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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

Thomas Toke Lynch (1818–1871)

THOMAS TOKE LYNCH was born at Dunmow, Essex, on the 5th of July, 1818. His father was a surgeon in practice there. The son was educated in a school at Islington, in which he afterwards became an usher. With a view to the ministry of the Independent Church, he entered Highbury College. Here he remained but a very short time, partly on account of ill health, and partly because his spirit was too free to submit to the routine of such an institution. He felt that he could study better alone. For two years, from 1847 to 1849, he ministered to a small congregation at Highgate. From the latter period till the time of his death in 1871, he was minister of a congregation which had several changes of locale, but at last, in 1862, a permanent home was found in Mornington Church in the Hampstead Road, where, with many interruptions, caused by failure of health, he preached to a small but intelligent congregation, which had learnt to appreciate the force and freshness of his words. Among his hearers were found students from the various Theological Colleges of London, and men and women eager to find greater vigour and beauty of Christian teaching than the ordinary pulpit then presented.

All his life, however, Lynch was hindered by the exceeding frailty of his body. In the Preface to a posthumous volume called “Sermons for my Curates”—discourses he wrote for friends to deliver at the evening service, which for some time he had not the physical strength to conduct—his friend, Dr. Samuel Cox, thus describes the conditions under which much of his work was done: “Hardly was he seated at his desk before he was assailed by the rending, suffocating pangs of his cruel disease (Angina pectoris). As the work went on, the anguish grew, until the intolerable agony compelled him to fling himself on the floor, where he lay patiently and steadfastly enduring the pressure of his great pain. No sooner was the fierce spasm past than he rose, seated himself once more at his desk, and resumed his labour till seized by another intolerable spasm. On the original manuscripts of this volume there are pathetic marks of the agony he endured before he would yield. Here and there, especially toward the close, his handwriting, ordinarily so neat and regular, grows large, straggles wildly across or down the page, and looks as though his hand must have been jerked and dragged by an alien force.” And yet from a man who all his days, from early manhood onward, thus suffered, came some twelve volumes, large and small, full of vigorous thoughts expressed in graceful style—none of which bear any trace of the shadow that fell upon his way. This was not the only burden he had to bear. The publication of “The Rivulet: a Contribution to Sacred Song,” aroused the odium theologicum in a way that is difficult now to understand. The first to sound the alarm was the Editor of the Morning Advertiser (Grant), soon to be joined by the Editors of the British Banner (John Campbell) and the Record. The first of these laid down the principle that sound doctrine should be plainly stated in every hymn, and, testing Lynch’s hymns by this standard, declared that “there was not one particle of vital religion or Evangelical piety in the book, that nearly the whole of his hymns might have been written by a Deist, and a very large portion might be sung by a congregation of Freethinkers.” The strife was fierce and long, and drew to both sides many combatants beyond those first engaged. Lynch gave the most effective reply in a small collection of verse called “Songs Controversial,” by Silent Long. Time has, however, settled the question, and carried verses from the “Rivulet” into the Hymnals of nearly every English-speaking Church.

The writer of the article on Lynch in the “Dictionary of National Biography” makes two astounding statements: first, that “the hymns in the ‘Rivulet’ express too exclusively an admiration for nature to be suitable for Christian worship”; and second, that “none of them are popular in the churches.” A fairly wide acquaintance with the usage of the Churches in the matter of hymns enables me to say that Mr. Lynch’s are amongst the most popular in the Free Churches of this country, a popularity ever growing. The extracts from the “Rivulet,” given in this volume, will enable readers to form their own judgment on the first statement.

Lynch was a keen lover of God, of nature, and of man, and as such was intensely spiritual, natural, and human. Nature to him was an open revelation of God to man, full of symbols of divine beneficence and parables of human life. In one of his poems he says;—

  • Nature is the robe of God—
  • God the merciful and good:
  • Flowers are the embroider’d hem,
  • Virtue he hath given them;
  • and in a little poem of only eight lines without a title, he thus characterises the relationship of nature, man, and God:—
  • Stars are for souls; but each for Him
  • Abideth bright or groweth dim:
  • One voice did both to being call,
  • Each, self-consumed and changed, may fall.
  • But souls may brightly happy be,
  • Unfading through eternity;
  • While stars, in courses ever new,
  • Come and go like drops of dew.
  • “The Memorials of Theophilus Trinal, Student” (1850), from which the foregoing lines are taken, contains many strikingly original and tender poems. In these the writer gives forcible expression to many moods, from solemn joy to playful pathos. A page from this work will illustrate this, and show how happily the writer intermingles prose and verse:—

  • Pleasantries, lighter acts and utterances, are to the wise like flowers on the margin of deep, barge-laden streams—the waters that bear up and along the works of life, nourish this flowerage. Man is in the likeness of his Maker in this also, that small things as well as the great may have to him dearness, and yield him a good after their kind. One half-hour, solemnity may fill his heart; the next, pleasantry; by each shall his heart be for the time sufficed.
  • Solemnly the stars of light
  • In ancient silence show;
  • And solemnly the sounding waves
  • Utter their voice below;
  • And solemnly the striving winds
  • About the mountains blow;
  • And solemnly the beams of dawn
  • Across the countries flow.

  • In these solemnities is joy. Yet pleasant are laughter and the dance; and the babble of the tongue may be health and purity, like that of a brook. We must let our heart sometimes be a child—let it entertain itself with wanderings, gambol, and song.

  • The young they laugh: Laughs not the sky?
  • The winds they laugh as they pass by;
  • The sun he laughs; and nature’s face
  • Beams with a joyous, laughing grace.
  • Yes, laughing; ever she renews
  • Her verdant fields, her morning dews;
  • Is ever young—the same to day
  • As ages past; and when away
  • From earth to heaven we are gone,
  • Our dust beneath the turf or stone,
  • The moon will smile, the dews distil,
  • Dance to the winds the flowers will;
  • And round our grave the kindly spring
  • Will the cheerful daisies bring.
  • Other examples of the verse from this volume will be found here. Love of nature and awe of its creation are solemnly expressed in “Modulations,” tender sympathy in “The Five Flowers,” human weakness in “Rest,” and the questioning unrest of intelligent love in “Reasoning with God.” In contrast with this last we may quote the following lines, without title, from the same work:—

  • While little boys, with merry noise,
  • In the meadows shout and run;
  • And little girls—sweet woman buds—
  • Brightly open in the sun;
  • I may not of the world despair.
  • Our God despaireth not, I see,
  • For blithesomer in Eden’s air
  • These lads and maidens could not be.
  • Why were they born, if Hope must die?
  • Wherefore this health, if truth shall fail?
  • And why such joy, if misery
  • Is conquering us, and must prevail?
  • Arouse! our spirit may not droop,
  • These young ones fresh from Heaven are;
  • Our God hath sent another troop,
  • And means to carry on the war.
  • Other poems in this volume which I should have been glad to quote, had space permitted, are “A Return from Music” for vivid description; “Providence” for its fine delineation of the overruling care of God, and a “Church with Bells” for its light and almost playful setting of the idea so finely wrought out by Browning in his “Christmas Eve.”

    What Wordsworth was in the realm of Poetry in its wider sense, Lynch was in the realm of Hymnody. In his hymn-writing he followed the Christ who without a parable rarely spake, rather than the Theologians who separate truth from parable and story, who rob it of its incarnation in life and nature. Lynch turns from the herbarium of Theology to the fair gardens of Scripture for the inspirations and models of his verse. He is one of the most picturesque of our Hymnists. By a strange oversight Mr. Lynch is not represented in The Treasury of Sacred Song, edited by Professor Palgrave; but the Rev. H. C. Beeching in his Lyra Sacra gives four specimens of his verse, and says “that he well deserves wider recognition.” This I think the selection here will demonstrate; nor is it too much to add that he has claims to consideration as a poet apart from his achievements in hymnody.