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Online hymnology breaks the back of Julian’s vast legacy

18 October 2013


In good voice: clergy and a diocesan choir at a thanksgiving service for the 90th anniversary of the diocese of Swansea & Brecon, last month 

In good voice: clergy and a diocesan choir at a thanksgiving service for the 90th anniversary of the diocese of Swansea & Brecon, last month&nbs...

A BRIGHTER dawn is breaking. That is not a comment on the arrival, after more than a century, of a successor to Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, but the new work's first entry; and yet you won't find it in print - so far. If you do, it will probably add up to ten volumes.

In 1907, Canon John Julian of York Minster, and his publisher, John Murray, struggled to fit the second edition of his great work of reference into a single volume of 1768 pages, using minuscule type.

Since then, many of the hymns that he discussed have passed out of use - the first hymn entry in 1907 was "A beautiful land by faith I see". But, on the other hand, the "hymn explosion" has been heard here and in distant lands afar. The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, published this week, has burst the bounds of a single printed book and is flinging wide its banner on the internet. Like a great and mighty wonder, perhaps.

So its publishers, Canterbury Press (aka Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd, our proprietors) are hoping. The book contains two million words, and more than 4000 individual entries. More than 300 authors from more than 30 countries have contributed.

And it has all had to be paid for. Benefactors include the Leverhulme Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the British Academy. The introductory annual subscription for individuals in the UK is £59; one month is £19.

The dictionary includes articles on individual hymns, authors, hymnals, organisations, themes, hymn tunes, and their composers. It covers hymn traditions from all the world's continents, regions, and denominations (are they sure?), the publishers say; and it is ecumenical and international in coverage.

The editors are Dr J. R. Watson, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Durham, and Dr Emma Hornby, a senior lecturer in music at Bristol University.


Canon Julian's book first appeared in 1892, and soon had to be supplemented, because hymnological studies had made "great strides in many directions". The "huge task" of bringing it up to date again was previously considered im-possible, Dr Hornby says. "Several editors of earlier attempts died without completing the task."

Now, in a sense, editors will never have to. Modern technology has proved better adapted than movable type to hymnody's ever-rolling stream, and publication online will allow, the publishers say, "regular additions, amendments, and corrections". Each entry is followed by an email link to enable subscribers to "Request a correction or addition to this article".

So, how daunting was the task that the editors faced? Canon Julian devoted the best part of six pages of tiny type in double columns to the prolific 19th-century High Anglican author and translator J. M. Neale, listing 66 hymns "now in C. U. [Common Use]" before throwing in the towel and referring readers for the rest to his Index of Authors and Translators (which "but feebly represents" Neale's influence).

In Canon Julian's 11-page um-brella entry "Wesley Family, The", he listed about 500 hymns by John and Charles as being "in C. U.", with a word or two to indicate the subject-matter of each.

The new dictionary does not seek to replicate these long lists, although lists there are; but for Neale, for example, Dr Leon Litvack's 1500-word entry includes more than 50 hyperlinks to other articles, including individual ones for scores of the hymns. More than 100 hymns are cross-referenced in Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith's article on Charles Wesley; while 27 are cross-referenced in the article by the Revd Christopher Idle about Bishop Dudley-Smith, a well-known hymn-writer himself.

The dictionary is being launched with a conference that is drawing delegates from as far afield as South Korea, New Zealand, Canada, and France. About 60 are expected this weekend for a two-day conference in Bristol; and there will be a concluding service in St Mary Redcliffe on Sunday at 6.30 p.m., when local singers will be joined by a visiting Methodist choir from Chicago, and Bishop Dudley-Smith will preach the sermon.

The opening service of the conference will be in the New Room, Bristol, a chapel built by John Wesley himself.


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