1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Cottle

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) 2:266-67.



Mr. Cottle was for many years a respectable bookseller in Bath; and during that period, his intimate friendship with, and his substantial encouragement of three of the most original Poets of our day, were such as ought inseparably to identify his name with theirs in the regard of posterity, even if his original compositions themselves were not entitled to somewhat more respect than they have met with. In 1805, appeared "A Version of the Psalms of David, attempted in Metre: by Joseph Cottle." "It appears to me," says the Poet in his Preface, "that, the two following objects should primarily be aimed at by all who undertake to write a Version of the Psalms; in the first place, to introduce as much as possible of the real language of the Psalms, and in the second place, to aim uniformly at the dignified simplicity of the originals. As the Psalmist adopted the vehicle of poetry for the communication of his sentiments, so the Psalms at present exhibit, in our common translation, not only the finest imagery and the most exalted ideas, but retain a large proportion of the most correct verse, which admits of being incorporated, with the greatest advantage, into a Metrical Version. From a conviction of the truth of this remark, I have endeavoured to adopt on all occasions, as far as it was practicable, lines derived from the rich phraseology of the Psalms themselves." It is not from the novelty of this principle, but from the manner in which it is carried out, that any credit can be claimed — almost every versifier of the entire Psalter having acted upon it more or less ostensibly. It must, however, be admitted that Mr. Cottle has often caught the elevated spirit of the sublime original, with the happiest effect, in his verse: and although he is in some instances too paraphrastic, in others he exhibits a no less happy adherence to the text, than a manifestation of poetical truth and feeling in rendering it. The following specimen is at least equal in merit to the average execution of the best Version of modern times:—

PSALM I.
Bless'd are the men who walk, with thee,
And prize, O Lord! what thou hast said;
Who from the scorners' counsels flee,
And shun the paths th' ungodly tread;—

Who meditate, both day and night,
Upon thy word, with praise and prayer;
Who in thy holy law delight,
And love to trace their duty there.

They, like a tree, by all are seen
That prospers by the river's side;
Which bears a leaf for ever green,
And spreads its branches far and wide.

Not so th' ungodly; they, like chaff,
Upon the winds are borne away;
They lean upon a broken staff,
And fall from everlasting day.

No joyful hopes to them belong,
They know no God in whom to trust;—
They never shall appear among
The congregations of the just.