Praise to the Man

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(This is an excerpt from the book Our Latter-day Hymns.)

Text: William W. Phelps (1792-1872; LDS)
Music: Scottish folk song
Tune name: MARTYR

Soon after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, William W. Phelps, in an expression of grief and admiration for his close associate who had been so cruelly martyred, wrote "Praise to the Man." The words he penned as a personal tribute reflect the feelings of millions of Saints.

George D. Pyper remarked in Stories of Latter-day Saint Hymns: "What might be termed a joyful sadness runs through this song. It is an epitaphic eulogy of the divinely anointed Prophet and Seer raised up to establish the Last Dispensation and who will eventually be extolled by kings and revered by nations. It contains a cry unto heaven against his martyrdom; a panegyric concerning his Priesthood and endless glory, which will take him into God's kingdom with the prophets of old. . . .

"The refrain is a shout of exultation; a cry of satisfaction that traitors and tyrants will fight him now in vain; that his immortal soul, mingling with the highest, can plan for his Church and people, and that death will not again have power over him.

"Originally the first two lines of the second stanza read: 'Long may his blood, which was shed by assassins, / Stain Illinois while the earth lauds his fame.'

"When the Latter-day Saint Hymn Book was compiled in 1927, in order to be in harmony with the 'good neighbor' policy of the Church and nation, the second line quoted above was changed to 'Plead unto heav'n, while the earth lauds his fame.' " (Pp. 99-100.)

The text was first printed in Times and Seasons (1844). It appears, for the most part, to be an original creation of William W. Phelps; however, the opening lines of this hymn clearly owe a debt to a passage from Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake:

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honour'd and bless'd be the evergreen Pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line!

(Canto Second, XIX ["Boat Song"], The Lady of the Lake and Other Poems [New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1962], p. 56.)

J. Spencer Cornwall suggested that the American patriotic tune "Hail to the Chief" was most likely used for this hymn in its early days. (See Stories of Our Mormon Hymns, p. 164.) It was probably only after the Saints moved to Utah that the current tune, a variant of "Scotland, the Brave," was used for this hymn.

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