Reference > Cambridge History > Later National Literature, Part III > Patriotic Songs and Hymns > Patriotic Songs
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXVI. Patriotic Songs and Hymns.

§ 1. Patriotic Songs.


ALTHOUGH Americans have been a relatively untuneful people, popular song has never been inaudible since the beginning of our national life. Out of the steady succession of jaunty or sentimental melodies a few have been saved through their appropriation for patriotic ends. A larger body of hymns has survived in the traditions of public worship and through the conserving influence of the hymnals. A common religious feeling makes the appeal for the religious lyric; the corresponding motive for secular song is a wave of community enthusiasm; and patriotic zeal seldom becomes vocal except in times of actual or imminent national danger. A brief account of this double theme must be limited to the interpretation of established facts about songs that are sung, and must omit all purely literary lyrics; and where the facts as to origins of texts and melodies are in debate, the apparently best findings must be given without much argument.   1
  Considered as expressions of popular feeling, patriotic songs are full of varied significance. The origin of the tunes is interesting; the question of a previous vogue and how it was attained; the question as to whether they were written for the words, or merely combined with them; the relation of the tunes to their musical periods; and their vocal quality. Corresponding points arise with reference to the words: in particular whether they were inspired by some occasion, or written on request; the circumstances in which they were produced; when and how they achieved national favour; and how far they have held it. The answers to these questions do not supply the material for any compact formula; they prove rather that the ages do not exhaust, nor custom limit, the variety of ways for satisfying popular taste.   2

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