1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Luke Milbourne

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) 2:116-18.



"Mr. Luke Milburn, that zealous Presbyter of the Church of England," as Calamy calls him, was the son of a Clergyman of the same name, who was ejected from the living of Wroxhall, in Warwickshire, by the Act of Uniformity. The subject of this notice became Rector of St. Ethelburga's, and Lecturer of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, London. His name as a Poet and a critic has survived his reputation as a preacher; for he not only ventured upon the bold experiment of publishing a new Version of the Psalms, while that of Tate and Brady was fresh in circulation, but he openly challenged the reputation of Dryden, as a translator of the Prince of Latin Poets, giving to the public, in his "Notes on Dryden," &c., his own translation of two of the Pastorals, and of the Georgics of Virgil: on which account he has been immortalized by Pope as "the fairest of critics." The contempt which Dryden professed for the performance of one who preferred Ogilby's Virgil to his, has been confirmed by the public: and at this day, Milbourne, whose moral character, however, appears to have been irreproachable — would probably be forgotten, were it not for the recorded sneers of the two greatest Poets of his age. The following is the title of the work upon which his claim to be mentioned in these pages is founded: — "Psalms of David, in English Metre; Translated from the Original, and suited to all the Tunes Dow Sung in Churches: with the addition of several new. By Luke Milbourne, a Presbyter of the Church of England." 12mo. 1698. This Version never attracted any attention: indeed it contains little to excite either praise or blame. The following extract from the Preface of Milbourne's work is not without interest: — "The Standart of our English Language having been so much altered of late; and Poetry especially, having reached its utmost height by that noble genius appearing in the writings of Sir John Denham, Mr. Waller, and Mr. Cowley, and some later authors, the roughness and uncorrectness of the ancient Version has appeared the more evident and notorious. The observation of which made Mr. Sandys, Mr. May, Mr. Burnaby, Bishop King, Mr. Barton, Sir John Denham, himself, Mr. Smith, Mr. Goodridge, Dr. Patrick, Dr. Woodford, and Dr. Ford, and now very lately, Mr. Brady and Mr. Tate, make their several translations with different success. Mr. Burnaby's book, and Mr. May's essay, I have seen: Mr. Sandys' and the Rev. Dr. Woodford's are above our ordinary Musick — the last especially, whose author seems to breathe with David's spirit, and to aspire to raptures almost equal with that Divine Psalmist; and whose steps are as nobly followed by that Masculine Poet as well as Painter, the incomparable Mrs. Beal. Mr. Barton's Version is generally apposite enough to the text, but exalted little above the old. Sir John Denham's I have not seen, but find the admirable Dr. Woodford (a sufficient judge) giving them a noble and doubtless a deserved character. That of the Right Reverend Bishop of Chichester, [Dr. King] labours under the unhappy choice of his rhyme, (as others have observ'd,) so far as to render that otherwise excellent book, ungrateful to the ear. Mr. Smith is very gay, and perhaps too affected, if the Rev. Dr. Patrick may be a judge, whose own is pious indeed, and generally plain — but an almost unpoetical translation of the most exalted poetry. For Mr. Brady's and Mr. Tate's, since they are now publishing a new and corrected edition of their translation, I shall pass no judgment on that work, whose errours and excellencies I must be content to be ignorant of till it is published. Among those which I have hitherto seen, which are fitted to common tunes, the best and most elaborate and the most musical is that of Dr. Ford, that Reverend person having a truly Poetical genius, attended with great and solid learning, and exemplary Piety — excellent qualifications for a compleat paraphrast. Nor ought Mr. Goodridge for his zeal and piety in promoting more correct Church Musick to be passed without a just commendation." Milbourne died in 1720. Old John Dunton, the bookseller, gives him the following character: — "Most other perfections are so far from matching his, they deserve not to be mentioned. His 'Translations' are fine and true: his preaching sublime and rational; and he is a first-rate Poet."