1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Churchyard

John Holland, in Psalmists of Britain. Records of upwards of One Hundred and Fifty Authors, who have rendered the Whole or Parts of The Book of Psalms, into English Verse (1843) 1:131-34.



That Churchyard was the person indicated by the letters "T. C." affixed to the Second Version of the 136th Psalm, has been generally admitted: and the fact is one among other instances of the preservation of a name once well-known, but which, except from its incidental association with a Metrical Psalm, might have been almost unheard of in our day, except among old book collectors. Perhaps his best claim to the character of a Poet, is the share he had with the celebrated Sackville (Lord Buckhurst,) and other contemporary wits, in the authorship of the "Mirror of Magistrates." His legend of Jane Shore in that Work, is really an affecting narrative. The Poet makes the frail penitent stand "with book in hand, and say St. David's Psalms." Churchyard, who was born of respectable parents, at Shrewsbury, seems to have been a brave soldier, as well as a popular Poet; he was known to, and esteemed by Sir Thomas Gresham, their acquaintance having probably commenced in Flanders, where the soldier-Poet is said to have been as much indebted to his "breeding as his bravery," for his escape from the hands of the enemy. His pen and his feet appear to have been equally restless: his compositions, chiefly in verse, being very numerous. "But Churchyard's Chips concerning Scotland," however ardently kindled, have long since nearly burnt out; his "challenge" to the claims of posthumous renown, founded on an "infinite number of songs and sonets," may almost be said to have been only accepted by oblivion: even "The Worthiness of Wales," is now celebrated in the pages of fresher commemorators. Sir Egerton Brydges has, indeed, recalled the memory of our Poet in his curious beadroll of antiquated genius; and Chalmers has attempted to rekindle his "Chips;" — but he may be said to be immortal in the Psalm below quoted. The date of his birth is uncertain: but he lived to a great age; saw the accession of King James to the English throne; and was buried in the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster, April 4, 1604. The curious reader will be interested in comparing the Psalm given below from an early edition, with the amended Version, as at present printed in the Prayer Book; and also in comparing it with the contemporary Version of the same Psalm, by Norton. To save space in the page, two lines are here ran into one.

PSALM CXXXVI.
O laud the Lord benigne — whose mercies last for aye:
Give thankes and praises sing — To God of gods I say.
For certainly, — His mercies dure
Both firm and sure, — eternally.

The Lord of lords praise ye — whose mercies aye doth dure:
Great wonders onely he — Doth worke by his great power.
For certainly, &c.

Which God omnipotent, — By his great wisedom hie,
The heavenly firmament — Did frame as we may see.
For certainly, &c.

Yea he the heavy charge — Of all the earth did stretch,
And on the waters large, — The same he did out-reach.
For certainly, &c.

Great lights he made to be, — For why? his love is aye
Such as the sunne we see, — To rule the lightsome day,
Far certainly, &c.

And eke the moone so cleare, — Which shineth in our sight,
And starres that doe appeare — To guide the darksome night.
For certainly, &c.

With grevious plagues and sore — All Egypt smote he than:
Their first-borne less and more, — He slew of beast and man.
For certainly, &c.

And from amidst their land — His Israel forth brought:
Which he with mighty hand — And stretched arme hath wrought.
For certainly, &c.

The sea he cut in two, — which stood up like a wall:
And made through it to goe — His chosen children all.
For certainly, &c.

But there he whelmed then — The proud King Pharaoh,
With his huge hoste of men. — And chariots eke also.
For certainly, &c.

Who led through wildernesse — His people safe and sound:
And for his love endlesse, — Great Kings he brought to ground.
For certainly, &c.

And slew with puissant hand — Kings mighty and of fame,
As of Amorites land, — Sehon the King by name.
For certainly, &c.

And Og (the gyant name) — Of Basan King also:
Whose land for heritage — He gave his people tho.
For certainly, &c.

Even unto Israel, — His servant deare, I say,
He gave the same to dwell, — And there abide for aye.
For certainly, &c.

To minde he did us call, — In our most base degree:
And from oppressors all — In safety set us free.
For certainly, &c.

All flesh in earth abroad — with food he doth fulfill:
Wherefore of heaven the God — To laud be it your will.
For certainly, &c.