Monday, November 20, 2006

"The Whole Booke of Psalmes"

The Library of Congress's copy of the Bay Psalm Book is one of eleven surviving copies and one of five remaining copies that are in their original bindings.


Title page of the Bay Psalm Book (1640), printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


It was the highest price ever paid anywhere for a book sold at public auction or published in the English language. When an original edition of the Bay Psalm Book sold for $151,000 in 1947, a copy of the first folio of Shakespeare came in poor second, fetching a “mere” $77,000.

Originally titled, The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, it was the first book printed and written in English North America. The first printing press in New England was purchased and imported specifically to print this book. Today, only eleven of the original 1700 first edition copies survive and, of these, only five are complete.

The contrast couldn’t be more profound: The first book printed in America was a Psalter; the Psalms have almost completely disappeared from public worship in most churches today.

The author of the preface, probably Richard Mather, concludes his list of reasons for the writing and printing of the new Psalm book saying, “that so we may sing in Zion the Lord’s songs of praise according to his own will; until he take us from hence, and wipe away all out tears, and bid us enter into our Master’s joy to sing eternal hallelujahs.”

Psalm 23, from the Bay Psalm Book:

The Lord to me a shepherd is
Want therefore I shall not;
He in the folds of tender grass
Doth make me down to lie.

To waters calm he gently leads
Restore my soul doth he;
He doth in paths of righteousness
For his names sake lead me.

Yea though in valley of death’s shade
I walk none ill I’ll fear;
Because thou art with me, thy rod,
and staff my comfort are.

For me a table thou hast spread
In presence of my foes;
Thou dost anoint my head with oil
My cup it over-flows.

Goodness and mercy surely shall
All my days follow me;
And in the Lord's house I shall dwell
So long as days shall be.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bradford Mercer said:

"The contrast couldn’t be more profound: The first book printed in America was a Psalter; the Psalms have almost completely disappeared from public worship in most churches today."

What is to be expected, since uninspired hymns have come in like a flood? Man's hymns have a long history of displacing God's hymns from the praise of the sanctuary. If we will retain the Psalms in our worship, we cannot allow for them to be supplemented (or supplanted) by anything else.

In Christ,
Sean

amity said...

Well! That the Psalms in English written were not evident is!

I never fully understood the depth of Isaac Watts' dissatisfaction with the exclusive singing of metrical psalms until I read this rendition! Really, it is quite beautiful in its own way (awkward, but beautiful), but I also prefer something a bit more explicitly focused on Christ. I do love lined-out hymnody, though.

I don't exclusively quote the Bible when I pray, either.