1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Mason

Richard Warner, in Literary Recollections of the Rev. Richard Warner (1830) 1:309-11.



Indeed, I myself, a few weeks after I had been astounded by the vocalists of Wales parish, had the pleasure of listening to, and joining in, a church-harmony very much of this description; when, accompanied by a friend, I paid a visit to the Rev. Mr. Alderson [1790 ca.], the estimable curate of the poet Mason, at his living of Aston in Yorkshire.

If the application of the term taste be allowable to a place of worship, and the service per.formed in it: I should say, that the purest exercise of this principle, was visible in Aston church, and in all its adjuncts.

A chaste elegance characterised the interior of the fabric. In the centre of the neat gallery at its western extremity, stood a handsome barrel-organ: on one side of which, sat six or eight little boys; and on the other, as many little girls; plainly, but decently, and uniformly clothed; who, I understood, were the scholars of a charity-school, supported by the benevolent rector. These formed the choir: and had been properly instructed for the purpose. Mr. Mason, a musician as well as a poet, had composed several simple, and solemn airs, which were pricked upon the barrel-organ: and had moreover, thrown portions of some of the Psalms of David, into his own beautiful versification; lowering the composition, however, to the level of the ordinary understanding. A book containing these psalms, was placed on every seat. At the proper intervals between the services, the psalm was announced. The boys sang the first verse; the girls the second; and with this regular alternation, the two divisions, went through the whole of the portion appointed to be sung; concluding with the Gloria Patri, given in the full harmony of all their united voices. I never heard church music, before or since, that so powerfully affected me. The combination of so many sweet soprano voices, was, in itself, novel and striking; while the idea of the simplicity, and comparative innocence of the childish choristers, so congruous to the service in which they were engaged, associated itself with the solemn feelings usually excited in a place of worship; and produced a holy frame of mind, which only required permanence, to render the auditor a half-angelic being. More than once, while I listened to these touching strains, which seemed

to take the prison'd soul,
And lap it in Elysium:

my mind was deeply impressed, with the beauty, truth, and appropriateness, of that striking text: "Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings, hast thou ordained praise." It must be observed, that such of the congregation as could sing, accompanied the children's voices: but, in that low and subdued tone, which merely gave depth and fulness to the harmony; without overpowering the sweeter and more affecting sounds, that came from the gallery above.