This oil portrait is entitled “Wandering Thoughts” by a Massachusetts artist from East Bridgewater, Francis Davis Millet, who perished in the wreck of the Titanic in 1912.
This page will be updated weekly with a look at hymns and music which would have been typical and popular choices for the Victorian church funeral or sung at gravesite. Some of these hymns are still sung today and are staples of the Protestant churches in America. All midi files and historical data are from the web site Hymntime.
1. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder
–Words & Music: James M. Black, 1893 Black, a Methodist Sunday school teacher in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was calling roll one day for a youth meeting. Young Bessie, daughter of a drunkard, did not show up, and he was disappointed at her failure to appear. Black made a comment to the effect, “Well, I trust when the roll is called up yonder, she’ll be there.”
2. In the Sweet By and By
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore. 1868
The notion of friends waiting on the other shore was comforting to the Victorians as was the imagery of the river Jordan, the land of milk and honey, and the happy prospect of a journey from this world into the eternal afterlife.
3. The strife is o’er the battle done
This was and still is a favorite final hymn in the Episcopal church, particularly at the funeral of someone who had been battling a lengthy illness.
Words: Unknown author, possibly 12th Century (Finita jam sunt praelia); translated from Latin to English by Francis Pott, Hymns Fitted to the Order of Common Prayer, 1861.
4. Shall we gather at the river
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.
Words & Music: Robert Lowry, 1864; first published in Happy Voices, 1865.
5. Amazing Grace
Possibly the most popular choice for funeral music today, whether played graveside on bagpipes, or at the close of church services, Amazing Grace has endured over the decades. The first two verses and refrain are known by nearly everyone and can be sung spontaneously without sheet music.
Words: John Newton, Olney Hymns (London: W. Oliver, 1779). Exception: the last stanza is by an unknown author; it appeared as early as 1829 in the Baptist Songster, by R. Winchell (Wethersfield, Connecticut), as the last stanza of the song “Jerusalem My Happy Home.”
Music: New Britain, in Virginia Harmony, by James P. Carrell and David S. Clayton (Winchester, Virginia: 1831.