The Layman Genius of the carol “As With Gladness Men of Old”
On the day of Epiphany (January 6, 1859), Englishman William Chatterton Dix Was bedridden and unable to join church service. As Dix rested, he read the scripture for the day which was about the three Magi’s visit to the child Jesus. By the end of the day, Dix had penned the poem “As With Gladness Men of Old”. At the heart of the story of the three Magi, they were Gentiles, received without reservation by the Holy Family of Jesus because God had enough love for all. Dix’s illness took a long time to leave him, and apart from “As With Gladness Men of Old” he was also able to write another Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?” and some other hymns.
He was not a clergyman, Dix was a marine insurance man in Glasgow, but a year later his work was published in Hymns for Public Worship and Private Devotion. It was also added to Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). He wrote many hymns and books about devotion to the faith. Which is why it isn’t surprising that he was able to be productive even while he was ill. The carol became very popular in almost all of England’s churches. Sir Roundell Palmer praised it in his “English Church Hymnody” paper published during the Church Congress in York. Another sign of its popularity? Lyrics of Dix’s hymn were included in Church artwork that adorned Anglican churches all over the globe. In 1871, the hymn found its way to US churches. In the US and UK, 30-40 of his hymns are being commonly used.
The tune is Dix, named after William Chatterton Dix by Hymns Ancient and Modern editor and composer William Henry Monk. Stuttgart organist Conrad Kocher was the original tune composer (1838), Monk tweaked Kocher’s tune to fit the lyrics of Dix. The regal tune is the exact melody of another hymn “For The Beauty of the Earth”, for it was a kind of seasonal melody adapted to various songs.