Tune of the Day: God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
Like so many early Christmas songs, “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” was probably born as a direct reaction to the music of the fifteenth-century church. It was arguably the most popular of the early carols, sung for centuries before being published in Britain in 1833.
The carol is even referred to in Charles Dickens' beloved short story A Christmas Carol: “... at the first sound of — ‛God bless you merry, gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’ — Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”
The first line of this carol is often object of discussions regarding grammar and punctuation. People comment on two things. First, that the word is always “you” and not “ye”, since “you” is the object of “rest”, while “ye” is the archaic subject pronoun. Second, that there should be a comma after the word “merry”, not before it, because “merry” is the complement of the verb. “Rest” can (or could in the past) take a number of such complements, such as “rest content”, and it was also used transitively as in the Shakespearian “I rest myself content”. In this case the carolers ask that God will rest merry the present company (“Gentlemen”).