Conder, Josiah


b Aldersgate, London 1789, d St John’s Wood, Hampstead, Middx (N London) 1855. After losing his right eye to a smallpox inoculation at the age of 5 or 6, at 13 he left his Hackney school to enter his father’s engraving and bookselling business; by 1811 he was its proprietor. With the hymnwriting sisters Anne and Jane Taylor, a few years older than him, he contributed to The Associate Minstrels published in 1810, simply signing himself ‘C’. From 1814 to 1834 he owned and edited the Eclectic Review; he also edited The Patriot, a Free Church newspaper founded in 1832 ‘to represent principles of evangelical nonconformity’. With no academic educational advantages he nevertheless wrote poetry good enough to earn commendation from Robert Southey, Poet Laureate, and between 1835 and 1837 he published 5 books of verse, from The Withered Oak to The Choir and the Oratory, or Praise and Prayer; another came posthumously, edited by his son. Prose works included biblical studies and books on travel, Protestantism and a life of Bunyan. He was a prolific letter-writer, and while his magnum opus was The Modern Traveller—30 volumes from an author who never left his native shores—it is the hymns which have endured. As a lay member and preacher of the Congregational Church he edited that denomination’s first official hymn-book in 1836, including some 60 of his own texts, and 4 by his wife Joan who came from a Huguenot family: The Congregational Hymn Book, a Supplement to Dr Watts’s Psalms and Hymns. While finding his business life a constant struggle, he thus became a key figure in the history of Congregational hymnody until a fatal attack of jaundice brought his life to a sudden end.

Dissenter though he staunchly remained, he paraphrased several of the BCP Collects in metrical forms; no.644 has been praised by many as his outstanding achievement. CH (1st edn) has 10 of his hymns; GH has 7; Congregational Praise (1951) and the Baptist Hymn Book (1962), each 6; and Rejoice and Sing ( 1991) 4. The N American Hymnal 1982 includes 2 of his hymns, though several omit him altogether. W Garrett Horder’s estimate in Julian praises the variety and catholicity of Conder’s hymns, and adds that ‘in some the gradual unfolding of the leading idea is masterly’. Among Congregationalist or Independent hymnwriters he is often ranked 3rd, behind only Watts and Doddridge. Addressed by David Thompson, the Hymn Soc commemorated him during its 2005 conference, 150 yrs since his death. (Josiah’s son Eustace Rogers Conder, 1821–92, wrote a Preface to his posthumously-published collected hymns, and himself wrote the evocative Ye fair green hills of Galilee.) Nos.310, 500, 644, 691.