The Sabbath in Puritan New England, 1891
by Alice Morse Earle, Seventh Edition, To the Memory of my Mother Mother
It seems most proper that the first book printed in New England should be now its rarest one, and such is the case. It was also meet that the first book published by the Puritan theocracy should be a psalm-book. This New England psalm-book, being printed by the colony at Massachusetts Bay, is familiarly known as "The Bay Psalm-Book," and was published two hundred and fifty years ago with this wording on the titlepage: "The Whole Book of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Whereunto is prefixed a discourse declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also the necessity of the Heavenly Ordinance of Singing Psalmes in the Churches of God.
"Coll. III. Let the word of God dwell plenteously in you in all wisdome, teaching, and exhorting one another in Psalmes, Himnes, and spirituall Songs, singing to the Lord with grace in your hearts.
"James V. If any be afflicted, let him pray; and if any be merry let him sing psalmes. Imprinted 1640."
The words "For the Use, Edification, and Comfort of the Saints in Publick and Private especially in New England," though given in Thomas's "History of Printing," Lowndes's "Bibliographers Manual," Hood's "History of Music in New England," and many reliable books of reference, as part of the correct title, were in fact not printed upon the titlepage of this first edition, but appeared on subsequent ones. Mr. Thomas, at the time he wrote his history, knew of but one copy of the first edition; "an entire copy except the title-page is now in the possession of rev. mr. Bentley of Salem." The titlepage being missing, he probably fell into the error of copying the title of a later edition, and other cataloguers and manualists have blindly followed him.
There were in 1638 thirty ministers in New England, all men of intelligence and education; and to three of them, Richard Mather, Thomas Welde, and John Eliot was entrusted the literary part of the pious work. They managed to produce one of the greatest literary curiosities in existence. The book was printed in the house of President Dunster of Harvard College upon a "printery," or printing-press, which had cost £50, and was the gift of friends in Holland to the new community in 1638, the name-year of Harvard College. Governor Winthrop in his journal tells us that the first sheet printed on this press was the Freeman's Oath, certainly a characteristic production; the second an almanac for New England, and the third, "The Bay Psalm-Book." Some, who deem an almanac a book, call this psalm-book the second book printed in British America.
A printer named Steeven Daye was brought over from England to do the printing on this new press. Now Steeven must have been given entire charge of the matter, and could not have been a very literate fellow (as we know positively he was a most reprehensible one), or the three reverend versifiers must have been most uncommonly careless proof-readers, for certainly a worse piece of printer's work than "The Bay Psalm Book" could hardly have been struck off. Diversity and grotesqueness of spelling were of course to be expected, and paper might have been coarse without reproof, in that new and poor country; but the type was good and clear, the paper strong and firm, and with ordinary care a very presentable book might have been issued. The punctuation was horrible. A few commas and periods and a larger number of colons were "pepered and salted" à la Timothy Dexter, apparently quite by chance, among the words. Periods were placed in the middle of sentences; words of one syllable were divided by hyphens; capitals and italics were used after the fashion of the time, apparently quite at random; and inverted letters were common enough. The pages were unnumbered, and on every left-hand page the word "Psalm" in the title was spelled correctly, while on the right-hand page it is uniformly spelled "Psalme." But after all, these typographical blemishes might be forgiven if the substance, the psalms themselves, were worthy; but the versification was certainly the most villainous of all the many defects, though the sense was so confused that many portions were unintelligible save with the friendly aid of the prose version of the Bible; and the grammatical construction, especially in the use of pronouns, was also far from correct. Such amazing verses as these may be found:--
"And sayd He would not them waste: had not
Moses stood (whom He chose)
'fore him i' th' breach; to turne his wrath
lest that he should waste those."
Cotton Mather, in his "Magnalia," gives thus the full story of the production of "The Bay Psalm-book":--
"About the year 1639, the New-English reformers, considering that their churches enjoyed the other ordinances of Heaven in their scriptural purity were willing that the 'The singing of Psalms' should be restored among them unto a share of that purity. Though they blessed God for the religious endeavours of them who translated the Psalms into the meetre usually annexed at the end of the Bible, yet they beheld in the translation so many detractions from, additions to, and variations of, not only the text, but the very sense of the psalmist, that it was an offense unto them. Resolving then upon a new translation, the chief divines in the country took each of them a portion to be translated; among whom were Mr. Welds and Mr. Eliot of Eoxbury, and Mr. Mather of Dorchester. These like the rest were so very different a genius for their poetry that Mr. Shephard, of Cambridge, on the occasion addressed them to this purpose:
You Roxb'ry poets keep clear of the crime
Of missing to give us very good rhime.
And you of Dorchester, your verses lengthen
And with the text's own words, you will them strengthen.
The Psalms thus turned into meetre were printed at Cambridge, in the year 1640. But afterwards it was thought that a little more of art was to be employed upon them; and for that cause they were committed unto Mr. Dunster, who revised and refined this translation; and (with some assistance from Mr. Richard Lyon who being sent over by Sir Henry Mildmay as an attendant unto his, son, then a student at Harvard College, now resided in Mr. Dunster's house:) he brought it the condition wherein our churches have since used it. Now though I heartily join with those gentlemen who wish that the poetry thereof were mended, yet I must confess, that the Psalms have never yet seen a translation that I know of nearer to the Hebrew original; and I am willing to receive the excuse which our translators themselves do offer us when they say: 'If the verses are not always so elegant as some desire or expect, let them consider that God's altar needs not our pollishings; we have respected rather a plain translation, than to smooth our verses with the sweetness of any paraphrase. We have attended conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than ingenuity, that so we may sing in Zion the Lord's songs of praise, according unto his own will, until he bid us enter into our Master's joy to sing eternal hallelujahs.'"
I have never liked Cotton Mather so well as after reading this calm and kindly account of the production of "The Bay-Psalm-Book." He was a scholarly man, and doubtless felt keenly and groaned inwardly at the inelegance, the appalling and unscholarly errors in the New England version; and yet all he mildly said was that "it was thought that a little more of art was to be employed upon them," and that he "wishes the poetry hereof was mended." Such justice, such self-repression, such fairness make me almost forgive him for riding around the scaffold on which his fellow-clergyman was being executed for witchcraft, and urging the crowd not to listen to the poor martyr's dying words. I can even almost overlook the mysterious fables, the outrageous yarns which he imposed upon us under the guise of history.
The three reverend versifiers who turned out such questionable poetry are known to have been writers of clear, scholarly, and vigorous prose. They were all graduated at Emanuel College, Cambridge, the nursery of Puritans. Mr. Welde soon returned to England and published there two intelligent tracts vindicating the purity of the New England worship. Richard Mather was the general prose-scribe for the community; he drafted the "Cambridge Platform" and other important papers, and was clear and scholarly enough in all his work except the "Bay Psalm-Book." From his pen came the tedious, prolix preface to the work; and the first draft of it in his own handwriting is preserved in the Prince Library. The other co-worker was John Eliot, that glory of New England Puritanism, the apostle to the Indians. His name heads my list of the saints of the Puritan calendar; but I confess that when I consider his work in "The Bay Psalm-Book," I have sad misgivings lest the hymns which he wrote and published in the Indian language may not have proved to the poor Massachusetts Indians all that our loving and venerating fancy has painted them. It is said also that Francis Quarles, the Puritan author of "Divine Emblems," sent across the Atlantic some of his metrical versions of the psalms as a pious contribution to the new version of the new church in the new land.
The "little more of art" which was bestowed by the improving President Dunster left the psalms still improvable, as may be seen by opening at random at any page of the revised editions. Mr. Lyon conferred also upon the New England church the inestimable boon of a number of hymns or "Scripture-Songs placed in order as in the Bible." They were printed in that order from the third until at least the sixteenth edition, but in subsequent editions the hymns were all placed at the end of the book after the psalms. I doubt not that the Puritan youth, debarred of merry catches and roundelays, found keen delight in these rather astonishing renditions of the songs of Solomon, portions of Isaiah, etc. Those Scripture-Songs should be read quite through to be fully appreciated, as no modern Christian could be full enough of grace to sing them. Here is a portion of the song of Deborah and Barak:--
24. Jael the Kenite Hebers wife
'bove women blest shall be:
Above the women in the tent
a blessed one is she.
25. He water ask'd: she gave him milk
him butter forth she fetch'd
26. In lordly dish: then to the nail
she forth her left hand stretched.
Her right the workman's hammer held
and Sisera struck dead:
She pierced and struck his temple through
and then smote off his head.
27. He at her feet bow'd, fell, lay down
he at her feet bow'd, where
He fell: ev'n where he bowed down
he fell destroyed there.
28. Out of a window Sisera
his mother looked and said
The lattess through in coming why
so long his chariot staid?
His chariot wheels why tarry they?
29. her wise dames, answered
Yea she turned answer to herself
30. and what have they not sped?
31. The prey by poll; a maid or twain
what parted have not they?
Have they not parted, Sisera,
a party-colour'd prey
A party-colour'd neildwork prey
of neildwork on each side
That's party-colour'd meet for necks
of them that spoils divide?
Our Pilgrim Fathers accepted these absurd, tautological verses gladly, and sang them gratefully; but we know the spirit of poesy could never have existed in them, else they would have fought hard against abandoning such majestic psalms as Sternhold's--
"The Lord descended from above
and bow'd the heavens hye
And underneath his feete he cast
the darkness of the skye.
"On cherubs and on cherubines
full royally he road
And on the winges of all the windes
came flying all abroad."
They gave up these lines of simple grandeur, to which they were accustomed, for such wretched verses as these of the New England version:--
9. Likewise the heavens he downe-bow'd and he descended, & there was under his feet a gloomy cloud
10. And he on cherub rode and flew; yea, he flew on the wings of winde.
11. His secret place hee darkness made his covert that him round confide.
I cannot understand why they did not sing the psalms of David just as they were printed in the English Bible; it would certainly be quite as practicable as to sing this latter selection.
President Dunster's improving hand and brain evolved this rendition:--
"Likewise the heavens he down-bow'd
and he descended: also there
Was at his feet a gloomy cloud
and he on cherubs rode apace.
Yea on the wings of wind he flew
he darkness made his secret place
His covert round about him drew."
Though the grotesque wording and droll errors of these old psalm-books can, after the lapse of centuries, be pointed out and must be smiled at, there is after all something so pathetic in the thought of those good, scholarly old New England saints, hampered by poverty, in dread of attack of Indians, burdened with hard work, harassed by "eighty-two pestilent heresies," still laboring faithfully and diligently in their strange new home at their unsuited work,--something so pathetic, so grand, so truly Christian, that when I point out any of the absurdities or failures in their work, I dread lest the shades of Cotton, of Sewall, of Mather, of Eliot, brand me as of old, "in capitall letters," as "AN OPEN AND OBSTINATE CONTEMNER OF GOD'S HOLY ORDINANCES," or worse still, with that mysterious, that dread name, "A WANTON GOSPELLER."
The second edition of the "New England Psalm-Book" was published in 1647; the one copy known to exist has sold for four hundred and thirty-five dollars. The third edition was the one revised by President Dunster and Mr. Lyon, and was printed in 1650. In 1691 the unfortunate book was again "pollished" by a committee of ministers, who thus altered the last two stanzas of the Song of Deborah and Barak:--
28. Out of a window Sisera
His mother look'd and said
The lattess through in coming why
So long's chariot staid?
His chariot-wheels why tarry they?
Her ladies wise reply'd
29. Yea to herself the answer made,
30. Have they not speed? she cry'd.
31. The prey to each a maid or twain
Divided have not they?
To Sisera have they not shar'd
A divers-colour'd prey?
Of divers-colour'd needle-work
Wrought curious on each side
Of various colours meet for necks
Of those who spoils divide?
Rev. Elias Nason wittily says of "The Bay Psalm-Book," "Welde, Eliot, and Mather mounted the restive steed Pegasus, Hebrew psalter in hand, and trotted in warm haste over the rough roads of Shemitic roots and metrical psalmody. Other divines rode behind, and after cutting and slashing, mending and patching, twisting and turning, finally produced what must ever remain the most unique specimen of poetical tinkering in our literature."
Other editions quickly followed these "pollishings" until, in 1709, sixteen had been printed. Mr. Hood stated that at least seventy editions in all were brought out. Some of these were printed in England and Scotland, in exceedingly fine and illegible print, and were intended to be bound up with the Bible; and occasionally duodecimo Bibles were sent from Scotland to New England with "The Bay Psalm-Book" bound at the back part of the book. Strange as it may seem, the poor, halting New England version was used in some of the English dissenting congregations and Scotch kirks, instead of the smoother verses composed in England for the English churches.
The Reverend Thomas Prince, after two years of careful work thereon, published in 1758 a revised edition of the much-published book, and it was adopted by his church, the Old South, of Boston, the week previous to his death. It was used by his congregation until 1786. He clung closely to the form of the old editions, changing only an occasional word. In his preface Dr. Prince says that "The Bay Psalm-Book" "had the honor of being the first book printed in North America, and as far as I can find, in this New World." We have fuller means of information now-a-days than had the reverend reviser, and we know that as early as 1535 a book called "The Book of St. John Climacus or The Spiritual Ladder" had been printed in the Spanish tongue, in Mexico; and no less than one hundred and sixteen other Spanish works in the sixteenth century, as the "Bibliografia Mexicana" testifies.
If the printing of all these various editions was poor, and the diction worse, the binding certainly was good and could be copied in modern times to much advantage. No flimsy cloth or pasteboard covers, no weak paper backs, no ill-pasted leaves, no sham-work of any kind was given; securely sewed, firmly glued, with covers of good strong leather, parchment, kid, or calfskin, these psalm-books endured constant daily (not weekly) use for years, for decades, for a century, and are still whole and firm. They were carried about in pockets, in saddle-bags, and were opened, and handled, and conned, as often as were the Puritan Bibles, and they bore the usage well. They were distinctively characteristic of the unornamental, sternly pious, eminently honest, and sturdily useful race that produced them.
Judge Sewall makes frequent mention in his famous diary of "the New Psalm Book." He bought one "bound neatly in Kids Leather" for "3 shillings & sixpence" and gave it to a widow whom he was wooing. Rather a serious lover's gift, but characteristic of the giver, and not so gloomy as "Dr. Mathers Vials of Wrath," "Dr. Sibbs Bowels," "Dr. Preston's Church Carriage," and "Dr. Williard's Fountains opened," all of which he likewise presented to her.
The Judge frequently gave a copy as a bridal gift, after singing from it "Myrrh aloes," to the gloomy tune of Windsor, at the wedding.
8. Myrrh Aloes and Cussias smell
all of thy garments had
Out of the yvory pallaces
whereby they made thee glad:
9. Amongst thine honourable maids
kings daughters present were
The Queen is set at thy right hand
in fine gold of Ophir.
But his most frequent mention of the "new psalm-book" is in his "Humbell acknowledgement" made to God of the "great comfort and merciful kindness received through singing of His Psalmes;" and the pages of the diary bear ample testimony that whatever the book may appear to us now, it was to the early colonists the very Word of God.
As years passed on, however, and singing-schools multiplied, it became much desired, and even imperative that there should be a better style and manner of singing, and open dissatisfaction arose with "The Bay Psalm-Book;" the younger members of the congregations wished to adopt the new and smoother versions of Tate and Brady, and of Watts. Petitions were frequently made in the churches to abolish the century-used book. Here is an opening sentence of one church-letter which is still in existence; it was presented to the ministers and elders of the Roxbury church September 11th, 1737, and was signed by many of the church members:--
"The New England Version of Psalms however useful it may formerly have been, has now become through the natural variableness of Language, not only very uncouth but in many Places unintelligible; whereby the mind instead of being Raised and spirited in Singing The Praises of Almighty God and thereby being prepared to Attend to other Parts of Divine Service is Damped and made Spiritless in the Performance of the Duty at least such is the Tendency of the use of that Version," etc., etc.
Great controversy arose over the abolition of the accustomed book, and church-quarrels were rife; but the end of the century saw the dearly loved old version consigned to desuetude, uever again to be opened, alas! but by critical or inquisitive readers.
There is owned by the American Antiquarian Society, and kept carefully locked in the iron safe in the building of that Society in Worcester, a copy of the first edition of "The Bay Psalm Book." It is a quarto (not octavo, as Thomas described it in his "History of Printing") and is in very good condition, save that the titlepage is missing. It is in the original light-colored, time-stained parchment binding, and contains the autograph of Stephen Sewall. It also bears on the inside of the front cover the book-plate of Isaiah Thomas, and at the back, in the veteran printer's clear and beautiful handwriting, this statement: "After advertising for another copy of this book and making enquiry in many places in New England &c. I was not able to obtain or even hear of another. This copy is therefore invaluable and must be preserved with the greatest care. Isaiah Thomas, Sep. 20. 1820." His "History of Printing," was published in 1810, and the Society had acquired through the gift of "the rev. mr. Bentley" the copy which Thomas mentioned in his book.
It is strange that Thomas should have been ignorant of the existence of other copies of the first edition of "The Bay Psalm-Book," for there were at that time six copies belonging to the Prince Library in the possession of the Old South Church of Boston. One would fancy that the Prince Library would have been one of his first objective points of search, save that a dense cloud of indifference had overshadowed that collection for so long a time. Five of those copies remained in the custody of the deacons and pastor of the Old South Church until 1860, and they were at one time all deposited in the Public Library of the City of Boston. Two still remain in that suitable place of deposit; they are almost complete in paging, but are in modern bindings. The other three copies were surrendered by Lieut-Gov. Samuel Armstrong (who, as one of the deacons of the Old South Church, had joint custody of the Prince Library), severally, to Mr. Edward Crowninshield of Boston, Dr. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff of Boston, and Mr. George Livermore of Cambridge. Governor Armstrong surrendered these three books in consideration of certain modern books being given to the Prince Library, and of the modern bindings bestowed on the two other copies; which seems to us hardly a brilliant or judicious exchange.
In Dr. Shurtleff "The Bay Psalm-Book" found a congenial and loving owner; and under his careful superintendence an exact reprint was published in 1862 in the Riverside Press at Cambridge. He wrote for it a preface. It was published by subscription; one copy on India paper, fifteen on thick paper, and fifty on common paper. Copies on the last named paper have sold readily for thirty dollars each. All the typographical errors of the original were carefully reproduced in this reprint.
At Dr. Shurtleffs death, his "Bay Psalm-Book" was catalogued with the rest of his library, which was to be sold on Dec. 2, 1875; but an injunction was obtained by the deacons of the Old South Church, to prevent the sale of the old psalm-book. They were rather late in the day however, to try to obtain again the too easily parted with book, and the ownership of it was adjudged to the estate. The book was sold Oct. 12, 1876, at the Library salesroom, Beacon Street, Boston, for one thousand and fifty dollars. It is now in the library of Mrs. John Carter Brown, of Providence, Rhode Island. Special interest attaches to this copy, because it was "Richard Mather, His Book" as several autographs in it testify; and the author's own copy is always of extra value. Cotton Mather, a grandson of Richard, was the close friend of the Reverend Thomas Prince, who founded the Prince Library, and who left it by will to the Old South Church in 1758. Mr. Prince's book-plate is on the reverse of the titlepage of this copy of "The Bay Psalm-Book," and is in itself a rarity. It reads thus:--
"This Book belongs to
The New England Library
Begun to be collected by Thomas Prince
upon his ent'ring Harvard-College July 6
1703, and was given by said Prince, to
remain therein forever."
There was a sixth copy of "The Bay Psalm-Book" in the Prince Library in 1830 when Dr. Wisner wrote his four sermons on the Old South Church of Boston,--a copy annotated by Dr. Prince and used by him while he was engaged on his revision. It has disappeared, together with many other important books and manuscripts belonging to the same library. The vicissitudes through which this most valuable collection has passed--lying neglected for years on shelves, in boxes, and in barrels in the steeple-room of the Old South Church, depleted to use for lighting fires, injured by British soldiery, but injured still more by the neglect and indifference of its custodians--are too painful to contemplate or relate. They contribute to the scholarly standing and honor of neither pastors nor congregations during those years. It is enough to state, however, that it is to the noble and ill-requited forethought of Dr. Prince that we owe all but three of the copies of the Bay Psalm-Book which are now known to be in existence.
There is also a perfect copy of the first edition of the old book in the Lenox Library in New York, and the manner in which it was acquired (and also some further accounts of two of our old friends of the Prince Library, the acquisitions of Messrs. Crowninshield and Liverraore) is told so entertainingly by Henry Stevens, of Vermont, in his charming book, "Recollections of Mr. James Lenox" that it is best to quote his account in full:--
"For nearly ten years Mr. Lenox had entertained a longing de to possess a perfect copy of 'The Bay Psalm Book.' He gave me to understand that if an opportunity occurred of securing a copy for him I might go as far as one hundred guineas. Accordingly from 1847 till his death, six years later, my good friend William Pickering and I put our heads and book-hunting forces together to run down this rarity. The only copy we knew of on this side the Atlantic was a spotless one in the Bodleian Library, which had lain there unrecognized for ages, and even in the printed catalogue of 1843 its title was recorded without distinction among the common herd of Psalms in verse. I had handled it several times with great reverence, and noted its many peculiar points, but, as agreed with Mr. Pickering, without making any sign or imparting any information to our good and obliging friend Dr. Bandinel, Bodley's Librarian. We thought that when we had secured a copy for oursel it would be time enough to acquaint the learned Doctor that he was entertaining unawares this angel of the New World.
"Under these circumstances, therefore, only an experienced collector can judge of my surprise and inward satisfaction, when on the 12 January, 1855, at Sotheby's, at one of the sales of Pickering's stock, after untying parcel after parcel to see what I might chance to see, and keeping ahead of the auctioneer, Mr. Wilkinson, on resolving to prospect in one parcel more before he overtook me, my eye rested an instant only on the long-lost Benjamin, clean and unspotted. I instantly closed the parcel (which was described in the Catalogue as Lot '531 Psalmes, other editions, 1630 to 1675 black letter, a parcel') and tightened the string just as Alfred came to lay it on the table. A cool-blooded coolness seized me, and advancing to the table behind Mr. Lilly I quietly bid, in a perfectly natural tone, 'Sixpence,' and so the bids went on increasing by sixpence until half a crown was reached, and Mr. Lilly had loosened the string. Taking up this very volume he turned to me and remarked that 'This looks a rare edition, Mr. Stevens, don't you think so? I do not remember having seen it before,' and raised the bid to five shillings. I replied that I had little doubt of its rarity though comparatively a late edition of the Psalms, at the same time gave Mr. Wilkinson a six-penny nod. Thenceforth a 'spirited competition' arose between Mr. Lilly and myself, until finally the lot was knocked down to 'Stevens' for nineteen shillings. I then called out with perhaps more energy than discretion, 'Delivered!' On pocketing this volume, leaving the other seven to take the usual course, Mr. Lilly and others inquired with some curiosity, 'What rarity have you got now?' 'Oh, nothing,' said I, 'but the first English book printed in America.' There was a pause in the sale, while all had a good look at the little stranger. Some said jocularly, 'There has evidently been a mistake; put up the lot again.' Mr. Stevens, with the book again safely in his pocket, said, 'Nay, if Mr. Pickering, whose cost mark of [3s] did not recognize the prize he had won, certainly the cataloguer might be excused for throwing it away into the hands of the right person to rescue, appreciate, and preserve it. I am now fully rewarded for my long and silent hunt of seven years.'
"On reaching Morley's I eagerly collated the volume, and at first found it right witli all the usual signatures correct. The leaves were not paged or folioed. But on further collation I missed sundry of the Psalms, enough to fill four leaves. The puzzle was finally solved when it was discovered that the inexperienced printer had marked the sheet with the signature w after v, which is very unusual.
"This was a very disheartening disappointment, but I held my tongue, and knowing that my old friend and correspondent, George Liverm of Cambridge, N. E., possessed an imperfect copy, which he and Mr. Crowninshield, after the noble example of the 'Lincoln Nosegay,' had won from the Committee of the 'Old South' together with another and perfect copy, I proposed an advantageous exchange and obtained four missing leaves. Mr. Crowninshield strongly advised Mr. Livermore against parting with his four leaves, because, as he said, 'They would enable Stevens to complete his copy and to place it in the library of Mr. Lenox, who would then crow over us because he also had a perfect copy of "The Bay-Psalm Book."'
"Having thus completed my copy and had it bound by Francis Bedford in his best style, I sent it to Mr. Lenox for £80. Five years later I bought the Crowninshield Library in Boston for $10,000, mainly to obtain his perfect copy of 'The Bay Psalm Book,' and brought the whole library to London. This second copy, after being held several months, was at the suggestion of Mr. Thomas Watts, offered to the British Museum for £150. The Keeper of the Printed Books, however, never had the courage to send it before the Trustees for approval and payment; so after waiting five or six years longer the volume was withdrawn, bound by Bedford, taken to America in 1868, and sold to Mr. George Brinley for 150 guineas. At the Brinley sale, in March, 1878, it was bought by Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt for $1200, or more than three times the cost of my first copy to Mr. Lenox."
We hear the expression of a book being "worth its weight in gold." "The Bay Psalm-Book," in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society, weighs nine ounces, hence Mr. Vanderbilt paid at least seven times its weight in gold for his precious book. Lowndes's "Bibliographers' Manual" says, "This volume, which is extremely rare and would at an auction in America produce from four to six thousand dollars, is familiarly termed 'The Bay Psalm Book.'" This must have been intended to be printed four to six hundred dollars, and is about as correct as the remainder of the description in that manual.
The copy which is spoken of by Mr. Stevens as being in the Bodleian Library at Oxford was once the property of Bishop Tanner, the famous antiquary. Thus it is seen that there are seven copies at least of the first edition of "The Bay Psalm-Book" now in existence in America, instead of "five or at the most six," as a recent writer in "The Magazine of American History" states.
And of all the manifold later editions of the New England Psalm-Book comparatively few copies now remain. Occasionally one is discovered in an old church library or seen in the collection of an antiquary. It is usually found to bear on its titlepage the name of its early owner, and often, also, in a different handwriting, the simple record and date of his death. Tender little memorial postils are frequently written on the margins of the pages: "Sung this the day Betty was baptized"--"This Psalm was sung at Mothers Funeral" "Gods Grace help me to heed this word." Sometimes we see on the blank pages, in a fine, cramped handwriting, the record of the births and deaths of an entire family. More frequently still we find the familiar and hackneyed verses of ancient titlepage lore, such as are usually seen on the blank leaves of old Bibles. This script was written in a "Bay Psalm-Book" of the sixteenth edition, and with the characteristic indifference of our New England forefathers for tiresome repetition, or possibly with their disdain of novelty, was seen on each and every blank page of the book:--
"Israel Balch, His Book,
God give him Grace theirin to look
And when the Bell for him doth toal
May God have mearcy on his Sole."
What the diction lacked in variety is quite made up, however, in the spelling, which was painstakingly different on each page.
Another Psalm-Book bore, inscribed in an elegant, minute handwriting, these lines, which were probably intended for verse, since the first word of each line commenced with a capital letter:--
"Abednego Prime His Book
When he withein these pages looks
May he find Grace to sing therein
Seventeen hundred and forty-seven."
This is certainly pretty bad poetry,--bad enough to be worthy a place in "The Bay Psalm Book,"--but is also a most noble, laudable, and necessary aspiration; for power of Grace was plainly needed to enable Abednego or any one else to sing from those pages; and our pious New England forefathers must have been under special covenant of grace when they persevered against such obstacles and under such overwhelming disadvantages in having singing in their meetings.
Another copy of the old New England Psalm-Book was thus inscribed:--
"Elam Noyes His Book
You children of the name of Noyes
Make Jesus Christ your only choyse."
The early members of the Noyes family all seemed to be exceedingly and properly proud of this rhyming couplet; it formed a sort of patent of nobility. They wrote the pious injunction to their descendants in their Psalm-Books and their Bibles, in their wills, their letters; and they, with the greatest unanimity of feeling, had it cut upon their several tombstones. It was their own family motto,--their totem, so to speak.
In a New England Psalm-Book in the possession of the American Antiquarian Society there is written in the distinct handwriting of Isaiah Thomas these explanatory words:--
"This was the Pocket Psalm-book of John Symmons who died at Salem at 100 years. He was born at North Salem went a-fishing in his youth was a prisoner with the Indians in Nova Scotia afterwards followed his labours in a Shipyard and till great old age laboured upon his lands and died without pain Aet 100. 31 October, 1791. He was a worthy conscientious and well-informed man and agreeable until the last hour of his life."
I can think of no pleasanter tribute to be given to the character of any one than the simple words, "He was agreeable until the last hour of his life." What share in the production and maintenance of that amiable and enviable condition of disposition may be attributed to the ever-present influence of the Pocket Psalm-Book cannot be known; but the constant study of the holy though clumsy verses may have largely caused that sweet agreeability which so characterized John Symmons.
There lies now before me a copy of one of the early editions of "The Bay Psalm-Book." As I open the little dingy octavo volume, with its worn and torn edges, I am conscious of that distinctive, penetrating, old-booky smell,--that ancient, that fairly obsolete odor that never is exhaled save from some old, infrequently opened, leather-bound volume, which has once in years far past been much used and handled. A book which has never been familiarly used and loved cannot have quite the same antique perfume. The mouldering, rusty, flaky leather comes off in a yellow-brown powder on my fingers as I take up the book; and the cover nearly breaks off as I open it, though with tender, book-loving usage. The leather, though strong and honest, has rotted or disintegrated until it has almost fallen into dust. Across the yellow, ill-printed pages there runs, zig-zagging sideways and backwards crab-fashion on his crooked brown legs, one of those pigmy book-spiders,--those ugly little bibliophiles that seem flatter even than the close-pressed pages that form their home.
Fair Puritan hands once held this dingy little book, honest Puritan eyes studied its ill-expressed words, and sweet Puritan lips sang haltingly but lovingly from its pages. This was "Cicely Morse Her Book" in the year 1710, and bears on many a page her name and the simple little couplet:--
"In youth I praise
And walk thy ways."
And pretty it were to see Cicely in her praiseful and godly-walking youth, as she stood primly clad in her sad-colored gown and long apron, with a quoif or ciffer covering her smooth hair, and a red whittle on her slender 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.
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