In the year 1906, a brand new carol introduced within The English Hymnal, an influential collection of British church music. Written composed by British writer Christina Rossetti, set to the tune composed by composer Gustav Holst. It became one of Britain’s most loved Christmas carols. Today, it known in the form of In the Bleak Midwinter. It voted to be the greatest carol of all time in an 2007 BBC survey of experts in choral music.
In the Bleak Midwinter was first published as an original poem that Rossetti simply called A Christmas Carol. When the hymnal was able to pair the words of her poem with music. The poem gained an entirely new meaning. In the form of songs a phenomenon that documented by literature scholar Emily McConkey. However, it also incorporated into popular culture, in non-musical styles.
Carol Christmas Cards Tea
A Christmas Carol, or at least a part of it featured on ornaments, Christmas cards tea towels. Mugs and various household items. It has been the inspiration for the writing of mystery novels, and in recent times. It became an recurring theme in the British TV show Peaky Blinders.
As an expert on Rossetti I’ve intrigued by the reincarnation of her music-inspired poems. It’s the Christina Rossetti In Music Project A collection of music adaptations. Which incorporates my research, has now included more than 185 variations that include In the Bleak Midwinter.
Before it could put in tune A Christmas Carol must be able to get to the page. As a poem, and it wasn’t easy. Although it written by one the most highly-regarded poets in Britain. The poem didn’t a hit with British people until Holst set the piece to music. Instead, it gained the first and the most avid public within the United States.
Carol Victorian Music
A Christmas Carol circulated during a revival of carols within the United Kingdom. In the month of December, 1867. Just before Rossetti began to offer poems to British magazine publishers the most influential century-long collection of carols released.
The tradition previously thought of as a folk one and not deemed suitable for worship given the fervor the carols involved in as well as the mixing of secular and sacred songs and carols were becoming popular. In the last few years, they were getting into churches.
When women not appointed as preachers, writing hymns, carols, and other formal songs a rare chance for women to influence the church. While they barred from the pulpit the female writers able to speak from the pews, like Sarah Flower Adams she composed Nearer, my God, to Thee as well as Cecil Frances Alexander, author of the well-loved song Once in Royal David’s City.
Rossetti was a religious Anglican and the writer of many religious poems was one of these. While 21st century readers might recognize her most notably by her work Goblin Market, Rossetti’s poems about religion were well-known to her peers. By the time the 1870s arrived, many of her poems printed by British spiritual anthologies, hymnals and religious books.
A Bleak Beginning
A Christmas Carol opens with a vivid description the brutal physical and spiritual terrain in which Jesus became a child: In the winter’s gloomy mid-winter, The cold wind made a moan. Earth was as solid like iron, Water like a stone.
It did not please George Grove, the new editor of Macmillan’s Magazine at the time. According to the scholar Simon Humphries, in 1868 Rossetti wrote A Christmas Carol to the British magazine that had previously published her poems. In what is now considered to be one of the most unprofessional editors of the 20th century, Grove rejected her submission.
Rossetti ultimately published A Christmas Carol in another British journal, The People’s Magazine, in the month of December 1873. As luck happened, that was the last issue in which the work was cut to a mere half-page, with an essay on The Life and Habits of Wild Animals as well as the now-defunct poem The Red Cross Knight. A Christmas Carol was largely unnoticed in The U.K. for nearly 10 years.
The American Reception Carol
In the meantime, a completely different story was unfolding across the U.S. In November 1871 Scribner’s Monthly dropped a hint about the Christmas issue that would contain an little poem sweet and clear and musical. A Christmas Carol came out two months after.
In 1870, Scribner’s Monthly sought to publish the best authors, making their work easily accessible and attractive to the general public by using illustrations. The magazine featured Rossetti’s work with a stunning Half-page image of the Nativity by popular British illustration artist John Leighton.
The dramatic way that Scribner presented Rossetti’s poem made sure that it recognized. It was featured in newspapers and anthologies which eventually led to the publication of The New York Times on December. 25, 1892.
The first mass commercialization of the poem by Rossetti also took place in America. In 1880, a painter known as Anne Morse incorporated its first and final stanzas into her winning design for the Christmas card contest run by the publisher Louis Prang, who popularized the custom that Christmas card cards were sent out to the U.S. The company printed Morse’s entry in 1880, and then distributed Rossetti’s words to households across the nation.
A Mystery Solved
The mid-1880s saw, A Christmas Carol was beginning to gain popularity in Britain. In 1885, the poem featured in a Christmas-themed collection titled A Christmas Garland. The Illustrated London News named Rosetti’s poem as the most modern Christmas carol included of the book. The recognition even greater after A Christmas Carol selected to included in an assortment of religious poems edited by the prominent editor Francis Palgrave in 1889.
When I was in 2006, I came across an email in which Rossetti said she had not been aware of Scribner’s publication of A Christmas Carol. I do not know how it happened, she wrote, recollecting only that the poem came from The People’s Magazine. In the moment I could not find A Christmas Carol in The People’s Magazine, and I assumed that Rossetti’s memory was flawed. This wasn’t the case however, as the long-sought-for copy of the issue from 1873 that is sitting on my desk shows.
But the fact that Rossetti has forgotten about Scribner’s Monthly unaware of the part it played in introducing her work to American viewers, and eventually British readers as well is possibly the most odd twist in the tale of her little poem that, in her ignorance she would later become her most well-known work.