William Walsham How
13 December 1823—10 August 1897
WILLIAM WALSHAM HOW, 1823–1897. Bishop of Wakefield, though probably best known as Bishop of Bedford. This is not a rural diocese, as it has sometimes been described, but one involving the spiritual oversight of the teeming millions of East London. Here he was known as the “Poor man’s Bishop,” “The People’s Bishop,” “The Omnibus Bishop,” kindly titles which tell their own tale. Significant too in the same direction is the fact that among his favourite sayings (he had the words engraved on his pastoral staff) was that of St. Bernard, Pasce verbo, Pasce vita. His last charge had as its theme The Ideal Clergyman, The Ideal Layman. He opened his treatment of the first point by quoting a layman’s test, “Is he the sort of man I would like to send for to visit me on my death-bed?”
According to the Times he was offered but refused the Bishopric of Durham, though it is counted among the great prizes of the English Church. Bishop How was the author of Pastor in Parochia, a wise and much valued manual for ministers, and of many other theological works. Of all recent hymnists his name appears most frequently in hymn-books, attached to hymns in constant use.
In a paper on the question “What constitutes a good hymn?” the Bishop gives this view: “A good hymn is something like a good prayer—simple, real, earnest, and reverent.” His own certainly fulfill all these requirements. Some of them indeed are thrilling in their plaintive tenderness, as “O Jesus, Thou art standing.” Others are at once tender and jubilant, as “For all the saints, who from their labours rest” and “Summer suns are glowing,” but their most characteristic feature is just the characteristic feature of his own mind; they are practical, they serve ends of edification. You see the Pastor in Parochia in them all. The last hymn he wrote was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, “O King of Kings, whose reign of old.”
Dr. Boyd Carpenter, Bishop of Ripon, preaching in Wakefield Cathedral, just after How’s death, said, “He who has given a hymn to the world that can be sung by multitudes or read in the quiet of one’s own chamber, confers an enviable gift upon the church.” Bishop How conferred many such, but best of all it is to know that the hymns he gave us were the expression of a nature as lovable and trustful as it was robust, the echo of a self-sacrificing and devoted life that never grew weary in well doing.
—Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (1898), pp. 130-131.
A hymn is essentially a form of devotion. It is a channel through which the soul’s best and highest emotions and aspirations should flow. A good hymn is something like a good prayer—simple, real, earnest, and reverent. Of course, it demands some chastened beauty of expression, and sensitive choice of language. The charm and the power of a good hymn depend upon subtle and delicate qualities, which are more easily felt than analyzed. Perhaps purity of tone, admitting no shade of affectation or exaggeration on the one side, or of stiffness or uncomeliness on the other, would describe the first necessary attribute of a really good hymn.
—William Walsham How, “Hymns,” Werner’s Magazine, vol. 18, no. 8 (August 1896), p. 756.
Collections of Hymns:
Psalms & Hymns
Church Hymns (SPCK)
Children’s Hymn Book (F.C. Brock, 1881): Archive.org
Hymns (1886): WorldCat
Hymn Written by the Bishop of Wakefield [“O King of Kings, whose reign of old”] (1897): PDF
Edwin Hatfield, “William Walsham How,” Poets of the Church (1884), pp. 341-342: Archive.org
John Julian, “William Walsham How,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: J. Murray, 1892), pp. 540-541: Google Books
Duncan Campbell, “William Walsham How,” Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, 1898), pp. 130-131: Archive.org
Frederick Douglas How, Bishop Walsham How: A Memoir (London: Ibister & Co., 1899): Archive.org
J. H. Overton, rev. M.C. Curthoys, “William Walsham How,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
J.R. Watson, “William Walsham How,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
William Walsham How, Hymnary.org: