Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hymns from the Land of Luther, by Jane Laurie Borthwick & Sarah Findlater (trans.)


A collection of 54 hymns translated from the German by Jane Laurie Borthwick and her sister, Sarah Findlater.

As with most of Borthwick's stuff, the theology is fairly solid and many of the hymns are quite good.  I wasn't quite as impressed by this collection as by Schaff's two volume collection. But then, Schaff included hundreds of hymns, many of which were absolute stinkers.  I have no idea what the ratio of good to bad worked out to be in those collections, but I'm guessing Borthwick's collection doesn't fare any worse.  There were no truly amazing hymns that I recall, but there weren't any utterly abysmal ones either.  I think this is the collection where Borthwick's well-known translation of "Be Still, My Soul" first appeared, though, so that's something.

The focus here is definitely on death and heaven, and there are more hymns on dying or the joys to come after death than there are on any other subject.  I'm curious as to whether that's indicative of a trend in German hymnody, or if it merely speaks to Borthwick's own interests as reflected in the hymns she selected. Granted, most hymns include a verse on the second coming or Christians' ultimate experience of victory, resurrection, and union with God, but this collection includes quite a few hymns with first lines like "Weary, Waiting to Depart", "Our Beloved Have Departed", "My God, I Know that I Must Die", and "Depart, My Child! The Lord Thy Spirit Calls".  Death was clearly on someone's mind, whether Borthwick or the German authors.  It's particularly striking to a modern reader, I think, as modern science has eradicated many of the diseases that brought about the early deaths so common in previous centuries.  Not that people don't still die, but it's no longer expected that parents would bury, on average, at least half of their children before they reached adulthood.  Between the medical progress we've made and our increasing fear of death as the ultimate evil, we really don't sing much about death, even in the church.  Which makes this an interesting read for modern Christians.

This is yet another reprint--essentially just a bound photocopy of an original edition.  The print quality is not great.  Some of the smaller print (as in the Bible references at the start of many hymns) are particularly difficult to read.  It's a shame it's not available less expensively, but if you enjoy hymn collections, this is a decent one to have.

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