1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Merrick

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) 2:209-12.



Mr. Merrick was a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and as a translator of the Psalms, he brought to the task, in perhaps a greater degree than they had been combined in any previous versifier, the accomplishments of the Scholar, the Poet, and the Christian. His translation of Tryphiodorus is allowed to afford "a striking proof of his classical learning and taste:" while his "Annotations, critical and grammatical, on the Gospel of Saint John," and his "Annotations on the Psalms," attest his attainments in Biblical literature, to which, indeed, both Bishop Lowth, and Dr. Hunt, the Hebrew Professor at Oxford, have borne honourable testimony. Of his talents for poetry, the work by which he is now best known, is an imperishable memorial: it was first printed at Reading, in 1765; under the title of "The Psalms translated, or paraphrased, in English Verse." The claim, however, to easy, harmonious versification which has rarely, if ever, been denied to this elegant "paraphrase," has not prevented its admirers generally from acknowledging that neither the spirit of the original Hebrew, the vigour of our English Prose Versions, nor even the metrical force of more than one of the author's predecessors in the same delightful exercise, had been at all equalled by him. But whatever might be the merit of Merrick's compositions in a poetical point of view, they were not, as he himself admits, "calculated for the uses of public worship." To obviate this inconvenience, and give them a fair chance in Churches, the late Rev. W. D. Tattersall, A.M., Vicar of Wotton-Under-Edge, published an edition, in which the whole of the Psalms were "divided into stanzas for Parochial use." Merrick's Version, thus ingeniously recast, made its appearance in 1797, in a thick quarto volume — doubtlessly the handsomest form in which any Metrical Version of the Psalms had theretofore been printed — with an elaborate introduction by the amiable Editor, and a dedication to the King — George the Third. The work, in this expensive form, appears chiefly to have been designed for presents — or at least, to give the experiment the best chance of success with an influential class of purchasers, who should not be prejudiced against the claims of the Version by the mean appearance of the book. It was afterwards more than once republished in a cheap form, with the prose translation from the Prayer Book, in a parallel column, and a collect prefixed to each Psalm from the works of Archbishop Parker. Mr. Tattersall has divided the Psalms, as left by Merrick, into stanzas of from four to twelve lines, by which means, he observes, "the purpose of variety is fully answered." In doing this, it was, of course, very frequently necessary to alter the original phraseology of the Poet — a delicate task, as the Editor seems to have been well aware: he has, however, so discreetly yielded to this necessity in most instances, that if the Version can really be said to have suffered at all, as a mere poetical composition — which will hardly be affirmed — the injury has been abundantly compensated by the admirable adaptation to the use of the Sacred Choir, or rather of the Christian Congregation of strains, which probably were but little read by pious families in the devotions of the social circle, or by the poetical student in the retirement of his closet. To what extent, or whether at all, the Psalms of Merrick and Tattersall are at present used in Churches, I am not aware. The Version, however, is always resorted to by compilers of selections for singing; while the Preface contains several judicious observations, which are well worthy of attention: and it is clue to the memory, of the reverend author to add that the whole is characterised by a kindliness of expression, in reference to the authors of different Versions, which is the more remarkable as well as praiseworthy, when it is considered that his object was to recommend one of those Versions as pre-eminently meritorious. It may be further mentioned, that Merrick died in 1769; his zealous editor and admirer in 1829.