Part 3 out of 4
shoulders, a-singing in the old New England meeting-house through the
long, tedious psalms, which were made longer and more tedious still by the
drawling singing and the deacons' "lining." Truly that were a pretty sight
for our eyes, and for other eyes than ours, without doubt. Staid Puritan
youth may have glanced soberly across the old meeting-house at the fair
girl as she sung the Song of Solomon, with its ardent wording, without any
very deep thought of its symbolic meaning:--
"Let him with kisses of his mouth
be pleased me to kiss,
Because much better than the wine
thy loving-kindness is.
To troops of horse in Pharoahs coach,
my love, I thee compare,
Thy neck with chains, with jewels new,
thy cheeks full comely are.
Borders of gold with silver studs
for thee make up we will,
Whilst that the king at's table sits
my spikenard yields her smell.
Like as of myrrh a bundle is
my well-belov'd to be,
Through all the night betwixt my breasts
his lodging-place shall be;
My love as in Engedis vines
like camphire-bunch to me,
So fair, my love, thou fair thou art
thine eyes as doves eyes be."
Love and music were ever close companions; and the singing-school--that
safety-valve of young New England life--had not then been established or
even thought of, and I doubt not many a warm and far from Puritanical
love-glance was cast from the "doves-eyes" across the "alley" of the old
meeting-house at Cicely as she sung.
But Cicely vas not young when she last used the old psalm-book. She may
have been stately and prosperous and seated in the dignified "foreseat;"
she may have been feeble and infirm in her place in the "Deaf Pue;" and she
may have been careworn and sad, tired of fighting against poverty, worn
with dread of fierce Indians, weary of the howls of the wolves in the dense
forests so near, and home-sick and longing for the yonderland, her "faire
Englishe home;" but were she sad or careworn or heartsick, in her treasured
psalm-book she found comfort,--comfort in the halting verses as well as
in the noble thoughts of the Psalmist. And the glamour of eternal,
sweet-voiced youth hangs around the gentle Cicely, through the power of the
inscription in the old psalm-book,--
"In youth I praise
And walk thy ways,"--
the romance of the time when Cicely, the Puritan commonwealth, the whole
New World was young.
Sternhold and Hopkins' Version of the Psalms.
The metrical translation of the Psalms known as Sternhold and Hopkins'
Version was doubtless used in the public worship of God in many of the
early New England settlements, especially those of the Connecticut River
Valley, though the old register of the town of Ipswich is the only local
record that gives positive proof of its use in the Puritan church. In
1693 an edition of Sternhold and Hopkins was printed in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. It was not a day nor a land where a whole edition of such a
book would be printed for reference or comparison only; and to thus publish
the work of the English psalmists in the very teeth of the popularity of
"The Bay Psalm Book" is to me a proof that Sternhold and Hopkins' Version
was employed far more extensively in the colonial churches and homes than
we now have records of, and than many of our church historians now fancy.
Certainly the familiar English psalm-books must have been brought across
the ocean and used temporarily until the newly landed colonists could
acquire the version of Ainsworth or of the New England divines.
An everlasting interest attaches to this metrical arrangement of the
Psalms, to Americans as well as to Englishmen, because it was the earliest
to be adopted in public worship in England. According to Strype, in his
Memorial, the singing of psalms was allowed in England as early as 1548,
but it was not until 1562 that the versified psalms of Sternhold and
Hopkins were appended to the Book of Common Prayer. Sternhold and Hopkins'
Version was also the first to give all the psalms of David in English verse
to the English public.
Very little is known of the authors of this version. Sternhold was educated
at Oxford; was Groom of the Robes to Henry VIII. and Edward VI., was a
"bold and busy Calvinist," and died in 1549. The little of interest told
of John Hopkins is that he was a minister and schoolmaster, and that he
assisted the work of Sternhold.
The full reason for Sternhold's pious work is thus given by an old English
author, Wood: "Being a most zealous reformer and a very strict liver he
became so scandalyzed at the loose amorous songs used in the court that he
forsooth turned into English metre fifty-one of Davids Psalms, and caused
musical notes to be set to them, thinking thereby that the courtiers
would sing them instead of their sonnets; but they did not, only some few
excepted." The preface printed in the book stated Sternhold's wish and
intention that the verses should be sung by Englishmen, not only in church,
but "moreover in private houses for their godly solace and comfort; laying
apart all ungodly Songs & Ballads which tend only to the nourishment of
vice & corrupting of youth."
The first edition contained nineteen psalms only, which were all versified
by Sternhold. It was published in 1548 or 1549, under this title, "Certayn
Psalmes chosen out of the Psalter of Daid and drawen into English Metre by
Thomas Sternhold Groom of ye Kynges Maiesties Roobes." I believe no copy of
this edition is now known to exist.
The praise which Sternhold received for his pious rhymes had the same
effect upon him as did similar encomiums upon his predecessor, the French
psalm-writer Marot,--it encouraged him to write more psalm-verses.
The second edition was printed in 1549, and contained thirty-seven psalms
by Sternhold and seven by Hopkins. It bore this title, "Al such Psalmes of
David as Thomas Sternehold late grome of his maiesties robes did in his
lyfe tyme drawe into English metre." It was a well-printed book and copies
are still preserved in the British Museum and the Public Library of
Cambridge, England. This second and enlarged edition was dedicated, in a
four-page preface, to King Edward VI., and a pretty story is told of the
young king's interest in the verses. The delicate and gentle boy of twelve
heard Sternhold when "singing them to his organ" as Strype says, and
wandered in to hear the music and listen to the words. So great was his
awakened interest in the sacred songs that Sternhold resolved to write in
verse for him still further of the psalms. The dedication reads: "Seeing
that your tender and godly zeale dooth more delight in the holye songs of
veritie than in any fayncd rymes of vanytie, I am encouraged to travayle
further in the said booke of Psalmes." This young king restored to the
English people the free reading of the Bible, which his wicked father,
Henry VIII., had forbidden them, and he was of a sincerely religious
nature. He also was a music-lover, and encouraged the art as much as his
short life and troubled reign permitted.
Hopkins also wrote a preface for his share of the work, in which he spoke
with much modesty of himself and much praise of Sternhold. He said his own
verses were not "in any parte to bee compared with his [Sternhold's] most
exquisite dooynges." He thinks, however, that his owne are "fruitfull
though they bee not fyne."
The third edition, in 1556, contained fifty-one psalms; the fourth, in
1560, had sixty-seven psalms; the fifth, in 1561, increased the number to
eighty-seven; and in 1562 or 1563 the whole book of psalms appeared. Other
authors had some share in this work: Norton, Whyttyngham (a Puritan divine
who married Calvin's sister), Kethe, who wrote the 100th Psalm, "All people
that on earth do dwell," which is still seen in some of our hymn-books. Of
all these men, sly old Thomas Fuller truthfully and quaintly said, "They
were men whose piety was better than their poetry, and they had drunk more
of Jordan than of Helicon."
For over one hundred years from the first publication there was a steady
outpour of editions of these Psalms. Before the year 1600 there were
seventy-four editions,--a most astonishing number for the times; and from
1600 to 1700 two hundred and thirty-five editions. In 1868 six hundred and
one editions were known, including twenty-one in this nineteenth century
and doubtless there were still others uncatalogued and forgotten. Among
other editions this version had in the time of Charles II. two in
shorthand, one printed by "Thos. Cockerill at the Three Legs and Bible in
the Poultry." Two copies of these editions are in the British Museum. They
are tiny little 64mos, of which half a dozen could be laid side by side on
the palm of the hand. Sternhold and Hopkins' Version had also in 1694 the
honor of having arranged for it a Concordance.
Upon no production of the religious Muse in the English tongue has greater
diversity of criticism been displayed or more extraordinary or varied
judgment been rendered than upon Sternhold and Hopkins' Psalms. A world of
testimony could be adduced to fortify any view which one chose to take
of them. At the time of their early publication they induced a swarm of
stinging lampoons and sneering comments, that often evince most plainly
that a difference in religious belief or scorn for an opposing sect brought
them forth. The poetry of that and the succeeding century abounds in
allusions to them. Phillips wrote:--
"Singing with woful noise
Like a crack'd saints bell jarring in the steeple,
Tom Sternhold's wretched prick-song for the people."
Another poet, a courtier, wrote:--
"Sternhold and Hopkins had great qualms
When they translated David's psalms."
But I see no signs of qualmishness; they show to me rather a healthy
sturdiness as one of their strongest characteristics.
Pope at a later day wrote:--
"Not but there are who merit other palms
Hopkins and Sternhold glad the heart with psalms.
The boys and girls whom charity maintains
Implore your help in these pathetic strains.
How could devotion touch the country pews
Unless the gods bestowed a proper muse."
Wesley sneered at this version, saying, "When it is seasonable to sing
praises to God we do it, not in the scandalous doggrel of Hopkins and
Sternhold, but in psalms and hymns which are both sense and poetry, such
as would provoke a _critic_ to turn _Christian_ rather than a
_Christian_ to turn _critic_."
The edition of 1562 was printed with the notes of melodies that were then
called Church Tunes. They formed the basis of all future collections of
psalm-music for over a century. They soon were published in harmony in four
parts, "which may be sung to all musical instrumentes set forth for the
encrease of vertue and abolyshing of other vayne and tryfling ballads." In
1592 a very important collection of psalm-tunes was published to use with
Sternhold and Hopkins' words. It is called "The Whole Booke of Psalmes:
with their wonted tunes as they are sung in Churches composed into four
parts." This book is noteworthy because in it the tunes are for the first
time named after places, as is still the custom. The music contained square
or oblong notes and also lozenge-shaped notes. The square note was a
"semy-brave," the lozenge-shaped note was a "prycke" or a "mynymme," and
"when there is a prycke by the square note, that prycke is half as much as
the note that goeth before."
Music at that time was said to be pricked, not printed,--the word being
derived from the prick or dot which formed the head of the note. Any song
which was printed in various parts was called a prick-song, to distinguish
it from one sung extemporaneously or by ear. The word prick-song occurs not
only in all the musical books, but in the literature of the time, and in
Shakespeare. "Tom Sternhold's" songs were entitled to be called prick-songs
because they had notes of music printed with them. Many of the tunes
in this collection were taken from the Genevan Psalter and Luther's
Psalm-Book, or from Marot and Beza's French Book of Psalms. Hence they were
irreverently called "Genevan Jiggs," and "Beza's Ballets."
There is much difference shown in the wording of these various editions of
Sternhold and Hopkins' Psalms. The earlier ones were printed as Sternhold
wrote them; but with the Genevan editions began great and astonishing
alterations. Warton, who was no lover of Sternhold and Hopkins' verses,
calling them "the disgrace of sacred poetry," said of these attempted
improvements, with vehemence, that "many stanzas already too naked and weak
like a plain old Gothic edifice stripped of its signatures of antiquity,
have lost that little and almost only strength and support which they
derived from ancient phrases." Other old critics thought that Sternhold,
could he return to life, would hardly know his own verses.
This is Sternhold's rendering of the Psalm in the edition of 1549:--
1. The heavens & the fyrmamente
do wondersly declare
The glory of God omnipotent
his workes and what they are.
2. Ech daye declareth by his course
an other daye to come
And By the night we know lykwise
a nightly course to run.
3. There is no laguage tong or speche
where theyr sound is not heard,
In al the earth and coastes thereof
theyr knowledge is conferd.
4. In them the lord made royally
a settle for the sunne
Where lyke a Gyant joyfully
he myght his iourney runne.
5. And all the skye from ende to ende
he compast round about
No man can hyde hym from his heate
but he wll fynd hym out
In order to show the liberties taken with the text we can compare with it
the Genevan edition printed in 1556. The second verse of that presumptuous
"The wonderous works of God appears
by every days success
The nyghts which likewise their race runne
the selfe same thinges expresse."
"In them the lorde made for the sunne
a place of great renoune
Who like a bridegrome rady-trimed
doth from his chamber come."
The expression "rady-trimed," meaning close-shaven, is often instanced as
one of the inelegancies of Sternhold, but he surely ought not to be held
responsible for the "improvements" of the Genevan edition published after
The Genevan editors also invented and inserted an extra verse:--
"And as a valiant champion
who for to get a prize
With joye doth hast to take in hande
some noble enterprise."
The fifth verse is thus altered:--
"And al the skye from ende to ende
he compasseth about,
Nothing can hyde it from his heate
but he wil finde it out."
I cannot express the indignation with which I read these belittling and
weakening alterations and interpolations; they are so unjust and
so degrading to the reputation of Sternhold. It seems worse than
forgery--worse than piracy; for instead of stealing from the defenceless
dead poet, it foists upon him a spurious and degrading progeny; there is no
word to express this tinkering libellous literary crime.
Cromwell had a prime favorite among these psalms; it was the one hundred
and ninth and is known as the "cursing psalm." Here are a few lines from
"As he did cursing love, it shall
betide unto him so,
And as he did not blessing love
it shall be farre him fro,
As he with cursing clad himselfe
so it like water shall
Into his bowels and like oyl
Into his bones befall.
As garments let it be to him
to cover him for aye
And as a girdle wherewith he
may girded be alway."
Another authority gives the "cursing psalm" as the nineteenth of King
James's version; but there is nothing in "The heavens declare the glory of
God," &c. to justify the nickname of "cursing."
It is said when the tyrannical ruler Andros visited New Haven and attended
church there that (Sternhold and Hopkins' Version being used) the fearless
minister very inhospitably gave out the fifty-second psalm to be sung. The
angry governor, who took it as a direct insult, had to listen to the lining
and singing of these words, and I have no doubt they were roared out with a
1. Why dost thou tyrant boast thyself
thy wicked deeds to praise
Dost thou not know there is a God
whose mercies last alwaies?
2. Why doth thy mind yet still deuise
such wisked wiles to warp?
Thy tongue untrue, in forging lies
is like a razer sharp.
* * * * *
4. Thou dost delight in fraude & guilt
in mischief bloude and wrong:
Thy lips have learned the flattering stile
O false deceitful tongue.
5. Therefore shall God for eye confounde
and pluck thee from thy place.
Thy seed and root from out the grounde
and so shall thee deface;
6. The just when they behold thy fall
with feare will praise the Lord:
And in reproach of thee withall
cry out with one accord.
When the unhappy King Charles fled from Oxford to a camp of troops he also
was insulted by having the same psalm given out in his presence by the
boorish chaplain of the troops. After the cruel words were ended the
heartsick king rose and asked the soldiers to sing the fifty-sixth psalm.
Whenever I read the beautiful and pathetic words, as peculiarly appropriate
as if they had been written for that occasion only, I can see it all before
me,--the great camp, the angry minister, the wretched but truly royal king;
and I can hear the simple and noble song as it pours from the lips of
hundreds of rude soldiers:
1. Have mercy Lord on mee I pray
for man would mee devour.
He fighteth with me day by day
and troubleth me each hour.
2. Mine enemies daily enterprise
to swallow mee outright
To fight against me many rise
O thou most high of might
* * * * *
5. What things I either did or spake
they wrest them at thier wil:
And all the councel that they take
is how to work me il.
6. They all consent themselves to hide
close watch for me to lay:
They spie my pathes, and snares have layd
to take my life away.
7. Shall they thus scape on mischief set,
thou God on them wilt frowne:
For in his wrath he will not let
to throw whole kingdomes downe.
It would perhaps be neither just nor conducive to proper judgment to gather
only a florilege of noble verses from Sternhold and Hopkins' Version and
point out none of the "weedy-trophies," the quaint and even uncouth lines
which disfigure the work. We must, however, in considering and judging
them, remember that many words and even phrases which at present
seem rather ludicrous or undignified had, in the sixteenth century,
significations which have now become obsolete, and which were then neither
vulgar nor unpoetical. I also have been forced to take my selections from
a copy of Sternhold and Hopkins printed in 1599, and bound up with a
"Breeches Bible;" for I have access to no earlier edition. Sternhold
and Hopkins themselves may not be in truth responsible for many of
the crudities. Hopkins, in his rendition of the 12th verse of the
seventy-fourth Psalm, thus addresses the Deity:--
"Why doost withdraw thy hand abacke
and hide it in thy lappe?
O pluck it out and bee not slacke
to give thy foes a rap."
"Rap" may have meant a heavier, a mightier blow then than it does
Here is another curious verse from the seventieth psalm,--
"Confounde them that apply
and seeke to make my shame
And at my harme doe laugh & crye
So So there goeth the game."
The sixth verse of the fifty-eighth psalm is rendered thus:--
"O God breake thou thier teeth at once
within thier mouthes throughout;
The tuskes that in thier great jawbones
like Lions whelpes hang out."
Another verse reads thus:--
"The earth did quake, the raine pourde down
Heard men great claps of thunder
And Mount Sinai shooke in such state
As it would cleeve in sunder."
One verse of the thirty-fifth psalm reads thus:--
"The belly-gods and flattering traine
that all good things deride
At me doe grin with greate disdaine
and pluck thier mouths aside.
Lord when wilt thou amend this geare
why dost thou stay & pause?
O rid my soul, my onely deare,
out of these Lions clawes."
The word tush occurs frequently and quaintly: "Tush I an sure to fail;"
"Tush God forgetteth this."
"And with a blast doth puff against
such as would him correct
Tush Tush saith he I have no dread."
Here are some of the curious expressions used:--
"Though gripes of grief and pangs full sore
shall lodge with us all night."
"For why their hearts were nothing lent
to Him nor to His trade."
"Our soul in God hath joy and game."
"They are so fed that even for fat
thier eyes oft-times out start."
"They grin they mow they nod thier heads."
"While they have war within thier hearts."
as butter are thier words."
"Divide them Lord & from them pul
thier devilish double-tongue."
"My silly soul uptake."
"And rained down Manna for them to eat
a food of mickle-wonder."
"For joy I have both gaped & breathed."
But it is useless to multiply these selections, which, viewed individually,
are certainly absurd and inelegant. They often indicate, however, the exact
thought of the Psalmist, and are as well expressed as the desire to be
literal as well as poetic will permit them to be. Sternhold's verses
compare quite favorably, when looked at either as a whole or with regard to
individual lines, with those of other poets of his day, for Chaucer was the
only great poet who preceded him.
I must acknowledge quite frankly in the face of critics of both this and
the past century that I always read Sternhold and Hopkins' Psalms with a
delight, a satisfaction that I can hardly give reasons for. Many of the
renderings, though unmelodious and uneven, have a rough vigor and a
sweeping swing that is to me wonderfully impressive, far more so than many
of the elegant and polished methods of modern versifiers. And they are so
thoroughly antique, so devoid of any resemblance to modern poems, that I
love them for their penetrating savor of the olden times; and they seem no
more to be compared and contrasted with modern verses than should an old
castle tower be compared with a fine new city house. We prefer the latter
for a habitation, it is infinitely better in every way, but we can admire
also the rough grandeur of the old ruin.
Other Old Psalm-Books.
There are occasionally found in New England on the shelves of old
libraries, in the collections of antiquaries, or in the attics of old
farm-houses, hidden in ancient hair-trunks or painted sea-chests or among a
pile of dusty books in a barrel,--there are found dingy, mouldy, tattered
psalm-books of other versions than the ones which we know were commonly
used in the New England churches. Perhaps these books were never employed
in public worship in the new land; they may have been brought over by some
colonist, in affectionate remembrance of the church of his youth, and sung
from only with tender reminiscent longing in his own home. But when groups
of settlers who were neighbors and friends in their old homes came to
America and formed little segregated communities by themselves, there is no
doubt that they sung for a time from the psalm-books that they brought with
A rare copy is sometimes seen of Marot and Beza's French Psalm-book,
brought to America doubtless by French Huguenot settlers, and used by them
until (and perhaps after) the owners had learned the new tongue. Some of
the Huguenots became members of the Puritan churches in America, others
were Episcopalians. In Boston the Fancuils, Baudoins, Boutineaus,
Sigourneys, and Johannots were all Huguenots, and attended the little brick
church built on School Street in 1704, which was afterwards occupied by
the Twelfth Congregational Society of Boston, and in 1788 became a Roman
The pocket psalm-book of Gabriel Bernon, the builder of the old French Fort
at Oxford, is one of Marot and Beza's Version, and is still preserved and
owned by one of his descendants; other New England families of French
lineage cherish as precious relics the French psalm-books of their Huguenot
ancestors. There has been in France no such incessant production of new
metrical versions of the psalms as in England. From the time of the
publication of the first versified psalms in 1540, through nearly three
centuries the psalm-book of all French Protestants has been that of Marot
and Beza. This French version of the psalms is of special interest to all
thoughtful students of the history of Protestantism, because it was the
first metrical translation of the psalms ever sung and used by the people;
and it was without doubt one of the most powerful influences that assisted
in the religious awakening of the Reformation.
Clement Marot was the "Valet of the Bed-chamber to King Francis I.," and
was one of the greatest French poets of his time; in fact, he gave his
name to a new school of poetry,--"Marotique." He had tried his hand at
an immense variety of profane verse, he had written ballades, chansons,
pastourelles, vers equivoques, eclogues, laments, complaints, epitaphs,
chants-royals, blasons, contreblasons, dizains, huitains, envois; he had
been, Warton says, "the inventor of the rondeau and the restorer of the
madrigal;" and yet, in spite of his well-known ingenuity and versatility,
it occasioned much surprise and even amusement when it was known that the
gay poet had written psalm-songs and proposed to substitute them for the
love-songs of the French court. I doubt if Marot thought very deeply of the
religious influence of his new songs, in spite of Mr. Morley's belief in
the versifier's serious intent. He was doubtless interested and perhaps
somewhat infected by "Lutheranisme," though perhaps he was more of a
free-thinker than a Protestant. He himself said of his faith:--
"I am not a Lutherist
Nor Zuinglian and less Anabaptist,
I am of God through his son Jesus Christ.
I am one who has many works devised
From which none could extract a single line
Opposing itself to the law divine."
"Luther did not come down from heaven for me
Luther was not nailed to the cross to be
My Saviour; for my sins to suffer shame,
And I was not baptized in Luther's name.
The name I was baptized in sounds so sweet
That at the sound of it, what we entreat
The Eternal Father gives."
In the year 1540, at the instigation of King Francis, Marot presented a
manuscript copy of his thirty new psalm-songs to Charles V., king of Spain,
receiving therefor two hundred gold doubloons. Francis encouraged him by
further gifts, and so praised his work that the author soon published the
thirty in a book which he dedicated to the king; and to which he also
prefixed a metrical address to the ladies of France, bidding these fair
dames to place their
"doigts sur les espinettes
Pour dire sainctes chansonnettes."
These "sainctes chansonnettes" became at once the rage; courtiers and
princes, lords and ladies, ever ready for some new excitement, seized at
once upon the novel psalm-songs, and having no special or serious music for
them, cheerfully sang the sacred words to the ballad-tunes of the times,
and to their gailliards and measures, without apparently any very deep
thought of their religious meaning. Disraeli says that each of the royal
family and each nobleman chose for his favorite song a psalm expressive of
his own feeling or sentiments. The Dauphin, as became a brave huntsman,
"Ainsi qu'on vit le cerf bruyre,"
"As the hart panteth after the water-brook,"
and he gayly and noisily sang it when he went to the chase. The Queen chose
"Ne vueilles pas, o sire,
Me reprendre en ton ire."
"Rebuke me not in thine indignation."
Antony, king of Navarre, sung
"Revenge moy prens la querelle,"
"Stand up, O Lord! to revenge my quarrel,"
to the air of a dance of Poitou. Diane de Poictiers chose
"Du fond de ma pensee."
"From the depth of my heart."
But when from interest in her psalm-song she wished to further read and
study the Bible, she was warned from the danger with horror by the Cardinal
of Lorraine. This religious awakening and inquiry was of course deprecated
and dreaded by the Romish Church; to the Sorbonne all this rage for
psalm-singing was alarming enough. What right had the people to sing God's
word, "I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be continually
in my mouth"? The new psalm-songs were soon added to the list of "Heretical
Books" forbidden by the Church, and Marot fled to Geneva in 1543. He had
ere this been under ban of the Church, even under condemnation of death;
had been proclaimed a heretic at all the cross-ways throughout the kingdom,
and had been imprisoned. But he had been too good a poet and courtier to be
lost, and the king had then interested himself and obtained the release of
the versatile song writer. The fickle king abandoned for a second time the
psalm versifier, who never again returned to France.
The austere and far-seeing Calvin at once adopted Marot's version of the
Psalms, now enlarged to the number of fifty, and added them to the Genevan
Confession of Faith,--recommending however that they be sung with the grave
and suitable strains written, for them by Guillaume Frane.
The collection was completed with the assistance of Theodore Beza, the
great theologian, and the demand for the books was so great that the
printers could not supply them quickly enough. Ten thousand copies were
sold at once,--a vast number for the times.
But Marot was not happy in Geneva with Calvin and the Calvinists, as we can
well understand. Beza, in his "History of the French Reformed Churches"
said, "He (Marot) had always been bred up in a very bad school, and could
not live in subjection to the reformation of the Gospel, and therefore
went and spent the rest of his days in Piedmont, which was then in the
possession of the king, where he lived in some security under the favor of
the governor." He lived less than a year, however, dying in 1544.
These psalms of Marot's passed through a great number and variety of
editions. In addition to the Genevan publications, an immense number were
printed in England. Nearly all the early editions were elegant books;
carefully printed on rich paper, beautifully bound in rich moroccos and
leathers, often emblazoned with gold on the covers, and with corners and
clasps of precious metals,--they show the wealth and fashion of the owners.
When, however, it came to be held an infallible sign of "Lutheranisme" to
be a singer of psalms, simpler and cheaper bindings appear; hence the dress
of the French Psalm-Book found in New England is often dull enough, but
invariably firm and substantial.
These psalms of Marot's are written in a great variety of song-measures,
which seem scarcely as solemn and religious as the more dignified and even
metres used by the early English writers. Some are graceful and smooth,
however, and are canorous though never sonorous. They are pleasing to read
with their quaint old spelling and lettering.
In the old Sigourney psalm-book the nineteenth psalm was thus rendered:--
"Les cieux en chaque lieu
La puissance de Dieu
Racourent aux humains
Ce grand entour espars
Publie en toutes parts
L'ouvrage de ses mains.
"Iour apres iour coulant
Du Saigneur va parlant
Par longue experience.
La nuict suivant la nuict,
Nous presche et nous instruicst
De sa grad sapience"
Another much-employed metre was this, of the hundred and thirty-third
"Asais aux bors do ce superbe fleuve
Que de Babel les campagnes abreuve,
Nos tristes coeurs ne pensoient qu' a Sion.
Chacun, helas, dans cette affliction
Les yeux en pleurs la morte peinte au visage
Pendit sa harpe aux saules du rivage."
A third and favorite metre was this:--
"Mais sa montagne est un sainct lieu:
Qui viendra done au mont de Dieu?
Qui est-ce qui la tiendra place?
Le homine de mains et coeur lave,
En vanite non esleve
Et qui n'a jure en fallace."
Marot wrote in his preface to the psalms:--
"Thrice happy they who shall behold
And listen in that age of gold
As by the plough the laborer strays
And carman 'mid the public ways
And tradesman in his shop shall swell
The voice in psalm and canticle,
Sing to solace toil; again
From woods shall come a sweeter strain,
Shepherd and shepherdess shall vie
In many a tender Psalmody,
And the Creator's name prolong
As rock and stream return their song."
Though these words seem prophetic, the gay and volatile Marot could never
have foreseen what has proved one of the most curious facts in religious
history,--that from the airy and unsubstantial seed sown by the French
courtier in such a careless, thoughtless manner, would spring the
great-spreading and deep-rooted tree of sacred song.
Little volumes of the metrical rendering of the Psalms, known as "Tate and
Brady's Version," are frequently found in New England. It was the first
English collection of psalms containing any smoothly flowing verses. Many
of the descendants of the Puritans clung with affection to the more literal
renderings of the "New England Psalm-Book," and thought the new verses were
"tasteless, bombastic, and irreverent." The authors of the new book were
certainly not great poets, though Nahum Tate was an English Poet-Laureate.
It is said of him that he was so extremely modest that he was never able
to make his fortune or to raise himself above necessity. He was not too
modest, however, to dare to make a metrical version of the Psalms, to write
an improvement of King Lear, and a continuation of Absalom and Achitophel.
Brady--equally modest--translated the Aeneid in rivalry of Dryden. "This
translation," says Johnson, "when dragged into the world did not live long
enough to cry."
Such commonplace authors could hardly compose a version that would have a
stable foundation or promise of long existence. But few of Tate and Brady's
hymns are now seen in our church-collections of Hymns and Psalms. To them
we owe, however, these noble lines, which were written thus:--
"Be thou, O God, exalted High,
And as thy glory fills the Skie
So let it be on Earth displaid
Till thou art here as There obeyed."
The hymn commencing,--
"My soul for help on God relies,
From him alone my safety flows,"
is also of their composition.
The first edition of these psalms was printed in 1696, and bore this
title, "The Book of Psalms, a new version in metre fitted to the tunes used
in Churches. By N. Tate and N. Brady." It was dedicated to King William,
and though its use was permitted in English churches, it never supplanted
Sternhold and Hopkins' Version. In New England Tate and Brady's Psalms
became more universally popular,--not, however, without fierce opposing
struggles from the older church-members at giving up the venerated "Bay
Another version of Psalms which is occasionally found in New England is
known as "Patrick's Version." The title is "The Psalms of David in Metre
Fitted to the Tunes used in Parish Churches by John Patrick, D.D. Precentor
to the Charter House London." A curious feature of this octavo edition of
1701, which I have, is, "An Explication of Some Words of less Common
Use For the Benefit of the Common People." Here are a few of the
Climes--Countries differing in length of days.
Detracting--Lessening one's credit.
Theam--Matter of Discourse.
Baxter said of Patrick, "His holy affection and harmony hath so far
reconciled the Nonconformists that diverse of them use his Psalms in
their congregation." I doubt if the version were used in New England
Nonconformist congregations. Some of his verses read thus:--
"Lord hear the pray'rs and mournfull cries
Of mine afflicted estate,
And with thy Comforts chear my soul,
Before it is too late.
"My days consume away like Smoak
Mine anguish is so great,
My bones are not unlike a hearth
Parched & dry with heat.
"Such is my grief I little else
Can do but sigh and groan.
So wasted is my flesh I'm left
Nothing but skin and bone.
"Like th' Owl and Pelican that dwell
In desarts out of sight,
I sadly do bemoan myself,
In solitude delight.
"The wakeful bird that on Housetops
Sits without company
And spends the night in mournful cries
Leads such a life as I.
"The Ashes I rowl in when I eat
Are tasted with my bread,
And with my Drink are mixed the tears
I plentifully shed."
A version of the Psalms which seems to have demanded and deserved more
attention than it received was written by Cotton Mather. He was doomed to
disappointment in seeing his version adopted by the New England churches
just as his ambitions and hopes were disappointed in many other ways. This
book was published in 1718. It was called "Psalterium Americanum. A Book
of Psalms in a translation exactly conformed unto the Original; but all
in blank verse. Fitted unto the tunes commonly used in the Church." By a
curious arrangement of brackets and the use of two kinds of print these
psalms could be divided into two separate metres and could be sung to
tunes of either long or short metre. After each psalm were introduced
explanations written in Mather's characteristic manner,--a manner both
scholarly and bombastic. I have read the "Psalterium Americanum" with care,
and am impressed with its elegance, finish, and dignity. It is so popular,
however, even now-a-days, to jibe at poor Cotton Mather, that his Psalter
does not escape the thrusts of laughing critics. Mr. Glass, the English
critic, holds up these lines as "one of the rich things:"--
"As the Hart makes a panting cry
For cooling streams of water,
So my soul makes a panting cry
For thee--O Mighty God."
I have read these lines over and over again, and fail to see anything very
ludicrous in them, though they might be slightly altered to advantage.
Still they may be very absurd and laughable from an English point of view.
So superior was Cotton Mather's version to the miserable verses given in
"The Bay Psalm-Book" that one wonders it was not eagerly accepted by the
New England churches. Doubtless they preferred rhyme--even the atrocious
rhyme of "The Bay Psalm Book." And the fact that the "Psalterium
Americanum" contained no musical notes or directions also militated against
Other American clergymen prepared metrical versions of the psalms that were
much loved and loudly sung by the respective congregations of the writers.
The work of those worthy, painstaking saints we will neither quote nor
criticise,--saying only of each reverend versifier, "Truly, I would
the gods had made thee poetical." Rev. John Barnard, who preached for
fifty-four years in Marblehead, published at the age of seventy years a
psalm-book for his people. Though it appeared in 1752, a time when "The Bay
Psalm Book" was being shoved out of the New England churches, Barnard's
Version of the Psalms was never used outside of Marblehead. Rev. Abijah
Davis published another book of psalms in which he copied whole pages from
Watts without a word of thanks or of due credit, which was apparently
neither Christian, clerical nor manly behavior.
Watts's monosyllabic Hymns, which were not universally used in America
until after the Revolution, are too well known and are still too frequently
seen to need more than mention. Within the last century a flood of new
books of psalms of varying merit and existence has poured out upon the New
England churches, and filled the church libraries and church, pews, the
second-hand book shops, the missionary boxes, and the paper-mills.
The Church Music.
Of all the dismal accompaniments of public worship in the early days of New
England, the music was the most hopelessly forlorn,--not alone from the
confused versifications of the Psalms which were used, but from the
mournful monotony of the few known tunes and the horrible manner in which
those tunes were sung. It was not much better in old England. In 1676
Master Mace wrote of the singing in English churches, "'T is sad to
hear what whining, toling, yelling or shreaking there is in our country
A few feeble efforts were made in America at the beginning of the
eighteenth century to attempt to guide the singing. The edition of 1698 of
"The Bay Psalm-Book" had "Some few Directions" regarding the singing added
on the last pages of the book, and simple enough they were in matter if not
in form. They commence, "_First_, observe how many note-compass the
tune is next the place of your first note, and how many notes above and
below that so as you may begin the tune of your first note, as the rest may
be sung in the compass of your and the peoples voices without Squeaking
above or Grumbling below."
This "Squeaking above and Grumbling below" had become far too frequent in
the churches; Judge Sewall writes often with much self-reproach of his
failure in "setting the tune," and also records with pride when he "set the
psalm well." Here is his pathetic record of one of his mistakes: "He spake
to me to set the tune. I intended Windsor and fell into High Dutch, and
then essaying to set another tune went into a Key much to high. So I pray'd
to Mr. White to set it which he did well. Litchfield Tune. The Lord Humble
me and Instruct me that I should be the occasion of any interruption in the
worship of God."
The singing at the time must have been bad beyond belief; how much of its
atrocity was attributable to the use of "The Bay Psalm-Book," cannot now
be known. The great length of many of the psalms in that book was a fatal
barrier to any successful effort to have good singing. Some of them were
one hundred and thirty lines long, and occupied, when lined and sung, a
full half-hour, during which the patient congregation stood. It is told of
Dr. West, who preached in Dartmouth in 1726, that he forgot one Sabbath Day
to bring his sermon to meeting. He gave out a psalm, walked a quarter of a
mile to his house, got his sermon, and was back in his pulpit long before
the psalm was finished. The irregularity of the rhythm in "The Bay Psalm
Book" must also have been a serious difficulty to overcome. Here is the
rendering given of the 133d Psalm:--
1. How good and sweet to see
i'ts for bretheren to dwell
together in unitee:
2. Its like choice oyle that fell
the head upon
that down did flow
the beard unto
beard of Aron:
The skirts of his garment
that unto them went down:
3. Like Hermons dews descent
Sions mountains upon
for there to bee
the Lords blessing
life aye lasting
How this contorted song could have been sung even to the simplest tune by
unskilled singers who possessed no guiding notes of music is difficult
to comprehend. Small wonder that Judge Sewall was forced to enter in his
diary, "In the morning I set York tune and in the second going over, the
gallery carried it irresistibly to St. Davids which discouraged me very
much." We can fancy him stamping his foot, beating time, and roaring York
at the top of his old lungs, and being overcome by the strong-voiced
gallery, and at last sadly succumbing to St. David's. Again he writes: "I
set York tune and the Congregation went out of it into St. Davids in the
very 2nd going over. They did the same 3 weeks before. This is the 2nd
Sign. It seems to me an intimation for me to resign the Praecentor's Place
to a better Voice. I have through the Divine Long suffering and Favour done
it for 24 years and now God in his Providence seems to call me off, my
voice being enfeebled." Still a third time he "set Windsor tune;" they "ran
over into Oxford do what I would." These unseemly "running overs" became
so common that ere long each singer "set the tune" at his own will and the
loudest-voiced carried the day. A writer of the time, Rev. Thomas Walter,
says of this reign of _concordia discors_: "The tunes are now
miserably tortured and twisted and quavered, in some Churches, into a
horrid Medly of confused and disorderly Voices. Our tunes are left to the
Mercy of every unskilful Throat to chop and alter, to twist and change,
according to their infinitely divers and no less Odd Humours and Fancies.
I have myself paused twice in one note to take breath. No two Men in the
Congregation quaver alike or together, it sounds in the Ears of a Good
Judge like five hundred different Tunes roared out at the same Time, with
perpetual Interfearings with one another."
Still, confused and poor as was the singing, it was a source of pure and
unceasing delight to the Puritan colonists,--one of the rare pleasures they
possessed,--a foretaste of heaven;
"for all we know
Of what the blessed do above
Is that they sing and that they love."
And to even that remnant of music--their few jumbled cacophonous
melodies--they clung with a devotion almost phenomenal.
Nor should we underrate the cohesive power that psalm-singing proved in the
early communities; it was one of the most potent influences in gathering
and holding the colonists together in love. And they reverenced their poor
halting tunes in a way quite beyond our modern power of fathoming. Whenever
a Puritan, even in road or field, heard at a distance the sound of a
psalm-tune, though the sacred words might be quite undistinguishable, he
doffed his hat and bowed his head in the true presence of God. We fain must
believe, as Arthur Hugh Clough says,--
"There is some great truth, partial, very likely, but needful, Lodged,
I am strangely sure, in the tones of an English psalm-tune."
Judge Sewall often writes with tender and simple pathos of his being moved
to tears by the singing,--sometimes by the music, sometimes by the words.
"The song of the 5th Revelation was sung. I was ready to burst into tears
at the words, _bought with thy blood_." He also, with a vehemence of
language most unusual in him and which showed his deep feeling, wrote that
he had an intense passion for music. And yet, the only tunes he or any of
his fellow-colonists knew were the simple ones called Oxford, Litchfield,
Low Dutch, York, Windsor, Cambridge, St. David's and Martyrs.
About the year 1714 Rev. John Tufts, of Newbury, who had previously
prepared "A very Plain and Easy Introduction to the Art of Singing
Psalm-tunes," issued a collection of tunes in three parts. These
thirty-seven tunes, all of which but one were in common metre, were bound
often with "The Bay Psalm-Book." They were reprinted from Playford's "Book
of Psalms" and the notes of the staff were replaced with letters and dots,
and the bars marking the measures were omitted. To the Puritans, this great
number of new tunes appeared fairly monstrous, and formed the signal for
bitter objections and fierce quarrels.
In 1647 a tract had appeared on church-singing which had attracted much
attention. It was written by Rev John Cotton to attempt to influence the
adoption and universal use of "The Bay Psalm-Book." This tract thoroughly
considered the duty of singing, the matter sung, the singers, and the
manner of singing, and, like all the literature of the time, was full of
Biblical allusion and quotation. It had been said that "man should sing
onely and not the women. Because it is not permitted to a woman to speake
in the Church, how then shall they sing? Much lesse is it permitted to them
to prophecy in the church and singing of Psalms is a kind of Prophecying."
Cotton fully answered and contradicted these false reasoners, who would
have had to face a revolution had they attempted to keep the Puritan women
from singing in meeting. The tract abounds in quaint expressions, such as,
"they have scoffed at Puritan Ministers as calling the people to sing one
of _Hopkins-Jiggs_ and so _hop_ into the pulpit." Though he wrote
this tract to encourage good singing in meeting, his endorsement of "lining
the Psalm" gave support to the very element that soon ruined the singing.
His reasons, however, were temporarily good, "because many wanted books and
skill to read." At that time, and for a century later, many congregations
had but one or two psalm-books, one of which was often bound with the
church Bible and from which the deacon lined the psalm.
So villanous had church-singing at last become that the clergymen arose in
a body and demanded better performances; while a desperate and disgusted
party was also formed which was opposed to all singing. Still another band
of old fogies was strong in force who wished to cling to the same way of
singing that they were accustomed to; and they gave many objections to the
new-fangled idea of singing by note, the chief item on the list being the
everlasting objection of all such old fossils, that "the old way was good
enough for our fathers," &c. They also asserted that "_the names of
the notes were blasphemous_;" that it was "popish;" that it was a
contrivance to get money; that it would bring musical instruments into the
churches; and that "no one could learn the tunes any way." A writer in the
"New England Chronicle" wrote in 1723, "Truly I have a great jealousy
that if we begin to _sing_ by _rule_, the next thing will be
to _pray_ by rule and _preach_ by rule and _then comes popery_."
It is impossible to overestimate the excitement, the animosity, and the
contention which arose in the New England colonies from these discussions
over "singing by rule" or "singing by rote." Many prominent clergymen wrote
essays and tracts upon the subject; of these essays "The Reasonableness of
Regular Singing," also a "Joco-serious Dialogue on Singing," by Reverend
Mr. Symmes; "Cases of Conscience," compiled by several ministers; "The
Accomplished Singer," by Cotton Mather, were the most important. "Singing
Lectures" also were given in many parts of New England by various prominent
ministers. So high was party feud that a "Pacificatory Letter" was
necessary, which was probably written by Cotton Mather, and which soothed
the troubled waters. The people who thought the "old way was the best" were
entirely satisfied when they were convinced that the oldest way of all was,
of course, by note and not by rote.
This naive extract from the records of the First Church of Windsor,
Connecticut, will show the way in which the question of "singing by rule"
was often settled in the churches, and it also gives a very amusing glimpse
of the colonial manner of conducting a meeting:--
"July 2. 1736. At a Society meeting at which Capt. Pelatiah Allyn
Moderator. The business of the meeting proceeded in the following manner
Viz. the Moderator proposed as to the consideration of the meeting in the
1st Place what should be done respecting that part of publick Woiship
called Singing viz. whether in their Publick meetings as on Sabbath day,
Lectures &c they would sing the way that Deacon Marshall usually sung in
his lifetime commonly called the 'Old Way' or whether they would sing the
way taught by Mr. Beal commonly called 'Singing by Rule,' and when the
Society had discoursed the matter the Moderator pioposed to vote for said
two ways as followeth viz. that those that were for singing in publick in
the way practiced by Deacon Marshall should hold up their hands and be
counted, and then that those that were desirous to sing in Mr. Beals way
called 'by Rule' would after show their minds by the same sign which method
was proceeded upon accordingly. But when the vote was passed there being
many voters it was difficult to take the exact number of votes in order to
determine on which side the major vote was; whereupon the Moderator ordered
all the voters to go out of the seats and stand in the alleys and then
those that were for Deacon Marshalls way should go into the mens seats and
those that were for Mr. Beals way should go into the womens seat and
after much objections made against that way, which prevailed not with the
Moderator, it was complied with, and then the Moderator desired that those
that were of the mind that the way to be practiced for singing for the
future on the Sabbath &c should be the way sung by Deacon Marshall as
aforesaid would signify the same by holding up their hands and be counted,
and then the Moderator and myself went and counted the voters and the
Moderator asked me how many there was. I answered 42 and he said there was
63 or 64 and then we both counted again and agreed the number being 43.
Then the Moderator was about to count the number of votes for Mr. Beals
way of Singing called 'by Rule' but it was offered whether it would not be
better to order the voters to pass out of the Meeting House door and there
be counted who did accordingly and their number was 44 or 45. Then the
Moderator proceeded and desired that those who were for singing in Public
the way that Mr. Beal taught would draw out of their seats and pass out of
the door and be counted. They replied they were ready to show their minds
in any proper way where they were if they might be directed thereto but
would not go out of the door to do the same and desired that they might be
led to a vote where they were and they were ready to show their minds which
the Moderator refused to do and thereupon declared that it was voted that
Deacon Marshalls way of singing called the 'Old Way' should be sung in
Publick for the future and ordered me to record the same as the vote of the
Said Society which I refused to do under the circumstances thereof and have
recorded the facts and proceedings."
Good old lining, droning Deacon Marshall! though you were dead and gone,
you and your years of psalm-singings were not forgotten. You lived, an
idealized memory of pure and pious harmony, in the hearts of your old
church friends. Warmly did they fight for your "way of singing;" with
most undeniable and open partiality, with most dubious ingenuousness and
rectitude, did your old neighbor, Captain Pelatiah Allyn, conduct that hot
July music-meeting, counting up boldly sixty-three votes in favor of your
way, when there were only forty-three voters on your side of the alley, and
crowding a final decision in your favor. It is sad to read that when icy
winter chilled the blood, warm partisanship of old friends also cooled, and
innovative Windsor youth carried the day and the music vote, and your good
old way was abandoned for half the Sunday services, to allow the upstart
new fashion to take control.
One happy result arose throughout New England from the victory of the
ardent advocates of the "singing by rule,"--the establishment of the New
England "singing-school,"--that outlet for the pent-up, amusement-lacking
lives of young people in colonial times. What that innocent and
happy gathering was in the monotonous existence of our ancestors and
ancestresses, we of the present pleasure-filled days can hardly comprehend.
Extracts from the records of various colonial churches will show how soon
the respective communities yielded to the march of improvement and "seated
the taught singers" together, thus forming choirs. In 1762 the church
at Rowley, Massachusetts, voted "that those who have learned the art of
Singing may have liberty to sit in the front gallery." In 1780 the same
parish "requested Jonathan Chaplin and Lieutenant Spefford to assist the
deacons in Raising the tune in the meeting house." In Sutton, in 1791, the
Company of Singers were allowed to sit together, and $13 was voted to pay
for "larning to sing by Rule." The Roxbury "First Church" voted in 1770
"three seats in the back gallery for those inclined to sit together for
the purpose of singing" The church in Hanover, in 1742, took a vote to
see whether the "church will sing in the new way" and appoint a tuner. In
Woodbury, Connecticut, in 1750 the singers "may sitt up Galery all day if
they please but to keep to there own seat & not to Infringe on the Women
Pues." In 1763, in the Ipswich First Parish, the singers were allowed to
sit "two back on each side of the front alley." Similar entries may be
found in nearly every record of New England churches in the middle or
latter part of that century.
The musical battle was not finished, however, when the singing was at last
taught by rule, and the singers were allowed to sit together and form a
choir. There still existed the odious custom of "lining" or "deaconing"
the psalm. To this fashion may be attributed the depraved condition of
church-singing of which Walters so forcibly wrote, and while it continued
the case seemed hopeless, in spite of singing-schools and singing-teachers.
It would be trying to the continued uniformity of pitch of an ordinary
church choir, even now-a-days, to have to stop for several seconds between
each line to listen to a reading and sometimes to an explanation of the
The Westminster Assembly had suggested in 1664 the alternate reading and
singing of each line of the psalm to those churches that were not well
supplied with psalm-books. The suggestion had not been adopted without
discussion, It was in 1680 much talked over in the church in Plymouth, and
was adopted only after getting the opinion of each male church member.
When once taken into general use the custom continued everywhere, through
carelessness and obstinacy, long after the churches possessed plenty of
psalm-books. An early complaint against it was made by Dr. Watts in the
preface of his hymns, which were published by Benjamin Franklin in 1741. As
Watts' Psalms and Hymns were not, however, in general use in New England
until after the Revolution, this preface with its complaint was for a long
time little seen and little heeded.
It is said that the abolition came gradually; that the impetuous and
well-trained singers at first cut off the last word only of the deacon's
"lining;" they then encroached a word or two further, and finally sung
boldly on without stopping at all to be "deaconed." This brought down
a tempest of indignation from the older church-members, who protested,
however, in vain. A vote in the church usually found the singers
victorious, and whether the church voted for or against the "lining," the
choir would always by stratagem vanquish the deacon. One old soldier took
his revenge, however. Being sung down by the rampant choir, he still showed
battle, and rose at the conclusion of the psalm and opened his psalm-book,
saying calmly, "_Now_ let the _people of the Lord sing_."
The Rowley church tried diplomacy in their struggle against "deaconing,"
by instituting a gradual abolishing of the custom. In 1785 the choir was
allowed "to sing once on the Lord's Day without reading by the Deacon." In
five years the Rowley singers were wholly victorious, and "lining out" the
psalm was entirely discontinued.
In 1770, dissatisfaction at the singing in the church was rife in
Wilbraham, and a vote was taken to see whether the town would be willing
to have singing four times at each service; and it was voted to "take into
consideration the Broken State of this Town with regard to singing on the
Sabbath Day." Special and bitter objection was made against the leader
beating time so ostentatiously. A list of singers was made and a
singing-master appointed. The deacon was allowed to lead and line and beat
time in the forenoon, while the new school was to have control in the
afternoon; and "whoever leads the singing shall be at liberty to use the
motion of his hand while singing for the space of three months only." It is
needless to state who came off victorious in the end. The deacon left as a
parting shot a request to "make Inquiry into the conduct of those who call
themselves the Singers in this town."
In Worcester, in 1779, a resolution adopted at the town meeting was "that
the mode of singing in the congregation here be without reading the psalms
line by line." "The Sabbath succeeding the adoption of this resolution,
after the hymn had been read by the minister, the aged and venerable Deacon
Chamberlain, unwilling to abandon the custom of his fathers and his own
honorable prerogative, rose and read the first line according to his usual
practice. The singers, previously prepared to carry the desired alteration
into effect, proceeded in their singing without pausing at the conclusion
of the line. The white-haired officer of the church with the full power
of his voice read on through the second line, until the loud notes of the
collected body of singers overpowered his attempt to resist the progress
of improvement. The deacon, deeply mortified at the triumph of the musical
reformation, then seized his hat and retired from the meeting-house in
tears." His conduct was censured by the church, and he was for a time
deprived of partaking in the communion, for "absenting himself from the
public services of the Sabbath;" but in a few weeks the unhouselled deacon
was forgiven, and never attempted to "line" again.
Though the opponents of "lining" were victorious in the larger villages and
towns, in smaller parishes, where there were few hymn-books, the lining
of the psalms continued for many years. Mr. Hood wrote, in 1846, the
astonishing statement that "the habit of lining prevails to this day over
three-fourths of the United States." This I can hardly believe, though I
know that at present the practice obtains in out of the way towns with poor
and ignorant congregations. The separation of the lines often gives a very
strange meaning to the words of a psalm; and one wonders what the Puritan
children thought when they heard this lino of contradictions that Hood
"The Lord will come and He will not,"
and after singing that line through heard the second line,--
"Keep silence, but speak out."
Many new psalm-books appeared about the time of the Revolutionary War, and
many church petitions have been preserved asking permission to use the
new and more melodious psalm and hymn books. Books of instruction also
abounded,--books in which the notes were not printed on the staff, and
books in which there were staffs but no notes, only letters or other
characters (these were called "dunce notes"); books, too, in which the
notes were printed so thickly that they could scarcely be distinguished one
from the other.
"A dotted tribe with ebon heads
That climb the slender fence along,
As black as ink, as thick as weeds,
Ye little Africans of song."
One book--perhaps the worst, since it was the most pretentious--was "The
Compleat Melody or Harmony of Sion," by William Tansur,--"Ingenious
Tans'ur Skilled in Musicks Art." It was a most superficial, pedantic, and
bewildering composition. The musical instruction was given in the form of a
series of ill-spelled dialogues between a teacher and pupil, interspersed
with occasional miserable rhymes. It was ill-expressed at best, and
such musical terms as "Rations of Concords," "Trilloes," "Trifdiapasons,"
"Leaps," "Binding cadences," "Disallowances," "Canons," "Prime Flower
of Florid," "Consecutions of Perfects," and "Figurates," make the book
exceedingly difficult of comprehension to the average reader, though
possibly not to a student of obsolete musical phraseology.
A side skirmish on the music field was at this time fought between the
treble and the tenor parts. Ravenscroft's Psalms and Walter's book had
given the melody, or plain-song, to the tenor. This had, of course, thrown
additional difficulties in the way of good singing; but when once the
trebles obtained the leading part, after the customary bitter opposition,
the improved singing approved the victory.
Many objections, too, were made to the introduction of "triple-time" tunes.
It gave great offence to the older Puritans, who wished to drawl out all
the notes of uniform length; and some persons thought that marking and
accenting the measure was a step toward the "Scarlet Woman." The time was
called derisively, "a long leg and a short one."
These old bigots must have been paralyzed at the new style of psalm-singing
which was invented and introduced by a Massachusetts tanner and
singing-master named Billings, and which was suggested, doubtless, by the
English anthems. It spread through the choirs of colonial villages and
towns like wild-fire, and was called "fuguing." Mr. Billings' "Fuguing
Psalm Singer" was published in 1770. It is a dingy, ill-printed book with
a comically illustrated frontispiece, long pages of instruction, and this
"O, praise the Lord with one consent
And in this grand design
Let Britain and the Colonies
The succeeding hymn-books, and the patriotic hymns of Billings in
post-Revolutionary years have no hint of "Britain" in them. The names
"Federal Harmony," "Columbian Harmony," "Continental Harmony," "Columbian
Repository," and "United States Sacred Harmony" show the new nation.
Billings also published the "Psalm Singer's Amusement," and other
singing-books. The shades of Cotton, of Sewall, of Mather must have groaned
aloud at the suggestions, instructions, and actions of this unregenerate,
daring, and "amusing" leader of church-singing.
It seems astonishing that New England communities in those times of anxious
and depressing warfare should have so delightedly seized and adopted this
unusual and comparatively joyous style of singing, but perhaps the new
spirit of liberty demanded more animated and spirited expression; and
Billings' psalm-tunes were played with drum and fife on the battlefield to
inspire the American soldiers. Billings wrote of his fuguing invention, "It
has more than twenty times the power of the old slow tunes. Now the solemn
bass demands their attention, next the manly tenor, now the lofty counter,
now the volatile treble. Now here! Now there! Now here again! Oh ecstatic,
push on, ye sons of harmony!" Dr. Mather Byles wrote thus of fuguing:--
"Down starts the Bass with Grave Majestic Air,
And up the Treble mounts with shrill Career,
With softer Sounds in mild melodious Maze
Warbling between, the Tenor gently plays
And, if th' inspiring Altos joins the Force
See! like the Lark it Wings its towering Course
Thro' Harmony's sublimest Sphere it flies
And to Angelic Accents seems to rise."
A more modern poet in affectionate remembrance thus sings the fugue:--
"A fugue let loose cheers up the place,
With bass and tenor, alto, air,
The parts strike in with measured grace,
And something sweet is everywhere.
"As if some warbling brood should build
Of bits of tunes a singing nest;
Each bringing that with which it thrilled
And weaving it with all the rest."
All public worshippers in the meetings one hundred years ago did not,
however, regard fuguing as "something sweet everywhere," nor did they agree
with Billings and Byles as to its angelic and ecstatic properties. Some
thought it "heartless, tasteless, trivial, and irreverent jargon." Others
thought the tunes were written more for the absurd inflation of the singers
than for the glory of God; and many fully sympathized with the man who
hung two cats over Billings's door to indicate his opinion of Billings's
caterwauling. An old inhabitant of Roxbury remembered that when fuguing
tunes were introduced into his church "they produced a literally fuguing
effect on the older people, who went out of the church as soon as the first
verse was sung." One scandalized and belligerent old clergyman, upon the
Sabbath following the introduction of fuguing into his church, preached
upon the prophecy of Amos, "The songs of the temple shall be turned
into howling," while another took for his text the sixth verse of the
seventeenth chapter of Acts, "Those that have turned the world upside down,
are come hither also." One indignant and disgusted church attendant thus
profanely recorded in church his views:--
"Written out of temper on a Pannel in one of the Pues in Salem Church:--
"Could poor King David but for once
To Salem Church repair;
And hear his Psalms thus warbled out,
Good Lord, how he would swear
"But could St Paul but just pop in,
From higher scenes abstracted,
And hear his Gospel now explained,
By Heavens, he'd run distracted."
These lines were reprinted in the "American Apollo" in 1792.
The repetition of a word or syllable in fuguing often lead to some
ridiculous variations in the meanings of the lines. Thus the words--
"With reverence let the saints appear
And bow before the Lord,"
were forced to be sung, "And bow-wow-wow, And bow-ow-ow," and so on until
bass, treble, alto, counter, and tenor had bow-wowed for about twenty
seconds; yet I doubt if the simple hearts that sung ever saw the absurdity.
It is impossible while speaking of fuguing to pass over an extraordinary
element of the choir called "singing counter." The counter-tenor parts in
European church-music were originally written for boys' voices. From
thence followed the falsetto singing of the part by men; such was also
the "counter" of New England. It was my fortune to hear once in a country
church an aged deacon "sing counter". Reverence for the place and song, and
respect for the singer alike failed to control the irrepressible start
of amazement and smile of amusement with which we greeted the weird and
apparently demented shriek which rose high over the voices of the choir,
but which did not at all disconcert their accustomed ears. Words, however
chosen, would fail in attempting to describe the grotesque and uncanny
It is very evident, when once choirs of singers were established and
attempts made for congregations to sing the same tune, and to keep
together, and upon the same key, that in some way a decided pitch must be
given to them to start upon. To this end pitch-pipes were brought into the
singers' gallery, and the pitch was given sneakingly and shamefacedly to
the singers. From these pitch-pipes the steps were gradual, but they led,
as the Puritan divines foresaw, to the general introduction of musical
instruments into the meetings.
This seemed to be attacking the very foundations of their church; for the
Puritans in England had, in 1557, expressly declared "concerning singing of
psalms we allow of the people joining with one voice in a plain tune, but
not in tossing the psalms from one side to the other with mingling of
organs." The Round-heads had, in 1664, gone through England destroying the
noble organs in the churches and cathedrals. They tore the pipes from the
organ in Westminster Abbey, shouting, "Hark! how the organs go!" and, "Mark
what musick that is, that is lawful for a Puritan to dance," and they sold
the metal for pots of ale. Only four or five organs were left uninjured in
all England. 'Twas not likely, then, that New England Puritans would take
kindly to any musical instruments. Cotton Mather declared that there was
not a word in the New Testament that authorized the use of such aids to
devotion. The ministers preached often and long on the text from the
prophecy of Amos, "I will not hear the melody of thy viols;" while,
Puritan-fashion, they ignored the other half of the verse, "Take thou away
from me the noise of thy songs." Disparaging comparisons were made with
Nebuchadnezzar's idolatrous concert of cornet, flute, dulcimer, sackbut,
and psaltery; and the ministers, from their overwhelming store of Biblical
knowledge, hurled text after text at the "fiddle-players."
Some of the first pitch-pipes were comical little apple-wood instruments
that looked like mouse-traps, and great pains was taken to conceal them as
they were passed surreptitiously from hand to hand in the choir. I have
seen one which was carefully concealed in a box that had a leather binding
like a book, and which was ostentatiously labelled in large gilt letters
"Holy Bible;" a piece of barefaced and unnecessary deception on the part of
some pious New England deacon or chorister.
Little wooden fifes were also used, and then metal tuning-forks. A canny
Scotchman, who abhorred the thought of all musical instruments anywhere,
managed to have one fling at the pitch-pipe. The pitch had been given but
was much too high, and before the first verse was ended the choir had to
cease singing. The Scotchman stood up and pointed his long finger to the
leader, saying in broad accents of scorn, "Ah, Johnny Smuth, now ye can
have a chance to blaw yer braw whustle agaen." At a similar catastrophe
owing to the mistake of the leader in Medford, old General Brooks rose in
his pew and roared in an irritated voice of command, "Halt! Take another
pitch, Bailey, take another pitch."
In 1713 there was sent to America an English organ, "a pair of organs" it
was called, which had chanced, by being at the manufacturers instead of in
a church, to have escaped the general destruction by the Round-heads. It
was given by Thomas Brattle to the Brattle Street Church in Boston. The
congregation voted to refuse the gift, and it was then sent to King's
Chapel, where it remained unpacked for several months for fear of hostile
demonstrations, but was finally set up and used. In 1740 a Bostonian named
Bromfield made an organ, and it was placed in a meeting-house and used
weekly. In 1794 the church in Newbury obtained an organ, and many
unpleasant and disparaging references were made by clergymen of other
parishes to "our neighbor's box of whistles," "the tooting tub."
Violoncellos, or bass-viols, as they were universally called, were almost
the first musical instruments that were allowed in the New England
churches. They were called, without intentional irreverence, "Lord's
fiddles." Violins were widely opposed, they savored too much of low, tavern
dance-music. After much consultation a satisfactory compromise was agreed
upon by which violins were allowed in many meetings, if the performers
"would play the fiddle wrong end up." Thus did our sanctimonious
grandfathers cajole and persuade themselves that an inverted fiddle was
not a fiddle at all, but a small bass-viol. An old lady, eighty years old,
wrote thus in the middle of this century, of the church of her youth:
"After awhile there was a bass-viol Introduced and brought into meeting and
did not suit the Old people; one Old Gentleman got up, took his hat off
the peg and marched off. Said they had begun fiddling and there would be
dancing soon." Another church-member, in derisive opposition to a clarinet
which had been "voted into the choir," brought into meeting a fish-horn,
which he blew loud and long to the complete rout of the clarinet-player and
the singers. When reproved for this astounding behavior he answered stoutly
that "if one man could blow a horn in the Lord's House on the Sabbath day
he guessed he could too," and he had to be bound over to keep the peace
before the following Sunday. A venerable and hitherto decorous old deacon
of Roxbury not only left the church when the hated bass-viol began its
accompanying notes, but he stood for a long time outside the church door
stridently "caterwauling" at the top of his lungs. When expostulated with
for this unseemly and unchristianlike annoyance he explained that he was
"only mocking the banjo." To such depths of rebellion were stirred the
Puritan instincts of these religious souls.
Many a minister said openly that he would like to walk out of his pulpit
when the obnoxious and hated flutes, violins, bass-viols, and bassoons were
played upon in the singing gallery. One clergyman contemptuously announced
"We will now sing and fiddle the forty-fifth Psalm." Another complained of
the indecorous dress of the fiddle-player. This had reference to the almost
universal custom, in country churches in the summer time, of the bass-viol
player removing his coat and playing "in his shirt sleeves." Others hated
the noisy tuning of the bass-viol while the psalm was being read. Mr.
Brown, of Westerly, sadly deplored that "now we have only catgut and resin
In 1804 the church in Quincy, being "advanced," granted the singers the
sum of twenty-five dollars to buy a bass-viol to use in meeting, and a few
other churches followed their lead. From the year 1794 till 1829 the
church in Wareham, Massachusetts, was deeply agitated over the question of
"Bass-Viol, or No Bass-Viol." They voted that a bass-viol was "expedient,"
then they voted to expel the hated abomination; then was obtained "Leave
for the Bass Viol to be brought into ye meeting house to be Played On every
other Sabbath & to Play if chosen every Sabbath in the Intermission between
meetings & not to Pitch the Tunes on the Sabbaths that it don't Play" Then,
they tried to bribe the choir for fifty dollars not to use the "bars-vile,"
but being unsuccessful, many members in open rebellion stayed away from
church and were disciplined therefor. Then they voted that the bass-viol
could not be used unless Capt. Gibbs were previously notified (so he and
his family need not come to hear the hated sounds); but at last, after
thirty years, the choir and the "fiddle-player" were triumphant in Wareham
as they were in other towns.
We were well into the present century before any cheerful and also simple
music was heard in our churches; fuguing was more varied and surprising
than cheerful. Of course, it was difficult as well as inappropriate to
suggest pleasing tunes for such words as these:--
"Far in the deep where darkness dwells,
The land of horror and despair,
Justice hath built a dismal hell,
And laid her stores of vengeance there:
"Eternal plagues and heavy chains,
Tormenting racks and fiery coals,
And darts to inflict immortal pains,
Dyed in the blood of damned souls."
But many of the words of the old hymns were smooth, lively, and
encouraging; and the young singers and perhaps the singing-masters craved
new and less sober tunes. Old dance tunes were at first adapted; "Sweet
Anne Page," "Babbling Echo," "Little Pickle" were set to sacred words. The
music of "Few Happy Matches" was sung to the hymn "Lo, on a narrow neck
of land;" and that of "When I was brisk and young" was disguised with
the sacred words of "Let sinners take their course." The jolly old tune,
"Begone dull care," which began,--
"My wife shall dance, and I will sing,
And merrily pass the day."
was strangely appropriated to the solemn words,--
"If this be death, I soon shall be
From every pain and sorrow free,"
and did not seem ill-fitted either.
"Sacred arrangements," "spiritual songs," "sacred airs," soon followed, and
of course demanded singers of capacity and education to sing them. From
this was but a step to a paid quartette, and the struggle over this last
means of improvement and pleasure in church music is of too recent a date
to be more than referred to.
I attended a church service not many years ago in Worcester, where an old
clergyman, the venerable "Father" Allen, of Shrewsbury, then too aged
and feeble to preach, was seated in the front pew of the church. When a
quartette of singers began to render a rather operatic arrangement of a
sacred song he rose, erect and stately, to his full gaunt height, turned
slowly around and glanced reproachfully over the frivolous, backsliding
congregation, wrapped around his spare, lean figure his full cloak
of quilted black silk, took his shovel hat and his cane, and stalked
indignantly and sadly the whole length of the broad central aisle, out
of the church, thus making a last but futile protest against modern
innovations in church music. Many, in whom the Puritan instincts and blood
are still strong, sympathize internally with him in this feeling; and all
novelty-lovers must acknowledge that the sublime simplicity and deep piety
in which the old Puritan psalm-tunes abound, has seldom been attained in
the modern church-songs. Even persons of neither musical knowledge, taste,
nor love, feel the power of such a tune as Old Hundred; and more modern and
more difficult melodies, though they charm with their harmony and novelty,
can never equal it in impressiveness nor in true religious influence.
The Interruptions of the Services.
Though the Puritans were such a decorous, orderly people, their religious
meetings were not always quiet and uninterrupted. We know the torment they
endured from the "wretched boys," and they were harassed by other
annoying interruptions. For the preservation of peace and order they made
characteristic laws, with characteristic punishments. "If any interrupt
or oppose a preacher in season of worship, they shall be reproved by the
Magistrate, and on repetition, shall pay L5, or stand two hours on a block
four feet high, with this inscription in Capitalls, 'A WANTON GOSPELLER.'"
As with other of their severe laws the rigid punishment provoked the crime,
for Wanton Gospellers abounded. The Baptists did not hesitate to state
their characteristic belief in the Puritan meetings, and the Quakers or
"Foxians," as they were often called, interrupted and plagued them sorely.
Judge Sewall wrote, in 1677, "A female quaker, Margaret Brewster, in
sermon-time came in, in a canvass frock, her hair dishevelled loose like a
Periwig, her face as black as ink, led by two other quakers, and two other
quakers followed. It occasioned the greatest and most amazing uproar that I
ever saw." More grievous irruptions still of scantily clad and even naked
Quaker women were made into other Puritan meetings; and Quaker men shouted
gloomily in through the church windows, "Woe! Woe! Woe to the people!"
and, "The Lord will destroy thee!" and they broke glass bottles before
the minister's very face, crying out, "Thus the Lord will break thee in
pieces!" and they came into the meeting-house, in spite of the fierce
tithingman, and sat down in other people's seats with their hats on their
heads, in ash-covered coats, rocking to and fro and groaning dismally, as
if in a mournful obsession. Quaker women managed to obtain admission to the
churches, and they jumped up in the quiet Puritan assemblies screaming out,
"Parson! thou art an old fool," and, "Parson! thy sermon is too long," and,
"Parson! sit down! thee has already said more than thee knows how to say
well," and other unpleasant, though perhaps truthful personalities. It is
hard to believe that the poor, excited, screaming visionaries of those
early days belonged to the same religious sect as do the serene,
low-voiced, sweet-faced, and retiring Quakeresses of to-day. And there is
no doubt that the astounding and meaningless freaks of these half-crazed
fanatics were provoked by the cruel persecutions which they endured from
our much loved and revered, but alas, intolerant and far from perfect
Puritan Fathers. These poor Quakers were arrested, fined, robbed, stripped
naked, imprisoned, laid neck and heels, chained to logs of wood, branded,
maimed, whipped, pilloried, caged, set in the stocks, exiled, sold
into slavery and hanged by our stern and cruel ancestors. Perhaps some
gentle-hearted but timid Puritan souls may have inwardly felt that the
Indian wars, and the destructive fires, and the earthquakes, and the dead
cattle, blasted wheat, and wormy peas, were not judgments of God for small
ministerial pay and periwig-wearing, but punishments for the heartrending
woes of the persecuted Quakers.
Others than the poor Quakers spoke out in colonial meetings. In Salem
village and in other witch-hunting towns the crafty "victims" of the
witches were frequently visited with their mock pains and sham fits in the
meeting-houses, and they called out and interrupted the ministers most
vexingly. Ann Putnam, the best and boldest actress among those cunning
young Puritan witch-accusers, the protagonist of that New England tragedy
known as the Salem Witchcraft, shouted out most embarrassingly, "There is
a yellow-bird sitting on the minister's hat, as it hangs on the pin in the
pulpit." Mr. Lawson, the minister, wrote with much simplicity that "these
things occurring in the time of public worship did something interrupt me
in my first prayer, being so unusual." But he braced himself up in spite
of Ann and the demoniacal yellow-bird, and finished the service. These
disorderly interruptions occurred on every Lord's Day, growing weekly
more constant and more universal, and must have been unbearable. Some few
disgusted members withdrew from the church, giving as reason that "the
distracting and disturbing tumults and noises made by persons under
diabolical power and delusions, preventing sometimes our hearing and
understanding and profiting of the word preached; we having after many
trials and experiences found no redress in this case, accounted ourselves
under a necessity to go where we might hear the word in quiet." These
withdrawing church-members were all of families that contained at least
one person that had been accused of practising witchcraft. They were thus
severely intolerant of the sacrilegious and lawless interruptions of the
shy young "victims," who received in general only sympathy, pity, and even
stimulating encouragement from their deluded and excited neighbors.
One very pleasing interruption,--no, I cannot call it by so severe a
name,--one very pleasing diversion of the attention of the congregation
from the parson was caused by an innocent custom that prevailed in many a
country community. Just fancy the flurry on a June Sabbath in Killingly, in
1785, when Joseph Gay, clad in velvet coat, lace-frilled shirt, and white
broadcloth knee-breeches, with his fair bride of a few days, gorgeous in a
peach-colored silk gown and a bonnet trimmed "with sixteen yards of white
ribbon," rose, in the middle of the sermon, from their front seat in the
gallery and stood for several minutes, slowly turning around in order to
show from every point of view their bridal finery to the eagerly gazing
congregation of friends and neighbors. Such was the really delightful and
thoughtful custom, in those fashion-plateless days, among persons of
wealth in that and other churches; it was, in fact, part of the wedding
celebration. Even in midwinter, in the icy church, the blushing bride would
throw aside her broadcloth cape or camblet roquelo and stand up clad in a
sprigged India muslin gown with only a thin lace tucker over her neck, warm
with pride in her pretty gown, her white bonnet with ostrich feathers and
embroidered veil, and in her new husband.
The services in the meeting-house on the Sabbath and on Lecture days
were sometimes painfully varied, though scarcely interrupted, by a very
distressing and harrowing custom of public abasement and self-abnegation,
which prevailed for many years in the nervously religious colonies. It was
not an enforced punishment, but a voluntary one. Men and women who had
committed crimes or misdemeanors, and who had sincerely repented of their
sins, or who were filled with remorse for some violation of conscience, or
even with regret for some neglect of religious ethics, rose in the Sabbath
meeting before the assembled congregation and confessed their sins, and
humbly asked forgiveness of God, and charity from their fellows. At
other times they stood with downcast heads while the minister read their
confession of guilt and plea for forgiveness. A most graphic account of one
of those painful scenes is thus given by Governor Winthrop in his "History
of New England:"--
"Captain Underhill being brought by the blessing of God in this
church's censure of excommunication, to remorse for his foul sins,
obtained, by means of the elders, and others of the church of Boston, a
safe conduct under the hand of the governor and one of the council to
repair to the church. He came at the time of the court of assistants,
and upon the lecture day, after sermon, the pastor called him forth and
declared the occasion, and then gave him leave to speak: and in
it was a spectacle winch caused many weeping eyes, though it afforded
matter of much rejoicing to behold the power of the Lord Jesus in his
ordinances, when they are dispensed in his own way, holding forth the
authority of his regal sceptre in the simplicity of the gospel
came in his worst clothes (being accustomed to take great pride in his
bravery and neatness) without a band, in a foul linen cap pulled close
to his eyes; and standing upon a form, he did, with many deep sighs
and abundance of tears, lay open his wicked course, his adultery, his
hypocrisy, his persecution of God's people here, and especially his
pride (as the root of all which caused God to give him over to his
other sinful courses) and contempt of the magistrates.... He spake
well save that his blubbering &c interrupted him, and all along he
discovered a broken and melting heart and gave good exhortations to
take heed of such vanities and beginnings of evil as had occasioned his
fall; and in the end he earnestly and humbly besought the church to
have compassion of him and to deliver him out of the hands of Satan."
What a picture! what a story! "Of all tales 'tis the saddest--and more sad
because it makes us smile."
Captain John Underhill was a brave though somewhat bumptious soldier, who
had fought under the Prince of Orange in the War of the Netherlands, and
had been employed as temporal drill-master in the church-militant in New
England. He did good service for the colonists in the war with the Pequot
Indians, and indeed wherever there was any fighting to be done. "He thrust
about and justled into fame" He also managed to have apparently a very good
time in the new land, both in sinning and repenting. When he stood up on
the church-seat before the horrified, yet wide-open eyes of pious Boston
folk, in his studiously and theatrically disarranged garments, and
blubbered out his whining yet vain-glorious repentance, he doubtless acted
his part well, for he had twice before been through the same performance,
supplementing his second rehearsal by kneeling down before an injured
husband in the congregation, and asking earthly forgiveness. I wish I
could believe that this final repentance of the resilient captain were
sincere--but I cannot. Nor did Boston people believe it either, though that
noble and generous-minded man, Winthrop, thought he saw at the time of
confession evidences of a truly contrite heart. The Puritans sternly and
eagerly cast out the gay captain to the Dutch when he became an Antinomian,
and he came to live and fight and gallant in a town on the western end of
Long Island, where he perhaps found a church-home with members less severe
and less sharp-eyed than those of his Boston place of martyrdom, and a
people less inclined to resent and punish his frailties and his ways of
In justice to Underhill (or perhaps to show his double-dealing) I will say
that he left behind him a letter to Hanserd Knollys, complaining of the
ill-treatment he had received; and in it he gives a very different account
of this little affair with the Boston Church from that given us by Governor
Winthrop. The offender says nothing about his hypocrisy, his public and
self-abasing confession, nor of his sanctimonious blubbering and wishes for
death. He explains that his offence was mild and purely mental, that in an
infaust moment he glanced (doubtless stared soldier-fashion) at "Mistris
Miriam Wildbore" as she sat in her "pue" at meeting. The elders, noting his
admiring and amorous glances, thereupon accused him of sin in his heart,
and severely asked him why he did not look instead at Mistress Newell or
Mistress Upham. He replied very spiritedly and pertinently that these dames
were "not desiryable women as to temporal graces," which was certainly
sufficient and proper reason for any man to give, were he Puritan or
Cavalier. Then acerb old John Cotton and some other Boston ascetics
(perhaps Goodman Newell and Goodman Upham, resenting for their wives the
_spretae injuria formae_) at once hunted up some plainly applicable
verses from the Bible that clearly proved him guilty of the alleged
sin--and summarily excommunicated him. He also wrote that the pious church
complained that the attractive, the temporally graced Mistress Wildbore
came vainly and over-bravely clad to meeting, with "wanton open-worked
gloves slitt at the thumbs and fingers for the purpose of taking snuff,"
and he resented this complaint against the fair one, saying no harm could
surely come from indulging in the "good creature called tobacco." He would
naturally feel that snuff-taking was a proper and suitable church-custom,
since his own conversion,--dubious though it was,--his religious belief had
come to him, "the spirit fell home upon his heart" while he was indulging
in a quiet smoke.
The story of his offences as told b his contemporaries does not assign to
him so innocuous a diversion as staring across the meeting-house, but the
account is quite as amusing as his own plaintive and deeply injured version
of his arraignment.
Other letters of his have been preserved to us,--letters blustering as
was Ancient Pistol, and equally sanctimonious, letters fearfully and
phonetically spelt. Here is the opening of a letter written while he
was under sentence of excommunication from the Boston Church, and of
banishment. It is to Governor Winthrop, his friend and fellow-emigrant:--
"Honnored in the Lord,--
"Your silenc one more admirse me. I Youse chrischan playnnes. I know you
love it.... Silene can not reduce the hart of youer lovd brother: I would
the rightchous would smite me espechah youerslfe & the honnered Depoti to
whom I also dereckt this letter.... I would to God you would tender me
soule so as to youse playnnes with me. I wrot to you both but now answer: &
here I am dayli abused by malishous tongue. John Baker I here hath wrot to
the honnored depoti how as I was drouck & like to be cild & both falc, upon
okachon I delt with Wannerton for intrushon & finddmg them resolutli bent
to rout all gud a mong us & advanc there superstischous ways & by boystrous
words indeferd to fritten men to accomplish his end. & he abusing me to
my face, dru upon him with intent to corb his insolent & dastardli
sperrite.... Ister daye on Pickeren their Chorch Warden caim up to us with
intent to make some of ourse drone as is sospeckted but the Lord sofered
him so to misdemen himslfe as he is likli to li by the hielse this too
month.... My homble request is that you will be charitable of me.... Let
justies and merci be goyned.... You may plese to soggest youer will to this
barrer you will find him tracktabel."
My sense of drollery is always most keenly tickled when I read Underhill's
epistles, with their amazing and highly-varied letter concoctions, and
remember that he also--wrote a book. What that seventeenth-century printer
and proof-reader endured ere they presented his "edited" volume to the
public must have been beyond expression by words. It was a pretty good book
though, and in it, like many another man of his ilk, he tendered to his
much-injured wife loud and diffuse praise, ending with these sententious
words, "Let no man despise advice and counsel of his wife--though she be a
And yet, upon careful examination we find a method, a system, in
Underhill's orthography, or rather in his cacography. He thinks a final
tion should be spelt chon--and why not? "proposichon," "satisfackchon,"
"oblegachon," "persekuchon," "dereckchon," "himelyachon"--thus he spells
such words. And his plurals are plain when once you grasp his laws:
"poseschouse" and "considderachonse," "facktse," and "respecktse." And
his ly is alwajs li, "exacktli," "thorroli," "fidelliti," "charriti,"
"falsciti." And why is not "indiered," as good as 'endeared,' "pregedic,"
as 'prejudice,' "obstrucktter" as 'obstructer,' "pascheges," and
"prouydentt," and "antyentt," just as clear as our own way of spelling
these words? A "painful" speller you surely were, my gay Don Juan
Underbill, as your pedantic "writtingse" all show, and the most dramatic
and comic figure among all the early Puritans as well, though you scarcely
deserve to be called a Puritan; we might rather say of you, as of Malvolio,
"The devil a Puritan that he was, or anything constantly but a
time-pleaser ... his ground of faith that all who looked on him loved him."
In keen contrast to this sentimental excitement is the presence of noble
Judge Sewall, white-haired and benignant, standing up calmly in Boston
meeting, with dignified face and demeanor, but an aching and contrite
heart, to ask through the voice of his minister humble forgiveness of God
and man for his sad share as a judge in the unjust and awful condemnation
and cruel sentencing to death of the poor murdered victims of that terrible
delusion the Salem Witchcraft. Years of calm and unshrinking reflection, of
pleading and constant communion with God had brought to him an overwhelming
sense of his mistaken and over-influenced judgment, and a horror and
remorse for the fatal results of his error. Then, like the steadfast and
upright old Puritan that he was, he publicly acknowledged his terrible
mistake. It is one of the finest instances of true nobility of soul and of
absolute self-renunciation that the world affords. And the deep strain, the
sharp wrench of the step is made more apparent still by the fact of the
disapproval of his fellow-judges of his public confession and recantation.
The yearly entries in his diary, simply expressed yet deeply speaking,
entries of the prayerful fasts which he spent alone in his chamber when
the anniversary of the fatal judgment-day returned, show that no half-vain
bigotry, no emotional excitement filled and moved him to the open words of
remorse. The lesson of his repentance is farther reaching than he
dreamed, when the story of his confession can so move and affect this
nineteenth-century generation, and fill more than one soul with a nobler
idea of the Puritan nature, and with a higher and fuller conception of the
absolute truth of the Puritan Christianity.
Some very prosaic and earthly interruptions to the church services are
recorded as being made, and possibly by the church-members themselves. In
one church, in 1661, a fine of five shillings was imposed on any one "who
shot off a gun or led a horse into the meeting-house." These seem to me
quite as unseemly, irreverent, and disagreeable disturbances as shouting
out, Quaker-fashion, "Parson, your sermon is too long;" but possibly the
house of God was turned into a stable on week-days, not on the Sabbath.
In many parishes church-attendants were fined who brought their "doggs"
into the meeting-house. Dogs swarmed in the colony, for they had been
imported from England, "sufficient mastive dogs, hounds and beagles," and
also Irish wolf-hounds; and they caused an interruption in one afternoon
service by chasing into the meeting-house one of those pungently offensive,
though harmless, animals that abounded even in the earliest colonial
days, and whose mephitic odor, in this case, had power to scatter the
congregation as effectively as would have a score of armed Indian braves.
Officially appointed "Dogg-whippers" and the never idle tithingman expelled
the intruding and unwelcome canine attendants from the meeting-house with
fierce blows and fiercer yelps. The swarming dogs, though they were trained
to hunt the Indians and wolves and tear them in pieces, were much fonder of
hunting and tearing the peaceful sheep, and thus became such unmitigated
nuisances, out of meeting as well as in, that they had to be muzzled and
hobbled, and killed, and land was granted (as in Newbury in 1703) on
condition that no dog was ever kept thereon. As late as the year 1820, it
was ordered in the town of Brewster that any dog that came into meeting
should be killed unless the owner promised to thenceforth keep the intruder
Alarms of fire in the neighborhood frequently disturbed the quiet of
the early colonial services; for the combustible catted chimneys were
a constant source of conflagration, especially on Sundays, when the
fireplaces with their roaring fires were left unwatched; and all the men
rushed out of the meeting at sound of the alarm to aid in quenching the
flames, which could however be ill-fought with the scanty supply of
water that could be brought in a few leathern fire-buckets and
milk-pails,--though at a very early date as an aid in extinguishing
fires each New England family was ordered by law to own a fire-ladder.
Occasionally the town's ladder and poles and hooks and cedar-buckets were
kept in the meeting-house, and thus were handy for Sunday fires.
Sometimes armed men, bearing rumors of wars and of hostile attacks, rode
clattering up to the church-door, and strode with jingling spurs and
rattling swords into the excited assembly with appeal for more soldiers to
bear arms, or for more help for those already in the army, and the whole
congregation felt it no interruption but a high religious privilege and
duty, to which they responded in word and deed. On some happy Sabbaths the
armed riders bore good news of great victories, and great was the rejoicing
thereat in prayer and praise in the old meeting-house.
But usually through the Sabbath services, though the quiet was not that
of our modern carpeted, cushioned, orderly churches, but few interrupting
sounds were heard. The cry of a waking infant, the scraping of restless
feet on the sanded floor, the lumbering noise of the motions of a cramped
farmer as he stood up to lean over the pew-door or gallery-rail, the
clatter of an overturned cricket, the twittering of swallows in the
rafters, and in the summer-time the bumping and buzzing of an invading
bumble-bee as he soared through the air and against the walls, were
the only sounds within the meeting-house that broke the monotonous
"thirteenthly" and "fourteenthly" of the minister's sermon.
The Observances of the Day.
The so-called "False Blue Laws" of Connecticut, which were foisted upon the
public by the Reverend Samuel Peter, have caused much indignation among all
thoughtful descendants and all lovers of New England Puritans. Three of
his most bitterly resented false laws which refer to the observance of the
Sabbath read thus:--
"No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or
shave on the Sabbath Day.
"No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day.
"No one shall ride on the Sabbath Day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere
except reverently to and from meeting."
Though these laws were worded by Dr. Peters, and though we are disgusted to
hear them so often quoted as historical facts, still we must acknowledge
that though in detail not correct, they are in spirit true records of the
old Puritan laws which were enacted to enforce the strict and decorous
observance of the Sabbath, and which were valid not only in Connecticut and
Massachusetts, but in other New England States. Even a careless glance at
the historical record of any old town or church will give plenty of details
to prove this.
Thus in New London we find in the latter part of the seventeenth century a
wicked fisherman presented before the Court and fined for catching eels on
Sunday; another "fined twenty shillings for sailing a boat on the Lord's
Day;" while in 1670 two lovers, John Lewis and Sarah Chapman, were accused
of and tried for "sitting together on the Lord's Day under an apple tree in
Goodman Chapman's Orchard,"--so harmless and so natural an act. In Plymouth
a man was "sharply whipped" for shooting fowl on Sunday; another was fined
for carrying a grist of corn home on the Lord's Day, and the miller who
allowed him to take it was also fined. Elizabeth Eddy of the same town was
fined, in 1652, "ten shillings for wringing and hanging out clothes." A
Plymouth man, for attending to his tar-pits on the Sabbath, was set in the
stocks. James Watt, in 1658, was publicly reproved "for writing a note
about common business on the Lord's Day, _at least in the evening
somewhat too soon._" A Plymouth man who drove a yoke of oxen was
"presented" before the Court, as was also another offender, who drove some
cows a short distance "without need" on the Sabbath.
In Newbury, in 1646, Aquila Chase and his wife were presented and fined for
gathering peas from their garden on the Sabbath, but upon investigation the
fines were remitted, and the offenders were only admonished. In Wareham,
in 1772, William Estes acknowledged himself "Gilty of Racking Hay on the
Lord's Day" and was fined ten shillings; and in 1774 another Wareham
citizen, "for a breach of the Sabbath in puling apples," was fined five
shillings. A Dunstable soldier, for "wetting a piece of an old hat to put
in his shoe" to protect his foot--for doing this piece of heavy work on the
Lord's Day, was fined, and paid forty shillings.
Captain Kemble of Boston was in 1656 set for two hours in the public stocks
for his "lewd and unseemly behavior," which, consisted in his kissing his
wife "publicquely" on the Sabbath Day, upon the doorstep of his house, when
he had just returned from a voyage and absence of three years. The lewd
offender was a man of wealth and influence, the father of Madam Sarah
Knights, the "fearfull female travailler" whose diary of a journey from
Boston to New York and return, written in 1704, rivals in quality if not in
quantity Judge Sewall's much-quoted diary. A traveller named Burnaby tells
of a similar offence of an English sea-captain who was soundly whipped for
kissing his wife on the street of a New England town on Sunday, and of his
retaliation in kind, by a clever trick upon his chastisers; but Burnaby's
narrative always seemed to me of dubious credibility.
Abundant proof can be given that the act of the legislature in 1649 was not
a dead letter which ordered that "whosoever shall prophane the Lords daye
by doeing any seruill worke or such like abusses shall forfeite for euery
such default ten shillings or be whipt."
The Vermont "Blue Book" contained equally sharp "Sunday laws." Whoever was
guilty of any rude, profane, or unlawful conduct on the Lord's Day, in
words or action, by clamorous discourses, shouting, hallooing, screaming,
running, riding, dancing, jumping, was to be fined forty shillings and
whipped upon the naked back not to exceed ten stripes. The New Haven code
of laws, more severe still, ordered that "Profanation of the Lord's Day
shall be punished by fine, imprisonment, or corporeal punishment; and
if proudly, and with a high hand against the authority of God--_with