1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nahum Tate

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) 2:109-13.



Tate, as well as his poetical colleague, Brady, mentioned in the previous notice, was a native of Ireland, having been born, in 1652, at Dublin, in the University of which place he received his education. He was the son of Faithful Teate, D.D. who was ejected from Winchester, and himself no despicable Poet, as his "Ter Tria" — or the Trinity evinces. Malone supposes that our author was probably called "Tate" by the less polished of his countrymen, according to the Irish pronunciation, and when he came to England he adopted this mode of spelling his name. He does not appear to have followed any particular profession; but on coming to this country, he became well known in London as a dramatic writer, sometimes in conjunction with Dryden. He was encouraged by, even if his earliest poetical effusions did not appear in Dunton's "Athenian Mercury," for in a complimentary poem to the Editors he says:—

The warmth your beams produced you must excuse,
Your commendations first inspired my muse:
Your friendly praise supports her feeble wing,
You both invite and teach her how to sing:
And while by art your charming numbers move,
Her woodnotes wild instruct her to improve.

Tate succeeded Shadwell, as Poet Laureate: and seems to have shared, with few claims to exception on the score of genius or prudence, the fortunes — or rather, the misfortunes of too many other wits of his age; for he died in the Mint, where he had some time lived as a refuge from his creditors, in 1715. He left behind him numerous poems, now generally forgotten, as his name would doubtless also have been, but for the Version of the Psalms to which it is prefixed, and the satirical notices of Pope and Young. Tate was exposed to a good deal of popular ill will on account of his political poem against the course and conduct of the Five Kentish Petitioners, whose remonstrance to Parliament created so much excitement towards the end of the reign of King William III.

Under what circumstances the friendship and co-operation of the authors of the "New Version" originated does not appear; sympathy of countrymen, or the apparent advantage of adorning the newly strung Harp of David with the official laurel, might probably be the inducement to this poetical partnership on the part of Dr. Brady, who, although inferior to Tate as a Poet, would doubtless revise the whole work, with reference to its biblical accuracy. However, the coalition of the individuals in this work might suggest a joke to their contemporaries, there was surely no more to blame in it, than in the poetical coadjutorship of Beaumont and Fletcher, whose dramas are considered none the worse for the fact of their having had two authors.

As Tate and Brady were both Poets, they may not have interfered with each other's Versions. It is not, however, possible to discriminate the authors of their respective contributions to a performance, which has not only survived the works bearing their separate names, but which must, after due deduction from the overwrought praise and the unmeasured obloquy which it has encountered, be allowed to be, on the whole, not discreditable to the skill and the age of the versifiers, however confessedly imperfect as such a Version of the Psalms for Congregational use, as should exclude all competition. I will venture to add, that while it would be easy to point out those who have spoken disparagingly of the Version of Tate and Brady, but have not excelled it, it would be difficult to point out a specimen of Metrical Psalmody, better entitled to commendation than the New Version of the 139th. To what extent the subjoined may be entitled to similar praise, the candid reader must judge.

PSALM CXLII.
To God with mournful Voice
in deep distress I pray'd;
Made him the Umpire of my Cause,
my Wrongs before him laid.
Thou didst my steps direct
when my griev'd Soul despair'd,
For where I thought to walk secure,
they had their Traps prepar'd.

I look'd, but found no Friend
to own me in Distress
All Refuge fail'd, no Man vouchsaf'd
his Pity, or Redress.
To God at last I pray'd,
thou, Lord, my Refuge art;
My Portion in the Land of Life,
till Life it self depart.

Reduc'd to greatest Straits
to Thee I make my Moan,
O! save me from oppressing Foes,
for me too pow'rful grown.
That I may praise thy Name,
my Soul from Prison bring;
Whilst of thy kind Regard to me
assembled Saints shall sing.