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Home News The Midweek Hymn: Let Us, With a Gladsome Mind

The Midweek Hymn: Let Us, With a Gladsome Mind

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THIS hymn has a delightful freshness and innocence about it, which is perhaps not surprising as it was written by a schoolboy. This was the 15-year-old John Milton (1608-1674) when he was a pupil at St Paul’s School, London.

Milton was one of three surviving children of John Milton, a composer and scrivener (a person who made hand-written copies of documents) and his wife Sara. Three other children died in infancy. The family lived near St Paul’s Cathedral. As a boy Milton was privately tutored, learning to read and write in English and Latin, and arithmetic. His father taught him French, Italian and Hebrew.

At some point he was sent to St Paul’s School, but it is uncertain exactly when because the school’s records were lost in a fire during the late 17th century. Milton walked each day between school and home, and his path took him by the cathedral. Thus it is possible that he listened to the sermons given by John Donne. John Aubrey, in Brief Lives, quotes his younger brother Christopher: ‘When he went to school, when he was very young, he studied very hard and sat up very late, commonly till twelve or one o’clock at night.’ Milton attributed his later blindness to this rigorous school studying.

He composed Let Us, With a Gladsome Mind, his first hymn, in 1623.

It is a paraphrase of Psalm 136, part of which reads:

1 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.

5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.

6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.

7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:

8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:

9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever . . .

25 Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever.

26 O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Milton’s words run:

Let us, with a gladsome mind,
Praise the Lord, for He is kind.

Refrain: For His mercies aye endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Let us blaze His Name abroad,
For of gods He is the God.

Refrain

He with all commanding might
Filled the new made world with light.

Refrain

He hath, with a piteous eye,
Looked upon our misery.

Refrain

He the golden tressèd sun
Caused all day his course to run.

Refrain

The hornèd moon to shine by night;
‘Mid her spangled sisters bright.

Refrain

All things living he doth feed,
His full hand supplies their need.

Refrain

Let us, with a gladsome mind,
Praise the Lord, for He is kind.

Refrain

Milton wrote another 18 hymns based on psalms, but none was as successful.

The usual melody is Monkland, which like many hymn tunes has a convoluted history. It originated in a tune for the text Fahre Fort in the 1704 German hymnal, Geistreiches Gesangbuch. It was significantly altered by John Antes (1740-1811) for the Moravian hymnal A Collection of Hymn Tunes (c 1800). Antes was born near the Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and had a diverse career. He trained as a musical instrument-maker then went to Germany to train as a watchmaker. From 1770 to 1781 he served as a Moravian missionary in Egypt and from 1783 until his death was the business manager of the Moravian community in Fulneck, West Yorkshire. In addition he was a composer, his best-known anthems being Go Congregation Go and Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs, together on this YouTube clip:

The tune was revised by John Lees for another Moravian hymnal, Hymn Tunes of the United Brethren (1824). In 1861 the melody was simplified and arranged by John Bernard Wilkes (1785-1869), who studied at the Royal Academy of Music, then played the organ at St. David’s Church in Merthyr Tydfil, Llandaff Cathedral, and Monkland church, near Leominster, after which he named it. Wilkes introduced Monkland to Henry W Baker, who published it in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) as the tune for his own hymn on the theme of harvest, Praise, O Praise Our God and King.

Here Let Us, With a Gladsome Mind is sung by Wakefield Cathedral Choir:

As regular readers will know, I can’t resist a brass band:

Here is a rather nice instrumental arrangement by Viktor Dick.

It is sometimes sung to the tune Innocents, though I cannot find out who wrote it.

Finally, this is a modern setting by Nigel Walsh. Not my cup of tea but it is probably a lot of fun to sing.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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