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PAGE 4

Psalm-Singing
by [?]

“This infectious frenzy of psalm-singing,” as Warton describes it, “under the Calvinistic preachers, had rapidly propagated itself through Germany as well as France. It was admirably calculated to kindle the flame of fanaticism, and frequently served as the trumpet to rebellion. These energetic hymns of Geneva excited and supported a variety of popular insurrections in the most flourishing cities of the Low Countries, and what our poetical antiquary could never forgive, “fomented the fury which defaced many of the most beautiful and venerable churches of Flanders.”

At length it reached our island at that critical moment when it had first embraced the Reformation; and here its domestic history was parallel with its foreign, except, perhaps, in the splendour of its success. Sternhold, an enthusiast for the Reformation, was much offended, says Warton, at the lascivious ballads which prevailed among the courtiers, and, with a laudable design to check these indecencies, he undertook to be our Marot–without his genius: “thinking thereby,” says our cynical literary historian, Antony Wood, “that the courtiers would sing them instead of their sonnets, but did not, only some few excepted.” They were practised by the Puritans in the reign of Elizabeth; for Shakspeare notices the Puritan of his day “singing psalms to hornpipes,”[3] and more particularly during the protectorate of Cromwell, on the same plan of accommodating them to popular tunes and jigs, which one of them said “were too good for the devil.” Psalms were now sang at Lord Mayors’ dinners and city feasts; soldiers sung them on their march and at parade; and few houses, which had windows fronting the streets, but had their evening psalms; for a story has come down to us, to record that the hypocritical brotherhood did not always care to sing unless they were heard![4]

[Footnote A:
It would be polluting these pages with ribaldry, obscenity, and blasphemy, were I to give specimens of some hymns of the Moravians and the Methodists, and some of the still lower sects. ]

[Footnote 1:
There is a rare tract, entitled “Singing of Psalmes, vindicated from the charge of Novelty,” in answer to Dr. Russell, Mr. Marlow, etc., 1698. It furnishes numerous authorities to show that it was practised by the primitive Christians on almost every occasion. I shall directly quote a remarkable passage. ]

[Footnote 2:
In the curious tract already referred to, the following quotation is remarkable; the scene the fancy of MAROT pictured to him, had anciently occurred. St. Jerome, in his seventeenth Epistle to Marcellus, thus describes it: “In Christian villages little else is to be heard but Psalms; for which way soever you turn yourself, either you have the ploughman at his plough singing Hallelujahs, the weary brewer refreshing himself with a psalm, or the vine-dresser chanting forth somewhat of David’s.” ]

[Footnote 3:
Mr. Douce imagined that this alludes to a common practice at that time among the Puritans of burlesquing the plain chant of the Papists, by adapting vulgar and ludicrous music to psalms and pious compositions.–Illust. of Shakspeare, i. 355. Mr. Douce does not recollect his authority. My idea differs. May we not conjecture that the intention was the same which induced Sternhold to versify the Psalms, to be sung instead of lascivious ballads; and the most popular tunes came afterwards to be adopted, that the singer might practise his favourite one, as we find it occurred in France? ]

[Footnote 4:
Ed. Philips in his “Satyr against Hypocrites,” 1689, alludes to this custom of the pious citizens–

—- Singing with woful noise,

Like a cracked saint’s bell jarring in the steeple,

Tom Sternhold’s wretched prick-song to the people.

* * * * *

Now they’re at home and have their suppers eat,

When “Thomas,” cryes the master, “come, repeat.”

And if the windows gaze upon the street,

To sing a Psalm they hold it very meet.
]