1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Joseph Hall

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) 2:27-30.



Joseph Hall, D.D., the eminent and learned Bishop of Norwich, died in 1656. His genius was not less prolific than vigorous and acute, his published Works forming five folio volumes; from his masculine cast of thought, and sententious style, the author has been called the "English Seneca." Among his Prose Works, his "Meditations" are best known; while in rhyme, his "Six Books of Satires" shew him to have been no mean proficient in a walk of composition where we never look for any particular amenity, and of which the age when he lived especially, excused coarseness of language. Yet is Bishop Hall universally allowed to have been "a man of great wit and learning, and of as great meekness, modesty, and piety." His Psalms, ten in number, were versified and published as a sample and earnest of what he was willing to have done further in that Work, had he been sufficiently encouraged by authority. There is a rough vigour in his verse, and an occasional use of harsh or out-of-the-way terms, which would not be much likely to recommend his strains to fastidious ears. "Indeed," says he, in the dedication of "Some few of David's Psalms, Metaphrased, for a Taste of the Rest," to his cousin, Archdeacon Barton — "Indeed, my Poetry was long since out of date, and yielded her place to graver studies: but whose vein would not revive, to look into those heavenly songs? I were not worthy to be a Divine, if it should repent me to be a Poet with David, after I shall have aged in the pulpit. This Work is holy and strict, and abides not any youthful or heathenish liberty: but requires hands free from profaneness, looseness, and affection. It is a service to Cod and the Church, by so much more carefully to be regarded, as it is more common. For who is there, that will not challenge a part in this labour? And that shall not find himself much more affected with holy measure rightly composed? Wherefore, I have oft wondered, how it could be offensive to our adversaries, that these Divine ditties, which the Spirit of God wrote in verse, should be sung in verse; and that a Hebrew Poem should be made English. For if this kind of composition had been unfit, God would never have made choice of numbers, wherein to express himself. Neither do I see how it can be offensive to our friends, that we should desire our English Metaphrase bettered. — I have been solicited by some reverend friends to undertake this task; as that, which seemed well to accord with the former exercises of my youth, and my present profession. The difficulties I found many; the Work, long and great: yet not more painful than beneficial to God's Church: whereto as I dare not profess any sufficiency; so I will not deny my readiness and utmost endeavour, if I shall be employed by authority." The worthy and learned Prelate, however, was not so employed: nor will many persons, it is probable, much regret at the present time, that, instead of a few nervous specimens, we have not an entire version from his hand. Hall appears, indeed, to have had some misgiving as to the want of smoothness in his metres; for in a letter, accompanying the presentation of his performance to Hugh Cholmondely, he says, "There is none of all my labours so open to all censures; none, whereof I would so willingly hear the verdict of the wise and the judicious. Perhaps some may think the verse harsh; whose nice ear regards roundness, more than sense. I embrace sweetness, but affect it not. Others may blame the difficulty of the tunes, whose humour cannot be pleased, without a greater offence: for to say truth, I could never see good verse written in the wonted measures — I ever thought them most easy and least poetical."

PSALM VII.
On thee, O Lord my God, relies
My onely trust: from bloudy spight
Of all my raging enemies
Oh! let thy mercy me acquite.
Lest they, like greedy lyons, rend
My soule, while none shall it defend.

O Lord, if I this thing have wrought,
If in my hands be found such ill;
If I with mischief ever sought
To pay good turnes, or did not still
Doe good unto my causeless foe,
That thirsted for my overthrow;

Then, let my foe in eager chase,
O'ertake my soule, and proudly tread
My life below, and with disgrace
In dust laye downe mine honour dead,
Rise up in rage, O Lord, eft soone
Advance thine arme against my fo'ne.

And wake for me, till thou fulfill
My promis'd right: so shall glad throngs
Of people flock unto thy hill.
For their sakes then revenge my wrongs,
And rouse thyself. Thy judgments be
O'er all the world: Lord, judge thou me.

As truth and honest innocence
Thou find'st in me, Lord, judge thou me:
Settle the just with sure defence:
Let me the wicked's malice see
Brought to an end. For thy just eye
Doth heart and inward reines descry.

My safety stands in God, who shields
The sound in heart: whose doome, each day,
To just men and contemners yeelds
Their due. Except he change his way,
His sword is whet, to blood intended;
His murdering bow is ready beaded.

Weapons of death he hath addrest
And arrowes keene to pierce my foe,
Who late bred mischiefe in his breast;
But, when he doth on travell goe,
Brings forth a lye; deep pits doth delve,
And fall into his pits himselve.

Back to his own head shall rebound
His plotted mischiefe: and his wrongs
His crowne shall craze: But I shall sound
Jehovah's praise with thankful songs,
And with his glorious name expresse,
And tell of all his righteousnesse.