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Sankey Still Sings

by Charles Ludwig

Closed Door: Opened Door

In his work as a song leader, Sankey found that the usual English hymnals were quite unsuitable for evangelistic work. Because of this, Philip Phillips' Hallowed Songs were employed. But even these did not prove altogether satisfactory, since they did not include many of the solos used.

As Sankey's solos became more and more popular, the people began to borrow his scrapbook. But this did not work out very well, because the borrowers often neglected to return the book in time for the services. To get around this difficulty, Sankey had the words of the better loved songs printed on cards. But when the people learned that they could get these for nothing, they swarmed up to the platform and took every one of them the first day.

Sankey sent some of his songs to the publishers of Hallowed Songs, asking that they be included in the back part of the future editions of the hymnal. This they refused to do, on the grounds that they would have to ask permission of Mr. Phillips, and he was in California. Sankey wrote again, explaining that he was a good friend of Phillips and saying that he was certain he would not object. Again the publisher refused. Everyone wanted the hymns, but no one was willing to publish them. Sankey could not even give them away to publishers!

Then one day R. C. Morgan, editor of the Christian, stopped over with the evangelists in order to get material about their work for his paper. While sitting at the dinner table Sankey remarked that he was afraid the tales about British slowness were all too true; that English firms were afraid to venture out. The editor asked what he meant, and he related the stories about his solos and his attempts to negotiate with the publishers of Hallowed Songs.

Mr. Morgan replied that he had published a number of songs and that he would be glad to take a chance on them. Encouraged, Sankey cut out twenty-three of his favorite ones, rolled them up, and wrote on the back, Sacred Songs and Solos, sung by Ira D. Sankey at the Meetings of Mr. Moody of Chicago.

Two weeks later, five hundred paper-bound hymnals were delivered to Sankey at Sunderland, where they were just closing the campaign. The copyright notice was in the name of the publisher. All the five hundred were sold the first day. Before the meeting ended the books were on sale everywhere: at bookstores, music stores, and even drygoods counters. The book that could not be given away was a best seller! The presses of Morgan and Scott had to go into high gear to supply the demand.

No doubt the publishers who turned the book down were humiliated and would have done anything in the world to get back the chances of publication. By 1885, just twelve years later, the book, although selling for only sixpence, had earned $388,000.

If Sankey had wanted to make money, he could have earned a large fortune just out of his copyrights. But this he refused to do, saying that the money was to go to other causes. Sankey did not release his rights because he had independent means. He did not. He did not even have a fixed salary. He gave them up because he felt the money was the Lord's and because he was afraid people would accuse him of singing for financial gain.

Moody and Sankey kept the royalties for personal use until January 1, 1875. After this date all the earnings were turned over to various projects. W. E. Dodge, George Stuart, and J. V. Farwell formed the final committee to decide on its distribution, Mr. Matheson having been in charge prior to their appointment.

At the conclusion of the British campaign, a statement from Morgan and Scott showed that the evangelists had thirty-five thousand dollars to their credit. The committee refused to spend this money on general purposes, saying that it would be wrong to charge Moody and Sankey for the privilege of singing and preaching to them. Finally it was agreed that the money should be sent to the Illinois Street Church, which had been destroyed in the Chicago fire and which was being rebuilt at Chicago Avenue and La Salle Street. With this generous amount the building was finished and dedicated free of debt.

As new hymns were written and tested by the public they were included in the hymnal. The result was that Gospel Hymns No. 1 was followed by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Today these books are bound in one volume, which is still selling and being reprinted in lots of a quarter of a million at a time. It has twelve hundred selections in it. The royalties that were earned by these later volumes were all turned over to the committee. At first the money was given to various causes, but later on all that came in was given to the school at Northfield.

The lawyer who acted as an adviser to the committee refused to accept a penny for his services, declaring that in all his life he had not seen such generosity. [Note: G. T. B. Davis, a careful authority, states that in 1900 the royalties on one of the later songbooks, "Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs," reached a million and a quarter dollars, "one of the best paying literary properties in the world."]

When one considers all the good that was accomplished with the earnings of this hymnal, he shudders to think what would have happened if the publisher, who had been offered the hymns free, and without even a royalty contract, had accepted. It is good for the world that that door was closed.

From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.

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