4. Two Hymn Books of 1812

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H Bickerstaffe Kendall in the series “One Hundred Years Ago”

THOUGH Hugh Bourne’s Journal fails us for a time, we are not left quite in the dark as to what was happening in our Church a hundred years ago. We shall do well to watch the movements of John Benton pretty closely for a while. From 1811 to 1818 he laboured hard and successfully in five English counties. This he did at his own charges, while, at the same time, he was giving financial aid to other missionaries. There was Titanic energy about “Boanerges” Benton. He could not be bound. He broke loose from precedents, printed plans, English grammar, committees, just as Samson “brake the withs as a thread of tow.” Indeed, “breaking” suited him well. He broke the Tunstall non-mission law, and went off as a missionary at large to break fresh ground. He was one of the chief enlargers of the Connexion until 1818, when, in a mighty effort to preach to a crowd of 10,000 people, at Round Hill Camp Meeting, his voice broke and his active work for Primitive Methodism ended. Herod tells us in his “Sketches” that Benton broke the non-mission law in 1812. On evidence which cannot be set out here, we conclude it was at the famous meeting of February 13th that Benton declared “The Primitive Methodists were raised to go through the Nation.” He pleaded for the adoption of a vigorous forward policy, and offered to give £3 a quarter towards the support of a missionary who should carry the Gospel to places not as yet reached by Primitive Methodism. “But,” says he, “my offer was not accepted, nor did the majority of the meeting accord with my views. They thought they had as many places as they could well attend.” It was this decision on a particular case involving a principle that H. Bourne and Benton called “the non-mission law.” Benton’s breach of this law was fruitful in results.

Herod tells us that Benton, having taken some of his appointments on the current plan, went to Warrington and got printed one thousand copies of Lorenzo Dow’s “Spiritual Songs.” Meanwhile, a copy of the new plan—March 22nd to June 21st—was sent after him. From this Benton’s name had been dropped; but “No. 15” had six double appointments, and 15 was Benton’s figure! The plan was promptly returned bearing this rhyming endorsement:—

“A plan from God I have to mind,
A better plan I cannot find;
If you can, pray let me know,
And round the circuit I will go.”

Then he made his way to East Staffordshire and began his labours at places bordering on the county of Derby. Thither we must soon follow him.

Benton fell back on Dow’s small hymn book because he was dissatisfied with the large hymn book of 1812 which Hugh Bourne had just issued. He considered “it was too much like the Methodist hymn book,” too big, too expensive, and but ill adapted for mission purposes. On the other hand, Dow’s book, as adapted by Benton, took well with the people, “especially when the hymns were sung to the tunes that L. Dow brought from America.” Several editions of Benton’s hymn book were issued during the next few years, the last being printed at Leicester in 1818. As to the large hymn book of 1812, it did not prove a success, though a second and enlarged edition was printed at Warrington in June, containing three hundred and eighteen hymns, price two shillings and sixpence. So we see some of the fathers were busy compiling and publishing hymn books a hundred years ago, just as we are doing now. Our praises grow with passing years.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1912/271

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