Read PREFACE of Poems with Power to Strengthen the Soul , free online book, by James Mudge, on ReadCentral.com.

This is not like other collections of religious verse; still less is it a hymnal. The present volume is directed to a very specific and wholly practical end, the production of high personal character; and only those poems which have an immediate bearing in this direction have been admitted. We know of no other book published which has followed this special line. There are fine hymnals, deservedly dear to the Church, but they are necessarily devoted in large measure to institutional and theological subjects, are adapted to the wants of the general congregation and to purposes of song; while many poetical productions that touch the heart the closest are for that very reason unsuited to the hymnal. There are many anthologies and plentiful volumes of religious poetry, but not one coming within our ken has been made up as this has been. We have sought far and wide, through many libraries, carefully conning hundreds of books and glancing through hundreds more, to find just those lines which would have the most tonic and stimulating effect in the direction of holier, nobler living. We have coveted verses whose influence would be directly on daily life and would help to form the very best habits of thought and conduct, which would have intrinsic spiritual value and elevating power; those whose immediate tendency would be to make people better, toughening their moral fibre and helping them heavenward; those which they could hardly read attentively without feeling an impulse toward the things which are pure and true and honorable and lovely and of good report, things virtuous and praiseworthy.

It is surprising to one who has not made the search how very many poets there are whose voluminous and popular works yield nothing, or scarcely anything, of this sort. We have looked carefully through many scores of volumes of poetry without finding a line that could be of the slightest use in this collection. They were taken up altogether with other topics. They contained many pretty conceits, pleasant descriptions, lovely or lively narrations these in abundance, but words that would send the spirit heavenward, or even earthward with any added love for humanity, not one. On the other hand, in papers and periodicals, even in books, are great multitudes of verses, unexceptionable in sentiment and helpful in influence, which bear so little of the true poetic afflatus, are so careless in construction or so faulty in diction, so imperfect in rhyme or rhythm, so much mingled with colloquialisms or so hopelessly commonplace in thought, as to be unworthy of a permanent place in a book like this. They would not bear reading many times. They would offend a properly educated taste. They would not so capture the ear as to linger on the memory with compelling persistence, nor strike the intellect as an exceptional presentation of important truth. The combination of fine form and deep or inspiring thought is by no means common, but, when found, very precious. We will not claim that this has been secured in all the poems here presented. Not all will approve our choice in all respects. There is nothing in which tastes more differ than in matters of this kind. And we will admit that in some cases we have let in because of the important truth which they so well voiced stanzas not fully up to the mark in point of poetic merit. Where it has not been possible to get the two desirable things together, as it has not always, we have been more solicitous for the sentiment that would benefit than for mere prettiness or perfection of form. Helpfulness has been the test oftener than a high literary standard. The labored workmanship of the vessel has not weighed so much with us as its perfect fitness to convey the water of life wherewith the thirsty soul of man has been or may be refreshed. If poets are properly judged, as has been alleged, by the frame of mind they induce, then some who have not gained great literary fame may still hold up their heads and claim a worthy crown.

Some poems fully within the scope of the book like Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life” have been omitted because of their exceeding commonness and their accessibility. Many hymns of very high value like “Jesus, Lover of my soul,” “My faith looks up to thee,” “Nearer, my God, to thee,” “When all thy mercies, O my God,” “How firm a foundation” have also been omitted because they are found in all the hymnals, and to include them would unduly swell the size of the book. A few others, although similarly familiar, like “Jesus, I my cross have taken,” and “God moves in a mysterious way,” have been inserted from a feeling that even yet their depth and richness are not properly appreciated and that they can never be sufficiently pondered. A few poems we have been unable to procure permission to use; but in nearly all cases we have met with most generous treatment from both authors and publishers owning copyrights, and we take this occasion to express our hearty thanks for the kindness afforded in the following instances:

Houghton, Mifflin & Company, for the use of the poems and stanzas here found from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Edward Rowland Sill, Celia Thaxter, Caroline Atherton Mason, Edna Dean Proctor, Edmund Clarence Stedman, John Burroughs, John Hay, William Dean Howells, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lucy Larcom, Margaret E. Sangster, Francis Bret Harte, James Freeman Clarke, Samuel Longfellow, Samuel Johnson, Christopher Pearse Cranch, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and John Vance Cheney.

Little, Brown & Company, for poems by Helen Hunt Jackson, Louise
Chandler Moulton, William Rounseville Alger, “Susan Coolidge”
[Sarah Chauncey Woolsey], and John White Chadwick.

Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Company, for poems by Sam Walter Foss.

D. Appleton & Company, for poems by William Cullen Bryant.

T. Y. Crowell & Company, for poems by Sarah Knowles Bolton.

Charles Scribner’s Sons, for poems by Josiah Gilbert Holland.

The Century Company, for poems by Richard Watson Gilder.

The Bobbs-Merrill Company, for poems by James Whitcomb Riley.

Harper & Brothers, for poems by Edward Sandford Martin.

Small, Maynard & Co., for poems by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The Rev. D. C. Knowles, for poems by Frederic Lawrence Knowles,
especially from “Love Triumphant,” published by Dana, Estes &
Company.

The Rev. Frederic Rowland Marvin, for poems from his “Flowers of
Song from Many Lands.”

Professor Amos R. Wells, for poems from his “Just to Help.”

Mr. Nixon Waterman, for poems from “In Merry Mood,” published by
Forbes & Co., of Chicago.

The selections from the above American authors are used by special arrangements with the firms mentioned, who are the only authorized publishers of their works. Many other poems used have been found in papers or other places which gave no indication of the original source. In spite of much effort to trace these things it is quite likely we have failed in some cases to give due credit or obtain the usual permission; and we hope that if such omissions, due to ignorance or inadvertence, are noticed they will be pardoned. Many unknown writers have left behind them some things of value, but their names have become detached from them or perhaps never were appended. Many volumes consulted have been long out of print.

We are glad to record our large indebtedness to the custodians of the Boston, Cambridge, Malden, Natick, Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Somerville, and Newton Public Libraries, the Boston Athenaeum, the Congregational Library, the General Theological Library, and the Library of Harvard College, for free access to their treasures.

By far the greater part of the contents are from British and other foreign authors, such as William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, Mrs. S. F. Adams, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Mrs. Charles, Frances Ridley Havergal, Anna Letitia Waring, Jean Ingelow, Adelaide Anne Procter, Mme. Guyon, Theodore Monod, Matthew Arnold, Edwin Arnold, William Shakespeare, John Milton, George Gordon Byron, Robert Burns, William Cowper, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Francis Quarles, Frederick W. Faber, John Keble, Charles Kingsley, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, John Gay, Edward Young, Thomas Moore, John Newton, John Bunyan, H. Kirke White, Horatius Bonar, James Montgomery, Charles Wesley, Richard Baxter, Norman Macleod, George Heber, Richard Chenevix Trench, Henry Alford, Charles Mackay, Gerald Massey, Alfred Austin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Hugh Clough, Henry Burton, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hartley Coleridge, Joseph Anstice, George Macdonald, Robert Leighton, John Henry Newman, John Sterling, Edward H. Bickersteth, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and many others. Of German authors there are not a few, including Johann W. von Goethe, Johann C. F. Schiller, George A. Neumarck, Paul Gerhardt, Benjamin Schmolke, S. C. Schoener, Scheffler, Karl Rudolf Hagenbach, S. Rodigast, Novalis, Wolfgang C. Dessler, L. Gedicke, Martin Luther, and Johann G. von Herder.

The number of American poets drawn upon is small compared with this list. It is the case in all such collections. According to an analysis of the hymns contained in the most widely used American hymnals down to 1880 the average number of hymns of purely American origin was not quite one in seven; the proportion would be a little larger now. And the number of Methodist poets is almost nil, in spite of the fact that the compiler is a Methodist and the volume is issued from the official Methodist Publishing House. But if we thought that this would be any barrier to its wide circulation in Methodist homes we should be deeply ashamed for our church. We are confident it will not be. For mere denominational tenets do not at all enter into these great matters of the soul’s life. A book like this speaks loudly for the real oneness, not only of all branches of the Christian Church, but of all religions, in some respects. Not only do we find the various Protestant denominations amply represented here; not only have we most inspiring words from Roman Catholic writers like Francis Xavier, Madame Guyon, Alexander Pope, John Henry Newman, Frederick W. Faber, and Adelaide Anne Procter; but from Mohammedan sources, from Sufi saints of Persia, and the Moslem devotees of Arabia, and even from Hinduism, there are utterances of noblest truth which we cannot read without a kindling heart. These are all brought together from the ends of the earth into a delightful “upper chamber,” where the warring discords of opinion cease and an exceedingly precious peace prevails.

It should be said, though it is perhaps hardly necessary, that this is by no means a book to be read at a sitting. It furnishes very concentrated nourishment. It can be taken with largest profit only a little at a time, according as the mood demands and circumstances appoint. There should be very much meditation mingled with the perusal, an attempt to penetrate the deep meaning of the lines and have them enter into the soul for practical benefit. Some of these hymns have great histories: they are the war cries of combatants on hard-fought battle fields; they are living words of deep experience pressed out of the heart by strong feeling; they are the embodiment of visions caught on some Pisgah’s glowing top. Here will be found and furnished hope for the faint-hearted, rest for the weary, courage for the trembling, cheer for the despondent, power for the weak, comfort for the afflicted, guidance in times of difficulty, wise counsel for moments of perplexity, a stimulant to faithfulness, a cure for the blues, exhilaration, jubilation. Everything of a depressing nature has been scrupulously ruled out. The keynote, persistently followed through all the pages, is optimistic, bright, buoyant. Trumpet calls and bugle notes are furnished in abundance, but no dirges or elegies. Large space, it will be seen, is given to such topics as Heroism, True Greatness, the Care and Presence of God, the blessings of Brotherliness, the privilege of Service, the path of Peace, the secret of Contentment, the mission of Prayer, the joy of Jesus, the meaning of Life, the glory of Love, the promise of Faith, the happy aspect of old Age and Death; for these subjects come very close home to the heart, and are illustrated in daily experience. Anyone who feels a special need in any of these directions is confidently recommended to turn to the proper sections and read the selections.

Very much that is here may easily and suitably be committed to memory, that thus it may the more permanently penetrate into the inmost depth of being. It may be used with most telling effect in sermons to give point and pungency to the thought of the preacher. Alike in popular discourse and public testimony or in private meditation these gems of sentiment and thought will come into play with great advantage. The benefit which may be derived from them can scarcely be overestimated. President Eliot, of Harvard University, has said: “There are bits of poetry in my mind learned in infancy that have stood by me in keeping me true to my ideas of duty and life. Rather than lose these I would have missed all the sermons I have ever heard.” Many another can say substantially the same, can trace his best deeds very largely to the influence of some little stanza or couplet early stored away in his memory and coming ever freshly to mind in after years as the embodiment of truest wisdom.

We cannot guarantee in all cases the absolute correctness of the forms of the poems given, though much pains have been taken to ensure accuracy; but authors themselves make changes in their productions at different times in different editions. Nor have we always been able to trace the poem to its source. Slips and errors of various kinds can hardly be avoided in such matters. Even so competent an editor as John G. Whittier, in his “Songs of Three Centuries,” ascribes “Love divine, all love excelling” to that bitter Calvinist, Augustus M. Toplady, giving it as the sole specimen of his verse; when it was really written by the ardent Arminian, Charles Wesley, with whom Toplady was on anything but friendly terms. If Whittier could make a blunder of this magnitude we may be pardoned if possibly a keen-eyed critic spies something in our book almost as grossly incorrect. In some cases we have been obliged to change the titles of poems so as to avoid reduplication in our index, or to adapt them the better to the small extract taken from the much longer form in the original. In a few cases we have made (indicated) alterations in poems to fit them more fully to the purpose of the book.

The volume will be found not only a readable one, we think, but also an uncommonly useful one for presentation by those who would do good and give gratification to their serious-minded friends with a taste for religious poetry and a love for wandering in the “holy land of song.” He who would put before another the essential elements of religion would do better to give him such a book as this than a treatise on theology. He who would himself get a clear idea of what the religious life really is will do better to pore over these pages than to dip into some philosophical discussion. Here the best life is expressed rather than analyzed, exhibited rather than explained. Mrs. Browning has well said, “Plant a poet’s word deep enough in any man’s breast, looking presently for offshoots, and you have done more for the man than if you dressed him in a broadcloth coat and warmed his Sunday pottage at your fire.” We who, by preparing or circulating such volumes, aid the poets in finding a larger circle to whom to give their message, may claim a part of the blessing which comes to those who in any way aid humanity. George Herbert has said,

“A verse may find him who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice.”

He himself most excellently illustrated the sentiment by bequeathing to the world many beautiful verses that are sermons of the most picturesque sort.

One definition of poetry is “a record of the best thoughts and best moments of the best and happiest minds.” This in itself would almost be sufficient to establish the connection between poetry and religion. It is certain that the two have very close and vital relations. Dr. Washington Gladden has admirably remarked, “Poetry is indebted to religion for its largest and loftiest inspirations, and religion is indebted to poetry for its subtlest and most luminous interpretations.” No doubt a man may be truly, deeply religious who has little or no development on the aesthetic side, to whom poetry makes no special appeal. But it is certain that he whose soul is deaf to the “concord of sweet sounds” misses a mighty aid in the spiritual life. For a hymn is a wing by which the spirit soars above earthly cares and trials into a purer air and a clearer sunshine. Nothing can better scatter the devils of melancholy and gloom or doubt and fear. When praise and prayer, trust and love, faith and hope, and similar sentiments, have passed into and through some poet’s passionate soul, until he has become so charged with them that he has been able to fix them in a form of expression where beauty is united to strength, where concentration and ornamentation are alike secured, then the deepest needs of great numbers are fully met. What was vague and dim is brought into light. What was only half conceived, and so but half felt, is made to grip the soul with power. Poetry is of the very highest value for the inspiration and guidance of life, for calling out the emotions and opening up spiritual visions. It carries truths not only into the understanding, but into the heart, where they are likely to have the most direct effect on conduct.

In the language of Robert Southey, I commit these pages to the Christian public, with a sincere belief that much benefit will result to all who shall read them:

“Go forth, little book, from this my solitude;
I cast thee on the waters, go thy ways;
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days.
Be it with thee according to thy worth;
Go, little book! in faith I send thee forth.”

JamesMudge.
Malden, Mass.