George W. Briggs (1875–1959) was an Anglican priest and hymn-writer, one of the founders of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His best-known hymn is ‘God Hath Spoken by the Prophets’, although my personal favourite is ‘Now Is Eternal Life’.

It turns out that he was a man of good judgement, too. In the bulletin of the Hymn Society, he wrote a review article dealing with criticisms that had been raised against Songs of Praise, a hymnal published in 1925 and edited by Percy Dearmer with the composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw.

Here are a couple of delicious extracts:

“… a great deal has been said about the omission from the hymn ‘There is a green hill far away,’ [a much over-loved hymn! TS] of the verse

‘There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.’

This omission was not made to weaken the doctrine of the cross; for that doctrine is fully expressed in other lines of the hymn … . The reason for the omission was that the verse is a quite unworthy description of the Atonement. ‘There was no other good enough,’ is surely inadequate; and there is no ‘price of sin.’ There is a penalty of sin, and a price of redemption; but the ‘price of sin’ would only fit the gentleman who went up and down Europe peddling indulgences.”

* * *

“My correspondent writes [about hymn no. 396 in Songs of Praise]: ‘It surely takes First Prize for the world’s worst hymn.’ I am not so sure of that. There is a good deal of competition for that First Prize in every hymn book.”

* * *

“Of the tunes there is little that I need to say. People whose taste is for ‘sugar and spice and all that’s nice,’ will certainly not care for them; at any rate, not until their taste improves … .”


One thought on “Not until their taste improves

  1. One is reminded of CS Lewis’ comment about 4th rate poetry set to 5th rate music or some such.

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