Talking to the Holy Spirit and Growling with the Bears

Singing Child Characters in Eighteenth-Century Hymn Books for Children


  • Ulrike Kristina Köhler



In this article I explore the construction of singing child characters in Isaac Watts’ Divine and Moral Songs for Children (1715) and Christopher Smart’s Hymns for the Amusement of Children (1771). The first part focusses on the nature of the lyrical persona within the lexical fields »voice and vocal sound« and »religion« and also looks at the possible addressees. The second part examines stylistic, phonetic, and formal elements, and explores their role in constructing the ›singing I.‹ To show the potential of Watts’ »Against Quarrelling and Fighting« to function as an invitation to playfully adopt behaviour opposed to Christian norms, the article examines a performance of Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite, a chorale by Matthew J. Zimnoch, whose text is taken from Watts’ hymn. Combining approaches from research on children’s poetry with ones from the interface of children’s literature and hymnody, the article also integrates a digitally supported close reading. The hymn texts were inputted into f4analyse, a software used in text linguistics and the social sciences, which allows for the assignment of categories, such as positive self-connotation of the ›singing I‹ or rhyme patterns. In conclusion, the article evaluates the potential of such a digitally supported research methodology for future research at the intersection of children’s literature and digital humanities.