18 December 2018

Singing a version of
‘Silent Night’ that has
interesting Irish links

The Revd Stopford Augustus Brooke (1832-1916) … the Irish-born translator of another version of ‘Silent Night’

Patrick Comerford

Over the past few days, I have written about the popular carol ‘Silent Night’ [see here and here, its author Father Joseph Mohr, and its translator, Bishop John Freeman Young. This ever-popular carol, as written by Joseph Mohr, was first sung in German in Mohr’s church in an Austrian village 200 years ago, on Christmas Eve 1818.

But yesterday, at the school assembly in Rathkeale, we sang another, once popular translation of Stille Nacht by the Irish poet and one-time Anglican priest, the Revd Stopford Augustus Brooke (1832-1916).

Stopford Augustus Brooke was born on 14 November 1832 in the rectory near Letterkenny, Co Donegal, where his father was the curate and his maternal grandfather, the Revd Joseph Stopford, was then the rector. He was the eldest son of the Revd Dr Richard Sinclair Brooke (1802-1882), curate of Kinnity in the Diocese of Killaloe (1829-11832), curate of Conwal (Letterkenny), Co Donegal (1832-1835), curate of Abbeylexi (1835), and later the first incumbent of the Mariners’ Church, Dún Laoghaire, then Kingstown (1836-1862). His mother, Anna (1812-1903), a daughter of the Revd Joseph Stopford of Courtown, Co Wexford, and Rector of Conwal (1810-1833).

Stopford Brooke was educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1856, MA 1862), where he won the Downes Prize and the Vice Chancellor’s Prize for English verse. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1857, and his first appointments were in London as curate of Saint Matthew’s, Marylebone (1857-1859), and Kensington (1860-1863). He then became Chaplain to the British Embassy in Berlin (1863-1865) and chaplain to Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Victoria, wife of the Emperor Frederick III and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

With his brother Edward he made long tours of Donegal and Sligo in 1869, and spent much time at Kells, Co Meath, studying Irish antiquities. By then, he was the minister at Saint James’s Chapel (1866-1875), an Anglican proprietary chapel in York Street, later Duke of York Street, London, where he attracted ‘a large and fashionable congregation.’

In February 1867, Brooke wrote, ‘These Tories haunt me. They take pews, they write me letters, they put their daughters under me, and all my radicalism goes down their thrapple without a wry face.’ Here in 1872, Brooke preached a course of sermons on ‘Theology in the English Poets.’

While he was there, despite his radical political and theological views, Brooke was appointed a Chaplain in Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1872.

After the chapel closed in 1875, Brooke took services and preached at the Bedford Chapel in Bloomsbury, where he continued to attract large congregations. In 1875, he became chaplain in ordinary to Queen Victoria. But in 1880, he seceded from the Church, saying he could no longer able to accept the doctrines and teachings of the Church of England. He continued as an independent preacher for some years at the Bedford Chapel, until it was demolished by the Bedford Estate in 1896.

From then on, Brooke had no church of his own, but his eloquence and powerful personality continued to have an impact on a wide circle.

Brooke had a keen interest in literature and art and was known as a critic. In 1890-1891, he took a leading role in raising the funds to buy Dove Cottage, once William Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere. Dove Cottage is now run by the Wordsworth Trust.

Brooke delivered the inaugural lecture at the Irish Literary Society in London in 1893 on ‘The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue.’ In his lecture, he argued that an Irish national poetry would ‘become not only Irish, but also alive to the interests and passions of universal humanity.’

Brooke married Emma Wentworth-Beaumont (1830-1874) in 1858, and they were the parents of six daughters and two sons. Their eldest daughter was the social reformer Honor Brooke. Their sons included the Revd Stopford Brooke (1859-1938), a Unitarian minister and Liberal MP for Bow and Bromley (1906-1910). Another daughter, Maud, married the Irish writer TW Rolleston (1857-1920), from Shinrone, Co Offaly; Brooke and Rolleston edited A Treasury of Irish Poetry in the English Tongue (1900).

Brooke was strongly influenced by John Ruskin, who introduced him to the art of Florence and Venice, and he agreed with many of Ruskin’s social theories. Brooke’s letters also point to his friendships in the literary and artistic circles of his day, including Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, James Martineau and Matthew Arnold, and the Belfast-born statesman James Bryce.

Brooke’s father died at Herbert Street, Dublin, in 1882. Brooke was a brother-in-law of Thomas Welland, Bishop of Down and Connor (1892-1907), and also an elder cousin of the Irish historian and nationalist Senator Alice Stopford Green (1847-1929).

He died on 18 March 1916, and was buried at Saint John-at-Hampstead Churchyard in Hampstead, London.

On leaving the Church of England, Brooke published for the use of his congregation Christian Hymns, a collection of 269 hymns. This includes his ‘Still the night, holy the night,’ Christmas Carol No 55 in three stanzas of eight lines, a translation from the German carol by Joseph Mohr. This translation, which we sang yesterday, was included in two earlier editions of the Church Hymnal of the Church of Ireland.

Still the night, holy the night by Stopford Augustus Brooke:

Still the night, holy the night
Still the night, holy the night!
Sleeps the world; hid from sight,
Mary and Joseph in stable bare
watch o’er the child belovèd and fair,
sleeping in heavenly rest,
sleeping in heavenly rest.

Still the night, holy the night!
Shepherds first saw the light,
heard resounding clear and long,
far and near, the angel-song,
‘Christ the Redeemer is here!’
‘Christ the Redeemer is here!’

Still the night, holy the night!
Son of God, O how bright
love is smiling from thy face!
Strikes for us now the hour of grace,
Saviour, since thou art born!
Saviour, since thou art born!

A Christmas crib in a Rathkeale shop window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(18): 18 December 2018

The Saint Joseph window in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Athlone, designed in 1937 by Richard Joseph King (1907-1974) of the Harry Clarke Studios … each frame tells a story from the life of Saint Joseph or other biblical Josephs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary this week prays with reflections from Bangladesh, and began the week on Sunday with an article by Paul Senoy Sarkar, Programme Officer for Shalom, which is the development organisation of the Church of Bangladesh.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Tuesday 18 December 2018:

Pray for wisdom and encouragement for the Church of Bangladesh as it seeks to share God’s love with those who are vulnerable or marginalised.

Winter reflections on Minster Pool beside Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s reflection is headed ‘O Adonai’, referring to the second of the O Antiphons in the final week of Advent:


O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento


O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 1: 18-25. The reflection for today suggests:

Reflect on the role of Joseph, think about your family. Pray for the hard choices and decisions we have to make sometimes. Pray for everyone whose loyalties are divided.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Jeremiah 23: 5-8; Psalm 72: 1-2, 12-13, 18-19; Matthew 1: 18-24.

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.