The Poetry of Sacred Song

Cover, Hymns for Little Children, 1878
Cover, Hymns for Little Children, 1878

Within the John Mackay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection is a small but substantial sub-collection of sacred music books. From Sunday School primers to hymnals meant to be used at home, Shaw collected these as examples of what was often a child’s first introduction to poetry, hymns on Sundays.

In his bibliography which lists the Sacred Music portions of his collection, compiled in 1972, Shaw noted that “when hymns are examined without benefit of music, it becomes clear that much of the best poetry written for children, and perhaps also some of the worst, has been the production of the hymnwriters.”

Hymn, Praise to God from The Lyre, 1820s.
Hymn, Praise to God from The Lyre, 1820s.

We recently completed a digitization of 64 books from this sub-collection, culled from the 450 books listed in Shaw’s original bibliography. These books were selected for their rarity and also because no other repository found had a digital copy available currently.

These are some of the smallest materials we’ve digitized to date as well as some of the most beautiful. Hymnals were often decorated with lovely artwork and etchings, some on an incredibly small and intricate scale such as The Lyre from the 1820s, which is just shy of the same length and width as an iPhone6.

You may explore the new collection of Sacred Music books in the Florida State University Digital Library.

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