From THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler.
They shamble in one after another, with steaming breath, for it is winter, and loud clattering of hobnailed boots; they beat the snow from off them as they enter, and through the opened door I catch a momentary glimpse of a dreary leaden sky and snow-clad tombstones. Somehow or other I found the strain which Handel has wedded to the words 'There the ploughman near at hand', has got into my head and there is no getting it out again. How marvellously old Handel understood these people!
They bob to Theobald as they pass the reading desk ('The people hereabouts are truly respectful', whispered Christina to me, 'for they know their betters.') and take their seats in a long row against the wall. The choir clamber up into the gallery with their instruments - a violoncello, a clarinet, and a trombone. I see them and soon I hear them, for there is a hymn before the service, a wild strain, a remnant, if I mistake not, of some pre-Reformation litany. I have heard what I believe was its remote musical progenitor in the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo at Venice not five years since; and again I have heard it far away in mid-Atlantic upon a grey sea-Sabbath in June, when neither winds nor waves are stirring, so that the emigrants gather on deck, and their plaintive psalm goes forth upon the silver haze of the sky, and on the wilderness of a sea that has sighed till it can sigh no longer. Or it may be heard at some Methodist Camp Meeting upon a Welsh hillside, but in the churches it is gone forever. If I were a musician I would take it as the subject for the adagio in a Wesleyan symphony.
Gone now are the clarinet, the violoncello and the trombone, wild minstrelsy as of the doleful creatures in Ezekiel, discordant, but infinitely pathetic. Gone is the scarebabe stentor, that bellowing bull of Bashan, the village blacksmith, gone is the melodious carpenter, gone the brawny shepherd with the red hair, who roared more lustily than all, until they came to the words, 'Shepherds with their flocks abiding', when modesty covered him with confusion, and compelled him to be silent, as though his own health were being drunk. They were doomed and had a presentiment of evil, even when I first saw them, but they had still a little lease of a choir life remaining, and they roared out 'wick-ed hands have pierced and nai-led him, wick-ed hands have pierced and nai-led him - pierced and nai-led him to a tree - pierced and nai-led him - pierced and nai-led him to a tree, etc' But I give no idea of the effect without the music. When I was last at Battersby church there was a harmonium played by a sweet-looking girl with a choir of school children around her, and they chanted the canticle to the most correct of chants, and they sang Hymns Ancient and Modern; the high pews were gone, nay, the very gallery in which the old choir had sung was removed as an accursed which remind the people of the high places, and Theobald was old, and Christina was lying under the yew trees in the churchyard.
But in the evening later on I saw three very old men come chuckling out of a dissenting chapel, and surely enough they were my old friends, the blacksmith, the carpenter and the shepherd. There was a look of contentment upon their faces which made me feel certain they had been singing; not doubtless with the old glory of the violoncello, the clarinet and the trombone, but still songs of Sion and no new-fangled papistry.