We Three Kings of Orient are

Posted on 13th December 2019 by simonbeattie

‘We Three Kings of Orient are’ has always been a crowd-pleaser (and a magnet for children who enjoy changing the words). An American carol, it first appeared on p. 12 of John Henry Hopkins‘s Carols, Hymns, and Songs (New York, Church Book Depository, [1863]):

‘Hopkins was rector of Christ’s Church, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, when he published his little collection of Carols, Hymns, and Songs … The collection was successful enough to pass through two more editions, but only this carol has become widely known.  It was included in Bramley and Stainer’s Christmas Carols New and Old (1871) and has remained popular in England ever since’ (Keyte, p. 358).  ‘Though the book does not mention 1863 or make a copyright claim, and there is no copyright entry in that year, a handwritten note in the copy at U[nion] T[heological] S[eminary] states that the book was published in December, 1863’ (Fuld, p. 628). 

A cabinet card featuring a photo of John Henry Hopkins.

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4 responses to “We Three Kings of Orient are”

  1. Which volume of Keyte are you referring to? Is Bramley and Stainer considered the first general appearance of this carol? Clearly, it is not the first.

    • simonbeattie says:

      Keyte is The New Oxford Book of Carols. He gives the date as 1865, but Fuld gives evidence that it actually appeared in 1863. As far as I can tell, the Bramley & Stainer volume is the carol’s first appearance in Britain. Hope this helps!

  2. Patrick Cates says:

    Hopkins was taught sacred music at the General Theological Seminary in the late 1850s. He controversially introduced plainsong for chanting the psalms. It was published as a bifolium by Daniel Dana, Jr. in at least 2 issues sometime prior to it’s appearance in Hopkins’s Carols. We have a copy at General Theological Seminary and there is a copy at the Hay Library at Brown University (https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:275518/). It also appeared in The children’s chant book in 1861.

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