1 Jan 2018

The Scottish Psalter, 1788 edition

My unfailingly thoughtful wife gave me a wonderful gift for Christmas this year: a 230-year-old copy of the 1650 Scottish Psalter. To be precise, this is "The Psalms of David in Metre, Allowed by the Authority of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, and appointed to be sung in congregations and families," printed in Glasgow by J. and M. Robertson, dated MDCCLXXXVIII. This was not, of course, the only complete metrical psalter published in English. The Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter had already been in use in England for nearly a century, and much later would come Tate & Brady's New Version Psalter of 1696. But the Scottish Psalter has proved much more durable than its competitors and has lived in the hearts of English-speaking Reformed Christians for more than three and a half centuries.

The title page
To be sure, professional poets sneer at its awkward versifications. Most metrical psalters, including the Scottish Psalter, have not lived up to high literary standards, with the possible exception of Clément Marot's contributions to the original Genevan Psalter. Furthermore, there is always something lost in translation when a text is put in metrical format. Subjecting a text to strict rhyme and metre often leads to Yoda-like out-of-order syntax conforming to virtually no one's true speech patterns.

Nevertheless, a liturgical text need not be a literary masterpiece to contribute to a faith community's worship. In its original languages, the Bible itself is uneven with respect to literary style. The cadences of the Scottish Psalter are familiar to many Christians who may not know the origins of what they are singing. For example, Psalm 23 sung to CRIMOND is beloved by English-speaking Christians in many denominations and traditions. For many of us it simply is the 23rd Psalm. Here are some more photographs of this volume:

Psalm 1
Psalms 72 and 73
The 67 Scripture Paraphrases
The inside front cover
Addendum: Incidentally, on Christmas day I found an error in one of the psalms in which a subject in the singular form did not agree with the plural form of the related verb, undoubtedly due to the convoluted syntax of the sentence. I neglected to bookmark the page and am now unable to find it. However, the error is not found in my 1929 split-leaf version of the same psalter. When and where the error crept in I do not know. Might it have been in the original and corrected generations later? If I succeed in locating it again, I may be able to learn the truth.

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