Above: The Union Jack
Image in the Public Domain
THOMAS HORNBLOWER GILL (FEBRUARY 10, 1819-MARCH 4, 1906)
English Unitarian then Anglican Hymn Writer
The historical record provides little information about the life of Thomas Hornblower Gill (1819-1906). The native of Birmingham, England, born on February 10, 1819, grew up a Unitarian. His lineage was traditionally Presbyterian, but had turned away from Trinitarian theology. Gill graduated from the King Edward VI Grammar School in 1838. His next destination would have been Oxford University, but he could not attend that institution of higher education, where a requirement was to sign off on the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of The Church of England. Although Gill was still a dissenter in 1838, Unitarianism was already proving unsatisfactory to him. Our saint, denied admission to Oxford, studied history and theology independently instead. Spiritually he moved toward Congregationalism then Evangelical, that is, Low Church, Anglicanism.
Gill wrote more than 200 hymns. In the Preface to The Golden Chain of Praise: Hymns (1869) he explained his philosophy of hymnody:
Hymns are not meant to be theological statements, expositions of doctrine or enunciations of precepts; they are utterances of the soul in its manifold moods of hope and fear, joy and sorrow, love, wonder and aspiration. A hymn should not consist of comments on a text or of remarks on an experience; but of a central thought, shaping for itself melodious utterance, and with every detail subordinated to its clear and harmonious presentation. Herein a true hymn takes rank as a poem; but it is a poem that has to be sung and should exhibit all the qualities and limitations of a good song–liveliness and intensity of feeling, directness, clearness and vividness of utterance, strength, sweetness and simplicity of diction and melody of rhythm: excessive subtlety and ornament should be alike avoided. Hymns are meant and made to be sung: the best and most glorious hymns cannot be more exactly defined then as Divine Love-Songs.
Gill’s hymns reflect the religiosity of his Puritan-Presbyterian lineage and the keen social conscience of Unitarianism. (Unitarians have long been on the vanguard of progressive social causes.) I have added a small fraction of his hymns, most of which have fallen out of favor with hymnal committees, to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog. The webpage for Gill at hymnary.org helped me locate certain hymns among my collection of old hymnals and brought to my attention other worthy texts I chose not to add to GATHERED PRAYERS or this post.
Among Gill’s hymns was this text from 1868:
Walk with the Lord! along the road
Your strength he will renew;
Wait on the everlasting God,
And he will wait on you.
Ye shall not faint, ye shall not fail,
Still in the Spirit strong;
Each task divine ye still shall hail,
And blend th’exulting song.
Aspiring eyes ye still shall raise,
And heights sublime explore;
Like eagles ye shall sunward gaze,
Like eagles heav’nward soar.
Your wondrous portion shall be this,
Your life below, above,–
Eternal youth, eternal bliss,
And everlasting love.
–Quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935)
Gill’s published works included the following:
- The Fortune of Faith (1841);
- Songs of the Revolution (1848);
- The Anniversaries (1858);
- The Papal Drama: A Historical Essay (1866);
- The Golden Chain of Praise: Hymns (First Edition, 1869; Second Edition, 1894);
- Luther’s Birthday (1883), a volume of hymns; and
- The Triumph of Christ (1883).
Gill died in London on March 4, 1906. Most of his hymns have ceased to feature in hymnals, but his texts remain available for the spiritual edification of those who find them. The Internet has facilitated the preservation of his legacy, fortunately.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 11, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
Thomas Hornblower Gill and others, who have composed hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH