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The original of this delightful hymn is one of the devout meditations of Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk (1091-1153). He was born of a noble family in or near Dijon, Burgundy, and when only twenty-three years old established a monastery at Clairvaux, France, over which he presided as its first abbot. Educated in the University of Paris, and possessing great natural abilities, he soon made himself felt in both the religious and political affairs of Europe. For more than thirty years he was the personal power that directed belief, quieted turbulence, and arbitrated disputes, and kings and even popes sought his counsel. It was his eloquent preaching that inspired the second crusade.
His fine poem of feeling, in fifty Latin stanzas, has been a source of pious song in several languages:
Jesu, dulcis memoria
Ejus dulcis presentia.
Jesus! a sweet memory
His presence (is). The five stanzas (of Caswall's free translation) now in use are familiar and dear to all Englishspeaking believers:
Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast,
And in Thy presence rest.
Nor can the memory find,
O Saviour of mankind. The Rev. Edward Caswall was born in Hampshire, Eng., July 15, 1814, the son of a clergyman. He graduated with honors at Brazenose College, Oxford, and after ten years of service in the ministry of the Church of England joined Henry Newman's Oratory at Birmingham, was confirmed in the Church of Rome, and devoted the rest of his life to works of piety and charity. He died Jan. 2, 1878.
THE TUNE. No single melody has attached itself to this hymn, the scope of selection being as large as the supply of appropriate common-metre tunes. Barnby's “Holy Trinity,” Wade's “Holy Cross” and Griggs' tune (of his own name) are all good, but many, on the giving out of the hymn, would associate it at once with the more familiar “Heber" by George Kingsley and expect to hear it sung. It has the uplift and unction of John Newton's
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In the believer's ear.
"GOD CALLING YET! SHALL I NOT HEAR ?"
Gerhard Tersteegen, the original author of the hymn, and one of the most eminent religious poets of the Reformed German church in its early days, was born in 1697, in the town of Mors, in Westphalia. He was left an orphan in boyhood by the death of his father, and as his mother's means were limited, he was put to work as an apprentice when very young, at Muhlheim on the Rhur, and became a ribbon weaver. Here, when about fifteen years of age, he became deeply concerned for his soul, and experienced a deep and abiding spiritual work. As a Christian, his religion partook of the ascetic type, but his mysticism did not make him useless to his fellow-men.
At the age of twenty-seven, he dedicated all his resources and energies to the cause of Christ, writing the dedication in his own blood. “God graciously called me," he says, "out of the world, and granted me che desire to belong to Him, and to be willing to follow Him." He gave up secular employments altogether, and devoted his whole time to religious instruction and to the poor. His house became famous as the “Pilgrims' Cottage," and was visited by people high and humble from all parts of Germany. In his lifetime he is said to have written one hundred and eleven hymns. Died April 3, 1769.
God calling yet! shall I not hear?
God calling yet! I cannot stay;
The voice of God hath reached my heart. The hymn was translated from the German by Miss Jane Borthwick, born in Edinburgh, 1813. She and her younger sister, Mrs. Findlater, jointly translated and published, in 1854, Hymns From the Land of Luther, and contributed many poetical pieces to the Family Treasury. She died in 1897.
Another translation, imitating the German metre, is more euphonious, though less literal and less easily fitted to music not specially composed for it, on account of its “feminine” rhymes:
God calling yet! and shall I never hearken ?
Dr. Dykes' “Rivaulx" is a sober choral that articulates the hymn-writer's sentiment with sincerity and with considerable earnestness, but breathes too faintly the interrogative and expostulary tone of the lines. To voice the devout solicitude and self-remonstrance of the hymn there is no tune superior to “Federal St.”
The Hon. Henry Kemble Oliver, author of “Federal St.,” was born in Salem, Mass., March, 1800, and was addicted to music from his childhood. His father compelled him to relinquish it as a profession, but it remained his favorite avocation, and after his graduation from Harvard the cares of none of the various public positions he held, from schoolmaster to treasurer of the state of Massachusetts, could ever wean him from the study of music and its practice. At the age of thirty-one, while sitting one day in his study, the last verse of Anne Steele's hymn
So fades the lovely blooming flower, -floated into his mind, and an unbidden melody came with it. As he hummed it to himself the words shaped the air, and the air shaped the words.
Then gentle patience smiles on pain,
Then dying hope revives again, became
See gentle patience smile on pain;