1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Josiah Conder

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) 2:364-67.



Mr. Josiah Conder is a gentleman well known as an elegant writer, and occasional preacher among the Congregational Dissenters. Ten years ago, he was editor of the Eclectic Review, in which work he occasionally introduced printed specimens of his own Psalms, along with his critical notices of the Versions of others. In 1837, he published a volume of Poems under the title of "The Choir and the Oratory, or Praise and Prayer." The staple of the work is intrinsically of a pious character, while the style is that of a finished adept in the arts of composition: there is, indeed, in most of the pieces, considerable beauty of design and elaborateness of finish; — too rarely, however, accompanied by that depth of feeling in the substance of the theme, which characterises the first-rate Poet. Occasionally too, slight marks of the file are discernible through the polish of the verse, the writer not having always succeeded in practising that "art to conceal art," in which the perfection of the poetical limae labor consists. The greater part of the volume above named, consists of Original Hymns, Versions of the Collects of the Church, and of what the writer calls "Poetical translations of the Psalms." In a Preface which records Mr. Conder's judgment on the labours of his predecessors, and at the same time expounds his own doctrines, he says — "For many years, the study of the Book of Psalms has occupied such attention as I could give to it, under the cherished conviction, that it might be found practicable to exhibit the poetry of the Hebrew Scriptures in the rich and varied measures of English versification, without compromising either the fidelity of a chaste translation or the simple majesty of the original." After some remarks on the poetic portions of the sacred volume, and of the Psalms in particular, it is asked, with much propriety, "Can any thing, then, be more improper than to employ the same metrical modes in attempting to adapt to the genius of English poetry, an elegiac complaint, an ode of triumph, a choral hallelujah, and an acrostic of axioms? In original poetry, the metre is governed by the feeling of the writer, and expresses it. Paradise Lost could not have been composed in heroic couplets; and how much of the charm of the Faerie Queene lies in the magnificent stanza." All this will meet with general concurrence: there are, however, other of our author's dicta, to which it would be less easy to render critical assent. The following lines, entitled "The King of Sion," will serve at once as an illustration of Mr. Conder's principles of rendering, and as a specimen of his verse:—

PSALM XLV.
My heart is labouring with a glorious theme:
My song is of THE KING. My tongue doth teem
With glowing thoughts, which it would fain disclose,
As language from the practised writer flows.
In that countenance benign,
Beauties more than human shine:
Gracious words those lips dispense,
Dropping sweetest eloquence;
For Jehovah, on thy head,
Hath eternal blessings shed.

Arise, gird on thy sword,
O thou most mighty Lord!
Put on Thy panoply of light,
And in thy majesty
Ride forth triumphantly,
Thy chariot, Truth, the meek and poor to right.
Let thy right hand spread terror all before,
That nations may fall prostrate and adore.
Oh let them know, who dare Thy reign oppose,
How sharp the arrows that subdue Thy foes.

Eternal is Thy Throne, O God!
Eternal justice is Thy kingly rod.
Beloved of Thee, the righteous meet reward,
Nor less by Thee the wicked are abhorred.
Therefore, O Christ, on Thine exalted head,
Jehovah hath the royal unction shed,
Above Thy peers; and unto Thee
Shall every creature bow the knee.
All thy robes around Thee shed
Richest odours sweetly blended,
When, from ivory halls, attended
By joyful choirs, thy pomp is led.
Amid the virgin train are seen
Daughters of kings, and many a royal maid;
While at thy right hand, gloriously arrayed
In gold of Ophir, stands the Queen.
Hearken, O daughter! See thy King draw near,
And to His accents bow thy willing ear.
Thy native land remote no more regret,
But in His love thy father's house forget:
So in thy beauty shall the King delight;
Thy Lord, who claims thy homage as His right.
The rich with gifts, thy favour shall entreat,
And Tyre shall pour her treasures at thy feet.
How fair, in bridal glory drest,
The Queen, — of woven gold her vest,
Her flowing robe of purple dye,
Enwrought with Phrygian broidery.
Now is she led, O King, to Thee,
With all her virgin company:
With sounds of joy and nuptial song,
The glad procession moves along;
And to the royal courts they bring
The spotless Consort of the King.
Sons to their fathers shall succeed;
Princes of earth shall be thy seed;
Thy name remotest times adore;
Thy praise endure for evermore.