Forty days and forty nights

Forty days and forty nights
thou wast fasting in the wild;
forty days and forty nights
tempted, and yet undefiled.

This hymn was submitted as "Poetry for Lent" to The Penny Post (March 1856) under the initials G.H.S. (G H Smyttan). George Hunt Smyttan (1822-70) was ordained in 1848. He became Rector of Hawksworth, Nottinghamshire in 1850, but resigned in 1859. He died suddenly in Frankfurt am Main and, being unknown, was interred in a pauper's grave.

Francis Pott (1832-1909) reduced the original nine verses to six in his Hymns Fitted to the Order of Common Prayer (1861). The "fitting" in this case is to the Collect for the first Sunday in Lent, and the Gospel for that Sunday (Matthew 4:1-11). There have been many alterations to the text, but the most important variant is in the present verse three, where Pott's text was:

Shall we not some penance bear
From all joys of earth abstain
Fasting with unceasing prayer
Glad with thee to suffer pain?

This verse in particular, but others also, are treated differently in the variety of hymn books available today. In addition to the gospel origins of the hymn, there is a biblical reference to Hebrews 2:18, "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted".

Tune - Heinlein

The tune Heinlein is from the Nürnbergisches Gesangbuch (1676) with the composer identified only by the initials M.H. This is now believed to be Martin Herbst (c. 1654-81) who held various posts at Eisleben. However, the earlier attribution was to Paul Heinlein (1626-86) which gave the tune its name. J S Bach used the tune in his cantata "Aus der Tiefe" (Out of the deep) and in his organ chorale prelude with the same name. The present day harmony is similar to that as it appeared in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). In the intervening years the tune was arranged by W H Monk (1823-89) who removed the passing notes. The BBC Hymn Book and the Anglican Hymn Book both offer an alternative tune for verses five and six. Buckland, in a major key, is more in character with the less austere tone of these last two verses.

Nigel Day
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 1st August 1997