Neale, John Mason


b at Lamb’s Conduit St, Bloomsbury, Middx (C London) 1818, d East Grinstead, Sussex 1866. He was taught privately and at Sherborne Sch; Trinity Coll Cambridge (BA 1840), then Fellow and Tutor at Downing Coll. On 11 occasions he won the annual Seatonian Prize for a sacred poem. Ordained in 1841, he was unable to serve as incumbent of Crawley, Sussex, through ill health, and spent 3 winters in Madeira. He became Warden of Sackville Coll, E Grinstead, W Sussex, from 1846 until his death 20 years later. This was a set of private almshouses; in spite of a stormy relationship with his bishop and others over ‘high’ ritualistic practices, he developed an original and organised system of poor relief both locally and in London, through the sisterhood communities he founded.

With Thos Helmore, Neale compiled the Hymnal Noted in 1852, which did much to remove the tractarian (‘high church’) suspicion of hymns as essentially ‘nonconformist’. Among his many other writings, arising from a vast capacity for reading, was the ground-breaking History of the Eastern Church and the rediscovery and rejuvenating of old carols (collections for Christmas in 1853 and Easter the year following). His untypical, eccentric but popular item Good King Wenceslas was a target for the barbs of P Dearmer, qv, who (like others since) voiced the hope in 1928 that it ‘might be gradually dropped’.

Neale and his immediate circle had a pervasive effect on many things Anglican, including architecture, furnishing and liturgy, which has lasted until our own day. He founded and led the Camden Society and edited the journal The Ecclesiologist in order to give practical local expression to the doctrines of the Tractarians. But his greatest literary work lay in his translation of classic Gk and Lat hymns. In this he pioneered the rediscovery of some of the church’s medieval and earlier treasures, and his academic scholarship blended with his considerable and disciplined poetic gifts which showed greater fluency with the passing years. Like Chas Wesley he was an extraordinarily fast worker, given the high quality of so much of his verse. His translations from Lat, mainly 1852–65, kept the rhythm of the sources; among his original hymns (1842–66) he was critical of his own early attempts to write for children. But he considered that a text in draft should be given plenty of time to mature or be improved; he voluntarily submitted many texts to an editorial committee. Even so, some were attacked by RCs because in translation he had removed some offensive Roman doctrines; others, because they leant too far in a popish direction. His own position was made clear by such gems as, ‘We need not defend ourselves against any charge of sympathising with vulgarity in composition or Calvinism in doctrine’.

Of his final Original Sequences and Hymns (1866), many were written ‘before my illness’, some over 20 years earlier, and ‘the rest are the work of a sick bed’—JMN, writing a few days before his death. His daughter Mary assisted in collecting his work, and many of his sermons were published. He was familiar with some 20 languages, and had a notable ministry among children, writing several children’s books. He had strong views on music, and was a keen admirer of the poetry of John Keble, qv. 72 items (most of them paraphrases) are credited to him in EH, and he has always been wellrepresented in A&M, featuring 30 times in the current (2000) edn, Common Praise. Julian gives him extended treatment and notes ‘the enormous influence Dr Neale has exercised over modern hymnody’. In A G Lough’s significantly titled The Influence of John Mason Neale (1962) and Michael Chandler’s 1995 biography, while the main interest of the writers lies elsewhere, there are interesting chapters respectively on his ‘Hymns, Ballads and Carols’ and his ‘Hymns and Psalms’. What Charles Wesley was with original texts, so was Neale with translations, not least in the sense that, as a contemporary put it, ‘he was always writing’. Nos.225, 297*, 338, 346, 371*, 407, 442, 472, 567, 881, 971.