The Enchiridion

Selected Obituaries and Biographies

William Tidd Matson

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[ transcription of Obituary Notice in the Year Book of the Congregational Union of England & Wales for 1901, page 196, from a copy in Dr Williams's Library, London ]

MATSON, William Tidd, of Portsmouth, was born at Kingsland, London, October 17, 1833. His father was a prominent politician and pamphleteer, and the founder of the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association. The son was baptized in the Church of England, the eminent counsel William Tidd, author of the "Practices of the Courts", standing as one of the sponsors. He received a careful education in private schools. In 1853 he became the secretary of the European Freedom Committee, and formed friendships with Kossuth, Mazzini, Ernest Jones, James Stansfield, and others. About the same time he passed through a spiritual crisis, and identified himself with the Wesleyan Methodists. Somewhat later he carried on religious work for a time in connection with the Methodist New Connexion. It was during this period that he conducted discussions with Secularists, his opponent on one occasion being the late Charles Bradlaugh.

In 1857 he entered the Congregational Institute, Cotton End, with a view to the Congregational ministry. The following year he became pastor of the Congregational Church at Havant, Hants. Four years later he acceded to a unanimous call to the pastorate of the historic church at Gosport, where he remained about nine years. He also filled pastorates at Sleaford, Rothwell, Portsmouth, and Sarisbury Green, retiring from the settled ministry in 1897.

He was a careful and cultured preacher; and in the county in which he spend the major portion of his ministerial career he was held in the highest esteem, his brethren delighting to do him honour. For many years he was the secretary of the Eastern District of the Hants Congregational Union, and in 1895 he was elected to the chair of the County Union. He filled the office of President of the Portsmouth Sunday-school Union during the centenary year of Sunday Schools. He was also the secretary of the East Hants Ministerial Fraternal Association, which represents three of the Free Church denominations. He was a most brotherly and lovable man, and his tall, lithe figure, with keen, intellectual face, lit up by dark, piercing eyes, will be much missed from the religious and social circles in which he moved.

But whilst he approved himself a faithful and able minister of Jesus Christ, he was best known and be longest remembered as a poet of real distinction, and one of the sweetest and most eminent of modern hymn-writers. From 1857, which marked the publication of "A Summer Evening Reverie, and other Poems", up to the year 1890 he published from time to time volumes in prose and verse. In 1894 a large handsome volume appeared bearing the title, "The Poetical Works of W. Tidd Matson". The book contains only a portion of the fruits of his poetic fancy; but it is as rich and varied in quality as it is ample in quantity. Mr Matson had thoroughly mastered his instrument; while the thought is often original, the setting is invariably felicitous and adequate. Alike in his use of rhymed and blank verse, there are the same natural flow of language, virility of thought, affluence of imagery, and ease of movement. Time will assign him his rightful place among the minor poets of the second half of the nineteenth century; but unquestionably by his hymns he will be chiefly remembered. Already they have found a place in about forty-five different hymn-books; and several of his "Poems of Religion" are rich in material for future compilers of hymn-books. Three of his best-known hymns are separate cantos in that poem of sixty cantos, "The Inner Life". The opening line of each will be sufficient to suggest to the mind hymns which have been for many years a vehicle of our religious emotions and aspirations: "Lord, I was blind: I could not see in Thy marred vision any grace"; "Teach me, O Lord, Thy holy way"; "O blessed life! the heart at rest when all without tumultuous seems". The hymn he wrote for the late Dr Allon to the tune Gröningen is equally well known, "God is in His temple". Others might be mentioned.

This sweet singer of songs for the sanctuary passed to his rest on December 23, 1899. His rich contribution to the psalmody of the Churches will secure for him an assured place in the memory and affection of Christians throughout the years that are to come.

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(The Rejoice & Sing Enchiridion:edited by David Goodall; last amended 19/5/03)