John M. Neale (1818-1866) was well known for his adaptation of medieval hymns, many of which are no longer sung. Two of his songs, however, have endured with great popularity and are sung during the holiday season, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Good King Wenceslas.
Neale based the lyrics of Good King Wenceslas on the life of a famed 10th century Bohemian duke. He was raised a Christian and was taught in the castle by bishops. He was revered as a kind and generous ruler. Neale put music to the legend regarding the King giving alms to the poor. The chronicler, Cosmas of Prague, wrote:
Rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only
one chamberlain, he went around to the churches and gave alms
generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by
every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince,
but the father of all the wretched.
This ruler is associated with Christmas because it was his habit to give alms to the poor on the Feast of St. Stephen, the day following Christmas. Sadly, his brother Boleslav assassinated him only four years into his rule at the age of 22. King Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic whose statue stands in the square that bears his name in Prague.
So if you happen to sing Neale's, Good King Wenceslas this holiday season remember the example of one who showed God's love to the poor and whose short life captured the true meaning of Christmas. On the back of this letter, you'll find the lyrics.
Thank you for your valued business that contributed to a successful year at Jos. T. Fewkes & Co. We appreciate every time you contacted us for quality electrical products in 2013. Hopefully we've earned your confidence with every opportunity.
I trust you will have a wonderful and meaningful holiday and a happy and healthy New Year.
Raymond E. Gillin
~~~~~~~~~ Lyrics ~~~~~~~~~~~
GOOD KING WENCESLAS
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel
"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather
"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.