I collect old hymnals. In fact, I have over 100 of them. I love their beautiful melodies and finely crafted poetry. I enjoy flipping through their pages to discover songs that perhaps no one has played in years, decades, or even a century. I love the time period that they represent, when music was more about pleasing God than pleasing man.
With this in mind, imagine my shock to learn that hundreds of old hymnals have been systematically digitized, and made available for free on the Internet!
You can browse through these hymnals here. In the right hand column is a link to download the PDF of the hymnal, but be warned that many of the files are very big and might take a while to download if you have a slower Internet connection.
A few of them that caught my attention:
- Hymn Studies: an Illustrated and Annotated Edition of the Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church by Charles S. Nutter, D.D. 1884.
This hymnal caught my eye for two reasons in particular. First of all, it is only words, not music notes and staffs. Secondly, it contains gorgeous poetry. I was particularly moved by some of the consolatory content under "Death of a Child."
- The Sunday School Hymnary: A Twentieth Century Hymnal For Young People. Carey Bonner, editor. 1905.
This hymnal was interesting because of the large number of simple melodies presented, which could be a good resource for teaching children. I'm not just talking about teaching them to play the piano, either! Many of the melodies are very singable, and the words fit well with a child's vocabulary while still teaching Biblical doctrine. Maybe we should bring some of these songs back into use!
- Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Rev. Thomas Helmore, M.A., editor. 1852.
Just be glad that your hymnals don't look like this anymore! Actually, this is an interesting book to look through, although I probably won't be using any of it in church next Sunday...
- Kol Rinah: Hebrew Hymnal for School and Home. by Lewis M. Isaacs and Mathilde S. Schechter. 1910.
This is a Hebrew (Jewish) hymnal. There is plenty of Hebrew text throughout the book, but the text accompanying the music is an English-alphabet transliteration. Even though Hebrew is read right-to-left, because the text was transliterated, the music is written in standard left-to-right form.
- There are several alternate language hymnals listed as well, including Native American languages. If you look long enough, you'll also find a Christian Science hymnal and a Freemason hymnal.
I hope that this short list encourages you to explore these old hymnals for yourself. Maybe you'll discover a long-buried gem, and help it to rise from the dust of history to shine once more.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.