CHRISTMAS CAROLS

Autograph manuscript notebook mainly of Christmas carols.

[Brentwood?, 1864–87].

Small 8vo, pp. 174; neatly written in black ink in a strong, clear Victorian hand; internally clean and fresh; bound in contemporary limp leather; spine torn but nonetheless in good condition.

£450

Approximately:
US $570€526

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Autograph manuscript notebook mainly of Christmas carols.

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An autograph manuscript notebook composed primarily of Christmas carols, compiled carefully over some twenty-five years from various sources including manuscripts in the British Museum, early printed books, and contemporary books and periodicals.

Our compiler, Arthur Henry Brown (1830–1926), transcribes a few other poems too, suggesting that one purpose of the notebook was to identify carols and verse that he might set to music. An endleaf is inscribed ‘Ascension Day 1864’, and the latest dated entry is 1887. For all but five years of his long career Brown was organist at churches in Brentwood, Essex, and at Sir Anthony Browne’s School in the town. He was a fertile composer of more than 800 pieces of church music, including the hymn tunes ‘Ingatestone’, ‘Purleigh’, ‘Saffron Walden’, and ‘Tiltey Abbey’, named for Essex churches. Ten of his tunes figured in various editions of Hymns ancient and modern, including St Anatolius composed for ‘The day is past and over’, which is still in H&M revised. His setting of the traditional carol ‘When Christ was born of Mary free’ was widely popular, and his settings of other hymns and carols such as ‘Sing we now the Christmas tiding’, ‘A little child is born tonight’, ‘Arise, and hail the sacred day’, and ‘O, sing we a carol all blithe and free’ were published in contemporary collections and sheet music.

Something of a scholar, he took an early part in the revival of plainsong; here he has transcribed a number of carols from Sloane, Cotton, additional manuscripts in the British Museum and one from a manuscript at Cambridge. The words of the carol  ‘Nowell, nowell, this is the salutatacion off the angell Gabriell’,  ‘set to music by A. H. Brown & printed’,  come from Wright’s Percy Society Carols. Five carols come from the unique 1540s fragment Christmas Carolles newely imprinted (Brown adds a note on the printer); ‘The glorious Day doth now begin to dawn’ comes from ‘an old broadside’; the 1635 or a later edition of Donne was the source of ‘In that, O Queen of queens, thy birth was free’ (which is, however, by Henry Constable not by Donne); and there are further carols by Dunbar, Crashaw, Drummond, Jeremy Taylor, W. M. Thackeray (‘The Mahogany Tree’), J. M. Neale, and the clergyman, stained glass designer, and protégé of Ruskin, Selwyn Image. Other sources mined by the industrious Brown are Ritson’s Ancient Songs and Sandys’s Christmas Carols.

Among the secular pieces are a poem on women from Dr Percy’s manuscript and another from a manuscript in Sion College Library, poems by Sackville, Dekker, Suckling, Shelley (‘Autumn – A Dirge’), and a well-known quip by Coleridge (‘Swans sing before they die: ’twere no bad thing / Should certain persons die before they sing’).

See Frost, Historical Companion to Hymns ancient and modern (1962); Humphreys and Evans, Dictionary of Composers for the Church (1997).

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