THE WORDS OF A GREAT HYMN ARE WORTH PONDERING
AT A CRITICAL MOMENT IN OUR NATIONAL LIFE
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was a poet and an editor of several American periodicals. He was also a college professor, and later in life, was appointed a diplomat representing the United States in Spain and Britain.
He is best remembered as one of the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who gained popularity in the first half of the 19th-Century. They were so named because their verses were considered suitable for reading aloud around the family hearth.
Lowell was an advocate of Abolition. His anti-slavery sentiments and other political opinions frequently found expression in his poetry. One of his most influential polemical works was “The Present Crisis,” a portion of which was adapted as a song lyric and set to a Welsh tune called “Ebenezer” by composer Thomas J. Williams. We know it as the hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation.”
The lines speak of defending truth when falsehood is ascendant. That they were written in 1845 illustrates how history tends to, if not precisely repeat itself, then to follow very similar recurring themes.
Today we have entered a period in our history when we are reexamining our national character and considering what kind of nation we wish to be. The presence of falsehood — in the form of distorted moral values and dishonest political ideas — is very much a factor in our decision making.