The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXXI. Non-English Writings I

§ 4. Ephrata

There followed the hymns of the monks and nuns of the Ephrata cloister, led by Conrad Beissel, the seceding Dunker. His monastery, near the Cocalico in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, remains to this day the most interesting architectural relic of eighteenth-century sectarianism. Beissel wrote a treatise on harmony, the first crude attempt made in America to compose sacred music, a quarter of a century before William Billings published his New England Psalm Singer. The chorus singing of the brothers and sisters at Ephrata was well reputed in colonial times, visitors commenting on “the impressive cadence of the chorals and hymns of the combined choirs,” and “the peculiar sweetness and weird beauty of the song of the sisterhood.” Hymn books were printed for them by Franklin in 1730, 1732, and 1736, by Saur in 1739, and subsequently by their own Ephrata press, the most complete edition being that of 1766, entitled Das Paradisische Wunderspiel. The hymn book of 1739 (Zionitischer Weyrauch-Hügel oder Myrrhen-Berg) had already been a stupendous collection consisting of 654 songs and an appendix with 38 more, 820 pages in all. The edition of 1766 was even larger, with 441 songs by Beissel alone, and an equal number by others, divided into songs by the brothers, the sisters, and the laity. All were asserted to have been written in America for the Ephrata monastery, though the models for them can be found in the German hymns of the seventeenth century. The theme of the amorous soul awaiting the coming bridegroom, and the rhetoric of the sentimental pastorals of the Silesian poets, reappear in these crude though well-intentioned lyrical effusions. Many other collections were published, as the hymns of the Schwenkfelders, Moravians, and of other sects or individuals, but in form and content not differing essentially from the types described.