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PAGE 3

Psalm-Singing
by [?]

Thrice happy they, who shall behold,
And listen in that age of gold!
As by the plough the labourer strays,
And carman mid the public ways,
And tradesman in his shop shall swell
Their voice in Psalm or 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!
Begin then, ladies fair! begin
The age renew’d that knows no sin!
And with light heart, that wants no wing,
Sing! from this holy song-book, sing![2]

This “holy song-book” for the harpsichord or the voice, was a gay novelty, and no book was ever more eagerly received by all classes than Marot’s “Psalms.” In the fervour of that day, they sold faster than the printers could take them off their presses; but as they were understood to be songs, and yet were not accompanied by music, every one set them to favourite tunes, commonly those of popular ballads. Each of the royal family, and every nobleman, chose a psalm or a song which expressed his own personal feelings, adapted to his own tune. The Dauphin, afterwards Henry the Second, a great hunter, when he went to the chase, was singing Ainsi qu’on vit le cerf bruyre. “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks.” There is a curious portrait of the mistress of Henry, the famous Diane de Poictiers, recently published, on which is inscribed this verse of the Psalm. On a portrait which exhibits Diane in an attitude rather unsuitable to so solemn an application, no reason could be found to account for this discordance; perhaps the painter, or the lady herself, chose to adopt the favourite psalm of her royal lover, proudly to designate the object of her love, besides its double allusion to her name. Diane, however, in the first stage of their mutual attachment, took Du fond de ma pensee, or, “From the depth of my heart.” The queen’s favourite was

Ne veuilles pas, o sire,
Me reprendre en ton ire;

that is, “Rebuke me not in thy indignation,” which she sung to a fashionable jig. Antony, king of Navarre, sung Revenge moy prens la querelle, or “Stand up, O Lord, to revenge my quarrel,” to the air of a dance of Poitou. We may conceive the ardour with which this novelty was received, for Francis sent to Charles the Fifth Marot’s collection, who both by promises and presents encouraged the French bard to proceed with his version, and entreating Marot to send him as soon as possible Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus, because it was his favourite psalm. And the Spanish as well as French composers hastened to set the Psalms of Marot to music. The fashion lasted, for Henry the Second set one to an air of his own composing. Catharine de’ Medici had her psalm, and it seems that every one at court adopted some particular psalm for themselves, which they often played on lutes and guitars, etc. Singing psalms in verse was then one of the chief ingredients in the happiness of social life.

The universal reception of Marot’s Psalms induced Theodore Beza to conclude the collection, and ten thousand copies were immediately dispersed. But these had the advantage of being set to music, for we are told they were “admirably fitted to the violin and other musical instruments.” And who was the man who had thus adroitly taken hold of the public feeling to give it this strong direction? It was the solitary Thaumaturgus, the ascetic Calvin, who from the depths of his closet at Geneva had engaged the finest musical composers, who were, no doubt, warmed by the zeal of propagating his faith to form these simple and beautiful airs to assist the psalm-singers. At first this was not discovered, and Catholics as well as Huguenots were solacing themselves on all occasions with this new music. But when Calvin appointed these psalms, as set to music, to be sung at his meetings, and Marot’s formed an appendix to the Catechism of Geneva, this put an end to all psalm-singing for the poor Catholics! Marot himself was forced to fly to Geneva from the fulminations of the Sorbonne, and psalm-singing became an open declaration of what the French called “Lutheranisme,” when it became with the reformed a regular part of their religious discipline. The Cardinal of Lorraine succeeded in persuading the lovely patroness of the “holy song-book,” Diane de Poictiers, who at first was a psalm-singer and an heretical reader of the Bible, to discountenance this new fashion. He began by finding fault with the Psalms of David, and revived the amatory elegances of Horace: at that moment even the reading of the Bible was symptomatic of Lutheranism; Diane, who had given way to these novelties, would have a French Bible, because the queen, Catharine de’ Medici, had one, and the Cardinal finding a Bible on her table, immediately crossed himself, beat his breast, and otherwise so well acted his part, that “having thrown the Bible down and condemned it, he remonstrated with the fair penitent, that it was a kind of reading not adapted for her sex, containing dangerous matters: if she was uneasy in her mind she should hear two masses instead of one, and rest contented with her Paternosters and her Primer, which were not only devotional but ornamented with a variety of elegant forms, from the most exquisite pencils of France.” Such is the story drawn from a curious letter, written by a Huguenot, and a former friend of Catharine de’ Medici, and by which we may infer that the reformed religion was making considerable progress in the French Court,–had the Cardinal of Lorraine not interfered by persuading the mistress, and she the king, and the king his queen, at once to give up psalm-singing and reading the Bible!