13 Jul 2018

A Manual of Parochial Psalmody: Tate & Brady for the 19th century

Not too long ago I was looking through our family's collection of antiquarian and rare books and made a delightful discovery. I picked up a leather-bound volume with the following printed on the spine: HORNE'S PSALMS AND HYMNS. I opened it up and found the full title inside: A Manual of Parochial Psalmody: Comprising Select Portions from the Old and New Versions of the Psalms, Together with Hymns, for the Principal Festivals, etc., of the Church of England; Revised, and Adapted to the Service of the Church, for Every Sunday, etc., Throughout the Year. By the Rev. Thomas Hartwell Horne, B. D., author of An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.

Because this is the sort of book that interests me greatly, I assumed that I must have purchased it somewhere long ago and subsequently forgot about it. But I couldn't imagine that I would neglect to remember such a thing. However, when I looked inside the cover, I found my wife's handwriting. It turns out that she had purchased the volume during her studies in Cambridge, England, in 1987, and it sat unnoticed in our library for all the years of our marriage.

The date of the original edition is 1829 and was dedicated to the then-serving Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley, well known for his opposition to the Great Reform Act of 1832 and Catholic emancipation. Our copy is the 34th edition, printed in 1851. Here is a link to an online copy, though this is of the 30th edition from 1847. Of special interest to me is that this volume indicates that metrical psalms were still being sung in Church of England parishes as late as the middle of the 19th century. Nowadays metrical psalmody is chiefly associated in the popular mind with the Dutch and Scottish churches, while Anglican churches typically chant the prose versions of the Psalms. But metrical psalmody once had an apparently secure presence in England as well.

The title's reference to the "Old Version" is to Sternhold & Hopkins' complete psalter of 1562. The "New Version" is Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady's Psalter of 1696, which gradually replaced the former before it too eventually fell out of general usage.

At the beginning of this little volume is an index appointing psalms and hymns to be sung for every Sunday of the church year, along with some special weekdays. Not surprisingly, Psalm 51 is prescribed for Ash Wednesday and 118 for Easter, in accordance with ancient western tradition. However, Psalm 51, rather than Psalm 25, is appointed for the first Sunday in Advent, and Psalm 104 is missing from Pentecost, or Whitsunday. The psalms and hymns are divided between morning and evening prayers, while the Lord's Supper makes only one appearance and is treated as a special occasion rather than a regular Sunday service. I don't know the extent to which this collection was actually used in the churches, but the fact that it went through so many editions—and virtually every year—suggests widespread popularity. When it finally went out of print I cannot say, but the latest online edition is from 1856, and an ancillary volume referencing it dates from 1859.

The first Psalm is, of course, foundational for the rest of the Psalter, in so far as it describes the blessedness—even happiness—of the righteous person who refuses to follow the paths of the wicked but delights in God's law. Here Psalm 1 is rendered in Tate & Brady's "New Version" versification: "How blest is he who ne'er consents/ By ill advice to walk;/Nor stands in sinners' ways, nor sits/ Where men profanely talk." Note that, like the Scottish Psalter's more familiar verses, these too are largely rendered in common metre (CM), or iambic heptametre, also known as ballad metre.

The 23rd Psalm is rendered in two metrical versions. The first is ascribed elsewhere to Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) and appears to be an adaptation of the Sternhold & Hopkins text. The second is from Tate & Brady and appears somewhat freer than the first. Psalm 24 is also from Tate & Brady. Once more, as in all such psalters, the demands of rhyme and metre tend to render the expression of the Psalms rather awkward and syntactically convoluted, which may have contributed to their ultimate demise. Nevertheless, this volume reminds us that there was a time in the not distant past when parishioners were pleased to follow the Psalmist's injunction in their worship:

With one consent let all the earth
to God their cheerful voices raise;
Glad homage pay with awful mirth
and sing before him songs of praise.

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