Bright was the guiding star that led
Text. This hymn for Epiphany was written by Harriet Auber (1773–1862) and first published in her The Spirit of the Psalms (London: T. Cadell, 1829 | Fig. 1), a collection that consisted mostly of psalm paraphrases but had a small set of “Hymns for the Principle Festivals” in the back. Although Auber’s hymn has fallen out of use in the last century, it was fairly popular in the 1800s and early 1900s, mostly in the United States.
The text begins with a cursory narrative of the events of Matthew 2, mostly to lay the groundwork for the three stanzas of application that follow, urging listeners to follow the greater light of Christ.
In spite of the text falling out of use, it holds up well, except editors may wish to change “Gentiles” to “magi” for clarity, or “benignant” to a textual equivalent more readily understood by modern ears.
Tune. Auber’s text has been set to many different tunes with no overarching consensus. These include ANTIOCH, which is strongly associated with “Joy to the world,” or CHRISTMAS by George Frederic Handel, which is closely associated with “While shepherds watched their flocks by night,” or ORTONVILLE by Thomas Hastings, known often via its association with Samuel Stennett’s “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned” or John Newton’s “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds.”
One tune with a more affecting quality, suitable for the beckoning nature of the text, is MANOAH. This tune was first published in A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co., 1851 | Fig. 2) by Henry W. Greatorex (1813–1858). It is sometimes thought to be an arrangement from another composer such as Joseph Haydn or Gioacchino Rossini; if an earlier source exists, it is not currently known to hymnologists.
Auber’s text was paired with MANOAH as early as 1885 in Augsburg Songs for Sunday Schools (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society | Hymnary.org). The tune is probably named after Manoah, father of Samson (Judges 13).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
17 December 2018
“Bright was the guiding star that led,” A Dictionary of Hymnology, ed. John Julian (London, 1892): p. 182.
“Bright was the guiding star that led,” Hymnary.org: