QUAKER-ROOTS-L ArchivesArchiver > QUAKER-ROOTS > 1998-06 > 0898045391
From: Dan Treadway <>
Subject: Re: Old Hymn
Date: Tue, 16 Jun 1998 20:03:11 -0500
"How Can I Keep From Singing" is indeed a lovely old hymn, with
evidently Quakerly sentiments. But I do not believe it was a "Quaker"
hymn, and I don't believe it is 300 years old.
Quakers didn't do congregational singing until the latter half 19th
century. Indeed, a section of the book of discipline titled "Gaming and
> Friends are fervently exhorted to watch carefully over the youth,
> and others of our Society who may be so inclined, to prevent
> them, by affectionate counsel and brotherly admonition, from
> frequenting stage-plays, horse-races, music, dancing, and other
> vain sports and amusements; also, in a particular manner, from
> being concerned in lotteries, wagering, or any kind of gaming; if
> being abundantly obvious that those practices have a tendency
> to alienate the mind from the counsel of divine wisdom, and to
> foster those impure dispositions which lead to debauchery and
> wickedness. If, therefore, any of our members fall into either of
> these practices, and cannot be prevailed with, by private labor, to
> decline them, the Monthly Meetings to which they belong should
> be informed thereof, and if they cannot be reclaimed by further
> labor, should procede to disown them.
Knowing this, I wondered how any tune could be a "Quaker hymn." About a
year ago I did some checked the web for information on this song, and
then when I was at the Quaker archive at Guilford College, I inquired
there. Here is what I learned.
This song was introduced by Pete Seeger as a Quaker hymn for many
years. It seems he learned the song from Doris Plenn who wrote the
third verse during the Red Scare in the 1950s. It was published in
"Sing Out" magazine vol 7 #1, 1957. She evidently learned the song from
her North Carolina Quaker grandmother.
Before that, things are less clear for a while, but the song's first
appearance in print was in an 1869 book entitled _Bright Jewels for the
Sunday School_ where it is ascribed to Robert Lowry, a Prebyterian
minister. The original words are said to have been more explicitly
Christian, saying for instance "since Christ is Lord of heaven and
earth" rather than "when love is lord of heaven and earth". The word
introduction of the word "love" in place of "Christ" and other changes
(if any) were evidently the work of the editor of a Unitarian hymnal
which included the song in the last part of the 19th century. I believe
Plenn's grandmother learned the song, directly or indirectly, from this
I have not seen the 1869 original, nor can I tell the title or any
further particulars of the Unitarian hymnal.
I did a web search tonight on "how can i keep from singing" and found
several promising references to files on
http://medinfo.labmed.umn.edu/Docs/.www/archives_html which seems to be
archives of a shape note hymn mailing list. Unfortunately that server
is not responding.
I also did a search on "robert lowry". I found he was also the author
of the well known "Christ Arose" ("Low in the grave he lay/ Jesus my
Savior!/ Waiting the coming day/ Jesus my Lord/ Up from the grave he
arose/ With a mighty triumph o'er his foes...") as well as "Shall We
Gather at the River" and "Nothing but the Blood". He also receives
partial credit for "I Need Thee Every Hour", and "Marching to Zion"
US mail: P. O. Box 72, Gilbert, IA 50105-0072
Web page: http://www.netins.net/showcase/treadwa