Bring back the hobgoblin and foul fiend

The idea was to use this blog mainly as a place to drop things of interest as they passed by – things seen on my travels or picked up in the papers or on Twitter, plus photographs, quotations and the like. It was a place, occasionally, for longer pieces, as a palette-cleanser from the day job blog.

Every so often I start again, full of resolution, but it never lasts long. Let’s try again.

A few days ago, someone tweeted a link to a verse on a hymn-sheet. It was the last verse of John Bunyan’s To be a pilgrim, also known from its first line as Who would true valour see. The last verse as written by Bunyan in 1684 in his prison cell begins

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit

…and that was the version on the tweeted picture.

I think that at school we sang the watered-down version from the 1906 English Hymnal. The hobgoblin and foul fiend were apparently likely to alarm the gentle churchgoers, and Percy Dearmer wrote a less strenuous version more in keeping with the sensibilities of the time. Ralph Vaughan Williams came up with an arrangement of a traditional Sussex melody called (or which he called) Monk’s Gate which was paired with Dearmer’s words, and that is what has appeared in most hymnals since.

How do I know the hobgoblins ’n fiends version? I don’t know. I just do, like so many things we absorb across life without being able to attribute a source to them. Bunyan’s words are these:

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Wikipedia has a helpful side-by-side table comparing the Bunyan and Dearmer versions.

A quick skim through online resources throws up (I use the term advisedly in respect of some them) lots of worthy types singing the Dearmer version with varying degrees of limpness unworthy of the man who faced down every discouragement in Bedford gaol. The only church version with any guts to it was recorded in St Paul’s Cathedral at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Even that used Dearmer’s words – one half expected Thatcher to have preferred the fighting spirit of the original. The choir’s firm phrasing is rather spoilt by the tuneless lowing of the crowd, which appears to include everyone you ever hated in the blue corner of British politics.

To the rescue comes Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

It’s a bit bouncy and skippety if you know what I mean, for my taste anyway, losing some of the force which the St Paul’s version has (or would have had without the growling grandees). But it’s great – and it uses Bunyan’s words, hobgoblins and all.



About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
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