Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 23 July 2019

The Eighteenth-Century Psalm

Abstract and Keywords

Integral to both Anglican liturgy and nonconformist devotional practice in the eighteenth century, the “Englished” Psalm supplied a common currency between competing but increasingly compatible confessional groups. The Psalms also turn up everywhere in emergent, nonreligious literary genres. In both settings, the Psalms calibrated signature speech acts of imprecation, petition, and praise with lexical praxes that a commercialized print culture made not only possible and common but visible and adjustable by individual writers and readers. A novel experimental culture of the English Psalms held unprecedented potential to turn class, credal, and historical division into unity but also posed uniquely “modern” perils. While the Psalms could now be experienced directly as sources of freedom and pleasure available to a wide range of Christian readers and writers, they also potentially transferred the experience of pleasure from a many-personed God to printed English words.

Keywords: Psalms, Isaac Watts, eighteenth century, religion, novel, lyric, hymn, sublime, scriptures

“A Piece of Experimental Divinity”: The Psalm in English Literature, 1696–1765

It is the most artful, most devotional and divine Collection of Poesy; and nothing can be supposed more proper to raise a pious Soul to Heaven than some Parts of that Book; never was a Piece of Experimental Divinity so nobly written, and so justly reverenced and admired: But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand Lines in it which were not made for a Church in our Days to assume as its own.

Isaac Watts, Preface to Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707)

When Isaac Watts first set about adapting the “Book of Psalms” to suit—and shape—the tastes of modern English Christians of the middling sort, he approached the project with equal measures of confidence and caution. If enthralled by the Psalms’ nobility and undeniable affective force, the nonconformist hymnodist could not help but regard the “Book” that they made up as “artful.” Its virtues were possibly no more “justly reverenced” than “supposed,” while for “a Church in our Days” to adopt the Psalms was, at best, but to “assume” them.1 Then too, what was this incoherent “Book,” “some Parts” of which were so different from other parts, and as many as “a thousand Lines” of which had been “made” for purposes so alien and often unabashedly vindictive that a well-mannered, modern Christian should be able to find no use for them at all?

His ambivalence notwithstanding, Watts eventually turned virtually all of the Psalms into a variety of English metrical forms, publishing the result in 1719 in an enduringly popular “book” of his own. Watts’s Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, “translated [the Psalms] in such a Manner as we have reason to believe David would have compos’d ’em had he lived in our Day.”2 Having “taught the Hebrew Psalmist to speak English,” Watts felt free to give the Psalms an “evangelick Turn,” tempering their curses and framing their petitions and praise within an overtly Christian perspective.3 In this manner, he had in his own view brought about enlightenment, liberating “the shining Honours of my Redeemer” from the “dark and shadowy Language of a Religion that is now forever abolished” (PD, xx–xxi). He had also made David audible through the explicit forms of modern English speech, as they now were fixed in “Lines” and “Pieces” upon printed pages. Newly replicable and thus distributable across an ever-widening, ever more literate social spectrum, such pages made the Psalms available not just to the independent congregations whose many voices Watts hoped to unify, but also to a modern English print culture stocked with independent readers of all confessional stripes. Small wonder that by 1770 Watts’s Psalms of David, now in its thirty-first edition, was “generally allowed to be his capital production in poetry.”4

Innovative though they were, Watts’s pieces of experimental divinity were but some in a tide of newly Englished Psalms that rose after the 1695 lapse of the Licensing Act. Integral to both Anglican liturgy and nonconformist devotional practice in the eighteenth century, psalms supplied a common currency between competing, if increasingly compatible, confessional groups while reconciling an irenic, diverse, and literate modern Christianity with the allegedly “dissonant and barbarous” piety of the ancient Jews.5 Between the 1696 publication of Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady’s New Version of the Anglican metrical psalter and the rival psalters of Christopher Smart and James Merrick, which appeared simultaneously in 1765, hundreds of paraphrases, translations, and imitations of the Psalms surfaced—often piecemeal—not only in works with a specific religious and institutional charge, but also in novels, periodicals, literary criticism, and volumes of poetry. Whether sung in public, read in private, employed in devotion, or consumed for pleasure, the Psalms exuberantly calibrated the speech acts represented within them to textual praxes that popular print culture made not only possible and common but visible and adjustable by individual writers and readers. Relaxing Anglicans and softening dissenters, Whig hacks and Tory standard-bearers, Oxford dons and London journalists, literary critics and women writers both fictional and living: all indulged in the “divine exercise” of psalmody even when they had no explicitly devotional ambition.6

The lack of such ambition points to a long-accepted secularizing trend in eighteenth-century culture, which has prompted scholars of our own day to attribute the boom in literary psalms to a larger crisis in the status of religious poetry in the period as that poetry was diffused across a broadening cultural stage, its audience fragmented, and its traditional authority under siege.7 The Psalms laid well-documented groundwork for the emergent genre of the English hymn, but equally visible has been their role in the secular revision of the so-called religious sublime and their relevance to a crisis of faith in the physical and rhetorical integrity of the Bible itself that was resolved only through that book’s embrace as poetry.8 Such perspectives sharpen our view of the eighteenth-century English Psalm. But they do not engage it as an experimental speech act in its own right: an act dynamically bound up with the novel material forms that at once distinguished a literate culture in its own eyes and grounded a British Christianity in transition, not collapse.

English literary adaptations of the Psalms were nothing new. As Beth Quitslund demonstrates, from Tudor times the English Psalm was entangled with a politicized “reformation in rhyme.”9 Hannibal Hamlin has shown how Psalm translations substantially shaped the literary culture of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, yielding “sophisticated poetic adaptations” epitomized in Philip and Mary Sidney’s handsome 1599 psalter.10 Yet particularly after 1695, periphrastic Psalms grew common, part of a media climate for the first time sensible of itself as such. Modern psalmists inherited this sensibility with the infinitely replicable—and infinitely recombinant—lexical units that made up the Psalm’s ever-varying forms. Harriet Guest sees those forms as frail defenses against a fragmented literary culture fighting both to hold onto old models of authority and to legitimate new ones.11 But the verbal actions that the new English Psalm performed were also grounded, inclusive, open-ended, and adventurous—in Watts’s happy phrase, “experimental.” These proclivities, perversely, revived Hebrew prototypes embedded in organic community. They are explored here.


A novel print culture’s well-documented revolutions were bound up with major confessional realignments within English Christianity itself, most particularly the laborious knitting of both conforming and dissenting Christian groups into a single, unprecedentedly literate and irenic culture that still could identify itself as Christian.12 Though Watts himself was the leader of a fashionable dissenting church in London, his Psalms of David was a deliberate agent of this transformation. Like Watts’s earlier Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707)—out of which it grew, and which had ended with “Essay on the Improvement of Psalmody”—the new book not only simplified and smoothed the language of the Psalms but carefully “seclud[ed]” any “distinguishing words of Sects and Parties” so as to “give to sincere Consciences as little Disturbance as possible” (HSS, ix). For this reason, Watts’s psalms were sung, read, praised, and themselves imitated by Anglicans and nonconformists alike throughout the eighteenth century.

To bring rational light to the “dark Sayings” of the Jews (PD, xv) was to move away from the more obscure, difficult, and contentious elements of a vernacular Psalm tradition dating back to the Tudor institution of the Church of England. English translations of the Psalms had played a complicated if pivotal role in the slow and difficult process of that institution. Both Luther and Calvin had recognized the power of the Psalms to unify and democratize corporate worship. But controversy dogged both the new Book of Common Prayer’s prose Psalter (transplanted from the Great Bible) and the first English metrical psalter, Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins’s 1562 Whole Book of Psalms. It had only intensified in the seventeenth century when Puritan sects adopted the biblical Psalms for purposes of self-definition and protest. The Restoration saw new editions of the Anglican metrical Psalter and frequently disputed reprints of the one in the Book of Common Prayer. But these were contemporary with free-form paraphrases by such nonconformists as Richard Baxter and John Bunyan. At the same time, the libertine Earl of Rochester privately circulated his own irreverent riff on the first Psalm. The coexistence of these various responses to the Psalms directed attention not just to their long obvious “rhetoricity” but also to the material verbal frames within which spiritual meaning is posited.13

Following the deposition of the Catholic James II, the 1688 accession of the Protestants William and Mary revived some of the conditions under which the Psalm and the Church of England had institutionalized each other in the sixteenth century. In that year also a wave of moral and linguistic reform was released, both aided and abetted by the 1695 lapse of the Licensing Act. In 1696 Brady and Tate’s New Version of the Psalms of David in English Metre, fitted for Public Use all but inevitably appeared as an update of Sternhold and Hopkins, whose “obsolete and uncouth Expressions” many now found to “have a harsh and jarring Sound in the delicate and musical Ears of the ingenious, and unsuitable to the Modes of Speaking in this refined, this politer Age.”14 Besides smoothing and diversifying Sternhold and Hopkins’s invariant common meter, Tate and Brady picked a title that at once invoked the “Royal Author” of many of the Psalms and replaced him with a modern book now “fitted for Publick Use.” But just what was “Publick Use”? In the context of nonjuring schism within the Anglican Church, Tate and Brady could at best but “humbly pra[y …] that the said Version may be used in such Congregations as shall think fit to receive it.”15 Not every Anglican congregation did, making adoption of the New Version a display of confessional preference and guaranteeing that the (new) old one would stay in print.

Both “versions,” however, tapped the resources of a burgeoning print culture to instill new psalmodic practices based on readerly choice, obvious metrical variation, and the modeling and inculcation of polite, up-to-date English linguistic manners in the material forms of unrestricted print. The New Version spawned dozens of editions of itself, none exactly like the others. It was itself a spin-off of sorts, Tate having published a trial collection of the first twenty Psalms in Essay of a New Version of the Psalms of David in 1695. A Supplement to the New Version followed in 1700. New editions of the Old Version mimicked changes in the New, such that in one copy alternating lines might appear side by side, while another might cram as many as five Psalms onto a single page. Other new metrical psalters soon jumped into the act, compounding verbal evidence of linguistic, social, and moral improvement with the proliferation of Psalms “reduced” to print. Even Richard Blackmore’s 1721 A New Version of the Psalms of David tried to appeal to “the Capacity and Affections of the Common People” when it promised a visible “Cleanness and Purity of English Stile” that cut ties with a mixed and contentious past.16 Later “reduced to Metre” by Bishop Hare, David’s Psalms were printed with “Notes Critical and Explanatory” and “illustrations of many Passages drawn from the Classicks.” They were also packed into English “Heroic Verse” by Stephen Wheatland and the felicitously christened Tipping Sylvester, then “reduced to Lines, in an Easy and Familiar Style, and a kind of Blank Verse of Unequal Measures” in the Leicestershire rector George Fenwick’s Psalter in its Original Form (1759). Fenwick, typically, sought a reader as bookish, thus free, as himself when he rendered “the several Parts of it—as every one is inclined, or finds Occasion—more ready for daily Use and Meditation.”17

Churches spurned Blackmore’s psalter, while that of Wheatland and Sylvester was “intended for the Pocket or the Closet and not to be set to Church Music.”18 This trend crested in 1765, when rival versions of the Anglican psalter—Christopher Smart’s Translation of the Psalms of David and James Merrick’s Psalms Paraphrased or Translated into English Verse—essentially canceled each other out. Though some bishops backed it for use in the Anglican church, Merrick girded his volume with the expertise of a cadre of Hebrew scholars and promised his reader that the “Version or paraphrase of the psalms now put into his hands has not been calculated for the uses of public Worship.”19 Albeit from the madhouse, Smart’s Psalms were “written with an especial view to the divine service,” only to have their idiosyncrasies damn them first to critical contempt, then to obscurity, then to an afterlife in which they have been appreciated chiefly for their poetical merits, not their devotional “use.”20

Conforming or independent, versions of the periphrastic psalter that appeared between Tate and Brady and Merrick and Smart bear witness to the new English Psalm’s primary identity as a literary phenomenon. As such, a recalibrated book of Psalms could be useful. It could even reify a common devotional language that could in turn strengthen and coordinate a confessional culture divided not only between conformity and nonconformity but also between marginal and privileged Christians, all of whom (if literate) were free to inspect the Psalms’ innermost workings and adapt any “Parts” they wished to their own needs, desires, and purposes. But the modern Psalm could also be perfectly useless, enticing both readers and writers into a performative culture of infinite variation, ceaseless innovation, inexhaustible pleasure, and delightful imposture.


Tate and Brady’s New Version established that for the time being all Psalm “versions” would be literal turnings: between past and future, singing and reading, one meter and another. After Tate and Brady, the Psalms could be seen to exist only as versions. Each, conspicuously, took but one possible turn among many, leaving room for other writers and readers to turn it a different way. The sense that every Psalm is a “version” is itself a version of the typological view that had always shaped Christian reception of the Psalms. A modern difference was that now multiple versions could be laid out simultaneously in material space. Even where only one “version”—or “paraphrase,” or “imitation,” or “translation”—was visible, that designation made it clear that any Psalm could turn indefinitely between alternative forms and manners of meaning.

In this, modernized Psalms were of a piece with the scriptural cloth from which they were cut. In the context of the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Psalms, though associated with David, are identified with multiple authors. Each receives its own title and occasionally even its own byline, yielding an intraliterary example of composite authorship. Eighteenth-century English Christians extracted the Psalms from the Bible but emulated this example in the social and empirical medium of contemporary print culture. Rare was the major psalter unvetted by expert academic or ecclesiastical readers, who could then claim a part in its production. Even Watts mentioned that he had consulted “above twenty Versions of the Psalter,” all in English, before producing his own (PD, v). Nor had he “refused in some few Psalms to borrow a single Line or two” from his many English predecessors (PD, xxv). Meanwhile, in their scriptural context the Psalms echo earlier events in Jewish history and are alluded to in the later ones of the Christian era. From the perspective of a modernizing philology newly committed to texts as empirical objects, this made the Psalms look like citational linchpins: not just allusive, mysteriously typological, and prophetic, but migrant, malleable, eternally contemporary “Pieces” of writing that cited other books in the Old Testament, were quoted in the New (where they were mimicked in the form of such epistles as Paul’s to the Romans), and tumbled visibly out of Jesus’s own mouth in the Gospel.

Finally, the Psalms have always spoken in many voices and to multiple, ever-shifting audiences, capriciously switching from one speech form to another. In so doing, they redefine reverent community in dynamic relation to a divine and mobile interlocutor. In his trailblazing Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (1753/1787), the Oxford scholar Robert Lowth spotlighted the Psalms’ habitual “change of person,” noting that the psalmist often “apostrophizes to the same person, whom he had been describing.”21 Lowth’s twentieth-century German avatar Claus Westermann points out that the Hebrew Psalms alternate between “poles of praise and petition” so as to “determine the nature of all speaking to God.”22 With movable type “determin[ing] the nature” of the Psalms as speech acts, all apostrophe was at some level description, or at least designation. This is what it meant for the Book of Psalms to appear first and foremost as a “Book, […] a Collection of Forms of Prayer, and Praise, and Holy Meditation, composed by David, and other Divine Writers.”23 If their primary identity was as parts of a literary “Collection,” the Psalms could be treated empirically: broken down, examined, touched, even reasoned from and with. Swift’s friend, the Anglican divine Patrick Delany, even ventured that they amounted to “what the mathematicians call Data; that is confessed and granted truths” such that a modern English reader might “deduce from one confessed truth, such consequences and discoveries as naturally arise from thence.”24

This empirical and inductive turn allowed the nonconformist Watts to test these pieces of divinity both as and against all kinds of experience, but most especially that of the contemporary Christian in a devotional culture increasingly mediated by print. Even when he had congregational singers in mind, Watts urged them to “bring Psalm-books with them” into church, “and look on the Words while they sing so far as to make the Sense compleat” (PD, xxxi). He advised his reader to “read over the first Stanza before you begin to sing” [PD, xxxi]); after that “you” could do much as you pleased. Watts provided “Verses which are included in Crotchets” that could be left out “without disturbing the Sense,” and he displayed his Psalms in contrasting meters—short, common, and long—that could be visually measured, compared, and chosen among. Each could in turn be seen to break up the “constant uniformity of Time”—the monotone—that bedeviled Psalm singing, importing the pleasures, assurances, and independent reading praxes of a physical text into the ever more “delightfull” experience of corporate song (PD, xxxii).

These were not just the devices of a nonconformist. When the nonjuring devotional writer William Law advocated “chanting or singing of Psalms in our private devotions,” homely vocalization followed a printed script. Before opening his mouth, the devout Christian would need “to collect the devotions, confessions, petitions, praises, resignations, and thanksgivings, which are scattered up and down in the Psalms, and range them under their proper heads, as so much proper fuel for the flame of their own devotion.” A “leisure-time” activity turned the “performance” of any psalm into a private theatrical charged with pleasure and active experimentation with the dynamic possibilities of literary form.25

In the 1760s Smart would bind his own Translations to the dynamic, liberating, and elucidating potentialities of print even before they were written. Smart’s “Proposal for Printing” his Psalms by subscription trumpets a “Quarto, on a fine new Letter, and handsome Paper.” In fact, Smart promised, “the Paper and Print will be better, and every Thing conducted in a more elegant Manner” than a psalter that he had planned, but failed to deliver, a few years before. A triumph of space over time, this palpable and mannered shapeliness would be complemented not just by “List of Subscribers Names” but also by “new Musick […] published in an Appendix to the Work for such as chuse it.” To crown it all “every Book [would] be signed by the AUTHOR.”26 Smart wasn’t just advertising his Psalms. He was preparing a scene of literary experiment: translations “attempted in the Spirit of Christianity.” The resulting poems not only exploited both imagery and techniques of “Impression” drawn from contemporary print culture, but also titled alternative and metrically adventurous versions of Psalms with a showy “Or This,” adapting Watts’s nonconformist approach to the Psalms as visible words ordered in a variety of assumable forms. In Smart’s hands, “Translation” doubled as action and object. As such it turned into an equally personal and impersonal experience of divine presence, one grounded in the simultaneously material and symbolic act of working with and through the stable shapes of English letters.

Smart’s Psalms are mesmerizing and unique. But they were made possible by a culture in which the Psalms had long appeared at once as objects of sense experience and as infinitely adjustable and negotiable forms—forms whose substantiality secured unique “versions” of authority for the persons who tried them on, sometimes quite literally, for size. In his 1722 Paraphrase on Some Select Psalms, the Anglican dean of Armagh Richard Daniel found the Book of Psalms to be a “Collection of the most exalted Pieces of Divine Poetry that Antiquity can boast of” surpassing the adventures of Aeneas and Ulysses in the “refined […] Pleasure” it could afford “a Christian reader.”27 Later, the Hutchinsonian George Horne would deem the Book of Psalms “an epitome of the Bible,” so transparently “adapted to the purposes of devotion” that “we are instructed how to conceive of them aright.”28

Psalm paraphrases generated more psalm paraphrases, imitations, translations, and reams of commentary—all signs of a life more secure and expansive than that of the Bible itself. The Methodist John Wesley’s Notes on the Book of Psalms (1765) presented the Psalms as “one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, where there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law, that it has been called the summary of both Testaments.” Locke had regretted that new empirical scrutiny of the Bible threatened its integrity, dimmed its aura of authenticity, and pitted its parts against one another. But the 150 Psalms were already in pieces. It was precisely because they had been “composed at different times, on different occasions, and later put together, without any dependence on each other,” Wesley argued, that they had been “preserved from being scattered and lost.”29 He echoed Tate’s praise of a veritable “Compendiary of the Scriptures, comprising Laws, Precepts, Precedents, Politicks, Proverbs, Parables, and Prophesies, and under Them, Christ and the Gospel.” The Book of Psalms “was therefore call’d the Lesser Bible, or Epitome of Holy Scriptures; so that he that reads This (says St. Austin) reads All; and he that understands this has the Master-Key to all the Rest.” Anchored in a quotation of Augustine, Tate’s spatialized language discovers in the Psalms a modern literary ideal of availability, transparency, usefulness, and versatility. Here too the Gospel so literally lies “under” the Psalms that it seems to precede them.

Such assessments risk turning the “Agreeable Varieties of Style, amongst the Pen-men of these Sacred Songs” into an object of praise rather than a means to it. No worries. Quoting Thomas Bray, Tate claimed that “thro’ the Fondness of People for Psalm-Singing, many have recover’d their Reading, which they had almost forgot, and many have learn’d to Read, for the Sake of Singing Psalms, where it has been practis’d to some Advantage in the Performance.” Social transformation should result. With the New Version in hand, not only an indolent aristocracy but “our Shepherds, Plough-men, and other Labourers, at their Work, [would] perfume the Air with the Melodious Singing of Psalm.” 30 As it negotiated a reversible turn between singing and reading, the new Psalm book realized an implicitly pastoral national ideal.31

Decades later, this ideal still subtly informed Lowth’s Hebrew scholarship. He read the Hebrew word for psalm, “mizmor,” out of Psalm 67.1 and took it to mean a musical measure inseparable from its presentation in visible space, since mizmor “may also refer to the former and original sense of the root, as signifying a poem cut into short sentences, and pruned from every luxuriancy of expression.” As cuttings, the Psalms appear as irreducible (“original”) units of speech even as they inevitably show human interaction with them, since they have been conspicuously “cut or divided, in a peculiar manner, into short or equal sentences.” Lowth went on to depict individual verses as “members” so as to draw attention to the “conformation of the sentences” that brings those members together. The Psalms therefore actively teach their own readers to attend to the “conclusion of the sentence, lest the lines, by running into each other, should become altogether implicated and confused.”32

But could the Psalms teach too much, misdirecting attention from the divine to their own material words? After all, Lowth observed, Hebrew’s “real quanitity, the rhythm, or modulation […] is altogether unknown.”33 A modern English psalmist was launched into words with no stable point of origin rooted in sure knowledge about a vocalizing body. Lowth’s questionable contemporary George Psalmanazar stars in a cautionary tale. In his spurious 1764 Memoirs, this “reputed native of Formosa”—in reality a Frenchman notorious for having posed as an Anglican Irish pilgrim—reported “providentially stumbling” on a key to the Hebrew language. Here empirical experience and opportunities for “insight” into words’ “true meaning” went hand in hand with the bottomless delight of making one’s own rules:

I was then hammering at an exercitation of the 34th Psalm, printed at the end of the grammar that goes under the name of Bellarmine; in which I found at almost every word some exceptions to the grammar rules, and such reason assigned for them as still carried one farther from the point in view; when a poor man came and offered me a pocket Hebrew psalter, with Leusden’s Latin version, over against each page. I greedily bought it, and finding the version much more easy and natural than those literal ones of Pagninus and Montanus, quickly went through every verse in the book, without troubling myself about grammar, or any thing but the true meaning of every word as they occurred. So that by the time I had given it a second reading […] I had by that very rote, as I may call it, not only gained a considerable copia verborum, but by observation of the flexion of nouns, verbs, &c. got a tolerable insight into the declensions, conjugations, and other parts of the grammar and syntax. […] I became so fond of this method, that having gone through a third reading of it, with little or no obstacle, and in a very little time, I resolved thenceforth to confine myself to the psalms of each day, as they are read at church.34

As Psalmanazar’s delirious immersion in a dynamic, infinitely transposable copia verborum suggests, the Psalms’ grammatical elements were all but alive. This licensed liberties that knew “little or no obstacle,” backed as they were by a pseudo-empirical “method” of reading and writing. But such pretenses also bore witness to the Psalms’ “Life and Strength” in a shareable medium whose potentialities they often seemed to personify.35


Nahum Tate’s turn to the Psalms coincided with the virtual end of his theatrical career. The Psalms provided a perfect new venue thanks to their incessant “change of persons” both at the grammatical level and in the identities of their speakers. In turn, Tate and Brady’s New Version was both scorned and praised for everything from its “too poetical” bent toward personification to its unconvincing impersonation of Sternhold and Hopkins. A hostile 1699 broadside had caricatured the two of them, imagining their complaint that “full empty are the Words, God knows, / Which now [Tate and Brady] make me speak.”36 Dramatic turns converged in a new habit of referring to both Anglican metrical psalters by the names of their adapters; Tate himself later personified “Tate and Brady” as “an exil’d Princess.”37 Such conceits threatened to empty the Psalms, turning any group of them into an assembly of masks and metaphors. Watts later worried that this is exactly what had become of modern English congregations, forced to lip-sync Psalms that “express nothing but the Character, the Concerns, and the Religion of the Jewish King, while our own Circumstances, and our own Religion […] and our Affections want something of Property or Interest in the Words, to awaken them at first, and to keep them lively”(PD, iv). The underlying dilemma was a very modern one: How personal should a Psalm in English be? This question was complicated by changing conceptions of what a person is, and especially by changing conceptions of what English Christian persons might be insofar as they were now known not just by their manners of speech and modes of congregation but by the increasingly common way they read.

Advocates of the New Version complained that in the Whole Book of Psalms “the very same low Stile and Genius runs throughout the whole Work.” This offended modern reason because “to dress these Psalms in the same common Garb of Speech, is altogether as absurd, as for a Painter, who design’d to give us a Portraiture of King David, to represent him in the same mean Appearance, when he was seated upon the Throne of Israel, as when he was feeding his Father's Sheep” and was in fact “as absurd, as to confound the Scepter and the Pastoral Crook, his Shepherd's Garments and his Robes of State.”38 To smooth these absurd “Incongruities,” Tate and Brady rationally sorted David’s roles, the various persons in which he spoke. The resulting exemplary performances showed the Jewish poet to be not one but many. This fitted David to speak to—and, in psalmodic performance through—many different modern persons who could now see proper modes and forms of pious speech in his verbal manners. “Such Psalms as relate the Prosperity of the Church or State” were consequently presented “with Life and Spirit, and […] an Air of Joy and Triumph,” whereas “such as were compos'd on Occasions of any publick or private Calamities, or are Matter of plain Precept, there their Expressions are familiar and decent, and the Lines are temper'd with doleful Words and melancholy Accents.”39 The New Version even built stages for David’s psalmic performances: the new Psalm 28 has him repeating his cries to God “with weeping Eyes, and Hands stretch’d out / Before thy Mercy-seat” (NV, 51). In the new Psalm 23, the Old Version’s “pleasant streams” and “vale of death” turn into “silver streams,” “shady Pastures,” and a personified “Death’s gloomy Vale” to build a pastoral tableau in which the psalmist can start playing his exemplary part ahead of time: “My Time to come shall, in his House, / In Pray’r and Praise be spent” (NV, 43). First rehearsed in the pages of the New Version, such innovations could turn the church into a better playhouse, one Tate promised would be free of “any Under-Service to the Applauses of a Theatre” when English congregants themselves spoke as if they were David.40

To speak so was to copy Christ himself, who, modern psalmists often reminded their readers, “chose to perform his last Devotions on the Cross in the Words of David.”41 Watts nonetheless clicked his tongue at the hypocrisy of English Psalm singers forced to speak as persons other than themselves: “Why will ye confine your selves to speak one thing and mean another?” Yet Watts also accepted that a modern Psalm defines piety in terms of persons and the verbal manners they assume. All that needed refashioning was the kind of person entailed. To save modern, independent Christians from “speak[ing], in your own Persons, of Things, Places, and Actions, that you never knew” (PD, xiv), Watts thus “divest[ed] David and Asaph, &c, of every other Character but that of a Psalmist and a Saint,” vowing “to make them always speak the common Sense of a Christian” (xv). To dress David up as somebody entirely new—as, in effect, nobody—was to make it possible for any ordinary Christian person of the present day to “assume” his Psalms and their attendant piety. This project brought Watts into contact with the impersonal—or rather interpersonal—grammatical substratum of his own tongue as it made itself available to personal adjustment. Hence Watts did “not retain the personal Pronouns I and We, where the Transactions cannot belong to any of us, nor be apply’d to our Persons, Churches, or Nation” (ix). Nonetheless, Watts’s nobody could also look suspiciously like Isaac Watts, who suspected that David, like himself, had been an innovator at heart. Unhappily “confined to the words of Moses,” David must have longed to be “permitted the liberty of a paraphrase”—indeed, “might have supposed it a little unreasonable, when he had peculiar Occasions of mournful Musick, if he had been forced to keep close to Moses’s Prayer in the Ninetieth Psalm” (PD, ix).

Watts’s mode of turning the Psalms let him play (and play with) David, transmuting that king’s libertine pleasures into a pious literary diversion. Still, the middle-class, nonconforming psalmist could only “assume [the] Pleasure of being the First to have brought the Royal Author into the common Affairs of the Christian Life, and led the Psalmist of Israel into the Church of Christ, without anything of a Jew about him” (PD, xxvii). George Fenwick too aimed “to represent what [David] would have wrote, had he wrote in our Language” (PO, xxv) and to that end presented the Psalms “in the Dramatic Way, with several Persons introduced as Speakers; and that not unfrequently in one and the same Psalm” (PO, v). Hence “from the Mouths of several Persons, we may find set before us—in a great Variety of Scenes, and in different Views, or Points of Light—[…] the Church, through the several Ages of the World” (PO, vi). Like their visible emergence from “Mouths of several Persons,” the Psalms’ “frequent Change of Speakers” even substantiated a theology in which God himself appears “under this awful and undivided Trinity of Persons”—a trinity embodied in the present-day English church, such that “whether it be our Blessed Head, or His Body which is considered as the Speaker, our Hearts should be raised and joining in the Words” (PO, x).

Smart brought the open-ended art of psalmic personing to its fullest potential in his Song to David, published with his 1765 psalter. As Marcus Walsh puts it, in Smart’s Psalms “the person of David becomes the person of Christ, or David calling upon God the Father becomes the person of Christ, or David calling upon God the Father becomes the Christian believer calling on God the Son.”42 The person who becomes fully visible in Smart’s second-person Song to David rose at once objectively and inductively from these impersonations. This gave him the novelistic quality already palpable in a flurry of writing about David published in the 1750s and 1760s. Rebuking a recent “wanton study” which “delight[ed] in giving things a ludicrous or indelicate turn,” Beilby Porteus’s popular 1761 Character of David King of Israel defended David’s “character” and “moral Conduct” by turning him into two persons: “It was not […] on account of his private Virtues, but his publick Conduct … that David was honoured with the name of the Man after God’s own heart.” Evidence of David’s true, if suspended, character came from the Psalms, whose hairpin turns from person to person evidence David’s “extremes of happiness or misery; sudden transitions from the one to the other.”43

The eighteenth-century David was foremost a “Penman.” To read his words was for the modern reader of sensibility to encounter a man of feeling “harassed with the common uneasinesses of life.” Samuel Chandler’s Critical History of the Life of David (1766) even sought, in the Richardsonian manner, to “do justice to an injured character,”44 using the near-bodily evidence of the Psalms while also “throw[ing] light on the Psalms which relate to the character, actions, and circumstances of this Prince.”45 Psalm 56, for example, could be read as a “noble vindication of David’s innocence, in that he could, in the most private retirement … thus solemnly appeal to God.”46 The Psalms that Chandler cited were, however, his own liberal paraphrases, scattered through his Critical History in a novel order that served both his plot and his pattern of vindication. As a printer, Samuel Richardson was involved with Patrick Delany’s Historical Account of the Life and Reign of David (1740), printing the fourth himself in 1759.47 Here Delany too attempted “to satisfy myself in [David’s] real character,” in part through recourse to the “Data” of the Psalms. This experiment opened a world of “rare incidents and interesting events” that supplied “even the light and libertine reader with matter of information and entertainment, if not of real improvement.”48 As “entertainment,” the lives of David inevitably detached the Psalms themselves from their devotional purpose of moral improvement and turned their address from God to their contemporary makers, singers, and readers.


The “Royal Author” who arose from mid-century readings of the Psalms by middle-class Christians often appeared as a domestic and writerly alternative to the heroes of classical epic. He also countered its typical authors. Noting how “nobly and […] poetically” the Psalms dramatize David’s vicissitudes, Delany compared him favorably to Virgil, while Chandler held that the Psalms’ “Grandeur and sublimity” stands up to “the ancient hymns of the most celebrated poets.” These “excellent composures,” however, were “excellent” precisely because they were so obviously “composures.”49 Psalmic sublimity ultimately arose from readers—readers who could turn into writers if they wished. It also supported a modern critical sublime of infinitely expanding critical terminology, as we find in Tate’s exuberant anatomy of this “Compendiary of the Scriptures, comprising Laws, Precepts, Precedents, Politicks, Proverbs, Parables, [and] Prophesies.”50 While evident in everything Tate had to say about the Psalms, as a property of them sublimity was one quality among many, ranging “from the Majestick, Sublime, Magnificent, Triumphant, Exultory, down to the Mournful, Condoling, Comiserating, Pathetical, and Expostulatory; All Adapted to their respective Subject, in which consists the very Artifice and Soul of Poetry.”51

As David Morris proposes, in contrast to its Longinean rival, the Hebrew “sublime” was rooted in evidence that language is “Artifice,” its constitutive elements infinitely rearrangeable.52 Because the forms that emerged could be contrived and assumed by any number of persons, this was also a participatory sublime that aligned writers with readers in an inspired and diverse literate community. Watts officially surrendered “the Sublime” to this ideal: “If it should appear that I have aimed at the Sublime, yet I have generally kept within the reach of an unlearned Reader,” never “flying out of Sight” (PD, xxvii). Such adjustments shifted responsibility for sublime effects onto the “whole Assemblies [that] assist at the Harmony” (HSS, 9). This move in turn evangelized ancient Jewish community such that “the Psalmist of Israel might arise in Great Britain in all his Hebrew Glory, and entertain the more knowing and polite Christians of our Age” (PD, xxviii).

Watts was popularizing the Anglican critic John Dennis, whose Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry (1701) had declared that “the greatness of Virgil is littleness compared to” David’s. As proof, Dennis quoted the sixth through fifteenth verses of Psalm 16. Broken down, the Psalms showed the modern reader the movement of his own rational eye: “Reason finds its account better here than it does in Virgil; for the more amazing effects that we see of Divine displeasure, the more it answers our Idea of infinite wrath.”53 Indeed, “there is more Terror here […] and consequently more spirit in a faint Copy, nay, a Prosaick Copy, translated in the Imperfection of our Tongue, and by men who in all likelihood had no manner of notion of poetry, than there is in Virgil’s original.”54 Dennis equated the “Prosaick Copy” with the original image and the “Idea” it evokes.

Even Lowth later grounded the Hebrew sublime in the Psalms’ ability to display the principles governing the “conformation of the sentences wholly poetical.” For example, Lowth discovered Hebraic parallelism by close reading of the Psalms, where often “two images conspicuous run … parallel through the whole poem” so that, in the exemplary Psalm 2, we can “perceive the vast disparity of … two images, and yet the continual harmony and agreement that subsists between them, the amazing resemblance, as between near relations.”55 What is “amazing” is the visibility of an equally verbal and visual praxis, one that Lowth would later apply to English grammar in his Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762). Just so, one of the century’s most reprinted—because concise—versions of the 23rd Psalm came from the pen of the stenographer John Byrom, whose Universal English Short-hand (1767) taught thousands a “way of writing English, in the most easy, concise, regular, and beautiful Manner, applicable to any other language, but particularly adjusted to our own.”56


When Richardson’s Pamela “turn[s]” Psalm 137 to fit her own person and its parlous circumstances, she participates in a dynamic culture of English Psalm paraphrase, integrating Richardson’s pioneering epistolary fiction of sensibility with a uniquely experimental literary subgenre actively involved in the making of a modern Christian nation. G. Gabrielle Starr treats lyric interludes in the eighteenth-century novel as rhetorical chiasma negotiating relationships between reader and text.57 The special lyric form of the periphrastic Psalm also enacts relationships between texts as it foregrounds speech acts through a creative and conspicuously literary change of persons. As bits of the metrical psalter were freely turned to new ends in novels, popular verse miscellanies, and the periodical press, they adjusted the rules pertaining to these emergent fora and explored the place of embodied persons within them.

Thomson’s eighteenth-century biographer Patrick Murdoch reported, for example, that “there was prescribed to him for the subject of an exercise, a Psalm, in which the power and majesty of God are celebrated. Of this psalm he gave a paraphrase and illustration, as the nature of the exercise required; but in a style so highly poetical as surprised the whole audience.” Thomson’s teacher “complimented the orator upon his performance … but at last told him, smiling, that if he thought of being useful in the ministry, he must keep a stricter rein upon his imagination, and express himself in language more intelligible to an ordinary congregation.”58 This “smiling” response allegedly nudged Thomson out of “the study of theology,” emboldened to seek a less “ordinary congregation” via popular poetry. Thomson’s early exercise in experimental divinity not only teaches us how to read that poetry but suggests why his Psalm-saturated contemporaries had little trouble with a poem like “The Seasons,” which today seems incoherent both in its approach to the sublime and in the organization of its speaker’s voice and perspective.59

The Psalm in question, 104 (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”), is, as George Horne would put it, “an eucharistic hymn, full of majesty and sweetness.”60 It both summarizes and expands the creation narrative of Genesis, thereby making its providential dispensation visible through a human response unavailable at the prehuman scene of creation in Genesis. Thomson’s opening lines amplify the role of human perception and representation in creation: “To praise thy Author, Soul, do not forget; / Canst thou, in gratitude, deny the debt?” Thomson’s third line shifts the poem’s audience to the Lord, firmly aligning a wavering personal “Soul” with its impersonal “Author.” In turn, where orthodox prose versions of the Psalm figure the natural world as God’s clothing, Thomson fuses that world’s objective elements with their appearance to the perceiving soul so that the skies are “like a curtain stretch’d of curious dye” and the “fragrant mead” is dressed in “freshest green.”61 Emphasis on the secondary characteristics that strike the soul disperses both perception and its objects but reunites them at every dispersed point. While this technique risks distracting attention from creation’s divine “Author,” it also rediscovers him in its human one, ultimately soldering the experience of creation to that of literary authorship.

This psalmic technique, adjusted to the textual medium at hand, provides a stabilizing matrix for Thomson’s later poems. It also links his writing with an earlier moment in English literary culture notoriously preoccupied with the problem of establishing “Author[s]” as persons in their texts. Pope’s struggles to control the ways his readers “saw” him in print are well known from the perspective of that poet’s malformed body.62 Their confessional dimension surfaces in Pope’s Roman Catholick Version of the First Psalm I, first circulated anonymously, then given an unauthorized printing by Curll, with Pope denying authorship to his dying day. Traditionally, the Psalm’s speaker stabilizes and legitimates his own textual presence through the “divine service” that the Psalms themselves exemplify. As Tate and Brady put it, “Happy the Man” who “makes the perfect Law of God / His Bus’ness and Delight; / Devoutly reads therein by Day, / And meditates by Night” (NV, 3). Written for the ostensible “use of a Young Lady,” Pope’s Catholick Version mutes the Psalm’s textual resonance by turning the upright man into an apparently illiterate “Maid” who “will not hear / Of Masquerading Tricks,” while “the filthy and uncleanly Jade / Shall Rot in Drury-Lane.63

Pope’s feminized “Travestie” was meant only for the coffeehouses, but it fell into the clutches of Edmund Curll, who printed it while himself posing as a female publisher, one Mrs. Burleigh. Pope denied authorship, but a scathing Whig reader—the Psalm-adoring Dennis—insisted that “it is apparent to me that that Psalm was burlesqued by a Popish rhymester.” How so? Pope’s popishness appeared in his irreverence for the text of the Psalm, an irreverence that identified him with the illiterate women in it: “Let rhyming persons who have been brought up Protestants be otherwise than what they will, let them be Rakes, let them be Scoundrels, let them be Atheists; yet Education has made an invincible Impression on them in behalf of the Sacred Writings. But a Popish Rhymester has been brought up with Contempt for those Sacred Writings in the Language which he understands.”64

Dennis tried to exile Pope’s body from the literate culture in which he himself was coming to play a godlike role, even sneering that the Popish rhymester had “endeavour’d to make a Jest of God Almighty, out of a Spirit of Revenge and Retaliation, because God Almighty has made a Jest of him.”65 A jest that might have worked for a Protestant paraphraser seems to have gone sadly awry for a “Popish” one. But Pope seized control of the game. Secure in its second-person sense of a better community of readers, his 1735 Epistle to Arbuthnot frames the naughty Psalm as “imputed Trash” requisitioned to torment “the libel’d Person, and the pictur’d Shape” (lines 350, 352). Another of Pope’s Anglican Whig enemies, Blackmore, also attacked “a detestable Paper … in which the godless Author has burlesqu’d the First Psalm of David in so obscene and profane a manner, that perhaps no Age ever saw such insolent Affront offer’d to the establish’d Religion of their Country.”66 Pope hit back in the Dunciad, with a long and scathing footnote belittling Blackmore’s own recent Version of the Psalms. Such skirmishes create new places for persons, their bodies, and even their creeds within a modernizing print culture that reprises the world of bitter enmity summoned in the Psalms.

Pope stabilizes that world in his straight-faced 1710/1717 paraphrase of Psalm 91. The poem practiced a pivotal line in Pope’s feminocentric The Rape of the Lock (1714)—“all the bright Militia of the sky” (l. 24)—but it centers on the “secure and undisturb’d” author who, at least in Tate and Brady, “has God his guardian made” (NV, 188). As it at once expands and anatomizes the Psalm’s sixteen verses into twenty-one heroic couplets, Pope’s imitation finds stability in his own literary activity, superimposing persons, perspectives, and prepositions upon one another to produce the illusion of depth and distance. Visibly fixed in lexical space, each voice, perspective, and person recedes to become the still visible stage of the one that speaks after it. As the final “person” to speak, Pope’s God turns out to have been the original one as well, the ground against which the other figures have stood and the one who has framed the poem all along. He is thus reflected in the faithful speaker/reader who from the start “shall calm survey.”67

This spatializing praxis brings Pope in line with his Anglican contemporary Joseph Addison. Johnson’s Life of Addison reports that Addison “designed to have made a new poetical version of the Psalms,” but he had to settle for only two, both published in his 1712 Spectator papers. “These pious compositions,” Johnson remarked, “Pope imputed to a selfish motive, upon the credit, as he owns, of Tonson; who having quarreled with Addison, and not loving him, said that […] I always thought him a priest in his heart.”68 Via his omnisicient Mr. Spectator eidolon, Addison’s 1711–1712 Spectator papers did curate the tastes of modern English persons within a broadly Christian framework. His Psalm paraphrases both speed and explicate this enterprise. Spectator 465 posits that “faith and devotion naturally grow in the mind of every reasonable man, who sees the impressions of divine power and wisdom in every object on which he casts his eye.”69 For Addison’s reasonable reader, the first “object” to create such “impressions” is a versified Psalm, for it turns out that “the psalmist has very beautiful strokes of poetry to this purpose.” If he wishes to see how a “sublime manner of thinking furnishes very noble matter for an ode, the reader may see it wrought into the following one.” In the “following” spatialized version of the Psalm, the “spacious Firmament” turns into a “shining frame” through which “the shining Heavens. […] Their great Original proclaim … / And publishes to every land / The work of an Almighty hand.”70 The subject matter of the Psalm is framed and realized by the visible work of Mr Spectator’s own seeing hand.

Addison’s paraphrase of Psalm 23 also played with perspective, framing the Psalm to support Spectator 441’s proposition that God “has in his hands the management of every thing that is capable of annoying or offending us.” This, Mr. Spectator shows, “David has very beautifully represented.”71 Seen through Mr. Spectator’s reading, this most “pastoral hymn” appears through an interlocking and highly visible series of textual frames delightfully mirrored in the Psalm itself. As J. R. Watson observes, Addison shifts the Psalm’s center of gravity from the speaker’s relationship to his shepherd lord to his personified environment, a landscape that stabilizes not only through polite, gentlemanly survey but through personifying figures of speech.72 The well-known opening “the Lord is my shepherd” thus becomes “The lord my pasture shall prepare,” while its palladian octosyllabic lines converge in an idealized pastoral space where “the barren wilderness shall smile / With sudden greens and herbage crowned, / And streams shall murmur all around.”73

Mid-century poetry is often seen to have broken with the dynamic, ad hominem, print-obsessed poetry of the first decades of the century, affiliating itself instead with the static anonymity of such extraliterary “texts” as the epitaph. Yet psalmic reference revived that earlier literary community. For example, the graveyard poet Robert Blair’s 1743 poem The Grave pivots on the reflection “we make the GRAVE our bed, and then are gone”—a reflection that a 1785 edition of the poem glossed with reference to Watts’s evangelizing imitation of the 117th Psalm: “My flesh shall slumber in the ground.”74 The line brings Watts’s nonconformist perspective into Blair’s poem, integrating active textual practice with what appears to be a stark and wholly conventional vanitas motif whose only context is the self-consuming vessel of the poem that turns it up. The reference also imports hopes of redemption and resurrection that Watts had built into his evangelized version of the Psalm.

In his 1771 History of English Poetry, the high-church Anglican Thomas Warton tried to cut ties with earlier versions of the English Psalm, disparaging not only the “infectious frenzy of sacred song” that supposedly infiltrated English worship at the time of the Reformation but also “unpoetical” psalm paraphrasers of more recent times, who in his view only “consulted and copied, by the perpetual assumption of their words and combinations.” Prostituted by paraphrasers—Watts implicitly among them—who aimed to make them “acceptable to the common people,” English Psalms had become as alien as their Hebrew prototypes, “extrinsic to the frame of our liturgy, and incompatible with the genius of our service.”75 Warton himself, however, had published several Psalm paraphrases of his own in his 1748 Poems on Several Occasions, and their commitment to improvement and variation outside “the frame of our liturgy” betrayed a fundamental affinity with the very modern psalmists that Warton would later disavow. Warton’s Psalm 65 counts on iambic pentameter couplets to restore lost congruence, symmetry, and “contexture” to the form, while “Stanzas” from Psalm 94 appear in numbered iambic quatrains. Warton’s “Stanzas on the Psalms” recall Dennis’s own ambitions for “Wits” who once preferred Pindar to David, now “to the Hebrew Harp must yield / As Jove by great Jehovah is excell’d.”76

Psalms opened not only parallel but recursive and self-ironizing paths to sublimity for women poets of the period, who regardless of creed found in these adjustable and shareable pieces of experimental divinity the chance to reflect on their personal freedom to become visible in contemporary literary culture. Versions of Psalm 23 by two of the most prominent such women—the nonconformist Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Baptist Anne Steele—appeared in Andrew Kippis’s 1795 Collection of Hymns and Psalms alongside still other versions by Addison, James Merrick, John Byrom, and an anonymous paraphrase in long meter version from “Pope’s Collection.”77 Both the interconfessional character of this collection and its display of varying meters and thematic emphases make it an epitome of the experimental and inclusive culture of Psalm paraphrase in the eighteenth century. At the same time, however, the most vivid and sensual parts of Rowe’s paraphrase were eliminated along with its concluding lines, suggesting the vulnerability of women’s psalmody in the period and reviving the association between the Psalms and feminized embodiment exploited in and around Pope’s Catholick Psalm. Nonetheless, both Rowe and Steele explored the Psalms’ unique potential to figure that very vulnerability, even to turn it into a self-reflexive game.

Here, the widely published Psalms of two middle-class dissenting women converge with those of the nonjuring aristocrat Anne Finch. Finch published only one of her Psalm adaptations, but her manuscripts are peppered with inventive, if often aggressively abbreviated, Psalm imitations. Rowe’s Psalm paraphrases are tight, metrically inventive, and concrete; they separate subject and object within linear trajectories that look back from the perspective of a Christian framework that has supplanted the Jewish one. Both recursive and disruptive, Finch’s facetiously submit to old laws seemingly scripted into the Psalms themselves.

In contrast to Rowe’s studied and Wattsian impersonality, Finch’s Psalmist is often implicitly female. Her unpublished paraphrase of part of Psalm 119 modifies a twenty-one-part poem that unfolds as a complex meditation on the law. In the source text, each eight-verse section is identified by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In her rendering of the psalm’s tenth section (Yodh), Finch lops off the last two verses. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, this Psalm is “a thing done like embroidery […] for love of the subject and for the delight in leisurely, disciplined craftsmanship.”78 Beginning with the declaration that “thy workmanship, O lord, I am” and ending with the affirmation that “all my love, is on thy law,” Finch’s reworking of the embroidery is also an unworking, through which she both distances and probes her own suffering “frame” and the “afflictions [it has] sustained.” Calling for the “just-proportion’d Cordial” of divine mercy, Finch’s Psalmist does not necessarily avail herself of it but chooses instead to love the law to which she must submit.79

Rowe’s Psalms were no less experimental as they multiplied voices and perspectives within an often explicitly evangelical framework. In optical theaters exemplified by the “starry convex” that appears at the end of Rowe’s Psalm 72, the psalmist becomes visible not as a body or even as a center of perception but as a shaped field of energy disposing the “themes” of the Psalm in the dynamic space of reading.80 Although Rowe’s popular sobriquet, the “Heavenly Singer,” cast her as a modern, female David, and although her first volume of poems appeared the same year as Tate and Brady’s New Version, it included no Psalms among its many scriptural paraphrases. And while Rowe’s contributions dominated a multi-authored, interdenominational Collection of Divine Hymns and Poems on Several Occasions (1707), the volume’s several Psalm paraphrases were left to others, including the high Anglican Earl of Roscommon and the nonconforming Platonist John Norris. But by the time Rowe’s collected poems and previously unpublished manuscripts appeared in 1737, the result featured her rendition of Psalm 23. Posthumous editions of her poems added more and more Psalms into the mix: the two volumes of her Miscellaneous Works published in 1772 featured four (22, 23, 46, and 63), the last typically seeking to be “swallow’d” in “God’s glorious lot.” The posthumous Psalms at once extended Rowe’s vocal life beyond the grave in material form and absorbed it into the universal “lot” of psalmodic praise. At the same time, a widely published poet’s deepest pieties were shown to have been, in life, almost entirely private.81

Not so those of Steele. Steele’s 47 Psalm adaptations were not only “adapted to public worship” but published, albeit under the pseudonym Theodosia, in Steele’s 1760 Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional. A posthumous 1780 edition tallied Steele’s debts to Pope, Gray, and Watts, the last of whom Steele often echoed, especially in ecstatic depictions of Christ’s bloody body. Steele seldom translated more than three verses of a Psalm, but these textual cuttings were then allowed to grow into the spaces Steele wanted them to occupy—spaces not only metrically inventive but often comfortably addressing the collective life of the nation. But ambivalence about the public eye arose from these very exercises. Steele’s version of the great poem of exile, Psalm 137, makes silence a form of speech. It opens “where Babel’s”—not Babylon’s—“rivers winding stray.” Here “a silent, cool retreat we choose” and silence becomes visible through repetition as “our harps neglected and unstrung […] / All silent on the willows hung.” Unlike Watts and Rowe, who could not even bring themselves to paraphrase it, Steele does not shirk from the Psalm’s last notorious image but instead uses it to attack the eye itself, looking to the moment when “Heaven” is seen to “dash with unrelenting eyes, / Thy bleeding babes against the stones.”82

Fictional women were as inclined to experiment with psalm paraphrase as were their living contemporaries. In the 1740 novel that bears her name, Richardson’s Pamela famously struggles to dispel charges of impersonation in a world her own writing mediates. She is also committed to the same project of social and moral reform that motivated Tate and Brady’s New Version. So it is unsurprising that, like the Pauline epistles they mimic, Pamela’s letters should bristle with Psalms. As its recent readers have appreciated, Pamela’s adaptation of Psalm 137 to her own circumstances as a captive in Brandon Hall, her master’s Lincolnshire estate, heralds the new power of cultural subalterns, including women and the poor, to appropriate authoritative cultural forms.83 It also spotlights the social and sexual politics of interpretation while inscribing Pamela in a scene that catalyzed Jewish literary history.84 But Pamela’s psalm also sutures Richardson’s novel into the literary culture of contemporary psalmody, playfully tapping the psalm’s capacity to turn persons into other persons, embodied voice into literary text, and the elements of literacy into the building blocks if not of sublimity then at least of escape from formal limitations both social and literary, fictional and real.

“When I was at my Devotions,” Pamela writes, the housekeeper, “Mrs. Jewkes, came up, and wanted me sadly to sing her a Psalm.” Pamela takes her cue from the Jews (not Jewkes) and refuses to perform. “But when she was gone, I remembering the 137th Psalm to be a little touching turn’d to it, and took the Liberty to alter it to my Case more. I hope I did not sin in it: But thus I turn’d it.” A thematic expression of Pamela’s revolutionary “Liberty,” Pamela’s private turn to the “touching” Psalm also makes literate experience sensible—so much so that “turn[ing] to” the book in which the Psalm appears is inseparable from the dynamic action of “turn[ing] it.” The book in question later turns out to be Sternhold and Hopkins, not Tate and Brady—Richardson’s political choice against the Whiggish revision. Pamela turns it quite literally inside out so it can frame her person and its plight without losing its own identity. Technically, her first line, “When sad I sat in B—n Hall,” rearranges and augments the letters in the Old Version’s “When we did sit in Babylon,” changing also both its grammatical person and the form of its past tense.85 The turn highlights the codes and social conventions that determine the Psalm’s—and the psalmist’s—metrical and lexical identity at any moment.

Many pages later, Pamela’s Psalm is read aloud in alternation so as to show exactly how “Pamela [has] turn’d these lines.” “B—n” turns out to correspond to “Brandon,” a meaning that remains hidden when the Psalm is read silently. The letters B and n yield an objective link between Babylon and Brandon Hall, the dash that separates them an empty space whose soundless scansion turns places into persons. When Pamela insists that there is nothing in her work—or play—that is not “borrow’d from the Psalmist,” she is not being disingenuous (P, 321). She has added no new lexical elements, making her as formidable a competitor to the Old Version’s other adapters, Tate and Brady, as her contemporary Isaac Watts. But the subversive question lingers: What is the difference between Brandon and Babylon, or for that matter between Pamela and Psalmist?

Three other Psalms (all from the Old Version) are read in Richardson’s novel. But only Pamela, a poor, young female, assumes the Wattsian liberty of turning her own. The pleasures and freedoms she finds in this action at once model and copy those her father takes in the Psalms. While Mr. B and Pamela’s disappointed suitor Parson Williams are forever “talking of Psalms”—B in a “naughty” manner recalling the libertine psalmody of Pope and Rochester—Mr. Andrews reads them aloud in chapel and does “not observe altogether the Method in which they stand.” His relationship to them, like Pamela’s, is intimate, even erotic, for he has long “taken Delight in” them. Having “learnt Psalmody formerly, in his Youth,” he “constantly practiced it in private, at home, of Sunday Evenings (as well as endeavour’d to teach it in the little School he so unsuccessfully set up)” (p. 313). Andrews’s delighted familiarity with the Psalms in so many contexts—pedagogical and devotional, public and private, in the evening and during the day, in failure and in triumph—speaks to the diverse pleasures they give, if also to their easy turn into pure entertainment, for he “perform’d his Part with great Applause” (p. 314).

One might expect pleasure and play to have no place in Richardson’s late novel Clarissa (1747–1748), in which the Psalms provided an authority for his controversial rejection of the controversial model of “poetical justice” in this world in favor of the “doctrine of future rewards.” In his postscript to the 1751 edition of the novel Richardson declared that “of infinitely greater weight than all that has been […] produced on this subject, are the words of the Psalmist,” then cited the prose version of Psalm 73 that appears in the Book of Common Prayer: “All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I understood their end—Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” Yet when Richardson adds only that “this is the Psalmist’s comfort and dependence,” he invokes not the authority of God’s inalterable word but—psalmically—that of human response as it frames its own experience in relation to that word.86

For this reason, the Psalms are subtly interwoven into Clarissa’s epistolary fabric, providing a syntactic matrix and allusive texture. They do not appear as self-contained verbal objects until verses from two of them turn up on the lid of Clarissa’s casket. One such verse comes from Psalm 116: “Turn again unto thy rest, my soul! For the Lord hath rewarded thee. And why? Thou has delivered my soul from death; mine eyes from tears; and my feet from falling” (7:312). Even these compressed lines, in the manner typical of the Psalms, shift the second person from the soul—now separated from the speaker—to God, thus conflating the two and at the same time masking the illogic of the sequence of sentences. The cardinal question “why” is never answered, any more than is the question of why the soul would be turning “again”—not merely turning—to rest. The open-endedness of the psalm is in tension with its compression, an epitome of both the casket that frames it and the novel that frames the casket.87 At the same time, the chosen verse also opens into the Book of Common Prayer, where the Psalm was sometimes glossed as “having no Title,” a circumstance that “makes it uncertain who was the Author, and what is the Occasion of the Writing thereof.”88 This uncertainty turns an apparent impersonal inscription into a playful personal performance, deepening the surface of Clarissa’s casket without necessarily revealing its depths.

A verse from Psalm 103 puts in a similar performance: “The days of man are but as grass. For he flourisheth as a flower of the field, for as soon as the wind goeth near it, it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more” (C 7:312). In some editions of the Book of Common Prayer, this Psalm “bears the Title of David” and is thought to have been “composed by him upon a Recovery from some Fit of Sickness.”89 This provenance recasts an apparently stark vanitas motif within an otherwise invisible citational system that promises recovery and reinscribes Clarissa within a living community that encompasses the complex mediated world of Richardson’s novel.

Richardson’s Psalms tie his fiction to explicitly Anglican traditions of prayer and praise, reintegrating his isolated female protagonists within a spiritual community that invisibly supports their ludic experiments with Psalms. Likewise, in the dissenter Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Psalm reading supplants Psalm writing and promises to remove the pain of isolation in a world of mediated forms. Defoe’s nonconforming protagonist H. F. wonders whether he should stay in a London rapidly succumbing to disease and death. Home “all alone,” he wavers, “irresolute, and not knowing what to do.” Desperate for “Direction,” he busies himself with “turning over the Bible, which lay before me,” and finally “cry’d out, WELL, I know not what to do, Lord direct me! and the like; and that Juncture I happen’d to stop turning over the Book at the 91st Psalm, and casting my Eye on the second Verse, I read on to the 7th Verse exclusive; and after that included the 10th, as follows, I will say the Lord is my refuge, and my foretress.”90 H. F.’s meticulous map of the “turn[s]” he takes through the Psalm rationalizes his bibliomancy at the same time that it unites personal choice and stable lexical form, the cast eye and the speaking voice. In the context of Defoe’s novel, the Psalm also makes the action of reading explicit, revealing literate experience and the elemental lexical units that both motivate and constitute it as the temporal and spatial frame of the book in which the aptly designated H. F. appears, the conditions of its reality, and the motive for the actions there performed—actions that now include staying among others for the duration of the plague.

A different H. F. formally distanced the Psalms by “set[ting]” them as objects and agents of satire. But the Psalms also bind the Anglican Henry Fielding’s fiction dynamically to contemporary textual practice, and they are objects and sources of lively contention as well. In Shamela, Fielding’s notorious 1741 satire on Pamela, Shamela’s brother Joseph declares himself qualified be Parson Williams’s clerk because he is “able to read, and to set a Psalm.”91 Here the Psalm stands in a purely formal capacity that speeds Fielding’s reversal of Richardson’s fiction, setting the stage for his infamous allegation of Pamela’s fraud. In Fielding’s follow-up fiction Joseph Andrews, the Psalms organize conflict and critique societies in which power arises from position alone. Parson Adams recalls adjudicating a competition among three men jockeying for a clerical post that was settled according to “who had the happiest knack at setting a Psalm.” When the losers argued on, the “Dispute frequently disturbed the Congregation, and introduced a Discord into the Psalmody” which, “no longer able to vent itself in singing, […] now broke forth in fighting” until the first cleric died and one of the survivors was put in his place. This “presently put an end to the Dispute, and entirely reconciled the contending Parties.”92 Besides summarizing the Psalms’ history of conflict and resolution, Fielding’s parable of psalmody ties Joseph Andrews to a booming trade in jest books, in which the psalms were formal devices to mock the braying voices of clergy and often charted the history of the literary jest tradition itself.93

Laurence Sterne, an Anglican cleric thrice daily immersed in Psalms, naturally looked to them to realize, animate, and render common an idiosyncratic world. Tristram Shandy quotes Psalm 83.13 (“Make them like unto a wheel”), but turns it until it looks like “a bitter sarcasm, as all the learned know, against the grand tour.”94 No less an eminence than the “corpulent” analogist Bishop Joseph Hall found the Psalm to mean that “so much motion […] is so much unquietness; and so much of rest, by the same analogy, is so much of heaven.” But while he keeps Hall’s Hebraic parallelism, Tristram, “being very thin,” is free to reckon “differently; and that so much of motion, is so much of life.” So it is with any “Piece of experimental Divinity.” So much of motion is so much of life.


Aalders, Cynthia Y. To Express the Ineffable: The Hymns and Spirituality of Anne Steele. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008.Find this resource:

Achinstein, Sharon. Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele. The Spectator. Edited by Donald F. Bond. 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.Find this resource:

Alcock, John. A Collection of Psalm Tunes in the Ancient and Modern Stiles. London, 1745.Find this resource:

Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction; A Political History of the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Ault, Norman. New Light on Pope, with Some Additions to His Poetry Hitherto Unknown. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1967.Find this resource:

Austin, Michael. “Lincolnshire Babylon: Competing Typologies in Pamela’s 137th Psalm.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 12 (2000): 501–514.Find this resource:

Backsheider, Paula R. Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Backsheider, Paula R. Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Bennet, Robert. The Psalm-singer’s Necessary Companion. London, 1718.Find this resource:

Blackmore, Richard. Essays upon Several Subjects. 2 vols. London, 1717.Find this resource:

Blackmore, Richard. A New Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes Used in Churches. London, 1721.Find this resource:

Blair, Robert. The Grave. London, 1785.Find this resource:

Bossy, John. Peace in the Post-Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Brady, Nicholas, and Nahum Tate. A New Version of the Psalms of David [1696]. 2nd ed. London, 1698.Find this resource:

A Breif and Full Account of Mr. Tate’s and Mr. Brady’s New Version of the Psalms. London, 1698.Find this resource:

Byrom, John. The Universal English Short-hand. London, 1767.Find this resource:

Castle, Terry. Clarissa’s Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson’s “Clarissa”. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Chandler, Samuel. A Critical History of the Life of David. 2 vols. London, 1766.Find this resource:

Chetham, John. A Book of Psalmody. London, 1741.Find this resource:

Church Music Reformed; or, The Art of Psalmody Universally Explain’d unto all People. London, 1765.Find this resource:

Clark, J. C. D. English Society, 1660–1730: Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Ancien Regime. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Colley Cibber’s Jests. London, 1761.Find this resource:

Daniel, Richard. A Paraphrase on Some Select Psalms. London, 1722.Find this resource:

Davie, Donald. The Eighteenth-Century Hymn in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Defoe, Daniel. The Family Instructor. London, 1715.Find this resource:

Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year [1722]. Edited by Cynthia Wall. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Delany, Patrick. An Historical Account of the Life and Reign of David, King of Israel. 2 vols. Dublin 1740.Find this resource:

Dennis, John. The Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry. London, 1701.Find this resource:

Dennis, John. Remarks on Mr. Pope’s Translation of Homer. London. 1717.Find this resource:

Deutsch, Helen. Resemblance and Disgrace: Alexander Pope and the Deformation of Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Edwards, Thomas. A New Translation of the Psalms from the Original Hebrew, Reduced to Metre by the late Bishop Hare. London, 1755.Find this resource:

Fenwick, George. The Psalter in its Original Form; or, The Book of Psalms Reduced to Lines. London, 1759.Find this resource:

Fielding, Henry. “Joseph Andrews” and “Shamela” [1741]. Edited by Thomas Keymer Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Finch, Anne. Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea. Edited by Myra Reynolds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1903.Find this resource:

Green, Donald, ed. Samuel Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Guest, Harriet. A Form of Sound Words: The Religious Poetry of Christopher Smart. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Hamlin, Hannibal. “‘Piety and Poetry’: English Psalms from Miles Coverdale to Mary Disney.” In Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature, 1482–1663, edited by Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank, 203–221. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Hamlin, Hannibal. Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Holland, John. The Psalmists of Britain. London, 1843.Find this resource:

Horne, George. A Commentary on the Book of Psalms [1771]. 2 vols. London, 1778.Find this resource:

The Ingenious Jester. London, 1718.Find this resource:

Irlam, Shaun. Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Jemielity, Thomas. “A Mock-Biblical Controversy: Sir Richard Blackmore in The Dunciad.” Philological Quarterly 74 (1995): 249–277.Find this resource:

Johnson, John. Holy David and His Old English Translators Clear’d. London, 1706.Find this resource:

Johnson, Samuel. The Life of the Reverend Isaac Watts, with Notes. Edited by Samuel Palmer. London, 1785.Find this resource:

Killigrew’s Jests or a Pocket Companion for Wits. London, 1759.Find this resource:

Kippis, Andrew, et al., eds. A Collection of Hymns and Psalms, for Public and Private Worship. London, 1695.Find this resource:

Law, William. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. London, 1729.Find this resource:

Lewis, C. S. Reflections on the Psalms. London: Harcourt Brace, 1958.Find this resource:

Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews [1753]. 2 vols. London, 1787.Find this resource:

Marshall, Madeleine Forell, and Janet Todd. English Congregational Hymns in the Eighteenth Century. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982.Find this resource:

Maslen, K. I. D., Samuel Richardson of London, Printer: A Study of His Printing Based on Ornamental Use and Business Accounts. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Merrick, James The Psalms, Translated or Paraphrased in English Verse. Reading, 1765.Find this resource:

Morris, David B. The Religious Sublime: Christian Poetry and Critical Tradition in Eighteenth Century England. Lexington,: University Press of Kentucky, 1972.Find this resource:

Murdoch, Patrick. An Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. James Thomson. Vol. 1 of Poetical Works of James Thomson. 2 vols. London, 1768.Find this resource:

Nicholls, William. The Book of Common Prayer […]with the Psalms of David, Paraphrased. 4th ed. London, 1734.Find this resource:

Old John Hopkin’s, and Tho. Sternhold’s Petition to the Parliament. London, 1699.Find this resource:

Pierce, John B. “Pamela’s Textual Authority.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7 (1995): 131–146.Find this resource:

Pope, Alexander. Poems of Alexander Pope. Edited by John Butt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963.Find this resource:

Pope, Alexander. A Roman Catholick Version of the First Psalm: For the Use of a Young Lady. London, 1716.Find this resource:

Porteus, Beilby. The Character of David King of Israel Impartially Stated. London, 1761.Find this resource:

Psalmanazar, George. Memoirs of ****: Commonly Known by the Name of George Pslamanazar. London, 1764.Find this resource:

Quitslund, Beth. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins, and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547–1603. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.Find this resource:

Remarks upon the Vindication of the New Version of the Psalms. London, 1699.Find this resource:

Richardson, Samuel. Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady. 8 vols. London, 1751.Find this resource:

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded [1740]. Edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Rivers, Isabel. Reason, Grace and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660–1780. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Rowe, Elizabeth Singer. Miscellaneous Works, in Prose and Verse. 2 vols. London, 1772.Find this resource:

Sheehan, Jonathan. The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Smart, Christopher. A Proposal for Printing, by Subscription, a New Translation of the Psalms of David. London, 1763.Find this resource:

Smart, Christopher. A Translation of the Psalms of David [1765]. In The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart, edited by Marcus Walsh. 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.Find this resource:

Spurr, John. The Post-Reformation: Religion, Politics and Society in England, 1603–1714. New York: Longman, 2006.Find this resource:

Starr, G. Gabrielle. Lyric Generations: Poetry and the Novel in the Long Eighteenth Century. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Steele, Anne. Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional. London, 1760.Find this resource:

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. [1759–1767]. Edited by Campbell Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Tate, Nahum. An Essay for Promoting of Psalmody. London, 1710.Find this resource:

Thomson, James. Liberty, The Castle of Indolence, and Other Poems. Edited by James Sambrook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Warton, Thomas. History of English Poetry. 4 vols. London, 1771.Find this resource:

Warton, Thomas. Poems on Several Occasions. London, 1748.Find this resource:

Watson, J. R. The English Hymn. Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Watts, Isaac. Hymns and Spiritual Songs. London, 1707.Find this resource:

Watts, Isaac. Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. London, 1719.Find this resource:

Wesley, John. Notes on the Book of Psalms. In Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament. 3 vols. London, 1765.Find this resource:

Westermann, Claus. Praise and Lament in the Psalms. Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1981.Find this resource:

Wheatland, Stephen, and Tipping Sylvester. The Psalms of David, Translated into Heroic Verse … with Arguments Each Psalm and Explanatory Notes. London, 1754.Find this resource:

Williams, Aaron. Universal Psalmodist. London, 1764.Find this resource:


(1) Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (London, 1707), vi (hereafter cited as HSS).

(2) Watts, “An Essay for the Improvement of Psalmody,” in HSS, 252.

(3) Watts, Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (London, 1719), xxviii (hereafter cited as PD).

(4) Samuel Palmer, in Samuel Johnson, The Life of the Reverend Isaac Watts, with Notes, ed. Samuel Palmer (London, 1785), 26.

(5) Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, 2 vols. (London, 1787), 1:66.

(6) William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (London, 1729), 282.

(7) Harriet Guest, A Form of Sound Words: The Religious Poetry of Christopher Smart (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 1–68; Marcus Walsh, introduction to Christopher Smart, A Translation of the Psalms of David, in The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 3:xi–xxix.

(8) On the Psalms and the hymn see Donald Davie, The Eighteenth-Century Hymn in England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); J. R. Watson, The English Hymn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 102–132; and Madeleine Forell Marshall and Janet Todd, English Congregational Hymns in the Eighteenth Century (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982), 1–10. On the Hebrew sublime, see David B. Morris, The Religious Sublime: Christian Poetry and Critical Tradition in Eighteenth-Century England (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972). Jonathan Sheehan discusses poetry’s rescue of the Bible in The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

(9) Beth Quitslund, The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins, and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547–1603 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008).

(10) Hannibal Hamlin, Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 1. See also Hamlin, “‘Piety and Poetry’: English Psalms from Miles Coverdale to Mary Disney,” in Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature, 1482–1663, ed. Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 203–221.

(12) Isabel Rivers charts the transition from aggressive Old Dissent to relatively toothless New Dissent in Reason, Grace and Sentiment, A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660–1780 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990). See also Sharon Achinstein, Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003); John Bossy, Peace in the Post-Reformation (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998); John Spurr, The Post-Reformation: Religion, Politics and Society in England, 1603–1714 (New York: Longman, 2006); and J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1660–1730: Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Ancien Regime (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

(13) Both J. R. Watson and David B. Morris emphasize the Psalms’ use in teaching seventeenth-century rhetoric, a pedagogical manifestation of their emphasis on rhetorical scenes and linguistic motive. See Watson, English Hymn, 52; Morris, Religious Sublime, 21.

(14) Remarks upon the Vindication of the New Version of the Psalms (London, 1699), 3.

(15) William Bridgeman, in Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate, A New Version of the Psalms of David [1696], 2nd ed. (London, 1698), facing title page. Bridgeman printed this edict endorsing the New Version in December 1698 following a “Petition” by Tate and Brady. References to the New Version (NV in parenthetical references) hereafter are to the first edition, which appeared without the edict in 1696.

(16) Certificate of the Lords, in Richard Blackmore, A New Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes Used in Churches (1721), facing title page.

(17) George Fenwick, The Psalter in its Original Form; or, The Book of Psalms Reduced to Lines (London, 1759), iii (hereafter PO in parenthetical references). See also Thomas Edwards, A New Translation of the Psalms from the Original Hebrew, Reduced to Metre by the late Bishop Hare (London, 1755); Stephen Wheatland and Tipping Sylvester, The Psalms of David, Translated into Heroic Verse … with Arguments Each Psalm and Explanatory Notes (London, 1754).

(18) John Holland, The Psalmists of Britain (London, 1843), 196.

(19) James Merrick, The Psalms, Translated or Paraphrased in English Verse (Reading, 1765), vii.

(20) Christopher Smart, A Translation of the Psalms of David, ed. Walsh, 3. Guest offers a brilliant reading of the idiosyncrasies that paradoxically arose from Smart’s efforts to resist it throughout his religious poetry in Form of Sound Words, 62–68.

(21) Lowth, Lectures, 2:215.

(22) Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1981), 152.

(23) John Johnson, Holy David and His Old English Translator’s Clear’d (London, 1706), A2r.

(24) Patrick Delany, An Historical Account of the Life and Reign of David, King of Israel, 2 vols. (Dublin 1740), 1:81.

(25) Law, Serious Call, 252, 262.

(26) Christopher Smart, Proposal for Printing, by Subscription, a New Translation of the Psalms of David (London, 1763), title page.

(27) Richard Daniel, A Paraphrase on Some Select Psalms (London, 1722), A3r.

(28) George Horne, A Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 2 vols. (London, 1778), 1:i.

(29) John Wesley, Notes on the Book of Psalms, in Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament, 3 vols. (London, 1765), 2:1625.

(30) Nahum Tate, An Essay for Promoting of Psalmody (London 1710), 2, 6, 8.

(31) Tate anticipates a development that space prevents us from exploring. The teaching of psalm singing was a growth industry throughout the eighteenth century, its popularity both reflected by and bound up with a proliferation of typographically innovative how-to books on the subject. See Aaron Williams, Universal Psalmodist (1764); John Alcock, Collection of Psalm Tunes in the Ancient and Modern Stiles (1745); Robert Bennet, The Psalm-singer’s Necessary Companion; John Chetham, Book of Psalmody (1741); and Church Music Reformed; or, The Art of Psalmody Universally Explain’d unto all People. Guidebooks to psalmody like Bennet’s not only visually juxtaposed “Variety of Tunes” but in so doing turned the Psalms into a paraliterary genre that could transcend infinite variations from church to church, keeping church singing as a frame of reference but rendering it merely optional as the primary context for the experience of the Psalms. Williams in fact taught “singing societies,” not congregations, making the Psalms a means to the end of teaching musical notation.

(32) Lowth, Lectures, 1:69, 71.

(34) George Psalmanazar, Memoirs of ****: Commonly Known by the Name of George Pslamanazar (London, 1764), 261–262.

(35) Watts, “Improvement of Psalmody,” 253.

(36) Old John Hopkin’s and Tho. Sternhold’s Petition to the Parliament (London, 1699), first unnumbered page. Hamlin discusses this broadside at length in Psalm Culture and Early Modern England, 19–22.

(37) Tate, Promoting of Psalmody, preface, unnumbered.

(38) A Breif and Full Account of Mr. Tate’s and Mr. Brady’s New Version of the Psalms (London, 1698), 38–39.

(39) Breif and Full Account, 40.

(40) Tate, Promoting Psalmody, preface, unnumbered.

(43) Beilby Porteus, The Character of David King of Israel Impartially Stated (London: 1761), 2, 18.

(44) Samuel Chandler, A Critical History of the Life of David, 2 vols. (London: 1766), 1:1.

(45) Chandler, Critical History, editor’s advertisement.

(47) K. I. D. Maslen, Samuel Richardson of London, Printer: A Study of His Printing Based on Ornament Use and Business Accounts (Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago Press, 2001), 40.

(49) Delany, Historical Account, 1:65, 2:102, 2:94.

(54) Dennis, Advancement, 186–187.

(55) Lowth, Lectures, 1:249.

(56) John Byrom, The Universal English Short-hand (London, 1767), title page.

(57) G. Gabrielle Starr, Lyric Generations: Poetry and the Novel in the Long Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 107–114.

(58) Patrick Murdoch, An Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. James Thomson. Vol. 1 of Poetical Works of James Thomson. 2 vols. London, 1768.

(59) Shaun Irlam, Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 113–141; Starr, Lyric Generations, 75–84.

(61) James Thomson, Psalm 104 Paraphrased, in Liberty, The Castle of Indolence, and Other Poems, ed. James Sambrook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 234–235.

(62) See specially Helen Deutsch, Resemblance and Disgrace: Alexander Pope and the Deformation of Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

(63) Alexander Pope, A Roman Catholick Version of the First Psalm: For the Use of a Young Lady (London, 1716), 1. On the complex history of this poem, see Thomas Jemielity, “A Mock-Biblical Controversy: Sir Richard Blackmore in The Dunciad,” Philological Quarterly 74 (1995): 249–277; and Norman Ault, New Light on Pope, with Some Additions to His Poetry Hitherto Unknown (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1967), 156–162. Jemielity and Ault both consider Pope to have insulted Sternhold and Hopkins, but given their links to modern Whig poetics, Tate and Brady seem a likelier target.

(64) John Dennis, Remarks on Mr. Pope’s Translation of Homer (London: 1717), 27.

(66) Richard Blackmore, Essays upon Several Subjects, 2 vols. (London, 1717), 2:270. Jemielity wagers that Blackmore resented “Pope’s claim of speaking as a Christian moral voice” at a time when the Bible was an increasingly unstable source of authority. See Jemielity, “Mock-Biblical Controversy,” 24.

(67) Alexander Pope, Psalm XCI (1717), in Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963), 113–114.

(68) Samuel Johnson, Life of Addison, in Donald Green, ed., Samuel Johnson (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1984), 658. Johnson noted that Pope “might have reflected, that a man who had been secretary of state […] knew a nearer way to a bishopric than by defending Religion, or translating the Psalms” (659).

(69) Joseph Addison, Spectator 465 (August 23, 1712), in Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator, ed. Donald F. Bond, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), 4:141.

(70) Addison, Spectator 465, 4:142.

(71) Addison, Spectator 441 (July 26, 1712), 4:49.

(72) Watson, English Hymn, 172–173.

(73) Addison, Spectator 441, 4:51.

(74) Robert Blair, The Grave (London, 1785), 42.

(75) Thomas Warton, History of English Poetry, 4 vols. (London, 1771), 3:172, 177.

(76) Thomas Warton, Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1748), 185.

(77) Andrew Kippis et al., eds., A Collection of Hymns and Psalms, for Public and Private Worship (London, 1695), 119–126. Kippis and his collaborators arranged versions of multiple Psalms in this manner. For a rich appreciation of Rowe’s version of Psalm 28 that is rather hard on Addison, see Paula R. Backsheider, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 141.

(78) Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Harcourt Brace, 1958), 58.

(79) Anne Finch, The 10th Part of the 119th Psalm Paraphrased in the manner of a Prayer from the 1st to ye 6th Verse, in Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea, ed. Myra Reynolds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1903), 226–227.

(80) Elizabeth Singer Rowe, “Psalm LXXII,” in Miscellaneous Works, in Prose and Verse. 2 vols. (London, 1772), 1:127.

(81) Rowe, “Psalm LXIII,” in Miscellaneous Works, 1:125. On the role that self-abasement and withdrawal played in shoring up Rowe’s spiritual authority, see Guest, Form of Sound Words, 32–38. On her “experimental” writing both in and against this context, see Paula R. Backsheider, Elizabeth Singer Rowe and the Development of the English Novel (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).

(82) Anne Steele, Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (London, 1760), 2:228, 230. On the importance of Watts’s Psalms of David, see Cynthia Y. Aalders, To Express the Ineffable: The Hymns and Spirituality of Anne Steele (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 37–40.

(83) Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction; A Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 133.

(84) John B. Pierce, “Pamela’s Textual Authority,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7 (1995): 131–146; Michael Austin, “Lincolnshire Babylon: Competing Typologies in Pamela’s 137th Psalm,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 12 (2000): 501–514; Starr, Lyric Generations, 128–129.

(85) Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, ed. Thomas Keymer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 140 (hereafter P in parenthetical references).

(86) Samuel Richardson, Clarissa; Or, The History of a Young Lady, 8 vols. (London, 1751), 8:288.

(87) On the “textuality” and polyvalence of Clarissa’s casket, see Terry Castle, Clarissa’s Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson’s “Clarissa” (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), 136–147.

(88) William Nicholls, The Book of Common Prayer […] with the Psalms of David, Paraphrased, 4th ed. (London, 1734), 528. Nicholls had produced this version of the Book of Common Prayer so as to “explain it in a Manner fit for the Use of common Persons” (Preface, A4v).

(90) Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, ed. Cynthia Wall (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 14. H. F.’s quest for “Direction” links the Journal to Defoe’s bestselling Family Instructor (1715), which advocates this way of reading them throughout.

(91) Henry Fielding, “Joseph Andrews” and “Shamela”, ed. Thomas Keymer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 25

(93) Psalms are stock in trade in The Ingenious Jester (1718), Killigrew’s Jests or a Pocket Companion for Wits (1759), and Colley Cibber’s Jests (1761)—an extension of a tradition pioneered by the French libertine psalmist Clement Marot (1496–1544).

(94) Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent., ed. Campbell Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 395–396.