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  • The Copied Hymns of John Young
  • Ralph Thomas Kam (bio)

Today, playlists of music from an individual’s tablet computer or smart phone may be used to ascertain the songs that he or she enjoys. But from the beginning of the nineteenth century, before the invention of recording devices, scant evidence exists concerning what music individuals elected to listen to. An entry in the journal of John Young, war companion of Kamehameha I, nevertheless, provides a narrow glimpse into his musical tastes.

Young, an English boatswain, arrived in Hawaii in 1790 on the American trading ship Eleanora. After he was detained on shore, Young’s ship eventually sailed without him. The stranding turned out to be fortuitous for Young. Adept in the use of Western arms, Young proved invaluable to Kamehameha the Great in his conquest of the island chain.1 As a trusted advisor and friend of the king, Young was rewarded with large land holdings and served as governor of the island of Hawaii from 1802 to 1812,2 or starting about 1800 according to Thomas Thrum,3 overseeing the collection of taxes.

He started a log book or journal in 1801, around the time he began as island governor, recording his observations and transactions. Embedded in the midst of journal entries about ship arrivals, weather conditions and fish catches, Young made one his longest entries, twenty-four lines of rhymed couplets and eleven lines consisting of a portion of three quatrains. [End Page 47]

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Figure 1.

John Young by artist, A. Pellion, published in Louis de Freycinet’s Voyage Autour du Monde, vol.

Atlas Historique, Paris, 1825, Book Plate 84, Hawaiian Collection of Paul Markham Kahn, AH.

Copied Hymns

A comparison of the lines in the journal to published nineteenth century works reveals the source of Young’s entry to be two hymns by Isaac Watts. Perhaps best known for “Joy to the World,” Watts wrote hundreds of hymns, gaining him the sobriquet, the “Father of English Hymnody.” Born in Crosby, Lancashire, England, in the early 1740s, Young would have lived in England while the popular author of the two hymns was still alive; Watts died in 1748.

Young recorded the first hymn as:

Life is the time to serv the loardthe [uncrossed t] insure the great rewardand the lamp houlds out to burn [End Page 48]

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Figure 2.

Isaac Watts was the author of two hymns that John Young copied in his journal. His Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which contains both hymns, was owned by missionary John Emerson, a member of the fifth company sent to the Islands by the ABCFM in 1832.

Courtesy New York Public Library.

[End Page 49]

the vilest sinner may returnlife is the owr that god hes givento scape from hel & fly to hevnthe day of greace and mortls maysecure the blesings of the daythe living no that they must dybut all the ded forget to lietheir memory & their sences gonealike unoing & unowntheir hatred & their lov is losttheir envy buried in the dustthey have no share in all that is dunbeneath the circuit of the sunthen what my desins to dowmy hands with all my might pursuesinc no device nor works is foundnor feath nor hoape beneath the groundthere are no acts of pardon pastin the cold greave to which we heastbut darkness death & long disparerine in eternal silenc there4

The same hymn, numbered LXXXVIII [88], from the 1803 edition of The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship, Book I, reads:

1 Life is the time to serve the Lord,    The time t’insure the great reward ;    And while the lamp holds out to burn,    The vilest sinner may return.2 (Life is the hour which God has giv’n    To ‘scape from hell to fly to heav’n ;    The day of grace, and mortals may    Secure the blessings of the day.)3 The living know that...


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