Daily Reading for August 7 • John Mason Neale, Priest, 1866
The following translations have occupied a portion of my leisure time for the last twelve years: and some of them have already appeared in more than one ecclesiastical periodical. So has also great part of the Introduction.
It is a most remarkable fact, and one which shows how very little interest has been hitherto felt in the Eastern Church, that these are literally, I believe, the only English versions of any part of the treasures of Oriental Hymnology. There is scarcely a first or second-rate hymn of the Roman Breviary which has not been translated: of many we have six or eight versions. The eighteen quarto volumes of Greek Church-poetry can only at present be known to the English reader by my little book.
Yet surely, if in the future Hymnal of the English Church we are to build an eclectic superstructure on the foundation of the Sarum Book, the East ought to yield its full share of compositions. And hence, I cannot but marvel that the compilers of eclectic Hymnals, such as the (modern) Sarum, the Hymns Ancient and Modern, and others, have never turned to this source. Here was a noble field open to them; and to me it is incomprehensible that they should have so utterly neglected it.
There are difficulties in the task to which it is as well to revert. Though the superior terseness and brevity of the Latin Hymns renders a translation which shall represent these qualities a work of great labour, yet still the versifier has the help of the same meter; his version may be line for line; and there is a great analogy between the Collects and the Hymns, most helpful to the translator. Above all, we have examples enough of former translation by which we may take pattern.
But in attempting a Greek Canon, from the fact of its being in prose—(metrical Hymns, as the reader will learn, are unknown,)—one is all at sea. What measure shall we employ? why this more than that? Might we attempt the rhythmical prose of the original, and design it to be chanted? Again, the great length of the Canons renders them unsuitable for our churches, as wholes. Is it better simply to form centos of the more beautiful passages? or can separate Odes, each necessarily imperfect, be employed as separate Hymns? And above all, we have no pattern or example of any kind to direct our labour.
These questions, and many others, have as yet received no reply; but will, in time, no doubt, work out their answer. My own belief is, that the best way to employ Greek Hymnology for the uses of the English Church would be by centos.
I trust the reader will not forget the immense difficulty of an attempt so perfectly new as the present, where I have had no predecessors, and therefore could have no master. If I have opened the way for others to do better what I have done imperfectly, I shall have every reason to be thankful.
From the Preface to the First Edition of Hymns from the Eastern Church, by John Mason Neale (London: J. T. Hayes, 1862).