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Duchess of Connaught and the Grand Duke of Hesse, then a reigning Prince, were assembled on the ground and in the grand stand. A choir of 500 male voices was massed on a great sloping bank 300 yards away, and sang from there through megaphones, the words being taken up by the troops below and by the congregation, numbering over 15,000 persons.
In making the arrangements I consulted Lord Kitchener, who was Commander-in-Chief, as to the particular hymn which the British Tommy would be most likely to sing with hearty vigour, and he unhesitatingly replied, "Onward! Christian Soldiers." This seemed to me an admirable choice, even if it did not accurately reflect the theological attitude of the average British soldier, until in a fortunate moment I remembered that one of the verses begins thus :
Crowns and thrones may perish,
This couplet depicts not merely a familiar contingency, but also a truth of abundant historical justification. But, as a note of rejoicing at the coronation of a monarch in the presence of his near relatives, it might have been thought inappropriate, if not disrespectful, and I was doubtful how it would be regarded by King Edward when he heard of it. So I passed my pencil through the Commander-inChief's choice, and selected some more innocent strophe.
A special danger seems indeed to lurk in this hymn and in this particular verse, the next succeed
ing lines of which run thus:
Gates of hell can never
'Gainst that Church prevail.
For on one occasion a choir-master, instructing his pupils how to sing the verse, said: "Now, remember; only the trebles sing down to the Gates of Hell-and then you all come in."
But it is not only on occasions of ceremonial that such dangers are likely to arise. When a young lady chooses a hymn which she would like to have sung on the occasion of her marriage, she should be peculiarly careful to look through it in advance, and make sure that it responds fully to the needs of the case. I had a young female relative, who with insufficient caution chose as her favourite for the wedding service the hymn which begins
Days and moments quickly flying
Blend the living with the dead.
All went well till the end of the second line, albeit the choice of hymn seemed not particularly apposite and rather unnecessarily lugubrious. But when the
congregation came to the succeeding lines,
Soon shall you and I be lying
Each within our narrow bed,
I am afraid that they broke into titters of irrepressible merriment.
Not even the most exalted are immune from these dangers; for I remember reading that, at the wedding ceremony of King Edward and Queen
Alexandra, a discarded funeral march of Handel was played with much effect on the organ.
A less grave but still an untimely pitfall was only avoided at another wedding, when the officiating clergyman, on turning up the hymn which he had been invited by the bridegroom to announce, was confronted with
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
A not dissimilar though more auspicious incident occurred while I was in Calcutta. A worthy doctor was about to be espoused to a young lady in the closing days of the year; and the parents of the bride, thinking that it would be both charming and economical to take advantage of the Christmas decoration of the cathedral, sought and received the permission of the Bishop to have the ceremony performed there. The congregation was assembled ; the bridegroom was in his place; the bridal procession moved slowly up the nave, when, as the happy couple took their stand below the altar steps, both they and the congregation suddenly realised that emblazoned in front of them in huge frosted white letters on a scarlet background, across the entire width of the cathedral, ran the opening words of Isaiah ix. 6. It is true that the original author of these words was a prophet; but no prophecy of even the most gifted of seers could have anticipated this particular connotation.
I was myself the victim of another but quite harmless illustration of the same thesis at Simla.
On the hill on which stands Viceregal Lodge there was a very small chapel, the survival of an earlier day, where service was sometimes conducted by the station chaplain on Sunday afternoon. On one occasion, during the monsoon, when the whole place was enveloped in mist and fog, with occasional violent downpours of rain, I attended the service with my A.D.C., only to find that the sole other occupant of the building was the chaplain. Nevertheless he bravely pursued his task, without omitting a line or even a comma, and we three went through the entire service, including the hymns and canticles, undaunted. At length we came to the sermon, which I fondly hoped we might be spared. Not a bit! The chaplain, who could have had no idea that I was likely to attend, had a favourite address on Dives and Lazarus, which he proceeded to read from a wellthumbed MS. His version was even an improvement upon the original. For he modernised Dives, and depicted him as living in great style in a castle on the top of a hill (Viceregal Lodge was on the highest point of the hill only 200 yards away); as wearing smart clothes (the Viceroy has not infrequently to put on uniform and other gorgeous raiment); and as enjoying good meals every day (the fare at Government House was by no means bad). He then referred to the poor man Lazarus as lying at the gate (the Gurkha Gate to the Viceregal grounds was just below), and as being fed with the crumbs from the rich man's table (I had often seen the native servants taking away the scraps from the Viceregal kitchen, to give to their families). And
then he asked the congregation, i.e. my A.D.C. and myself, to think seriously of Dives' sins, of his subsequent torment in hell, and of the just reproaches of Father Abraham in heaven. We both bore it quite meekly, and, at the close of the service, my A.D.C. not having a singing voice, the chaplain and I sang with great fervour the concluding hymn, in which I joined with all the greater unction when I found that by a happy coincidence it contained these consolatory words:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,