Born: Jan­ua­ry 24, 1818, Con­du­it Street, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Died: Au­gust 6, 1866, East Grin­stead (near Lon­don), Eng­land.

Buried: St. Swith­un’s Church, East Grin­stead, Eng­land.


John was the son of Cor­ne­li­us Neale and Su­san­na Good, and grand­son of John Ma­son Good. He was named af­ter his an­ces­tor, poet and hymn writ­er John Ma­son.


We know John Ma­son Neale to­day as a hym­no­gra­pher, the trans­lat­or or adap­ter of an­cient and med­ie­val hymns. It is by the hymns be­low and si­mi­lar hymns that most of us know Neale, if we know him at all. But Neale’s achieve­ments in oth­er areas as well de­serve our re­cog­ni­tion.

Neale was the son of a cler­gy­man, his fa­ther dy­ing when he was five years old.

At Cam­bridge (1836–40), Neale be­came a High Church­man, and de­vel­oped a fas­ci­na­tion with church ar­chi­tec­ture. Ev­en at this youth­ful age, Neale par­ti­ci­pat­ed in the ca­tho­lic re­vi­val of the Es­tab­lished Church, as he and some friends founded the Cam­bridge Cam­den Society of an­ti­qua­ri­ans.

Their pe­ri­od­ic­al prompt­ly ad­dressed it­self to the di­la­pi­dat­ed con­di­tion of ma­ny Engl­ish church build­ings. Their rec­om­men­da­tions were ve­ry in­flu­en­tial in the Vic­to­ri­an cam­paign of church con­struc­tion, and they came to have ma­ny sup­port­ers in Church ranks.

Americans apt to think af­fec­tion­ate­ly of the taste­ful­ness and charm of Eng­lish church­es will be im­pressed by the des­crip­tions of ru­in­ous build­ings en­coun­tered by Neale and his con­tem­po­rar­ies.

Neale also cru­sad­ed against the ug­ly stoves that were placed in some church­es to heat them. One is­sue of The Ec­cle­si­olo­gist, for ex­am­ple, re­cord­ed a large Ar­nott stove in the mid­dle of the chan­cel, whose flue rose to the height of the priest and crossed his face be­fore ex­it­ing the build­ing via a hole in the glass of the north win­dow.

Neale es­pe­cial­ly raged against the high walled box pews—pues or pens, the So­ci­ety called them—where weal­thy fa­mi­lies se­ques­tered them­selves in the midst of the com­mon peo­ple. In their pews, they might re­cline at their ease up­on so­fas, and one lo­cal aris­to­crat ev­en ate lunch dur­ing the ser­vice.

The Cam­bridge So­ci­ety cham­pi­oned the cause of Vic­tor­ian Goth­ic. The edi­tion of a med­ie­val text on ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal sym­bo­lism that Neale and a friend pre­pared set forth their con­vict­ions about ar­chi­tec­tur­al de­tails.

Neale’s health pre­vent­ed his re­main­ing a par­ish priest (he was or­dained in May 1842), but, in his se­mi-in­va­lid­ism, he had much time for an­ti­qua­ri­an and schol­ar­ly en­dea­vor. From May 1846 on, he was War­den of Sack­ville Col­lege, an in­sti­tu­tion re­sem­bling that of a fic­tion­al Vic­to­ri­an cler­gy­man, An­tho­ny Trol­lope’s War­den, Sep­ti­mus Hard­ing. Like Hard­ing, Neale gave much thought to church mu­sic.

Neale held that the hymns of Is­aac Watts and oth­er po­pu­lar com­pos­ers im­part­ed er­ro­ne­ous doc­trine, as well as of­fend­ing against taste. So in 1842, for ex­am­ple, Neale pro­duced Hymns for Child­ren.

However, aside from his ca­rol Good King Wen­ces­las, it is not Neale’s orig­in­al com­po­si­tions that are most wide­ly re­cog­nized, but his trans­la­tions and adap­ta­tions of an­cient and med­ie­val works, on which he la­bored on through­out his life.

The va­ri­ous edi­tions of the an­no­tat­ed hym­nal he and his as­so­ci­ates pre­pared—the Hym­nal Not­ed—and his hymns of the Or­tho­dox church­es have con­trib­ut­ed hymns such as those list­ed above. It is es­tim­at­ed Neale and his col­la­bo­rat­ors pro­duced over 400 hymns, se­quenc­es and ca­rols.

Another ob­ject of Neale’s in­ter­est was the his­to­ry of the East­ern Church­es. Neale’s book on the Pa­tri­arch­ate of Al­ex­an­dria ap­peared in 1847. In 1850, it was fol­lowed by a Ge­ne­ral In­tro­duc­tion to the Or­tho­dox church of the East. A third vol­ume, ed­it­ed by George Will­iams, came out in 1873.

One as­pect of Neale’s out­look not dwelt up­on much by his bi­og­raph­ers is his con­vic­tion that di­vine judg­ment was the lot of those who ap­prop­ri­at­ed prop­er­ty that had been con­se­crat­ed. With an as­so­ci­ate, in 1846 he pub­lished, ano­ny­mous­ly, an up­dat­ed edit­ion of Sir Hen­ry Spel­man’s His­to­ry of Sac­ri­lege.

The book shows how dis­as­ters, the fail­ure of the male line, and/or great ex­cess­es of mor­al de­pra­vi­ty came up­on per­sons who took land that had been giv­en to the Church, or their suc­cess­ors.

When such lands had be­longed to the Church, re­ve­nues from these lands had been em­ployed to feed the hun­gry as well as to sup­port the some­times lu­xu­ri­ous way of life of cer­tain cler­gy­men. Here we see the an­ti­qua­ri­an and the man of Chris­tian com­pas­sion unit­ed.

Such a un­ion is ve­ry evi­dent in Neale’s foun­da­tion of the So­ci­ety of St. Mar­ga­ret, one of the first An­gli­can con­ven­tu­al sis­ter­hoods (1855). As War­den of Sack­ville Col­lege at East Grin­stead, Neale came to know the pov­er­ty of some of the near­by vil­lag­ers. Fe­ver vic­tims might die un­at­tend­ed.

So his sis­ters of cha­ri­ty be­gan their work, with Neale as their pas­tor-con­fes­sor-ad­min­is­tra­tor. How­ev­er, the sis­ter­hood was ver­bal­ly and ev­en phys­ic­al­ly at­tacked as a wedge of Ro­man­ism in the Eng­lish Church.

In 1857, the Lewes Ri­ot oc­curred, in­sti­gat­ed by an Ev­an­ge­li­cal cler­gy­man whose daug­hter had been one of the Sis­ters, and who had died of scar­let fe­ver, be­queath­ing 400 pounds to the So­ci­ety.

Neale was used to op­po­si­tion by then. Years be­fore the So­ci­ety’s foun­da­tion, Neale had been in­hib­it­ed by the Bish­op of Chi­ches­ter from ex­er­cis­ing his priest­ly du­ties in the vil­lage, evi­dent­ly on ac­count of the bishop’s re­sent­ment of Neale’s church furn­ish­ings, etc., at Sack­ville Col­lege.

John Ma­son Neale had his light­er side, too, as evi­denced by a joke he once played on John Ke­ble. As re­lat­ed by Neale’s as­so­ci­ate Ger­ard Moul­trie and quot­ed in A. G. Lough, The In­flue­nce of John Ma­son Neale (Lon­don, So­ci­ety for Pro­mot­ing Chris­tian Know­ledge: 1962), p. 95:

[Neale] was in­vit­ed by Mr. Ke­ble and the Bish­op of Sal­is­bury to as­sist them with their new Hym­nal, and for this rea­son he paid a vis­it to Hurs­ley Par­son­age [Ke­ble’s re­si­dence]…[Ke­ble] re­lat­ed that hav­ing to go to an­oth­er room to find some pa­pers he was de­tained a short time. On his re­turn, Dr. Neale said, Why Ke­ble! I thought you told me that the Chris­tian Year was en­tire­ly orig­in­al! Yes, he an­swered, it cer­tain­ly is. Then how comes this? And Dr. Neale placed be­fore him the La­tin of one of Ke­ble’s hymns for a Saint’s day—I think it was for St. Luke’s.

Keble pro­fessed him­self ut­ter­ly con­found­ed. There was the Eng­lish, which he knew that he had made, and there too no less cer­tain­ly was the La­tin, with far too un­plea­sant a re­sem­blance to his own to be for­tu­itous. He pro­test­ed that he had ne­ver seen this orig­in­al, no, not in all his life! etc. etc. Af­ter a few min­utes, Neale re­lieved him by own­ing that he had just turned it in­to La­tin in his ab­sence.

Never in his life­time was Neale ade­quate­ly ap­pre­cia­ted in his own church. His Doc­tor of Di­vi­ni­ty de­gree was con­ferred by Tri­ni­ty Col­lege, Hart­ford, Con­nec­ti­cut, in 1860. At Neale’s fun­er­al, the high­est rank­ing cler­gy­men were Or­tho­dox.

Neale could ne­ver have guessed how much he ac­comp­lished for the church and for ge­ne­ra­tions of Chris­tians who would sing the hymns he gave them.