What Child Is This?
DESCRIPTION: In response to the question, "What child is this" whom Mary cradles and angels hymn, we are told, "This, this is Christ the king." The child's humble estate is described, and listeners urged to praise him
AUTHOR: Words: William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898)
EARLIEST DATE: 1871 (Bramley & Stainer); reportedly written c. 1865 (see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: Christmas religious Jesus nonballad
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Fireside, p. 238, "What Child Is This?" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 379, "What Child Is This?" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #95, "What Child Is This Who Laid to Rest" (1 text)
Robert J. Morgan, _Then Sings My Soul, Book 2: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories_, Nelson, 2004, pp. 102-103, "What Child Is This?" (1 text, 1 tune)
Pete Seeger, "What Child Is This?" (on PeteSeeger37, PeteSeeger42)
cf. "Greensleeves" (tune)
NOTES [353 words]: According to Morgan, the commonly-sung words of this song are only a subset of William Chatterton Dix's original poem. He published several volumes of Christian poetry, and according to Davidson, p. 169, was a major contributor to the famous 1861 collection Hymns Ancient and Modern, but the only two of his pieces still commonly heard are this and "As With Gladness Men of Old."
Julian, p. 302, gives this bio/bibliography:
Dix, William Chatterton, s[on] of John Dix, surgeon, of Bristol, author of the Life of Chatterton; Local Legends, &c., b[orn] at Bristol, June 14, 1837, and educated at the Grammar School of that city. Mr. Chatterton Dix's contributions to modern hymnody are numerous and of value. His fine Epiphany hymn, "As with gladness men of old," and his plaintive, "Come unto Me, ye weary," are examples of his compositions.... In his Hymns of Love and Joy, 1861; Altar Songs, Verses on the Holy Eucharist, 1867; Vision of all Saints,, &c, 1871; and Seekers of a City, 1878, some of his compositions were first published.
"The greater part, however, were first contributed to H[ymns] A[ncient] & M[odern],; St. Raphael's H[ymn] B[ook], 1861; Lyra Eucharistica, 1863; Lyra Messianica, 1864; Lyra Mystica, 1865; The People's H[ymns], 1867, The Hymnary, 1872, Church Hymns, 1871, and others. May of his contributions are renderings in metrical form of Dr. Littledale's tr[anslations] from the Greek in his Offices... of the Holy Eastern Church, 1863; and of the Rev. J. M. Rodwell's tr[anslations] of hymns of the Abyssinian Churh.... In addition to detached pieces in prose and verse for variious magazines, he has published two devotional works, Light; and The Risen Life, 1883; and a book for children entitled The Pattern Life, 1885...."
Julian lists 18 other allegedly-significant Dix compositions. "What Child Is This?" is not among them. So much for contemporary ability to determine merit....
McKim, p. 54, says that Dix wrote this as a poem, "The Manger Throne." The publication in Stainer's Christmas Carols Old and New established it as a Christmas song. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Davidson: James Robert Davidson, A Dictionary of Protestant Church Music, Scarecrow Press, 1975
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- McKim: LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993
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