Friday, July 02, 2010

All together now, let's sing

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.
These, or course, are the opening verses of the old Anglican hymn. What no one sings anymore is the next verse:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
No, no, we can't have that, not in these more leveled times. So on to the next verses -- the purple headed mountains, the river running by, the sunset and the morning that brightens up the sky. He made them every one.

The hymn was written in 1848, a decade or so before Darwin's Origin. It was a last gasp expression of the medieval idea of the Great Chain of Being, a hierarchy of value running from the foot of God's throne to the dregs of the earth. Each creature an ordained place. The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate. Ordained by the Designer. Woe betide the creature who overreached his or her estate.

Then along comes Darwin, who says we are all twigs on the tree of life, products of random mutations and natural selection. The establishment would have none of it. Darwin's old Professor of Geology at Cambridge, the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, went so for as to blame the socially-leveling French Revolution for such "gross (and I dare say, filthy) views" as transmutation of species; allow species to change, he wrote, and you "undermine the whole moral and social fabric [bringing] discord and deadly mischief in its train."

Funny, isn't it, how God gets credit for all things bright and beautiful, but not those things we detest and fear. The Victorian hymn should always be accompanied by the Monty Python version, of which three verses follow:
All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid--
Who made the spikey urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.