1792 - 1866 Author of "Morning mercies, daily discipline" in Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church Keble, John, M.A., was born at Fairford, in Gloucestershire, on St. Mark's Day, 1792. His father was Vicar of Coln St. Aldwin's, about three miles distant, but lived at Fairford in a house of his own, where he educated entirely his two sons, John and Thomas, up to the time of their entrance at Oxford. In 1806 John Keble won a Scholarship at Corpus Christi College, and in 1810 a Double First Class, a distinction which up to that time had been gained by no one except Sir Robert Peel. In 1811 he was elected a Fellow of Oriel, a very great honour, especially for a boy under 19 years of age; and in 1811 he won the University Prizes both for the English and Latin Essays. It is somewhat remarkable that amid this brilliantly successful career, one competition in which the future poet was unsuccessful was that for English verse, in which he was defeated by Mr. Rolleston. After his election at Oriel, he resided in College, and engaged in private tuition. At the close of 1813 he was appointed Examining Master in the Schools, and was an exceedingly popular and efficient examiner. On Trinity Sunday, 1815, he was ordained Deacon, and in 1816 Priest, by the Bishop of Oxford, and became Curate of East Leach and Burthorpe, though he still continued to reside at Oxford. In 1818 he was appointed College Tutor at Oriel, which office he retained until 1823. On the death of his mother in the same year, he left Oxford, and returned to live with his father and two surviving sisters at Fairford. In addition to East Leach and Burthorpe, he also accepted the Curacy of Southrop, and the two brothers, John and Thomas, undertook the duties between them, at the same time helping their father at Coln. It should be added, as an apology for Keble thus becoming a sort of pluralist among "the inferior clergy," that the population of all his little cures did not exceed 1000, nor the income £100 a year. In 1824 came the only offer of a dignity in the Church, and that a very humble one, which he ever received. The newly-appointed Bishop of Barbadoes (Coleridge) wished Keble to go out with him as Archdeacon, and but for his father's delicate state of health, he would probably have accepted the offer. In 1825 he became Curate of Hursley, on the recommendation of his old pupil, Sir William Heathcote; but in 1826, on the death of his sister, Mary Ann, he returned to Fairford, feeling that he ought not to separate himself from his father and only surviving sister. He supplied his father's place at Coln entirely. 1827 was memorable for the publication of The Christian Year, and 1828 for the election to the Provostship of Oriel, which his friends, rather than himself, seem to have been anxious to secure for him. In 1829 the living of Hursley was offered to him by Sir William Heathcote, but declined on the ground that he could not leave his father. In 1830 he published his admirable edition of Hooker's Works. In 1831 the Bishop of Exeter (Dr. Philpotts) offered him the valuable living of Paignton, but it was declined for the same reason that Hursley had been declined. In the same year he was also elected to the Poetry Professorship at Oxford. His Praelectiones in that capacity were much admired. In 1833 he preached his famous Assize Sermon at Oxford, which is said by Dr. Newman to have given the first start to the Oxford Movement. Very soon after the publication of this sermon the Tracts for the Times began to be issued. Of these Tracts Keble wrote Nos. 4, 13, 40, and 89. In 1835 his father died, and Keble and his sister retired from Fairford to Coln. In the same year he married Miss Clarke and the Vicarage of Hursley, again becoming vacant, was again offered to him by Sir W. Heathcote, and as the reason for his previous refusal of it no longer existed, he accepted the offer, and in 1836 settled at Hursley for the remainder of his life. That life was simply the life of a devoted and indefatigable parish priest, varied by intellectual pursuits. In 1864 his health began to give way, and on March 29, 1866, he passed away, his dearly loved wife only surviving him six weeks. Both are buried, side by side, in Hursley churchyard.
In his country vicarage he was not idle with his pen. In 1839 he published his Metrical Version of the Psalms. The year before, he began to edit, in conjunction with Drs. Pusey and Newman, the Library of the Fathers. In 1846 he published the Lyra Innocentium, and in 1847 a volume of Academical and Occasional Sermons. His pen then seems to have rested for nearly ten years, when the agitation about the Divorce Bill called forth from him in 1851 an essay entitled, An Argument for not proceeding immediately to repeal the Laws which treat the Nuptial Bond as Indissoluble; and in the same year the decision of Archbishop Sumner in the Denison case elicited another essay, the full title of which is The Worship of Our Lord and Saviour in the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, but which is shortly entitled, Eucharistical Adoration. In 1863 he published his last work, The Life of Bishop Wilson (of Sodor and Man). This cost him more pains than anything he wrote, but it was essentially a labour of love.
In the popular sense of the word "hymn," Keble can scarcely be called a hymnwriter at all. Very many of his verses have found their way into popular collections of Hymns for Public Worship, but these are mostly centos. Often they are violently detached from their context in a way which seriously damages their significance. Two glaring instances of this occur in the Morning and Evening hymns. In the former the verse "Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love, Fit us for perfect rest above," loses half its meaning when the preceding verse, ending "The secret this of rest below," is excised, as it generally is in collections for public worship, and the same may be said of that most familiar of all Keble's lines, "Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear," which has of course especial reference to the preceding verse, "'Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze," &c. The Lyra Innocentium has furnished but few verses which have been adopted into hymn collections; the Psalter has been more fortunate, but the translations from the Latin are almost unknown.
Taking, however, the word "hymn" in the wider sense in which Dr. Johnson defines it, as "a song of adoration to some superior being," Keble stands in the very first rank of hymnwriters. His uneventful life was the very ideal life for such a poet as Keble was, but not the sort of life which would be best adapted to train a popular hymnwriter. The Christian Year and the Lyra Innocentium reflect in a remarkable degree the surroundings of the writer. They are essentially the works of a refined and cultured mind, and require a refined and cultured mind to enter into their spirit. Keble, all his life long, and never more than in the earlier portion of it, before he wrote, and when he was writing The Christian Year, breathed an atmosphere of culture and refinement. He had imbibed neither the good nor the evil which the training of a public or even of a private, school brings. It was not even the ordinary home education which he had received. He had been trained, up to the very time of his going to college, by his father, who was clearly a man of culture and refinement, and had been himself successively Scholar and Fellow of Corpus. When he went to Oxford, he can scarcely be said to have entered into the whirl of university life. The Corpus of those days has been admirably described by Keble's own biographer, Sir John Coleridge, and by Dean Stanley in his Life of Dr. Arnold; and the impression which the two vivid pictures leave upon the mind is that of a home circle, on rather a large scale, composed of about twenty youths, all more or less scholarly and refined, and some of them clearly destined to become men of mark. When he removed across the road to Oriel, he found himself in the midst of a still more distinguished band. Whether at home or at college he had never come into contact with anything rude or coarse. And his poetry is just what one would expect from such a career. Exquisitely delicate and refined thoughts, expressed in the most delicate and refined language, are characteristic of it all. Even the occasional roughnesses of versification may not be altogether unconnected with the absence of a public school education, when public schools laid excessive stress upon the form of composition, especially in verse. The Christian Year again bears traces of the life which the writer led, in a clerical atmosphere, just at the eve of a great Church Revival, "cujus pars magna fuit." “You know," he writes to a friend, “the C. Y. (as far as I remember it) everywhere supposes the Church to be in a state of decay." Still more obviously is this the case in regard to the Lyra Innocentium. It was being composed during the time when the writer was stricken by what he always seems to have regarded as the great sorrow of his life. Not the death of his nearest relations—-and he had several trials of this kind—-not the greatest of his own personal troubles dealt to him so severe a blow as the secession of J. H. Newman to the Church of Rome. The whole circumstances of the fierce controversy connected with the Tract movement troubled and unsettled him; and one can well understand with what a sense of relief he turned to write, not for, but about, little children, a most important distinction, which has too often been unnoticed. If the Lyra had been written for children it would have been an almost ludicrous failure, for the obscurity which has been frequently complained of in The Christian Year, is still more conspicuous in the latter work. The title is somewhat misleading, and has caused it to be regarded as a suitable gift-book for the young, who are quite incapable of appreciating it. For the Lyra is written in a deeper tone, and expresses the more matured convictions of the author; and though it is a far less successful achievement as a whole, it rises in places to a higher strain of poetry than The Christian Year does.
Another marked feature of Keble's poetry is to a great extent traceable to his early life, viz. the wonderful accuracy and vividness of his descriptions of natural scenery. The ordinary schoolboy or undergraduate cares little for natural scenery. The country is to him a mere playing field. But Keble's training led him to love the country for its own sake. Hence, as Dean Stanley remarks, “Oxford, Bagley Wood, and the neighbourhood of Hursley might be traced through hundreds of lines, both in The Christian Year and the Lyra Innocentium.” The same writer testifies, with an authority which no other Englishman could claim, to "the exactness of the descriptions of Palestine, which he [Keble] had never visited.” And may not this remarkable fact be also traced to some extent to his early training? Brought up under the immediate supervision of a pious father, whom he venerated and loved dearly, he had been encouraged to study intelligently his Bible in a way in which a boy differently educated was not likely to do. Hence, as Sir John Coleridge remarks,
"The Christian Year is so wonderfully scriptural. Keble's mind was, by long, patient and affectionate study of Scripture, so imbued with it that its language, its train of thought, its mode of reasoning, seems to flow out into his poetry, almost, one should think, unconsciously to himself."
To this may we not add that the same intimate knowledge of the Bible had rendered the memory of the Holy Land so familiar to him that he was able to describe it as accurately as if he had seen it? One other early influence of Keble's life upon his poetry must be noticed. Circumstances brought him into contact with the "Lake poets." The near relation of one of the greatest of them had been his college friend, and John Coleridge introduced him to the writings not only of his uncle, S. T. Coleridge, but also of Wordsworth, to whom he dedicated his Praelectiones, and whose poetry and personal character he admired enthusiastically. To the same college friend he was indebted for an introduction to Southey, whom he found to be "a noble and delightful character," and there is no doubt that the writings of these three great men, but especially Wordsworth, had very much to do with the formation of Keble's own mind as a poet. It has been remarked that in Keble's later life his poetical genius seemed to have, to a great extent, forsaken him; and that the Miscellaneous Poems do not show many traces of the spirit which animated The Christian Year and the Lyra Innocentium. Perhaps one reason for this change may be found in the increased interest "which Keble took in public questions which were not conducive to the calm, introspective state of mind so necessary to the production of good poetry. The poet should live in a world of his own, not in a world perpetually wrangling about University Reform, about Courts of Final Appeal, about Marriage with Deceased Wife's Sister, and other like matters into which Keble, in his later years, threw himself—heart and soul.
It is not needful to say much about Keble's other poetical works, The Psalter was not a success, and Keble did not expect it to be. It was undertaken," he tells us, "in the first instance with a serious apprehension, which has since grown into a full conviction, that the thing attempted is, strictly speaking, impossible." At the same time, if Keble did not achieve what he owned to be impossible, he produced a version which has the rare merit of never offending against good taste; one which in every line reflects the mind of the cultured and elegant scholar, who had been used to the work of translating from other languages into English. Hymnal compilers have hitherto strangely neglected this volume; but it is a volume worth the attention of the hymn compiler of the future. There is scarcely a verse in it which would do discredit to any hymnbook; while there are parts which would be an acquisition to any collection. His translations from the Latin have not commended themselves to hymnal compilers. Some of his detached hymns have been more popular. But it is after all as writer of The Christian Year that Keble has established his claim to be reckoned among the immortals. It would be hardly too much to say that what the Prayer Book is in prose, The Christian Year is in poetry. They never pall upon one; they realise Keble's own exquisite simile:—
"As for some dear familiar strain
Untired we ask, and ask again;
Ever in its melodious store
Finding a spell unheard before."
And it would hardly be too bold to prophesy that The Christian Year will live as long as the Prayer Book, whose spirit Keble had so thoroughly imbibed, and whose "soothing influence" it was his especial object to illustrate and commend. [Rev. John H. 0verton, D.D.]
Keble's hymns, poetical pieces, and translations appeared in the following works :—
(1.) The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holy days Throughout the Year. Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1827. Preface dated "May 30th, 1827." The last poem, that on the “Commination," is dated March 9, 1827. The poems on the "Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea," "Gunpowder Treason," "King Charles the Martyr," "The Restoration of the Royal Family," "The Accession," and "Ordination," were added to the 4th edition, 1828. The Messrs. Parker have pub. a large number of editions to date, including a facsimile reprint of the first edition, and an edition with the addition of the dates of composition of each poem. A facsimile of Keble's manuscript as it existed in 1822 was also lithographed in 1882, by Eliot Stock, but its publication was suppressed by a legal injunction, and only a few copies came into the hands of the public. Since the expiration of the first copyright other publishers have issued the work in various forms.
(2.) Contributions to the British Magazine, which were included in Lyra Apostolica, 1836, with the signature of "γ."
(3.) The Psalter or Psalms of David; In English Verse; By a Member of the University of Oxford. Adapted for the most part, to Tunes in Common Use; and dedicated by permission to the Lord Bishop of Oxford. . . . Oxford, John Henry Parker: J. G. & F. Rivington, London, MDCCCXXXIX. Preface dated “Oxford, May 29, 1839."
(4.) The Child's Christian Year: Hymns for every Sunday and Holy-Day. Compiled for the use of Parochial Schools. Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841. This was compiled by Mrs. Yonge. Keble wrote the Preface, dated “Hursley, Nov. 6, 1841," and signed it “J. K." To it he contributed the four poems noted below.
(5.) Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, their Ways and their Privileges . . . Oxford: John Henry Parker : F. & J. Rivington, London, 1846. The Metrical Address (in place of Preface) “To all Friendly Readers," is dated "Feb. 8, 1846."
(6.) Lays of the Sanctuary, and otter Poems. Compiled and Edited by G. Stevenson de M. Rutherford... London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1859. This was a volume of poems published on behalf of Mrs. Elizabeth Good. To it Keble contributed the three pieces noted below.
(7.) The Salisbury Hymn-Book 1857. Edited by Earl Nelson. To this be contributed a few hymns, some translations from the Latin, and some rewritten forms of well-known hymns, as "Guide me, 0 Thou great Jehovah," &c.
(8.) Miscellaneous Poems by the. Rev. J. Keble, M.A., Vicar of Hursley. Oxford and London: Parker & Co., 1869. The excellent Preface to this posthumous work is dated "Chester, Feb. 22, 1869," and is signed "G.M," i.e. by George Moberly, late Bishop of Salisbury. This volume contains Keble's Ode written for the Installation of the Duke of Wellington as Chancellor of the University of Oxford, in 1834, his poems from the Lyra Apostolica, his hymns named above, his translations from the Latin, and other pieces not published in his works.
The most important centos from The Christian Year, which are in common use as hymns, and also the hymns contributed to the Salisbury Hymn Book, 1857, are annotated in full under the first lines of the original poems. The translations from the Latin and Greek are given under the first lines of the originals. There are also several of his more important pieces noted in the body of this work. Those that …have no special history, are the following (the dates given being those of the composition of each piece):—
i. From The Christian Year, 1827 and 1828.
1. Creator, Saviour, strengthening Guide. Trinity Sunday. (March 3, 1826.)
2. Father, what treasures of sweet thought. Churching of Women. (March 13, 1827.)
3. God is not in the earthquake: but behold. 9th Sunday after Trinity. The still mall voice. (Aug. 13,1822.)
4. In troublous days of anguish and rebuke. 9th S. after Trinity. The still small voice. (Aug. 13, 1822.)
5. Lessons sweet of spring returning. 1st Sunday after Epiphany. Spring. (May 17,1824.)
6. My Saviour, can it ever be? 4th Sunday after Easter. The promised Comforter.
7. 0 Father of long suffering grace. 18th Sunday after Trinity. God's longsuffering. (Oct. 6, 1823.)
8. 0 God of mercy, God of might, How should, &c. Holy Communion. (Jan. 31, 1827.)
9. 0 Lord my God, do Thou Thy holy will. Wednesday before Easter. Resignation. (Aug. 13, 1821.)
10. 0 say not, dream [think] not, heavenly notes. Catechism. (Feb. 16, 1827.)
11. 0 shame upon thee, listless heart. SS. Philip & James. (Aug. 3, 1825.)
12. 0 who shall dare in this frail scene? St. Mark's Day. (1820.)
13. Red o'er the forest peers the setting sun. 23rd Sunday after Trinity. The Resurrection of the body. (Nov. 12, 1825.)
14. Spirit of Christ, Thine earnest give. Ordination. (March 28, 1828.)
15. Spirit of light and truth, to Thee. Ordination. (March 28, 1828.)
16. Spirit of might and sweetness too. Confirmation. (Feb. 21, 1827.)
17. Sweet nurslings of the vernal skies. 15th S. after Trinity. Consider the lilies. Live for today. (Feb. 3, 1826)
18. The days of hope and prayer are past. 4th Sunday after Easter. The promised Comforter.
19. The live-long night we've toiled in vain. 5th Sunday after Trinity. Miracle of the Fishes. (1821.)
20. The midday sun with fiercest glare. Conversion of St. Paul. (Mar. 2,1822.)
21. The shadow of the Almighty's cloud. Confirmation. (Feb. 22, 1827.)
22. The silent joy that sinks so deep. 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. Turning Water into Wine.
23. Then, fainting soul, arise and sing. 4th Sunday after Easter. The promised Comforter.
24. When brothers part for manhood's race. St. Andrew's Day. (Jan. 27, 1822.)
25. Who is God’s chosen priest ? St. Matthias's Day.
26. Why doth my Saviour weep? 10th Sunday after Trinity. Christ weeping over Jerusalem. (1819.)
27. Why should we faint and fear to live alone? 24th Sunday after Trinity. God's goodness in veiling the future. (June 7, 1825.)
28. Wish not, dear friends, my pain away. 16th Sunday after Trinity. Resignation. (1824.)
ii. From The Psalter, 1839.
29. From deeps so wild and drear. Ps. cxxx.
30. God our Hope and Strength abiding. Ps. xlvi.
31. How pleasant, Lord of hosts, how dear. Ps. lxxxiv.
32. Lord, be my Judge, for I have trod. Ps. xxvi.
33. Lord, Thy heart in love hath yearned. Ps. lxxxv.
34. Lord, Thou hast search'd me out and known. Ps. cxxxix
35. My God, my God, why hast Thou me? Ps. xxii.
36. My Shepherd is the living God. Ps. xxiii.
37. My Shepherd is the Lord; J know. Ps. xxiii.
38. Praise the Lord, for He is love. Ps. cxxxvi.
39. Praise ye the Lord from heaven. Ps.cxlviii.
40. Sing the song unheard before. Ps. xcvi.
41. Sound high Jehovah's Name. Ps. cxxxv.
42. The earth is all the Lord's, with all. Ps. xxiv.
43. The mercies of the Lord my God. Ps. lxxxix.
44. The seed of Jacob, one and all. Ps. xxii.
iii. From The Child's Christian Year, 1841, and later editions.
45. Bethlehem, above all cities blest. Innocents’ Day.
46. Lo, from the Eastern hills the Lord. l0th Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel. (Late editions.)
47. Our God in glory sits on high. 1st Sunday after Easter. The Epistle.
48. When Christ to village comes or town. 16th Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel. (Late editions.)
iv. From Lyra Innocentium, 1846.
49. Christ before thy door is waiting. Presence of Christ in His poor; or, Offertory.
50. How [When] the new-born saints, assembling. Offertory.
51. Once in His Name Who made thee. Holy Baptism.
52. Who for the like of me will care? Naamans' Servant-maid
v. From Lays of the Sanctuary, 1859.
53. Lord, lift my heart to Thee at morn. Emigrant's Midnight Hymn.
54. O Love unseen, we know Thee nigh. Cento from No. 53.
55. Slowly the gleaming stars retire. Morning Hymn for Emigrants at Sea.
56. The twilight hour is sweet at home. Evening hymn for Emigrants at Sea.
The editor of Keble's Miscellaneous Poems says concerning Nos. 53, 55, and 56:—
"The three hymns for Emigrants, for use at Midnight, Morning, and Evening, were written at the request of his friend Sir Frederic Rogers, at that time Emigration Commissioner. They were printed in the first edition of the ‘Prayers for Emigrants, which he had compiled, but were subsequently omitted, perhaps as being thought not sufficiently simple for the class of people for whose use the Book of Prayers was chiefly intended." Preface, p. vi.
It is found that nearly 100 hymns (counting centos as such) by Keble are in common use at the present time, and of these some rank with the finest and most popular in the English language.
-- John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)