Page images
PDF
EPUB

in the holy place of Sinai." Sternhold has thus represented these great ideas:

When thou didst march before thy folk,
The Egyptians from among,

And brought them from the wildernes,
Which was both wide and long:

The earth did quake, the raine pourde downe,
Heard were great claps of thunder;
The mount Sinai shooke in such sorte,
As it would cleave in sunder.

[ocr errors]

Thy heritage with drops of rain
Abundantly was washt,
And if so be it barren was,

By thee it was refresht.

God's army is two millions,
Of warriours good and strong,
The Lord also in Sinai

Is present them amongo.

If there be here any merit, it arises solely from preserving the expressions of the prose version; and the translator would have done better had he preserved more, and had given us no feeble or foreign enlargements of his own. He has shown no independent skill or energy. When once he attempts to add or dilate, his weakness appears. It is this circumstance alone, which supports the two following well-known stanzas P:

The Lord descended from above,
And bowde the heavens high;
And underneath his feet he cast
The darknesse of the skie.

On Cherubs and on Cherubims
Full roiallie he rode;

And on the winges of all the windes*
Came flying all abrode.

Almost the entire contexture of the prose is here literally transferred, unbroken and without transposition, allowing for the small deviations necessarily occasioned by the metre and rhyme. It may be said, that the translator has testified his judgment in retaining so much of the original, and proved he was sensible the passage needed not any adven

• Ps. lxviii. 7. seq.

P Ps. xviii. 9, 10.

[Dryden honoured these verses with

high commendation, and conferred addi

tional honour by an imitation of them in his Annus Mirabilis :—

On wings of all the winds to combat flies.
St. 55.-PARK.]

titious ornament. But what may seem here to be judgment or even taste, I fear, was want of expression in himself. He only adopted what was almost ready done to his hand.

To the disgrace of sacred music, sacred poetry, and our established worship, these psalms still continue to be sung in the church of England. It is certain, had they been more poetically translated, they would not have been acceptable to the common people. Yet however they may be allowed to serve the purposes of private edification, in administering spiritual consolation to the manufacturer and mechanic, as they are extrinsic to the frame of our liturgy, and incompatible with the genius of our service, there is perhaps no impropriety in wishing, that they were remitted and restrained to that church in which they sprung, and with whose character and constitution they seem so aptly to correspond. Whatever estimation in point of composition they might have attracted at their first appearance in a ruder age, and however instrumental they might have been at the infancy of the reformation in weaning the minds of men from the papistic ritual, all these considerations can now no longer support even a specious argument for their being retained. From the circumstances of the times, and the growing refinements of literature, of course they become obsolete and contemptible. A work grave, serious, and even respectable for its poetry, in the reign of Edward the Sixth, at length in a cultivated age has contracted the air of an absolute travestie. Voltaire observes, that in proportion as good taste improved, the psalms of Clement Marot inspired only disgust; and that although they charmed the court of Francis the First, they seemed only to be calculated for the populace in the reign of Lewis the Fourteenth".

[ocr errors]

To obviate these objections, attempts have been made from time to time to modernise this ancient metrical version, and to render it more tolerable and intelligible by the substitution of more familiar modes of diction. But, to say nothing of the unskilfulness with which these arbitrary corrections have been conducted, by changing obsolete for known words, the texture and integrity of the original style, such as it was, has been destroyed; and many stanzas, before too naked and weak, like a plain old Gothic edifice stripped of its few signatures of antiquity, have lost that little and almost only strength and support which they derived from ancient phrases. Such alterations, even if executed with prudence and judgment, only corrupt what they endeavour to explain; and exhibit a motley performance, belonging to no character of writing, and which contains more improprieties than those which it professes to remove. Hearne is highly offended at these unwarrantable and incongruous emendations, which he pronounces to be abominable in any book, "much more in a sacred work;" and is confident, that were Sternhold and Hopkins "now living, they would be so

Hist. Mod. ch. ccvii.

far from owning what is ascribed to them, that they would proceed against the innovators as CHEATS"." It is certain, that this translation in its genuine and unsophisticated state, by ascertaining the signification of many radical words now perhaps undeservedly disused, and by displaying original modes of the English language, may justly be deemed no inconsiderable monument of our ancient literature, if not of our ancient poetry. In condemning the practice of adulterating this primitive version, I would not be understood to recommend another in its place, entirely new. I reprobate any version at all, more especially if intended for the use of the church+.

In the mean time, not to insist any longer on the incompatibility of these metrical psalms with the spirit of our liturgy, and the barbarism of their style, it should be remembered, that they were never admitted into our church by lawful authority. They were first introduced by the puritans, and afterwards continued by connivance. But they never received any royal approbation or parliamentary sanction ‡, notwithstanding it is said in their title page, that they are "set forth and alLOWED to be sung in all churches of all the people together before and after evening prayer, and also before and after sermons: and moreover in private houses for their godly solace and comfort, laying apart all ungodly songs and ballads, which tend only to the nourishing of vice and the corrupting of youth." At the beginning of the reign of queen Elizabeth, when our ecclesiastical reformation began to be placed on a solid and durable establishment, those English divines who had fled from the superstitions of queen Mary to Franckfort and Geneva, where they had learned to embrace the opposite extreme, and where, from an abhorrence of catholic ceremonies, they had contracted a dislike to the

[blocks in formation]

pular psalmody in our churches." Life of Warton, p. cvi.-PARK.]

[This is humorously attested by Sir John Birkenhead in his witty character of an Assembly-man or Independent, who is made to tear the liturgy, and burn the book of common prayer: yet he has mercy (he adds) on Hopkins and Sternhold, because their metres are sung without authority (no statute, canon, or injunction at all)-only like himself, first crept into private houses, and then into churches. Wither gravely confirms the same in the following paragraph from his Scholler's Purgatory, before quoted: "By what publicke example did we sing David's Psalms in English meeter before the raigne of king Edward the Sixth? or by what command of the church do we sing them as they are now in use? Verily by none. But tyme and Christian devotion having first brought forth that practice, and custome ripening it, long toleration hath in a manner fully authorized the same."PARK.]

decent appendages of divine worship, endeavoured, in conjunction with some of the principal courtiers, to effect an abrogation of our solemn church service, which they pronounced to be antichristian and unevangelical. They contended that the metrical psalms of David, set to plain and popular music, were more suitable to the simplicity of the gospel, and abundantly adequate to all the purposes of edification: and this proposal they rested on the authority and practice of Calvin, between whom and the church of England the breach was not then so wide as at present. But the queen and those bishops to whom she had delegated the business of supervising the liturgy, among which was the learned and liberal archbishop Parker, objected, that too much attention had already been paid to the German theology. She declared, that the foreign reformers had before interposed, on similar deliberations, with unbecoming forwardness; and that the Common Prayer of her brother Edward had been once altered, to quiet the scruples, and to gratify the cavils, of Calvin, Bucer, and Fagius. She was therefore invariably determined to make no more concessions to the importunate partisans of Geneva, and peremptorily decreed that the choral formalities should still be continued in the celebration of the sacred offices.

SECTION XLVI.

Metrical versions of Scripture. Archbishop Parker's Psalms in metre. Robert Crowley's puritanical poetry.

THE spirit of versifying the psalms, and other parts of the Bible, at the beginning of the reformation, was almost as epidemic as psalm-singing. William Hunnis, a gentleman of the chapel under Edward the Sixth, and afterwards chapel-master to queen Elizabeth, rendered into rhyme many select psalms*, which had not the good fortune to be rescued from oblivion by being incorporated into Hopkins's collection, nor to be sung in the royal chapel. They were printed in 1550, with this title: "Certayne Psalmes chosen out of the Psalter of David, and drawen furth into Englysh meter by William Hunnis servant to the ryght ho

See Canons and Injunctions, A.D. 1559. Num. xlix.

* [On the back of the title to a copy of Sir Thomas More's works, 1557, (presented to the library of Trin. Coll. Oxon. by John Gibbon, 1630,) the following lines occur, which bear the signature of our poet in a coëval hand.

"MY LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.

To God my soule I do bequeathe, because it is his owen,

My body to be layd in grave, where to my frends best known:

Executors I wyll none make, thereby
great stryffe may grow;
Because the goodes that I shall leave wyll

not pay all I owe.

W: Hvnnys."-PARK.]

nourable syr William Harberd knight. Newly collected and imprinted."

I know not if among these are his SEVEN SOBS of a sorrowful soul for sin, comprehending the SEVEN PENITENTIAL PSALMS in metre*. They are dedicated to Frances countess of Sussex, whose attachment to the gospel he much extols†, and who was afterwards the foundress of Sydney college in Cambridge. Hunnis also, under the happy title of a HANDFUL OF HONEY-SUCKLES, published Blessings out of Deuteronomie, Prayers to Christ, Athanasius's Creed, and Meditations‡, in metre with musical notes. But his spiritual nosegays are numerous. To say nothing of his RECREATIONS on Adam's Banishment, Christ his Cribb, and the Lost Sheep, he translated into English rhyme the whole book of GENESIS, which he calls a HIVE FULL OF HONEY. But his honey-suckles and his honey are now no longer delicious. He was a large contributor to the PARADISE OF DAINTY DEVISES, of which more will be said in its place. In the year 1550, were also published by John Hall, or Hawle, a surgeon or physician of Maidstone in Kent, and author of many tracts in his profession, "Certayne chapters taken out of the proverbes of Solomon, with other chapters of the holy Scripture, and certayne Psalmes of David translated into English metre by John Hall." By the remainder of the title it appears, that the pro

I have also seen Hunnis's "Abridgement or brief meditation on certaine of the Psalmes in English metre," printed by R. Wier, 4to. [8vo. says Bishop Tanner.-PARK.]

*[The "Certayne Psalmes" did not appear among the "Seven Sobs," which were licensed to H. Denham Nov. 1581, and printed in 15-, 1585, 1589, 1597, 1629 and 1636. Hunnis's "Seven Steps to Heaven" were also licensed in 1581. The love of alliteration had before produced a Surge of Sorrowing Sobs," in the "gorgeous gallery of gallant inventions," 1578.-PARK.]

+ [Her ladyship's virtue and courtesie are extolled; but godlie fear, firm faith, &c. are only enumerated among the dedicator's wishes.-PARK.]

[To these were added the poore Widowes mite, Comfortable Dialogs betweene Christ and a Sinner, a Lamentation of youth's follies, a psalme of rejoising, and a praier for the good estate of Queen Elizabeth. The last being the shortest is here given; for Hunnis was rather a prosaic penman.

Thou God that guidst both heaven and
earth,

On whom we all depend;
Preserve our Queene in perfect health,
And hir from harme defend.
Conserve hir life, in peace to reigne,
Augment hir joyes withall:

Increase hir friends, maintaine hir cause,
And heare us when we call!
So shall all we that faithfull be

Rejoise and praise thy name:
O God, ô Christ, ô Holie-Ghost,

Give eare, and grant the same. Amen.
PARK.]

Printed by T. Marshe, 1578. 4to. [And entitled "A Hyve full of Hunnye: contayning the firste Booke of Moses called Genesis. Turned into English Meetre by William Hunnis, one of the Gent. of her Majestie's Chappel and Maister to the Children of the same," &c. It is inscribed to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in an acrostic on his name, which is followed by another on the versifiers" to the friendlye reader." Thos. Newton has verses prefixed "in commendation of this his Frendes travayle," which was written, as it seems, "in the winter of his age." He names as previous productions of Hunnis, "Enterludes and gallant layes, and rondeletts and songs, his Nosegay and his WyIdowes Myte, with other fancies of his forge:" and he tells us, that in the prime of youth his pen "had depaincted Sonets Sweete." This probably is allusive to his contributions in the "Paradise of Daintie Devises." Wood calls Hunnis a crony of Thomas Newton, the Latin poet. Ath. Oxon. i. 152.-PARK.]

с

There is an edition in quarto dedicated to king Edward the Sixth with this title,

« PreviousContinue »