Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by William Garrett Horder
Thomas Hornblower Gill (1819–1906)
MR. GILL was born at Birmingham, on the 10th of February, 1819. His parents belonged to English Presbyterian families who had become Unitarian. He was sent to King Edward’s Grammar School, then presided over by Dr. Jeune, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough. Here he distinguished himself, and would have passed to the University of Oxford, had not religious tests, then imposed upon all who entered, barred the way. He did not, however, give up study, but in private devoted himself chiefly to historical and theological subjects, and followed the life of a student-recluse. He published “The Papal Drama,” an historical essay (1866), and “The Triumph of Christ,” Memorials of Franklin Howard, a record of spiritual experiences very much like his own. In verse he published “The Fortunes of Faith” (1841), and “The Anniversaries,” poems in commemoration of great men and great events (1858), in which his love of history, his intense patriotism, his strong Protestantism, and his deep religiousness found impetuous expression. The poems for September the 3rd and December the 9th are especially worthy of note, the former being the date of Cromwell’s victories at Dunbar and Worcester, and of his death; the latter being the date of Milton’s birth. From this volume I quote here the Birthday Ode to the Duke of Wellington.

  The predictions of Merlin and other British bards assured their countrymen of the return of King Arthur in greater might and glory than before.
  Not idly, eldest sages of our land,
  Rang forth the rapture of your prophet-lyre,
  “Arthur shall come again! from Arthur’s hand
  Deliverance still his Britain shall require!
  A stately pillar of strong, steadfast fire
  Arthur upon her darkened hour shall blaze:
  His awful sword shall quell her foeman’s ire,
  Stroke upon stroke, and her dimmed glory raise
To an imperial glow far in those latter days.”
  On rolled the ages: lo! the hero woke.
  Her Arthur wore his conqueror’s robe unrent,
  Whether with scanty band forlorn he broke
  The thronging squadrons of the Orient,
  Or the calm patience of his valour lent
  To pluck from the fierce Gaul that Spanish prey.
  Each laurelled leader down before him went;
  From strength to strength he passed, a wondrous way,
Till Victory’s faint, dim dawn flamed into fair, full day.
  Within the impenetrable lines he stayed,
  And lo! the fiery, rushing foe recoiled;
  Anon of tented field he trial made,
  And constant victory on her wooer smiled.
  He smote the ruthless smiters sore, he spoiled
  The spoilers utterly! their feet no more
  Stained the Hesperian fields so long defiled;
  Back o’er the Pyrenees their rout he bore,
And on the fields of France his robe of victory wore.
  But O! it gleamed most glorious on that plain
  Where lay the robe of the world’s victor rent;
  There war’s great master wrought his best in vain,
  There France her furious valour vainly lent;
  There with the brazen-throated roar was blent
  The tramp of her on-rushing cuirassiers;
  But lo! that deadly rain was idly spent;
  On rode, back reeled those fiery cavaliers;
Calm round their Arthur stood the unbroken islanders!
  Then on they rushed—but theirs no backward spring!
  At length they smote—but theirs no broken blow!
  O shivered army! O discrownèd king!
  O world-bestrider shrunken and laid low!
  O Time! thou canst not match this overthrow.
  O crownèd Britain! with thine Arthur vie;
  Confront his glory with thy heart’s great glow!
  Yes, raise his honours as his trophies high!
The measure of his meed make thine own majesty!
  O pure-eyed Peace! let fall almost a smile
  Upon this most white-handed warrior!
  Wrong not his greatness with the guilty style,
  The gloomy glory of a conqueror!
  O wondrous sword, ne’er drawn but in just war,
  Ne’er laid aside till bright with Victory’s beam!
  O gracious sword, that saints may least abhor!
  O mighty sword, that men most glorious deem!
O drawn but to o’ercome! O drawn but to redeem!
  The statutes of his England well he kept,
  That faithful, glorious servant: at her word
  His sword awoke; at her command it slept.
  Not once the gale of his great glory stirred
  The calm of his obedience; most preferred,
  The splendour of his faithfulness he wore.
  Still, still the hand she felt, the voice she heard
  Of her true servant; still with him he bore
The humbleness that made his majesty the more.
  O Fairy Land! no Arthur thus sublime
  Walks through thy golden fields. O Latter Days!
  How the dim glory of that Olden Time
  Faints ’neath the splendour of your steadfast blaze!
  Britain! outsing those old prophetic lays!
  Behold thine Arthur more than come again!
  Thy song, thy soul unto his stature raise;
  The mighty name lift on a mighty strain,
And with thine Arthur still the ages entertain!
  But it is by his hymns Mr. Gill will be longest remembered. Many influences combine to make them remarkable. To his Unitarian environment in early life are due their freedom of spirit and ethical earnestness, whilst his Puritan ancestry and the Evangelical influences that reached him later in life gave them spiritual fervour. These diverse influences have made him what Dr. J. Freeman Clarke calls—“a more intellectual Charles Wesley.” This is a true description, save that he has not the ease in versification of the Methodist singer. There is a certain mannerism, too, which prevents him, save in a few of his best hymns, reaching the highest point of excellence. To the more balanced judgment of the critic Mr. Gill’s hymns have something of the quaintness of George Wither or John Mason, but touched with the warmer feeling of Isaac Watts. In them his distaste for all antiquarian and sacerdotal conceptions of Christianity is very evident, whilst beyond this is a keen discernment of the spirit as opposed to the letter of scripture. Here and there much subtlety of thought is discernible, which renders them somewhat caviare to the ordinary reader, but very precious to the more thoughtful. There is, however, what is all too rare in hymns, distinctiveness of thought and style.  2
  “The Golden Chain of Praise,” in which one hundred and sixty of his hymns are included, was first issued in 1869, an enlarged edition with ninety new hymns was issued in 1894. This is the whole of his work as a hymn-writer, except certain pieces in “The Anniversaries,” which might be classed as hymns, and a few published in 1883 under the title “Luther’s Birthday.”  3

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