Onward, Christian Soldiers – at a price

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The London bookseller, Jarndyce Books, were recently selling at the 51st California Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena, 9 – 11 February. One of the items listed was a manuscript copy of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’, perhaps one of those SB-G dashed off before breakfast for his American dealer? Jarndyce’s description is as follows:

BARING-GOULD, Sabine. Signed Manuscript of Onward Christian Soldiers. 42 lines ms. in brown ink with pencil guide lines, signed by Baring-Gould at the end of ve eight-line stanzas. Mounted, framed & glazed. 20thC auction description laid down at lower margin. 29 x 17cm. [79192].

Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924, was an Anglican priest, scholar and novelist. He had particular interest in writing and collecting folk songs and hymns and
he is perhaps best known for writing the lyrics to Onward Christian Soldiers. Baring-Gould intended the lyrics to be a processional hymn for children walking from Horbury Bridge, where he was curate, to Horbury St Peter’s Church near Wakefield, Yorkshire, at Whitsuntide in 1865. It was originally entitled, Hymn for Procession with Cross and Banners. The music was composed by Arthur Sullivan in 1871 with Sullivan naming the tune St. Gertrude. Baring-Gould is said to have written Onward, Christian Soldiers in only 15 minutes: ‘It was written in great haste’ he wrote, ‘and I am afraid some of the rhymes are faulty. Certainly nothing has surprised me more that its popularity. I don’t remember how it got printed first, but I know that very soon it found its way into several collections.’ [c.1870?].

There is a grainy illustration of the item and it can be seen that the text is that of the hymn as originally published in The Church Times in October 1864. It has the differences that the originally published version has from that sung today, including, in verse 2:

At the Sign of Triumph, Satan’s host doth flee

Rather than:

At the name of Jesus, Satan’s host doth flee

And in Verse 3:

We are not divided,   All one Body we –
One in hope, in doctrine, One in charity.

Rather than:

We are not divided,   All one Body we –
One in faith and Spirit,  One eternally.

The price given was $8,700 – or $23 per word.

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