God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

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God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
GenreChristmas carol
Based onLuke 2
Meter8.6.8.6.8.6 with refrain

"God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" is an English traditional Christmas carol. It is in the Roxburghe Collection (iii. 452), and is listed as no. 394 in the Roud Folk Song Index. It is also known as "Tidings of Comfort and Joy", and by other variant incipits.

History[edit]

1827 publication of the melody, set to satirical lyrics by William Hone

An early version of this carol is found in an anonymous manuscript, dating from the 1650s.[1][2][3] It contains a slightly different version of the first line from that found in later texts, with the first line "Sit yow merry gentlemen" (also transcribed "Sit you merry gentlemen" and "Sit you merry gentlemen").[4][2][3]

The earliest known printed edition of the carol is in a broadsheet dated to c. 1760.[5] A precisely datable reference to the carol is found in the November 1764 edition of the Monthly Review.[6] Some sources claim that the carol dates as far back as the 16th century.[7] Others date it later, to the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.[8]

Although there is a second tune known as 'Cornish', in print by 1833[9] and referred to as “the usual version” in the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols, this version is seldom heard today.[10] The better-known traditional English melody is in the minor mode; the earliest printed edition of the melody appears to be in a rondo arrangement for fortepiano by Samuel Wesley, which was already reviewed in 1815.[10] Soon after, it appeared in a parody published in 1820 by William Hone.[11] It had been associated with the carol since at least the mid-18th century, when it was recorded by James Nares in a hand-written manuscript under the title "The old Christmas Carol".[12] Hone's version of the tune differs from the present melody in the third line: the full current melody was published by Chappell in 1855.[12][13]

An article in the March 1824 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine complains that, in London, no Christmas carols are heard "excepting some croaking ballad-singer bawling out 'God rest you, merry gentlemen,' or a like doggerel".[14] The carol is referred to in Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol.[15] It is also quoted in George Eliot's 1861 novel Silas Marner.[16]

Lyrics[edit]

The following version of the first verse is found in a manuscript dating from the early 1650s:[3][17]

Sit yow merry Gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
for Jesus Christ is borne
to save or soules from Satan's power
Whenas we runne astray
    O tidings of comfort & joy
    to save or soules from Satan
    When as we runne away
    O tidings of comfort & joy

A later version is found in Three New Christmas Carols, dated c. 1760. Its first verse reads:

God rest ye, merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan's power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.[18]

The historic meaning of the phrase God rest you merry is 'may God grant you peace and happiness'; the Oxford English Dictionary records uses of this phrase from 1534 onwards. It appears in Shakespeare's 1599 play As You Like It. However, merry is often misinterpreted as an adjective modifying gentlemen.[19][20] The transitive use of the verb rest in the sense "to keep, cause to continue, to remain" is typical of 16th- to 17th-century language. Etymonline.com notes that the first line "often is mispunctuated" as "God rest you, merry gentlemen" because in contemporary language, rest has lost its use "with a predicate adjective following and qualifying the object" (Century Dictionary). This is the case already in the 1775 variant, and is also reflected by Dickens's replacement of the verb rest by bless in A Christmas Carol.

Some variants give the pronoun in the first line as ye instead of you,[21] in a pseudo-archaism.[22] In fact, ye would never have been correct, because ye is a subjective (nominative) pronoun only, never an objective (accusative) pronoun.[citation needed]

A variant text was printed in 1775 in The Beauties of the Magazines, and Other Periodical Works, Selected for a Series of Years. This text was reproduced from a song-sheet bought from a caroler in the street.[23] This version is shown here alongside the version reported by W. B. Sandys (1833)[24] and the version adopted by Carols for Choirs (OUP, 1961), which has become the de facto baseline reference in the UK.

The Beauties of the Magazines (1775) Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, W. B. Sandys (1833) Carols for Choirs (1961)

1. God rest you, merry gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Saviour

Was born on Christmas-day

To save poor souls from Satan's power,

Which long time had gone astray.

And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

1. God rest you merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

For Jesus Christ, our Saviour

Was born upon this day,

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day.

1. God rest you merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

For Jesus Christ our Saviour

Was born upon this day,

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray:

O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

2. From God that is our Father

The blessed angels came

Unto some certain shepherds,

With tidings of the same;

That he was born in Bethlehem

The Son of God by name.

And it is, etc.

2. In Bethlehem, in Jury[25]

This blessed babe was born

And laid within a manger

Upon this blessed morn

The which his mother Mary

Nothing did take in scorn.

O tidings, &c.'

2. From God our heavenly Father

A blessed angel came,

And unto certain shepherds

Brought tidings of the same,

How that in Bethlehem was born

The Son of God by name:

O tidings ...

3. Now when they came to Bethlehem,

Where our sweet Saviour lay,

They found him in a manger

Where oxen feed on hay.

The blessed Virgin kneeling down

Unto the Lord did pray.

And it is, etc.

3. From God our Heavenly Father

A blessed Angel came,

And unto certain Shepherds

Brought tidings of the same,

How that in Bethlehem was born

The Son of God by name.

O tidings, &c.

3. The shepherds at those tidings

Rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a-feeding

In tempest, storm and wind,

And went to Bethlehem straightway,

This blessed Babe to find:

O tidings ...

4. With sudden joy and gladness,

The shepherds were beguil'd,

To see the Babe of Israel

Before his mother mild.

O then with joy and cheerfulness

Rejoice each mother's child.

And it is, etc.

4. Fear not, then said the Angel,

Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Saviour

Of virtue, power and might;

So frequently to vanquish all

The friends of Satan quite.

O tidings, &c.

4. But when to Bethlehem they came,

Whereat this Infant lay,

They found Him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay;

His mother Mary kneeling,

Unto the Lord did pray:

O tidings ...

5. Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place

Like we true loving brethren,

Each other to embrace,

For the merry time of Christmas

Is coming on a-pace.

And it is, etc.

5. The Shepherds at those tidings

Rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a feeding

In tempest, storm and wind,

And went to Bethlehem straightway,

This blessed babe to find.

O tidings, &c.

5. Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface:[26]

O tidings ...

<no further couplets>

6. But when to Bethlehem they came,

Whereas this infant lay,

They found him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay,

His mother Mary kneeling

Unto the Lord did pray.

O tidings, &c.

7. Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface.

O tidings, &c.

<no further couplets>

Musical settings[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

American country singer Garth Brooks's version of the song, for the week ending 8 January 2000, peaked at number sixty-nine each on Billboard Hot Country Songs[28] and Country Airplay.[29] For the week ending 7 January 2006, American contemporary Christian band MercyMe's version peaked at number thirty-four on Adult Contemporary,[30] number nine on Hot Christian Songs,[31] and number nine on Christian Airplay[32] The version also peaked at number forty-nine on Christian Digital Song Sales for the week ending 17 December 2011.[33] American smooth jazz gospel singer Tim Bowman's version peaked at number twenty-nine on Smooth Jazz Songs for the week ending 9 January 2010, the version's only week on the chart.[34]

The Glee Cast's version peaked at number eighteen on Billboard Holiday Digital Songs for the week ending 4 December 2010.[35] For the week ending 17 December 2011, American metalcore band August Burns Red's version peaked at number three on Hard Rock Digital Song Sales,[36] number thirty-five on Rock Digital Song Sales,[37] number one on Christian Digital Song Sales,[38] and number thirty-four on Holiday Digital Song Sales.[39] For the week ending 4 January 2014, the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies and singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan's version, included in the band's 2004 holiday album Barenaked for the Holidays, charted as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings", peaking at number twenty-two on Billboard Holiday Digital Songs[40] and number twenty-five on Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales.[41] American a-capella band Pentatonix's version, included in A Pentatonix Christmas (2016) and the soundtrack of the 2018 animated film adaptation of The Grinch, peaked at number seventy-three on Billboard Holiday 100 for the week ending 31 December 2016.[42] For the week ending 3 January 2018, Christian band Tenth Avenue North and Christian singer Sarah Reeves's version peaked at number eleven on Christian AC Songs[43] and number forty-four on Christian Airplay.[44] Canadian duo Ali & Theo's version peaked at number twenty on the Canada AC for the week ending 28 December 2019.[45]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bodleian MS Eng. Poet. b. 5, p. 57
  2. ^ a b Crum, Margaret, ed. (1969). First-Line Index of English Poetry, 1500-1800, in Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Vol. ii. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 782.
  3. ^ a b c Brown, Cedric C. (2003). "Recusant Community and Jesuit Mission in Parliament Days: Bodleian MS Eng. Poet. b. 5". Yearbook of English Studies. Modern Humanities Research Association. 33: 290–315. doi:10.2307/3509032. JSTOR 3509032. S2CID 191475587.. At page 291, Brown notes that "the main part of the collection, that is, what is transcribed between pages 1 and 119, was put together in a few years in the early 1650s".
  4. ^ Wulstan, David (1986). Tudor Music. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-87745-135-4.
  5. ^ Three New Christmas Carols, London, [1760?]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale.
  6. ^ "Almena: an English Opera". Monthly Review. London: R. Griffiths. xxxi: 395. November 1764. hdl:2027/njp.32101064253832. If Persia's shining had not been mentioned, would not this choral lay be a good deal in the style of a Christmas carol?
    God rest you, merry Gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay, &c.
  7. ^ Hutchinson Softback Encyclopedia. Oxford: Helicon. 1992. p. 154. ISBN 009177134X. Many carols such as 'God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen' and 'The First Noel', date back at least as far as the 16th century
  8. ^ Bradley, Ian (1999). Penguin Book of Carols. Penguin. p. 101. ISBN 0140275266.
  9. ^ "Tune: GOD REST YE MERRY (CORNISH)". Hymnary.org. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  10. ^ a b "History of Hymns: 'God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen'". Discipleship Ministries. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  11. ^ n.a. [William Hone] (1820). The Political House that Jack Built. London: William Hone. God rest you, merry gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay,
    Remember we were left alive
    Upon last Christmas Day,
    With both our lips at liberty
    To praise Lord C[astlereag]h
    With his 'practical' comfort and joy!.
  12. ^ a b Chappell, W. (n.d.) [1855]. Popular Music of the Olden Time. Vol. ii. London: Cramer, Beale & Chappell. pp. 752–3. The words of this carol are in the Roxburghe Collection (iii. 452), together with three other 'choice Carols for Christmas Holidays,' for St. Stephen's, St. John's, and Innocents' days. The tune was printed by Hone, in his Facetiæ, to a "political Christmas Carol," ... I have seen no earlier copy of the tune than one in the handwriting of Dr. Nares, the cathedral composer, in which it is entitled 'The old Christmas Carol;' but I have received many versions from different sources, for no carol seems to be more generally known. In the Halliwell Collection of Broadsides, No. 263, Chetham Library, is 'The overthrow of proud Holofernes, and the Triumph of virtuous Queen Judith; to the tune of Tidings of comfort and joy.'
  13. ^ For the traditional English melody, see also David Holbrook and Elizabeth Poston (eds.), The Cambridge Hymnal (1967), pp. 236–37.
  14. ^ "Remarks on the Holiday Times of Old". Gentleman's Magazine. London: John Harris. xciv: 228. March 1824.
  15. ^ Dickens, Charles (1843). A Christmas Carol. London: Chapman & Hall. p. 16. The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of —
    'God bless you merry gentleman!
    May nothing you dismay!'
    Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.
  16. ^ Eliot, George (1861). Silas Marner. Edinburgh: William Blackwood. p. 169. Aaron was not indisposed to display his talents, even to an ogre, under protecting circumstances; and after a few more signs of coyness, consisting chiefly in rubbing the backs of his hands over his eyes, and then peeping between them at Master Marner, to see if he looked anxious for the 'carril,' he at length allowed his head to be duly adjusted, and standing behind the table, which let him appear above it only as far as his broad frill, so that he looked like a cherubic head untroubled with a body, he began with a clear chirp, and in a melody that had the rhythm of an industrious hammer, —
    'God rest you merry, gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay,
    For Jesus Christ our Saviour
    Was born on Christmas-day.'
    Dolly listened with a devout look, glancing at Marner in some confidence that this strain would help to allure him to church.
  17. ^ Olson, W Bruce (30 April 2002). "Some Old Songs, A Personal Choice". California State University, Fresno. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  18. ^ Three new carols for Christmas, printed by J. Smart (c. 1780–1800), has the first verse:
    God rest ye, merry Gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay;
    Remember Christ our Saviour,
    Was born on Christmas-day;
    To save us all from Satan's power,
    When we were gone astray:
    O Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
    Three new carols for Christmas. 1. God rest ye merry gentlemen, &c. 2. Good Christian people pray to give ear. 3. Let all good Christian people here." Wolverhampton, [between ca. 1780 and 1800?].
  19. ^ "God rest you merry". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  20. ^ Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. London. 1864 [1623]. p. 204. Will. God rest you merry sir
  21. ^ "God Rest Ye, Merry Christians" in Mildred Gauntlett, Fifty Christmas Carols (London, 1906), p. 39 The use of ye may go back to alternative words written by Dinah Craik (1826–1887) given in Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916) with the title God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. This particular version has the incipit God rest you merry, gentlemen, but verses 2 and 3 begin God rest ye little children and God rest ye all good Christians, respectively.
  22. ^ ye is in origin the nominative of the second person plural pronoun see also Early Modern English pronouns.
  23. ^ "On Christmas Carrols" in The Beauties of the Magazines, and Other Periodical Works, Selected for a Series of Years (Vol. 2 of 2; 1775), printed for Gottlob Emanuel Richter, 87f.; OCLC 557616863, 83384270, 311914328
    "Beauties" in the series title is intended to denote works of literary merit. The author, identified as "C." (likely George Colman the Elder), rejects non-liturgical Christmas music by expounding the carol as an example of how
    "... an ignorant zeal in religion has occasioned many shocking sentiments to be broached that the greatest scoffers of Christianity would not dare to have uttered"
    He complains of
    "... having my ears pestered in every street this last week, by numberless women and children singing what they called Christmas carrols, but what, if I had heard them in an alehouse, or if they had been sung by drunken people in a night-cellar, I should have thought the most bare-faced reflections and the grossest buffoonry upon the most sacred subject that could be devised by the devil himself."
    C. says he bought the song-sheets of a woman singer –
    "[a] poor woman with two children bundled at her back and one in her arms, and who, I am persuaded, was very far from knowning what she said"
    to prevent her from continuing in her –
    "profane treatment of sacred subjects"
    and sends the text he found on the sheets to the magazine as an illustration of
    "the same carrols I have heard sung about the streets in this season for above these thirty years"
    (viz., since the 1740s).
  24. ^ William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern; Including the Most Popular in the West of England, and the Airs which They are Sung. Also Specimens of French Provincial Carols, London, Beckley (1833), 102–104 (hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com).
  25. ^ Jury for Jewry, i.e. "in Judaea".
  26. ^ The use of deface in the final verse of the 1833 and 1961 versions has the archaic meaning of "efface; outshine, eclipse"; because of the now more familiar meaning of "spoil, vandalize", the New English Hymnal of 1986 and other more recent versions replace it with efface.
  27. ^ "Christmas Day". Alfred Music. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  28. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Garth Brooks (chart history, Hot Country Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  29. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Garth Brooks (chart history, Country Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  30. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  31. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Hot Christian Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  32. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Christian Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  33. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Christian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  34. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Tim Bowman (chart history, Smooth Jazz Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  35. ^ "Glee Cast Chart History (Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  36. ^ "August Burns Red (chart history, Hard Rock Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  37. ^ "August Burns Red (chart history, Rock Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  38. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', August Burns Red (chart history, Christian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  39. ^ "August Burns Red (chart history, Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  40. ^ "Barenaked Ladies (chart history, Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  41. ^ "Barenaked Ladies (chart history, Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard.
  42. ^ "Pentatonix (Chart History, Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  43. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Tenth Avenue North Featuring Sarah Reeves (chart history, Christian AC Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  44. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Tenth Avenue North Featuring Sarah Reeves (chart history, Christian Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  45. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Ali & Theo (chart history, Canada AC)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • The New Oxford Book of Carols, ed. Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 527