1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Blackmore

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) 2:165-66.



The merits of Blackmore, as a Poet, have been too much depreciated. He had the misfortune to fall under the lash of both Dryden and Pope; and living in an age when it was more fashionable to laugh with the witty, than to be grave with the thoughtful, the elaborate philosophical and heroic poems of our author gave way to lighter, but often less meritorious compositions. Blackmore was physician to King William III., who knighted him; and it is probable this circumstance, with its attendant emolument, and the religious character of several of his works, had at least as much to do in provoking the malignity of contemporary wits, as the quality of his poetry. "The lovers of musical devotion," says Dr. Johnson, "have always wished for a more happy Metrical Version than they have yet obtained of the Book of Psalms; this wish the piety of Blackmore led him to gratify, and he produced, in 1721, a New Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the tunes used in Churches; which being recommended by the Archbishops and many Bishops, obtained a licence for its admission into public worship; but no admission has it yet obtained, nor has it any right to come where Brady and Tate have got possession. Blackmore's name must be added to those of many others, who, by the same attempt, have obtained only the praise of meaning well." Had the practice obtained in his day, which is common in our own, of making selections of Psalmody by Clergymen for the use of their own Congregations, it is not probable that Blackmore's Version would have been altogether discarded. We are told that our author was in the habit of composing as he walked along the streets on his professional visits, a habit indulged also by the late Dr. Mason Good, himself a translator of the Psalms. Although the old slander of the profession, "tres Medici, duo Athei," quoted by Sir Thomas Browne, be no longer current, it would be thought somewhat strange in our day, to meet with a peripatetic Physician, whose, street cogitations between the residences of his patients, were. upon a new metrical arrangement of the Book of Psalms. Blackmore approached death with a behaviour corresponding to the piety of his life; Mr. White, of Nayland, in Essex, attended him in his last hours, and attested his devotion: he died in 1729.