred Songs for Gospel Meetings, 1879; Poems and Hymns of Dawn, 1890)
  • How Can I Keep from Singing (Beulah Songs, 1879; Bright Jewels for the Sunday School, 1869; Christ in Song, 1908; The Song Evangel, 1875; Winnowed Hymns, 1873)
  • My Life Flows On (Glory to God, 2013; Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1875; The Evangelical Hymnal, 1921)
  • My Life Flows On in Endless Song (Songs of Joy and Gladness, 1886; With One Voice, 1995)
The words:

1. My life flows on in endless song,
Above earth’s lamentation:—
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

2. What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord, my Saviour, liveth;
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

3. I lift my eyes—the cloud grows thin—
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Doris Plenn (1909-1994) wrote an extra stanza circa 1950, which was popularized by Pete Seeger and is sometimes added:

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

For the present time, the author of these words must remain unknown. God knows. Perhaps through some future discovery he will reveal the answer. The hymn bears a wonderful message, grounded in the idea that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, and despite the lamentation, tumult, and strife of this world, the life stayed on him has reason to be “always rejoicing” (cf. Philippians 4:4).

Some examples of the song found on YouTube:

[i] It is not uncommon to see a poem or hymn printed in a newspaper with the name of the person who sent it to the paper.
[ii] These are imprecise references to Anna Warner writing the hymn in 1864, while giving no foundation for the statement. I found, though, that Edward Payson Hammond credits these words to “Miss Anna Warner, 1864” in The Song Evangel (New York, NY: Biglow & Main, 1875). For it he recommends the tune on page 51 of The Song Evangel (1873, with hymns and tunes). It can also be seen attributed to Warner in The Highway Hymnal (Isaiah Reid, George L. Brown, Nevada, IA: Highway Office, 1886).
[iii] This book recommends the tune on page 271 in The Tribute of Praise – which is Lowrys tune.
[iv] This hymn was published in a British periodical, The Christian Pioneer, in 1869, but with no author indicated.  This British connection might yield minor support for Hartley’s authorship. On the other hand, Hartley is sometimes credited with the words to “Waiting and Watching for Me,” which P. P. Bliss set to music in 1876. The words are actually by Marianne Hearn, and a letter by Bliss mentioning it seems to only mean that F. J. Hartley gave him a copy of the hymn (Memoirs of Philip P. Bliss, Daniel W. Whittle, New York, NY: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1877). That might also be an explanation of how Hartley’s name became attached to the “How can I keep from singing” hymn.
[v] It can be found in Gospel Hymns Consolidated: Embracing Volumes No. 1, 2, 3, Without Duplicates (New York, NY: Biglow & Main, 1883).
[vi] Henry Sweetser Burrage listed “How can I keep from singing” as “besides his own hymns” one for which Lowry had added the music to the “productions of other writers” (Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, Portland, ME: Brown, Thurston & Company, 1888, p. 433).
[vii] Sometimes this morphs into Plenn and Pete Seeger being solely credited with the song/hymn.
[viii] The Observer (but not Pauline T.) is credited as the source when this is reprinted in The Cottage Visitor (Hendersonville, NC) Friday, October 29, 1869, p. 4.

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