Auctions | January 30, 2013

Manuscript of Best Known Hymn for Sale

A copy, in the author’s hand, of one of the best known and loved hymns in the English language, Onward Christian Soldiers, is to be auctioned in the sale of The Roy Davids Collection Part III:  Poetry: Poetical  Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets at Bonhams, New Bond Street on 10 April.   


Onward Christian Soldiers was written by the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865, when he was a curate in Yorkshire. He wanted something for the local village children to sing while they walked to a schools’ Whit Day Festival and scribbled the words down in haste the evening before.  For a tune, he borrowed the melody from the slow movement of Haydn’s Symphony No 15. In 1871, Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan) secured the hymn’s enduring popularity when he set the words to the stirring music which has become so familiar.

By modern standards, Sabine Baring-Gould was a remarkable man. He fathered 15 children; published over 1240 works including a standard book on the history of were-wolves; collected English Folk songs which he printed in censored form (but sensibly ensured that the original wording was preserved) and was a leading light in the early exploration of the history of Dartmoor.    


The manuscript is estimated at £1,000-1,500.