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Benson Collection of Hymnals and Hymnology

The Louis F. Benson Collection of Hymnals and Hymnology consists of approximately 12,000 volumes on virtually every aspect of hymnology, with the exception of musical scores and anthems. Over half of the collection is presented here in digital form. There are many early editions of the metrical psalms; historical hymnbooks of all of the major Protestant denominations; evangelistic, revival and gospel hymnbooks; hymns for the Sunday School and children; religious poetry; and books about hymns, hymn writers, and the use of music and song in worship. While the collection especially reflects Dr. Benson’s interest in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition and the development of English and American hymnody, there are representative materials of Greek and Latin hymnody; German, French, Dutch and other European hymn traditions; and hymnbooks in various languages designed for use in the mission field. There are many rare editions, particularly of English, Scottish and early American hymnbooks.

Louis F. Benson (1855-1930) was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Gustavus Benson, was an active Presbyterian layman and a Trustee of Princeton Theological Seminary and Dr. Benson grew up with a strong attachment to the church and its worship. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1874 and from the law school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1877. After practicing law for seven years, he decided to abandon this career and entered Princeton Theological Seminary to prepare for the Christian ministry. He graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1887 and took a position as pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where he served for six years. In 1894 he resigned his pastorate to accept a position as editor of a new Presbyterian hymnal which had been authorized by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The remainder of his career was devoted to scholarly work, especially in the fields of hymnology and church history.

In addition to editing the Presbyterian Hymnal of 1895 and its 1911 revision, Dr. Benson served as a special lecturer in Liturgics at Auburn Theological Seminary, was three times appointed as the Stone Lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary, was a member of the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A, and a member of the Church’s General Assembly Commission on Worship and Music. In 1899 he became a member of the Presbyterian Historical Society and served that society in various capacities, including as editor of their Journal and as Honorary Librarian from 1905 until 1923. In addition to compiling and editing a number of hymnbooks, Dr. Benson published works on Christian hymnody, including Studies of Familiar Hymns (1903, 1923); The English Hymn—Its Development and Use in Worship (1915); and The Hymnody of the Christian Church (1927). He also translated hymns from the Latin and composed original hymn texts. His most widely known hymn is “The light of God is falling upon life’s common way.” He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity by the University of Pennsylvania in 1896.

The Benson Collection of over 9,000 items which Dr. Benson had personally gathered during a lifetime of research in the field of Christian hymnody was willed to Princeton Seminary at the time of his death along with an endowment which would enable the Seminary to continue adding books in this field to its library. It was cataloged by 1937 and is today considered one of the finest collections in North America for those pursuing hymnological studies.

Kenneth Woodrow Henke
Curator of Special Collections and Archivist
Princeton Theological Seminary Library
March 10, 2015

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