Before a collection made for the Society
for the Progataion of the Gospel.
From Greenland's icy mountains,
From many an ancient river,
What though the spicy breezes
In vain with lavish kindness
Can we, whose souls are lighted
Salvation! oh, Salvation!
Waft, waft, ye winds, his story,
Till o'er our ransom'd nature.
Commentary by Brown and Butterworth
The familiar story of this hymn scarcely needs repeating; how one Saturday afternoon in the year 1819, young Reginald Heber, Rector of Hodnet, sitting with his father-in-law, Dean Shipley, and a few friends in the Wrexham Vicarage, was suddenly asked by the Dean to “write something to sing at the missionary meeting tomorrow,” and retired to another part of the room while the rest went on talking; how, very soon after, he returned with three stanzas, which were hailed with delighted approval; how he then insisted upon adding another octrain to the hymn and came back with —
Waft, waft, ye winds, His story,
And you, ye waters, roll;
By common consent Heber's “Missionary Hymn” is the silver trumpet among all the rallying bugles of the church.
Related Material from Guppy (see below)
The Tune: The union of words and music in this instance is an example of spiritual affinity. “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” The story of the tune is a record of providential birth quite as interesting as that of the hymn. In 1823, a lady in Savannah, Ga., having received and admired a copy of Heber's lyric from England, desired to sing it or hear it sung, but knew no music to fit the metre. She finally thought of a young clerk in a bank close by, Lowell Mason by name, who sometimes wrote music for recreation, and sent her son to ask him if he would make a tune that would sing the lines. The boy returned in half an hour with the composition that doubled Heber's fame and made his own.
In the words of Dr. Charles Robinson, “Like the hymn it voices, it was done at a stroke, and it will last through the ages.”
Guppy, Henry. The John Rylands Library, Manchester. A Brief Historical Description of the Library and Its Contents. Manchester: Sherratt and Hughes, 1914. Uploaded to the Internet Archive. by Cornell University Library. Illus. 25. Web. 3 August 2012.
Heber, Reginald. The Poetical Works. Boston: Little, Brown, 1853. [available at Internet Archive/Google.]
Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York, 1906. Project Gutenberg version by Juliet Sutherland, David Wilson, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team
Last modified 28 May 2011