Editors' introduction

Introduction: the past

The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology is the first attempt in more than one hundred years to produce a replacement for John Julian’s A Dictionary of Hymnology. That massive and remarkable work was first published by John Murray in 1892. It consisted of 1616 double-columned pages: up to page 1306 there was the main body of the work, with an index of 215 pages, followed by an Appendix, Parts I and II, with their ‘Supplemental Indices’.

It has been an indispensable reference work for all serious students of hymnology since that time, and its contents are astonishing in their accuracy and range of reference. The full description on the title page was ‘A Dictionary of Hymnology, setting forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of all Ages and Nations, with special reference to those contained in the hymn books of English-speaking countries, and now in common use; together with biographical and critical notices of their authors and translators; and historical articles on national and denominational hymnody, breviaries, missals, primers, psalters, sequences, &c, &c. &c’.

It was a huge agenda, but Julian had not finished. In 1907 he persuaded the publishers to issue a ‘Revised Edition, with Supplement’. They must have kept the original plates for the first 1521 pages, so reprinted those, followed by Appendix I and Appendix II of the First Edition. Then followed a ‘New Supplement’. There was then a ‘Supplemental Cross Reference Index to Parts I and II [i.e., the two Appendixes] and the New Supplement’, and a corresponding ‘Index of Authors and Translators’, the whole running to 1768 double-columned pages. There were reprints in 1908, 1915 and 1925, indicating a steady demand. A Dover edition of the 1907 version was published in 1957.

In Britain the Hymn Society was founded in 1936 (the Hymn Society of America had preceded it by 14 years). The first article in its first Bulletin, dated October 1937, entitled ‘The Society and its aims’, described the aims as bringing together scholars who had already done work on hymnology, so that they could be employed ‘upon a common task’. That task was to produce a continuation of the Dictionary of Hymnology, and it was announced that Sir John Murray had agreed to publish ‘the new Supplement when it is ready’. At Murray’s request the Society agreed to contribute £250 towards the cost, and it was expected that the task would occupy ‘at least three years’. The next article in Bulletin 1, ‘The Dictionary of Hymnology’, expanded on this: after describing Julian’s work, it noted that a new Supplement was needed, and that this would require ‘a prodigious amount of work’, but that ‘fortunately, our Executive contains a number of proved experts who will share in the labour, and already the co-operation of scholars in other lands is being secured.’

The Society did indeed have some fine scholars among its membership: Millar Patrick, the first editor of the Bulletin, Adam Fox, F.J. Gillman, Bernard Manning, C.S. Phillips, C.E. Pocknee, F.J.E. Raby, W.T. Whitley, and others. Dr Patrick was appointed as the first director of the new project, and he went to the USA in order to enlist the support of the Hymn Society of America. There he seems to have had a good time: Bulletin 8, dated July 1939, describes his visit in April and May, when he was greeted with ‘the extraordinary warmth for which American hospitality is justly famous’.

After that, things went quiet. No doubt the war had something to do with it: even hymnologists had other things on their minds. The next time that we hear of the dictionary is in the Bulletin volume 2, no 7 (the numbering was different in those days), dated July 1949. By now under the editorship of Erik Routley, it opened with an article headed ‘Julian’, beginning ominously ‘What is Julian?’, as if the majority of members needed to be told. And there were signs of perplexity, as if those at the centre of things were not quite sure how to proceed: ‘Are we to print a third Supplement? Or shall we print a new book of a popular kind at a fairly low price?’

There were disadvantages to both of these. It was decided to go for a new book, ‘called, perhaps, Julian Revised’: ‘it will give, first, everything in the old Julian that is required for ordinary information, together with information about material written since 1907.’ And by this time, it was reported, Sir John Murray, very properly, was looking for a subvention of £2,000 (the Society had £360 in its funds, but it was hopeful of somehow raising the money in the five years that it was estimated that the work would take).

Millar Patrick resigned as Editor-in-Chief in 1948 (he died in 1951). In his place the Society appointed C.S. Phillips, Canon of Canterbury, and a noted hymn-writer and scholar, author of Hymnody Past and Present (1937). Almost immediately, however, Phillips fell ill: he died in November 1949. In his place, sometime in 1950, the Society appointed an English Presbyterian minister, Leslie H. Bunn (announced in the January 1951 Bulletin, volume 2,no 13). Bunn reported to the Executive in October 1952 that, after a careful examination of Julian’s Dictionary, ‘it appears that about one-third of the existing material can be entirely omitted from the new book’, and that Sir John Murray had agreed to publish such a book ‘up to the limit of 1,000 pages, double column’.

Bunn was given an honorarium to cover expenses of £50 per annum. He proceeded to work at the task slowly and carefully. It was reported (Bulletin Volume 3 no 16, Autumn 1955) that ‘the work proceeds with a speed which, though by the standards of journalism it may not be impressive, is a clear indication of the scholarly care which is being put into it. When you glance over some of the work that has been completed, you cannot fail to be moved by the fact that a full-time working minister can produce work in such a quantity at so lofty a standard of accuracy and grace.’ Once again, however, the Society was worried about the cost: ‘what shall we do if we find that the labour lasts longer than the money?’

The labour did indeed last longer. Bunn died in August 1971, his work unfinished (Bulletin 122, November 1971). It was taken over by Arthur S. Holbrook, who typed it up and produced two copies. One copy is in the Hymn Society Collection at the Royal College of Music, the other in the Pratt Green Collection at the University of Durham (Bulletin 190, January 1992, p. 99). Holbrook had typed up entries on 720 hymns and 112 authors, covering hymnbooks up to and including the Anglican Hymn Book of 1965. This remains the only surviving result of all this effort, apart from the fascicle on Wesley hymns done by Wilfrid Little, and published by the Hymn Society in 2003.

In 1992, reporting on the situation, Bernard Massey, editor of the Bulletin of the Hymn Society [of Great Britain and Ireland], observed that the aims of the Society had been revised, ‘from a full-scale revision of Julian to a quite modest supplement’, but thought that ‘publication (which in our more starry-eyed moments some of us had hoped for) is in no way an economic proposition.’ He went on: ‘it soon became clear that with the resources at our disposal (even perhaps at anyone’s disposal) this noble objective was unattainable. Now, with the proliferation of new hymns in recent years, to say nothing of the considerable and continuing revision of older hymns, the task is beyond contemplation, let alone completion’ (Bulletin 190, p. 99).

Massey was, of course, thinking of a book. At some point as the work developed it became clear that the best solution to the many problems of ‘completion’ was to transfer the material to a website. The idea was discussed by two of the editors in November 2009; and was followed by the fortunate arrival on the scene of James Jirtle, who designed the website on which we have been working for the last stage of the project, and whose computer expertise gave the Canterbury Dictionary a very necessary ‘lift-off’ from its paper-bound beginnings.

The present situation: and the future

All those Appendixes and Supplementary Indexes in Julian’s Dictionary tell a story, which is that hymnody, and the study of hymnology, never stands still. Our long-term aim is to produce a body of work that can be added to in the future, a resource that can be updated and corrected, year by year.

We have aimed to be as complete as possible, in Julian’s words, tracing ‘the origin and history of Christian hymns of all ages and nations’. We have attempted to follow this agenda. But no one could ever annotate all the hymns and all the authors and composers of the world, and we have necessarily been selective as well as inclusive. We have not hesitated to refer the reader back to Julian (referred to throughout as ‘JJ’) when we have thought that the information we have provided is sufficient for most purposes at the present time. For example, in recording the translations of hymns from Greek, or Latin, or German we have noted those in current books, whereas Julian (or rather James Mearns, who never received enough credit) noted all the examples that he could find; and we have not hesitated to say ‘for other translations, see JJ, page…’. 

This is (like Julian’s Dictionary) an English-language book. We have tried to be as global as possible, but a reference work has to be written from somewhere, and there will no doubt be evidence of this in the finished work. This is made more obvious because Julian and his colleagues, working in the 1880s and after, could assume that the majority of their readers would be familiar with Latin and Greek, and some modern languages as well. The present dictionary will be the poorer for not having such a familiarity, but will perhaps be more accessible to most present-day readers. Having said that, however, we have continued to include as many hymns as possible from different traditions, beginning with Greek and Latin, and continuing with German, French, Scandinavian, and so on. There are entries on hymnody from the Far East, and from countries that, in Julian’s time, were still singing Western rather than indigenous hymns. There are entries on traditions that Julian would not have recognised, such as Christian popular hymns, slave songs, and African American spirituals. Worship songs and their writers have been included. Throughout our approach has been closer to that of Julian than to those of HymnQuest in the UK and Hymnary.org (which includes the former Dictionary of North American Hymnody), both of which are databases for hymnody and resources for worship. The present dictionary is closer to an Encyclopaedia than to a database.

We have differed from Julian in providing information on hymn tunes and their composers as well as the authors of the words. It seemed to all of us concerned with this project that words and music functioned together in a hymn, and that anyone wishing to do research into hymnology would wish to know something about the origins of the music. Professor Jeremy Dibble, the music editor, who has written books on Parry, Stainer and Stanford, has overseen the other entries on composers. We have also, where necessary, indicated tunes in the entries on individual hymns. Here our policy when writing entries has normally been to mention the tune only when it has been specially written for that particular hymn, or become inextricably associated with it. However, some contributors have been more generous in naming tunes, and we have not sought to be consistent. This is part of our policy as editors of allowing contributors to treat their topics in their own way and with their own style (see further below). 

We have endeavoured to be as complete as possible, but we are conscious that there are (as there were in Julian’s Dictionary) entries that will need to be added. In this we are following the practice of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, first published in 2004, which updates its on-line version three times a year. We propose to update the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology continuously, and we shall be glad to receive suggestions for further entries. We shall also need notification of mistakes (Julian had to write ‘This is an error’ in his Second Edition, where it had occurredin the 1892 volume, and update the first edition with news of new books, new writers, or the deaths of writers still alive when the first edition went to press). There are American entries still to come, following some earlier editorial problems. No praise can be too high for the work done by Carlton R. Young, who worked heroically to make up the deficit from 2011 to 2017. His efforts have been continued with similar dedication by C. Michael Hawn; and the Australasian and Canadian editors, Colin Gibson and Margaret Leask respectively, have contributed to the present work with much expertise and skill. The decision to issue the work online has also allowed us to include hyperlinks, hypertext, illustrations, and musical examples. Dr Young’s reflections on the project have been set down in a magisterial presentation to the Annual Conference of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada at New Orleans, Louisiana, July 2015. It is printed in The Hymn 67/4 (Autumn 2016), pp. 10-21. This is particularly well informed about the relationships between the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the HSUSC over the project at certain stages of its history.

We wish to record our thanks to those research foundations, beginning with the Leverhulme Trust, which have supported this endeavour. They are listed on the title page. Without their help, this dictionary would never have come into existence. The contributors – over 400 of them at the present count – worked with care and dedication in their areas of expertise. We owe a debt of gratitude to the early contributors for their patience in waiting for the project to reach publication, and to the more recent ones for their willingness to work to a deadline, sometimes under considerable pressure. In addition to the contributors, there are people who have worked on this dictionary during the many years of its development, but whose names are not recorded elsewhere: Richard Brewster, Agnes Delanoy, Donata Kick, Dorothea Miehe and Peter Shambrook. There are also certain people whose contribution to the dictionary has been so enthusiastic, helpful, and wide-ranging, that they deserve a special mention, such as Robin A. Leaver, Clark Kimberling, and Nicholas Temperley. We also wish to record here our gratitude to the Pratt Green Trust, which set up and continued to fund the Pratt Green Collection in the University Library at Durham. The Trust also generously supported the launch conference in October 2013, along with the Hymns Ancient and Modern Trust, the Charles Wesley Society, The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, The New Room, Bristol, and the BIRTHA and Alumni funds of the University of Bristol. Professor Watson wishes to thank the staff of the University Library at Durham, and particularly Beth Rainey, Sheila Hingley, and Judy Burg, successive Keepers of the Heritage Collections. Dr Hornby wishes to thank J.R. Watson and Jeremy Dibble for appointing her in 2003 to a postdoctoral research associateship, leading to a decade of friendship, scholarly collaboration, and intellectual stimulus. She also wishes to thank Philip Burnett, PhD student at the University of Bristol, whose professionalism in organising the launch conference and in communicating with contributors since Autumn 2012 has regularly made nonsense of the title ‘research assistant’. Sam Barlow at Bristol University’s Institute for Research in the Humanities and Arts (BIRTHA) also provided valuable administrative support for the launch conference.

The editors have endeavoured to produce a work that is clear, well referenced, and easy to use. To this end, every entry has been subjected to a process of editing. However, the editors have not sought to impose a uniformity of style, spelling, or referencing. American spelling is different from British in places, and so are American styles of reference. Provided that the information is clear, we have seen no reason to impose a rigid uniformity (close readers of Julian’s Dictionary will have noted similar variations). Contributors from many different countries will necessarily communicate in individual ways: a contributor’s style is his or her own contribution to this work, and at least part of the flavour and interest of it will be lost if the editors seek to stamp their own mark upon everything.

Every effort has been made to acknowledge the sources from which the information has been taken. In a work of this kind there are inevitably places where the entries have to repeat what has been noted elsewhere. There can be no argument about dates of birth and death (except in exceptional circumstances where authorities have disagreed), or of the dates of publication of hymnals or individual books. Where these have been pointed out by a recent scholar, this has been acknowledged; where they have been in the public domain since the time of Julian’s Dictionary (and before), they have been accepted by us as common intellectual property. In addition, however, we have in all cases checked the earlier entries, and in almost every case we have found something to add to what has been already known. The invaluable help of HymnQuest and Hymnary.org, mentioned above, is gladly acknowledged.

We present The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology in the hope that it will be found to be a worthy successor to the work of John Julian and James Mearns, and that it will be an on-going resource for all hymnologists. We also hope that it will be found to be a pleasure to read and enjoy.


Note: readers unfamiliar with the quirks of the British educational system will need to know that in the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the first degree is a BA (Bachelor of Arts). The MA degree (Master of Arts) is conferred some years later, on payment of a fee. In Scottish universities the first degree is an MA. In English and Welsh universities the MA is awarded after the BA, normally after further course work and submission of a short thesis.