For the beauty of the earth
Text: Origins. If hymns like “Count your blessings” invite us to pause and take account of the good gifts of heaven, then hymns like “For the beauty of the earth” help us start that list. This hymn of thanksgiving was written by Anglican educator and poet Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835–1917) and first published in the 2nd edition of Lyra Eucharistica (London, 1864 | Fig. 1), a collection of hymns in six categories intended for use at Communion. Pierpoint’s hymn was in part six, Eucharistic Hymns Ancient & Modern, in eight stanzas of six lines, without music, including a two-line textual refrain, “Christ, our God, to Thee we raise / This our sacrifice of praise.” The last two lines of the hymn depart from the pattern and read instead, “Offer we at Thine own shrine / Thyself, sweet Sacrament Divine.”
Fig. 1. Lyra Eucharistica, 2nd ed. (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, 1864).
Text: Analysis. The text covers a wide array of subjects, starting with nature, then human senses and human relationships, summed in stanza five as “graces human and divine,” with that stanza potentially serving as an ending point if the hymn is to be reduced for length. The sixth stanza pictures the worshiping church across the earth, the seventh points backward to saints who have gone before, and the eighth finally points to the gift of Christ himself.
The phrase “sacrifice of praise,” and possibly the broader concept of the hymn, comes from passages such Hebrews 13:15 (“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name,” KJV; see also Psalm 27:6, Jeremiah 17:26 & 33:11). This phrase also connects to a prayer in the Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer, 1662 revision (“O Lord and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this, our sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving”). The doctrine of the church as representing the bride of Christ (st. 6) can be found in many passages, such as Matthew 25:1-13 or Revelation 19:6-10. “Robes of snow” (st. 8) pictures the heavenly images of Revelation 6:11 and 7:9-14.
Pierpoint’s text is usually abbreviated and altered, especially the refrain. Many hymnals have followed the example set by Hymns Ancient & Modern, starting with the 1904 edition, where the refrain was altered to “Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our grateful hymn of praise.” This revision (and others like it) weakens the original text in a couple of ways. Since the original title is “The Sacrifice of Praise,” the revision loses not only the focal point of the text, it omits richly biblical language, as described above. Frank Colquhoun, in his Hymns that Live (1980), p. 185, leaned more into this change:
The words are thus addressed specifically to our Lord as the Incarnate Son, and the ‘sacrifice of praise’ is quite clearly the eucharistic sacrifice. The language is that of the Prayer Book liturgy. … In its amended form, the refrain is deprived of its sacramental character. … There is certainly something to be said for the changes which have been made, and which were introduced, it seems, with the author’s permission. They have the advantage of giving the hymn a broader appeal and a less limited use. At the same time, it is well to bear in mind the purpose and pattern of the hymn as it was conceived in the mind of the man who wrote it.
Even though the editors of Hymns Ancient & Modern claimed that their revisions were approved by the author, Pierpoint preferred his original version, and addressed some of the criticism of his refrain:
Much objection has been taken to the phrase “Christ our God” in the refrain. In some hymn-books it is altered to “Father, unto Thee.” Mr. Pierpoint answered a correspondant who raised this objection, thus: “Pliny in his letter to the Emperor said the Christians, when meeting in worship, sang a hymn to Christ as God. As the only public service of the Church was the daily Eucharist, I addressed my hymn to ‘Christ, our God.’”
Changes to the text and varying selections of stanzas are common and are warranted to greater or lesser degrees. The common alteration from “brain’s” to “mind’s” in stanza 3 appeared as early as 1867 in Hymns and Psalms for Divine Worship (London) and is reported to be approved by the author. Eight stanzas are usually too many to sing all at once but could be performed in intervals, either throughout one service or across a series of services.
Tune 1. This hymn is frequently paired with DIX, which is a German tune by Conrad Kocher (1786–1872), adapted by William Monk (1823-1889) for Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861), where it was intended for the hymn “As with gladness men of old,” by William Chatterdon Dix (thus the tune name). The connection between Pierpoint’s text and Monk’s adapted tune is unclear, but these two appeared together as early as 1884 in Hymns of Praise with Tunes (NY: Biglow & Main | Hymnary.org). More information on the history of this tune can be found in the article for “As with gladness men of old.”
Tune 2. LUCERNA LAUDONIAE is by David Evans (1874–1948), written for Pierpoint’s hymn and first published in The Church Hymnary, Revised Edition (Oxford: University Press, 1927 | Fig. 2) under the pseudonym Edward Arthur. The tune name means “Lantern of the Lothians,” probably a nod to Rev. G. Wauchope Stewart, one of the editors of The Church Hymnary, and minister of St Mary’s Church, Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland.
Tune 3. ENGLAND’S LANE was first printed in the Public School Hymn Book (London: Novello, 1919 | Fig. 3), where it was set to Pierpoint’s text and originally named GOODFELLOW. It was adapted by Geoffrey Shaw (1879–1943) from an unspecified English melody. It was renamed ENGLAND’S LANE in Songs of Praise (Oxford: University Press, 1925). Among the various tunes for this text, this one has the widest vocal range.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
8 November 2018
Hymns Ancient & Modern Historical Edition (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1909), p. 455.
Handbook to the Church Hymnary, with Supplement, ed. Millar Patrick (Oxford: University Press, 1935), suppl. p. 4.
John Julian, “Folliott Sandford Pierpoint,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 895: Google Books
Frank Colquhoun, “For the beauty of the earth,” Hymns that Live (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), pp. 184-190.
Thomas A. Remenschneider & Alec Wyton, “For the beauty of the earth,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3B (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994), no. 416.
Edward Darling & Donald Davison, “For the beauty of the earth,” Companion to Church Hymnal (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2005), pp. 485-487.
Carl P. Daw Jr., “For the beauty of the earth,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 16-17.
“For the beauty of the earth,” Hymnary.org:
J.R. Watson, “For the beauty of the earth,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: