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'parts being contributed by twenty-one English musicians, in'eluding John Milton, the father of the poet.' * This work seems to have long been regarded as the standard of psalmody. Abraham Milner's "Psalm-singers' Companion" professedly 'consists of the greater and more valuable part of Ravenscroft's 'Book of Psalmody, together with a variety of other new 'tunes, composed by several eminent masters, many of which 'were never before printed; with words adapted to each tune.' These words are chiefly from Dr. Watts, with some of more ancient date. The tunes are of that grave and simple character which distinguishes the compositions of Green, Croft, Ravenscroft, Jeremiah Clark, and others of the same school—those 'pure, sacred strains,' as Dr. Crotch calls them, and which he pronounces to be 'alone worthy of study.' Depending for their intended effect, however, absolutely upon the full harmony, these strains, when sung without the parts, or any accompaniment, are far from being enlivening or inspiriting. Yet, it was in such strains that Baxter found the chief delightful exercise of his religion, and that Philip Henry made the voice of rejoicing to be heard in his habitation. In tunes of a similar character, the thousands of the people, in Bishop Jewel's days, united with enthusiasm; and the Bohemian brethren solaced themselves in the earlier days of persecution.
'They chant their artless notes in simple guise;
Compar'd with these, Italian thrills are tame;
Burns, always true to nature, here gives us the philosophy of the fact. Heart-felt raptures are not to be excited by any performances which detain the attention of the senses in admiration or mere organic delight, instead of making the sensible impression the mere key to the associations which govern our sympathies. The rudest objects or sounds that stir the imagination, affect the feelings far more powerfully than the master-works of genius.
The complex emotions of taste which the poet seeks to awaken, are, no doubt, ordinarily dependent upon the qualities of the composition; but there are cases in which the pleasure and interest excited seem to arise purely from the qualities which the feelings, by a sort of illusion, reflect upon the composition itself, in a manner similar to that in which the imagination is found to invest a shapeless block with the attributes of an idol. What a
* Preface to Novello's Psalmist.
sacredness attaches to the most worthless relics in the eyes of the devotee, who believes them to have belonged to some saint or martyr, or in the eyes of the antiquary, who doats upon all things that are old! It is not surprising then, that the merest doggrel should acquire from time and sacred associations, a similar power independent of its intrinsic qualities- Sternhold and Hopkins have now fallen into general contempt; and whatever merit may be due to their pious and well-meant efforts, it is quite absurd to claim for their compositions the slightest degree of metrical skill or beauty of language. Yet, how tenaciously has the use of their antiquated version been adhered to in the Church of England; and how much ingenuity has been displayed in detecting an accidental propriety or an imaginary beauty in some detached line of this venerable doggrel! For instance, we have seen cited as a fine passage the following stanza, the first line of which contains the palpable blunder of making cherubs differ from cherubim, which is but the Hebrew plural, and adding to this plural termination, the Saxon s.
* On cherubs and on cherubim
The next verse but one to this exhibits a fair specimen of this ancient metrical version.
'At his bright presence did thick clouds
In haste away retire;
Hail-stones and coals of fire.
Disperse them here and there;
Doth put them in great fear.'
Take again the Scotch Psalms, which still maintain, in the Church of Scotland, their prescriptive sanctity. Bald, coarse, and often ludicrous, the rhythm to a Southron ear utterly intolerable, yet does this version sound, to the pious member of the kirk, as musical as the bagpipe of his native hills; and Dr. Watts is poor and unmelodious, in comparison with this solemn travestie of the inspired psalmist. With how much jealousy have any improvements upon our psalmody been viewed! Tate and Brady, though honoured with the royal sanction, have had as much opposition to encounter as had the evangelical nonconformist to whom the reform of our psalmody is chiefly to be ascribed. Philip Henry, who is recorded to have sung David's psalms throughout, 'in order', sometimes used the old translation, but generally Mr. Barton's *. This version we do not possess; but we have some specimens both of Barton's 'Centuries' and Barton's 'Hymns', in a small "Collection of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, fitted for Morning and Evening Worship in a Private Family, by Samuel Bury, Minister of the Gospel", which seems to have acquired popularity. Our copy is of the fourth edition, 1724. It may not be uninteresting to our readers, to know the authors to whom Mr. Bury was indebted for his materials, as the list probably includes most of the hymn-books of the day that were in general estimation. The explanation of the initials gives us the following titles: Barton's Centuries: Barton's Hymns: Boise's Sacramental Hymns: Crashaw's Sacred Poems: Clark's Annotations: Darrington's Hymns: Divine Hymns: Daniel Burgess: Foxton's Hymns: Guide to Glory: Herbert: Milbourn's Version of the Psalms: Patrick: Penitential Cries: Richard Baxter: Scotch Psalms: Songs of Praise: Tate and Brady: Vincent's Sacramental Hymns: Woodroof's Paraphrase. The Collection itself is worth little, being, for the most part, made up of patchwork extracts from the compositions of the different authors. The following specimen of Barton's hymns is curious, as being in part a version of the language of the Church service.
'O God, the Saviour of all men, And most especially of them
'Order our steps in thy good word,
But keep us ever in thy love;
In glory with thy saints above.
'Lord, save thy Church in every age,
And lift them up for evermore.
World without end for evermore.'
* In Burton's Parliamentary Diary (Vol. I. p. 349.) mention is made of a report being presented (Jan. 1656-7) by the ministers appointed to consider which version of the psalms was fittest to be publicly used. 'Their return was, that Mr. Rous's version was the best, both as to agreeing with the original, and better metre; and that Mr.
's (probably Barton's) version was a good one too.' Mr. Rous
was Provost of Eton College, and M.P. for Cornwall.
There is a version of Job xix. 25—27, from the same author.
'I know that my Redeemer lives,
I know he lives alway;
On earth at judgment-day:
My body turns to dust,
I shall see God, I trust.
When I from dust recover,
Myself, and not another.'
Here is one more specimen of this once admired and popular versifier.
'Ho! all that thirst and pine;
Come buy and eat good cheer:
'Incline your ear and hear;
Come, and your soul shall live.
Put in their hearts
The best hymns in this volume are, beyond comparison, taken from the "Songs of Praise", which Mr. Montgomery, in his "Christian Poet", justly characterizes as the compositions of an author holding a middle rank between Quarles and Watts, his talent being 'equally poised between both.' Watts, the Wesleys, and even Pope, appear to have borrowed lines and phrases from this unknown author; and that such writings should be now almost forgotten, Mr. M. remarks, 'is little creditable to 'the admirers of sacred literature.' The following, from the 'Guide to Glory', has a 'smack' of the olden time.
'God's love is best, and they are blest
vOL. XIII. n.s. Z Z
, Better is love that's from above,
Than all things that are here:
'The love of man, get it who can,
Doth always ebb and flow:
As his dear children know.
Thy kindness is the thing
Thou art my God and King.
'Thy love is free: Lord, give it me;
Thy favour to me shew,
Thy faithfulness may know.
The Father, Spirit, and Son,
As was and now is done.']
The last stanza, marked anonymous, is probably supplied by the Editor, who has, by the way, taken many liberties with the authors he has used.
Such were the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs of the seventeenth century; and the genius of Watts, as well as the eminent service he rendered to the Christian Church, can be justly appreciated only by those who compare his performances with those of his predecessors, which his success has served to consign to oblivion. His accommodation of the Psalms of David to the spirit of Christian worship, was in itself an innovation as bold as it was happy; but this distinguishing excellence of his version has itself been regarded as an offence: and long after 'other denominations had enjoyed in Dr. Watts's version the 'true savour and spirit of the psalter ', its 'evangelical use' was 'proscribed to the members of the Established Church, 'who 'were confined in their psalmody to the old and new versions.' * Dr. Watts, says Mr. Montgomery, 'may almost be called the 'inventor of hymns in our language; for he so far departed from 'all precedent, that few of his compositions resemble those of his 'forerunners; while he so far established a precedent to all his
* See Advertisement prefixed to "Three Hundred and Fifty Portions of the Psalms." The strength of ecclesiastical prejudice was never, perhaps, more conspicuous, than in Bishop Home's avoiding all use and even mention of Dr. Watts's version, preferring the insipid verbiage of Merrick. Not less discreditable was Mr. Romaine's violent dislike of Watts.