Thursday, 26 March 2015

"Forward ! be our watchword" - Henry Alford, 1810-1871

Dean Henry Alford stood forth as one of the great ecclesiastical scholars of his generation. Twenty years of scholarly labor he devoted to his edition of the Greek New Testament, and accomplished besides a great wealth of literary labors, including many original hymns and translations of hymns. Probably his most popular hymn is, "Forward ! be our watchword." The great Dean of Canterbury, shortly before his death, was requested by the Rev. ]. G. Wood to write a hymn to be sung at the tenth festival of parochial choirs of the Canterbury Diocesan Union on June 6, 1871. His first hymn so written did not seem to Mr. Wood to be adaptable to processional use ; and he suggested that the Dean go into the cathedral and march up and down the aisles, and so compose the processional hymn. Accordingly, the old Dean went into the stately cathedral, and, slowly marching beneath the high-vaulted roof and past the ancient shrines of Canterbury, where many of England's greatest men are sepulchered, he composed, while joining his voice to his steps, the hymn, 

Forward ! be our watchword, 
Steps and voices joined. 

It was sung by the Canterbury choirs at their festival, but before that day had come the Dean had passed on to the higher life, pressing 

Forward through the darkness, 
Forward into light!  


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