Who gets to make a hymnal?

While working on a sabbatical project, I discovered that Louis F. Benson, in his book The English hymn: its development and use in worship (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, George H. Doran Co., 1915), lists nineteen U.S. Unitarian hymnals published in the thirty-four year period from 1830 to 1864. Nor does Benson claim this is an exhaustive list; indeed, he focuses almost exclusively on hymnals published in and near Boston (you can read this list below).

None of these hymnals was published by the American Unitarian Association (AUA). In some cases a large congregation compiled their own hymnal, which other congregations then adopted; more often, an individual editor or group of editors compiled a hymnal as a speculative venture, hoping that congregations would purchase it. In fact, the AUA didn’t publish its first hymnal until 1868.

In the twentieth century, the vast majority of Unitarian (and later Unitarian Universalist) hymnals were published by the AUA, and then from 1937 on by the Unitarians and Universalists together. In the post-World War II era, I’m only aware of two hymnals that were not published under denominational auspices (excluding one-author or one-composer hymn/song collections, such as those by Rick Masten).

So the vast majority of Unitarian Universalist congregations today use a denominationally-produced hymnal. Why is this? Partly I think it’s because copyright law has become much more strict in the past century; anything published after 1922 is probably covered by copyright, and it can be difficult and expensive to track down copyright owners and buy permission to reprint their text or music; it’s going to take a large-ish organization to have enough resources to deal with copyright challenges. But also I believe we have all bought into the notion that the only “real” hymnal is one published by the denomination.

What if one of the large Unitarian Universalist congregations put together a new hymnal? The hymnbook compilers would face significant challenges posed by copyright issues. To balance those challenges, the ease of self-publishing and the rise of print-on-demand would make layout, printing, and distribution extraordinarily easy. Technical and legal issues aside, wouldn’t it be nice if Unitarian Universalist congregations had a choice of hymnals? — at the very least, we could expand the number of our song choices.


And for those who are interested, I’ll append a very incomplete list of Unitarian and then Unitarian Universalist hymnals, so you can get a sense of the great variety of hymnals that were once available. (I apologize for not researching Universalist hymnals, but this has been too much of a distraction from my sabbatical project as it is; I can’t justify procrastinating any longer.)

A/ Unitarian hymnals listed in Louis F. Benson, The English hymn: its development and use in worship (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, George H. Doran Co., 1915), in chronological order:

1. F. W. P. Greenwood [King’s Chapel], A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Christian worship (Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1830)
The most popular Unitarian hymnal of the 1830s, with 16 editions in 5 years. Many older hymns, such as those by Watts and Doddridge. With a supplement added by R. C. Watterson in 1845, this hymnal reached 50 editions.

2. Samuel Willard, Sacred Poetry and Music reconciled; or a Collection of Hymns, original and compiled (Boston: L. C. Bowles, 1830)
Used by few congregations.

3. William B. O. Peabody, The Springfield Collection of Hymns for sacred worship (Springfield: Samuel Bowles, 1835).

4. Lewis G. Pray, The Sunday School Hymn Book (Boston, 1833) and The Sunday school Hymn and Service Book. (Boston, 1844).

5. Charles F. Barnard et al., compiler, The Chapel Hymn Book (Boston, 1836).
Designed for use both with children, and in Unitarian mission chapels.

6. William P. Lunt [First Church (Unitarian) of Quincy, Mass.], The Christian Psalter: a Collection of Psalms and Hymns for social and private worship (Boston, 1841).
Included hymns and metrical psalms by John Quincy Adams.

7. Dr. James Flint [Salem, Mass.], A Collection of Hymns for the Christian Church and Home (Boston, 1843).

8. Chandler Robbins, The Social Hymn Book (Boston, 1843).
Included 21 tunes, one of the earliest Unitarian hymnals to include tunes. Intended for smaller congregations.

9. James Freeman Clarke [Church of the Disciples (Unitarian), Boston] The Disciples’ Hymn Book (Boston, 1844).
First U.S. hymnal to publish “Nearer My God to Thee.”

10. Abiel A. Livermore, Christian Hymns for public and private worship. A Collection compiled by a committee of the Cheshire Pastoral Association (Boston, 1846).
Included over 900 hymns. Went through 60 editions.

11. George W. Briggs [Plymouth, Mass.], Hymns for Public Worship (Boston, 1845).

12. Dr. George E. Ellis, A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for the Sanctuary (Boston, 1845).
Compiled to take the place of The Springfield Collection, which was out of print, in the Harvard Church. Reissued with a supplement in 1860.

13. Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson, A Book of Hymns for public and private devotion. (Cambridge, Mass.: Metcalf and Company, printers to Harvard University, 1846).
Compiled while Longfellow and Johnson were students at Harvard Divinity School. Considered radical for its day, it was first used in the newly-formed Church of the Unity, Worcester, Edward Everett Hale, minister; and next by Theodore Parker’s mega-church that met in the Boston Music Hall.

14. Cyrus A. Bartol, Hymns of the Sanctuary (Boston, 1849).

15. Frederic H. Hedge and Frederic Dan Huntington, Hymns for the Church of Christ (Boston, 1853)
The review in the Christian Examiner (the Unitarian periodical of the day) called it “by much, the best book of hymns yet published.” Quite popular, and remained in print through at least 1861.

16. Caroline Whitmarsh, Hymns of the Ages (Boston, 1858).

17. Chandler Robbins, Hymn Book for Christian Worship (Boston, 1854).

18. Dr. Samuel Osgood, Christian Worship (New York, 1862).

19. Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson, Hymns of the Spirit (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864).
A milestone in Unitarian hymnody, this book left out all hymns which the editors felt attributed to Christianity a “special authority,” and also left out all hymns which attributed any supernatural element to Jesus.

B/ An incomplete list of additional U.S. Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist (post-1961) hymnals (excluding those currently in print) include:

20. Hymns, Selected from Various Authors, for the Use of the Unitarian Church in Washington (Washington: W. Cooper, 1821).

21. Hymn and Tune Book for the Church and Home (Boston: American Unitarian Assoc., 1868).
Revised in 1877, and in print past that date.

22. Social Hymns and Tunes, for the Conference and Prayer-Meeting, and the Home (Boston: American Unitarian Assoc., 1869).

23. Hymn and Tune Book for Sunday Schools (Boston: American Unitarian Assoc., 1873).

24. W. C. Gannett, J. V. Blake, and F. L. Hosmer, Unity Hymns and Chorals for the Congregation and the Home (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co, 1880).
Hymnal from the Western Unitarian Conference.

25. Hymns for Church and Home: With Tunes (Boston: American Unitarian Assoc., 1893).
Reissued through at least 1903.

26. Edward A. Horton, A Book of Song and Service for Sunday School and Home (Boston: Unitarian Sunday School Society, 1895).
Reissued through at least 1908.

27. M. J. Savage and Howard M. Dow, Sacred Songs for Public Worship: A Hymn and Tune Book (Boston: George Ellis, 1899).

28. Charles W. Wendte, Jubilate Deo: Book of Hymns and Tunes for Young and Old (Boston: George Ellis Co., 1900).
Compiled for use by Young People’s Religious Union, the Unitarian groups for young people in their teens and twenties.

29. W. C. Gannett and F. L. Hosmer, Unity Hymns and Chorals: A Book for Heart, Home, Church (Chicago: Unity Publishing Co., 1911).
A complete revision of the earlier hymnal by the same name.

30. The New Hymn and Tune Book (Boston: American Unitarian Assoc., 1914).

31. Unitarian Fellowship Hymn and Service Book, (Boston: American Unitarian Assoc., 1949).

32. Vincent Silliman, ed.; Irving Lowens, music ed., We Sing of Life: Songs for Children, Young People, Adults (Starr King Press, 1955; dist. by Beacon Press, Boston).

33. Henry Wilder Foote, et al., Hymns of the Spirit: Services of Religion for Use in the Churches of the Free Spirit (Boston: Beacon Press, 1937).

34. Kenneth Patton, et al., Hymns for the Celebration of Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).

35. Waldemar Hille et al., How Can We Keep from Singing: A Contemporary Songbook for Liberal Churches, Fellowships, Youth Groups and Communal Singing Generally (Los Angeles: Hodgin Press for First Unitarian Church, 1976).

2 thoughts on “Who gets to make a hymnal?”

  1. No need to publish this, but there’s a math problem somewhere. “in the fifteen year period from 1830 to 1864.” That’s 34 years or a wrong date. FWIW

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