Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow


I HAVE written a few times about the shameful closure of churches at the very moment when they were most needed, so I was pleased to see this article in the Spectator by Douglas Murray, in which he laments the missed opportunity for the Church of England: ‘With everyone in the land forced to reflect on their potentially imminent mortality, I imagine that a fair few were wondering if something other than Netflix might fill the void. Yet the Church was silent.

He believes the Church may have suffered an ‘unrecoverable wound’. I hope he is wrong, but if he is right the Church leadership will be totally to blame. It is almost as if this is what they want to achieve.

So I think it is time for another bracing hymn of encouragement. This is the first I have written about to have been translated from Danish.

It was written by Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862), a prolific writer of plays and historical romances. In 1822 he was appointed instructor of the Danish Language and Literature at the Academy of Sorø. He wrote a number of hymns which are popular in Denmark, and several were translated into English, but this is the only one to have made its mark in Britain. Its Danish title is Igjennem Nat og Trængsel (Through Night and Tribulation) and it is dated 1825.

It was translated by the Anglican clergyman Sabine Baring-Gould, the writer of Onward Christian Soldiers, which I wrote about here.

In that article I said: ‘He must have been superhuman. Standing at an upright desk and working far into the night, he wrote at least 248 books, including 35 novels which were popular in their day, and 1,000 or more other publications on subjects as diverse as saints, antiquities and folk songs. He also had 16 children, 15 of whom lived to adulthood.’ I had no idea that his skills extended to translating from Danish.

Baring-Gould was born in 1834 into the landed gentry. At the age of 30, in 1864, he took holy orders, and became curate at Horbury Bridge, near Wakefield. There he met Grace Taylor, an uneducated mill girl, who was then aged 14, and fell in love with her. His vicar, John Sharp, presumably sensing that this was a situation of some delicacy, arranged for Grace to live with relatives in York for a few years to learn middle-class manners, as well as to read and write. Sabine and Grace were married in 1868 when she was 18.

This is from my first article:

‘In 1871 Baring-Gould was appointed rector of East Mersea in Essex, where he stayed for ten years. He hated it, complaining that his parishioners were “dull, reserved, shy and suspicious”. Nor could he stand the stink of the rotting fish that was used to fertilise the cabbage fields.

‘According to the Mersea Museum “Baring Gould was well aware that he had been sent to this remote, isolated place as a form of exile. . . . [His] independent thinking and radical views had made him powerful enemies in the church hierarchy. They wanted him sent off to some part of the country where he could no longer mix with refined, educated men of culture and equal standing.”

‘However Baring-Gould outflanked the church hierarchy thanks to inheriting the 3,000-acre family estate near Okehampton, Devon, which included the gift of the living of Lewtrenchard parish. When the living became vacant in 1881, he was able to appoint himself to it, becoming parson as well as squire – so he called himself the Squarson. He completely remodelled the manor house, which is now a splendid-looking hotel. I found many of the details of his life on their website.

‘He seems to have been a strange father. One story goes that at a children’s party a child bumped into him and, upon picking her up, he asked “And whose little girl are you?” The child burst into tears and wept: “I’m yours, Daddy, I’m yours!”

‘When his sons were around the age of sixteen, he threw them out and told them to earn their own living. He also controlled his daughters and one was coerced into a loveless marriage.

‘His own marriage lasted 48 years until Grace’s death in 1916. On her gravestone is carved Dimidium Animae Meae (Half my Soul). Baring-Gould died in January 1924, just a few days short of his 90th birthday.’

This translation was made in 1867, the year before he married. These are the words:

1 Through the night of doubt and sorrow
onward goes the pilgrim band,
singing songs of expectation,
marching to the promised land.

2 Clear before us through the darkness
gleams and burns the guiding light;
pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim,
stepping fearless through the night.

3 One the light of God’s own presence
o’er his ransomed people shed,
chasing far the gloom and terror,
brightening all the path we tread:

4 One the object of our journey,
one the faith which never tires,
one the earnest looking forward,
one the hope our God inspires:

5 One the strain that lips of thousands
lift as from the heart of one;
one the conflict, one the peril,
one the march in God begun:

6 One the gladness of rejoicing
on the far eternal shore,
where the one almighty Father
reigns in love for evermore.

7 Onward, therefore, Christian pilgrims,
onward with the cross our aid;
bear its shame, and fight its battle,
till we rest beneath its shade.

8 Soon shall come the great awaking,
soon the rending of the tomb;
then the scattering of all shadows,
and the end of toil and gloom.

There are many tunes listed for this hymn. The one I know is called Marching, and was written in 1915 by Martin Shaw (1875-1958), whom I wrote about only a couple of weeks ago as the composer of Little Cornard, the melody of Hills of the North Rejoice. At the time he wrote Marching he was organist and choirmaster at St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, London. Here it is performed by Charles Naylor.

It is also sung to Ebenezer by Thomas John Williams(1869–1944), first published in 1897. It is extracted from the second movement of his anthem Goleu Yn Y Glyn (Light in the Valley). In 1902 the Daily Mail published a story that the tune was discovered in a bottle on a beach in North Wales, and it has affectionately been known as Ton-y-Botel (Tune in a Bottle) since, even being referred to as Ebenezer, Ton-y-Botel on Williams’s gravestone. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) called it one of the greatest hymn tunes.

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