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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by William Garrett Horder

Josiah Conder (1789–1855)

JOSIAH CONDER was born in Falcon Square, London, on the 17th of September, 1789. His grandfather—Dr. John Conder—was the first Theological Tutor of the Nonconformist College at Homerton, and his father, Thomas Conder, a map engraver and bookseller. When he was six years of age he lost the sight of one eye through a severe attack of smallpox. His literary talent found early expression, for at the age of ten he contributed essays to the Monthly Preceptor, for which he gained two silver medals. Leaving school at the age of thirteen, he joined his father in his bookselling business, but still carried on his mental culture. When he was seventeen, he contributed to an early number of the Athenæum some lines on “The Withered Oak.” He made the acquaintance of James Montgomery and Ann Taylor, which led to the inclusion of some of their verses in an anonymous book he now published called “The Associated Minstrels.” Failing health compelled his father to give up his business in 1811, and so it was thrown upon his son. His literary predilections were probably strengthened by his marriage in 1815 to the daughter of Roger Thomas, on her mother’s side a granddaughter of Roubiliac, the noted sculptor, and herself a contributor to the anonymous book already mentioned, and a verse writer of some merit. After eight years he disposed of his bookselling business, but five years before this he had become the proprietor of the Eclectic Review, which he managed until 1837. This brought him into close connection with some of the foremost literary men of that time. Considerable as was the work of managing the Eclectic, it did not exhaust his energies, for during the same time he edited for James Duncan, of Paternoster Row, the Modern Traveller, which extended to thirty volumes. In this great undertaking he had assistance on only one or two of the volumes. This has been described as “one of the most accurate, faithful, and laborious compilations ever published respecting nearly all parts of the world.” In 1832 the Patriot was established to set forth the views of Evangelical Nonconformity, and Conder became its first editor, a post he held for twenty-three years. But even these labours did not exhaust his energies. He issued twenty-two works, nearly all prose, some of which involved very considerable research. Few men have ever lived a busier life. His pen was never idle, but in 1855 an attack of jaundice seized him, and he passed away at his home, 28, Belsize Road, St. John’s Wood, London, on the 27th of December.

All his prose works, though in many cases very able and serving the purpose of the time, have passed out of use, and are known only to the curious. This also may be said of his general poetry; but he is kept in remembrance by his hymns, which still hold a place, and no mean one, in the affections of the Church. In this department he did good work, not only as a writer of hymns, but as an Editor. “The Congregational Hymn Book—a supplement to Dr. Watts’ “Psalms and Hymns,” which he edited about 1844—showed fine taste, and was the best work of its kind published up to that time. It left an abiding influence on the Hymnody, not only of the Free, but also of the Episcopal Church. To this book he contributed fifty-six of his own hymns, some of which had previously appeared in his earlier volume, “The Star in the East.”

His finest hymns are characterised by much elevation of thought, expressed in language combining both force and beauty. They generally excel in unity, and in some the gradual unfolding of the leading idea is masterly. The outcome of a deeply spiritual mind, they deal chiefly with the enduring elements of religion. Their variety in metre, in style, and in treatment, saves them from the monotony which mars the work of so many hymn writers. Really Evangelical in substance they are touched with so liberal a spirit and interpret Christian truth in so broad a manner that they are likely to hold their place in the affections of the Church.

Perhaps the most lyric of Conder’s hymns is—

  • “O show me not my Saviour dying,”
  • in which he embodies the idea of Campanella in the fine sonnet rendered into nervous English by John Addington Symonds.
  • If Christ was only six hours crucified
  • After few years of toil and misery,
  • Which for mankind He suffered willingly,
  • While heaven was won for ever when He died;
  • Why should He still be shown on every side,
  • Painted and preached in nought but agony,
  • Whose pains were light matched with His victory,
  • When the world’s power to harm Him was defied?
  • Why rather speak and write not of the realm
  • He rules in heaven and soon will bring below
  • Unto the praise and glory of His name.
  • Ah, foolish crowd! This world’s thick vapours whelm,
  • Your eyes unworthy of that glorious show,
  • Blind to His splendour, bent upon His shame.
  • Conder”s poetical works were: “The Withered Oak,” “The Reverie” (1811); “The Star in the East” (1824); “Sacred Poems, Domestic Poems, and Miscellaneous Poems” (1824); “The Choir and the Oratory” (1837); “Hymns of Praise, Prayer, and Devout Meditation,” which was in the press at the time of his death, and was revised and published by his son, the Rev. E. R. Conder, M.A.