1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Cobb

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) 2:1132-36.



This individual published a volume of "Poems on Several Occasions," with Imitations from Horace, Ovid, &c. The work, although containing nothing. that would attract a general reader at this time, may have possessed some interest with the author's friends, in his lifetime, and probably with the public, as the copy before me is the "third Edition, 1710." The only Preface is a long "Discourse on Criticism, and the Liberty of Writing; in a letter to Richard Carter, Esq., late of the Middle Temple, now living in Barbadoes." In it the author quotes the following Epigram, which affords as clear an indication of the general character of the bulk of his poetry, as six lines can do:—

Born to surprise the world, and teach the Great
The Slippery danger of exalted state,
Victorious Marlbro to Ramilly flies;
Arm'd with new Lightning from bright ANNA'S Eye;
Wonders like These, no former Age has seen;
Subjects are Heroes, where a Saint's the QUEEN.

Queen Anne appears, indeed, to have been the idol of Cobb's muse, for he composed in her honour an Ode of more than three hundred lines, the "Female Reign." "This poem," says Dr. Watts, in a note on the title-page of the copy he gave to Dr. Gibbons, not many years before his death with his emendations, "in my opinion, is the truest and best Pindaric I ever read, yet I thought some parts of it were capable of improvement; I have, therefore, taken some pains, and much liberty with it, to form it entirely to my taste." It is printed, with the alterations, in Dr. Gibbons's Memoirs of Watts.

Cobb's volume contains paraphrases of the 103rd, 130th, and 148th Psalms, in the irregular metre of the age. I have transcribed the first of these, which was written by the author in January, 1704, as "A Thanksgiving after a Deliverance from Sickness and Trouble."

PSALM CIII.
Glory, my Soul, and blessing give
To God alone, by whom you live;
To God, whose Mercy did impart
New Health and Vigour to my heart.
Nor cease my sprightly blood, to shew
His love, who taught you how to flow:
Who raised me from Disease and Sin,
From ills without, and ills within.
Just had they plung'd me to the Grave,
But These he Cur'd, and Those Forgave.
His Melting Pity, Tender Grace,
Like a bright Diadem's embrace,
Blazed round my Head, and Lightened in my Face.
Thou, Lord, art infinitely Good,
Thou, like an Eagle's, hast renew'd
My youth; and like an Eagle, I
Will mount, and tell thy Praises through the Sky.

Tell how nor Death, nor Hell's more dreadful Stings,
Can shake a Soul o'ershadow'd with his Saving Wings.
Tell how Egyptian Lords in vain,
With Iron Hands presume to rein;
When for their Tyranny and Wrong,
Billows on crowding Billows throng,
And whelm the Haughty Host in th' Erythrean Main.
This Moses saw, when on the farther Strand
He waved aloft the mighty Wand,
And th' Amaz'd Sea, his Ancient Strength regain'd.
O wonders of insuperable Height!
Above the Stretch of Reason! shewn
To Jacob's moody race alone:
Unfathomable Depths of Mercy Infinite!
So Strong the Rivers of his Goodness flow!
So Swift his Love! His Wrath so Slow
Which, if it chance to Swell, and Rise
To meet our Crimes, which dare the Skies;
His Pity then begins to chide
His Rage, and Calm the Rapid Tide.
His Crushing Thunder, which might justly Slay
Is only shaken at Unmindful Clay.
And, to lay down so oft the Lifted Rod,
Speaks the Kind Father, and Forbearing God.

As this Round Globe's inferiour Face,
Compared with yon' Etherial Space,
Is but a point to those Above:
So Infinite is Heavenly Love
To a Religious Race.
Thy mercy, Lord, from Sin has set us free,
As farthest East is from the Western Sea,
So distant are our Crimes from us and Thee.
Though we, through Weakness, every Hour
Like Idle, Heedless Children, fall,
Thou like a Father, sparest all
Who love thy Goodness, and who fear thy Power;
Thou knowest whence we came;
How brittle Dust composed our Frame:
Like Vessels in the Potter's Hand,
Too Prone to break! too Weak to stand!

Can Nature's Dress appear more Gay
Than in her Darling flowery May?
Yet must those short-lived Honours of the Field
To the rude North their Beauty yield,
Or to the cruel Scythe become a Prey.
Such are our Days, an empty shade:
Death stalks behind us, to deride
Our noisie Vanity and Pride,
Which smil'd like lillies, and like them decay'd.
Nothing is sure and permanent below,
Corruption reigns within us as we grow.
Thou only, Glorious Father, ere the World begun,
Wert, and shall be for ever, when all worlds are done:
When Time's no more: Then shall thy Blessed Saints
Be rank'd among the Bright Inhabitants.
They with their Children's Children then shall see
A long Succession of Posterity;
Who practised what the Prophets taught,
Sincere in Word, and Pure in Thought.
They with Repenting Sinners, shall thy mercies taste,
And Joys, which never can be told, and never can be past.

High supereminent in Heaven, the Throne
Of God is fix'd: He Reigns Alone.
All Things above us, and below, obey
His Just, his Good, his Universal Sway:
While the proud Lords of this round Mole-hill here,
Like Emmets, in his Sight appear,
Mere Royal Worms, and Gilded Clay.
Praise him, ye holy Angels, which excel
In Strength, or Michael, or Ithuriel,
Or Gabriel; Blest Names! who fly
At his Command, from every Corner of the Sky:
Whose high examples teach us to fulfil
His Word, and execute his Will.
His Name let every Creature bless,
All things in Air, Earth, Sea, their Gratitude express.
And Thou, my Soul, thy Pious Offering bring
To God, the Wise, the Gracious King,
Who Life to Thee, and Being gave,
Who now has snatch'd Thee from the Grave,
And taught Thee whom to Praise, and how to Sing.

I have given the foregoing specimen of Cobb's treatment of the Psalms, not certainly for its poetical merit, much less because it would not have been easy to have selected a better Version of the beautiful original from almost any other quarter, but mainly because it somewhat strikingly displays that pompous "Pindarick Style," as it was termed, in which so many writers of religious verse indulged about the beginning of the last century. A literary friend, whom I cannot name, having had in his hand my MS. transcript of the Psalm, left upon it the following pencilled note, which I venture, "meo periculo," to embody in this page: — "I wonder if any human being ever did read this rhodomontade of verbiage a second time, — or if ten during the last hundred years have read it over once. It is lamentable that a better Version or Paraphrase (no matter whether) of this most beautiful, affecting, and earnestly devotional Psalm could not be found among your hundred and fifty competitors. The bow of Ulysses was easier to draw than the harp of David to be struck by any but the Master's own hand."