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S E C T. XXVII.
H E reformation of our church produced an alteration for a time in the general system of study, and changed the charaćter and subječts of our poetry. Every mind, both learned and unlearned, was busied in religious speculation; and every pen was employed in recommending, illustrating, and familiarising the Bible, which was now laid open to the people. The poetical annals of king Edward the fixth, who removed those chains of bigottry which his brother Henry had only loosened, are marked with metrical translations of various parts of the sacred scripture. Of these the chief is the versification of the Psalter by Sternhold and Hopkins: a performance, which has acquired an importance, and consequently claims a place in our series, not so much from any merit of its own, as from the circumstances with which it is connected. It is extraordinary, that the protestant churches should be indebted to a country in which the reformation had never begun to make any progress, and even to the indulgence of a society which remains to this day the grand bulwark of the catholic theology, for a very distinguishing and essential part of their ritual. About the year 1540, Clement Marot, a valet of the bedchamber to king Francis the first, was the favorite poet of France. This writer, having attained an unusual elegance and facility of style, added many new embellishments to the rude state of the French poetry. It is not the least of his praises, that La Fontaine used to call him his master. He was the inventor X 2 of of the rondeau, and the restorer of the madrigal : but he became chiefly eminent for his pastorals, ballads, fables, elegies, epigrams, and translations from Ovid and Petrarch. At length, being tired of the vanities of profane poetry, or rather privately tinétured with the principles of Lutheranism, he attempted, with the affistance of his friend Theodore Beza, and by the encouragement of the professor of Hebrew in the university of Paris, a version of David's Psalms into French rhymes. This translation, which did not aim at any innovation in the public worship, and which received the sančtion of the Sorbonne as containing nothing contrary te sound doćtrine, he dedicated to his master Francis the first, and to the Ladies of France. In the dedication to the Ladies or les Dames de France, whom he had often before addressed in the tenderest strains of passion or compliment, he seems anxious to deprecate the raillery which the new tone of his versification was likely to incur, and is embarrassed how to find an apology for turning saint. Conscious of his apostacy from the levities of life, in a spirit of religious gallantry, he declares that his design is to add to the happiness of his fair readers, by substituting divine hymns in the place of chansons d’ amour, to inspire their susceptible hearts with a passion in which there is no torment, to banish that fickle and fantastic deity Cupid from the world, and to fill their apartments with the praises, not of the little god, but of the true Jehovah.
Marot's Psalms soon eclipsed the brilliancy of his madrigals and sonnets. Not suspecting how prejudicial the predominant rage of psalm-finging might prove to the antient religion of Europe, the catholics themselves adopted these sacred songs as serious ballads, and as a more rational species of domestic merriment. Thy were the common accompaniments of the fiddle. They were sold so rapidly, that the printers could not supply the public with copies. In the festive and splendid court of Francis the first, of a sudden nothing was heard but the psalms of Clement Marot. By each of the rôyal family and the principal nobility of the court a psalm was chosen, and fitted to the ballad-tune which each liked best. The dauphin prince Henry, who delighted in hunting, was fond of Ains qu'on oit le cerf bruire, or, Like as the Hart desireth the water-brooks, which he constantly sung in going out to the chase. Madame de Valentinois, between whom and the young prince there was an attachment, took Du fond de ma pense, or, From the depth of my heart, O Lord. The queen's favorite was, Nevueilles pas, O Sire, that is, O Lord, rebuke me not in thine indignation, which she sung to a fashionable jig. Antony king of Navarre sung, Revenge moy, pren le querelle, or, Stand up, O Lord, to revenge my quarrel, to the air of a dance of Poitou". It was on very different principles that psalmody flourished in the gloomy court of Cromwell. This fashion does not seem in the least to have diminished the gaiety and good humour of the court of Francis. At this period John Calvin, in opposition to the discipline and doćtrines of Rome, was framing his novel church at Geneva: in which the whole substance and form of divine worship was reduced to praying, preaching, and finging. In the last of these three, he chose to depart widely from the catholic usage: and, either because he thought that novelty was sure to succeed, that the practice of antiphonal chanting was superstitious, or that the people were excluded from bearing a part in the more solemn and elaborate performance of ecclesiastical music, or that the old papistic hymns were unedifying, or that verse was better remembered than prose, he projećted, with the advice of Luther, a species of religious song, consisting of portions of the psalms intelligibly translated into the vernacular language, and adapted to plain and easy melodies, which all might learn, and in which all might jbin. This scheme, either by design or accident, was luckily seconded by the publication of Marot's metrical psalms at Paris, which Calvin immediately introduced into his congregation at Geneva. Being set to fimple and almost monotonous notes by Guillaume de Franc, they were soon established as the principal branch in that reformer's new devotion, and became a charaćteristical mark or badge of the Calvinistic worship and profession. Nor were they sung only in his churches. They exhilarated the convivial assemblies of the Calvinists, were commonly heard in the streets, and accompanied the labours of the artificer. The weavers and woollen manufacturers of Flanders, many of whom left the loom and entered into the ministry, are said to have been the capital performers into this science. At length Marot's psalms formed an appendix to the catechism of Geneva, and were interdićted to the catholics under the most
* Les Oevvres de Clement Marot de Lyon, 1551. 12mo, See ad calc. TaaCahors, valet de chambre du roy, &c. A ductions, &c. p. 192. the
severe penalties. In the language of the orthodox, psalm-finging
gratification and allurement, which might qualify and enliven the attendance on the more rigid duties of praying and preach
ing. Calvin therefore, intent as he was to form a new church
on a severe model, had yet too much sagacity to exclude every
auxiliary to devotion. Under this idea, he permitted an exercise,
which might engage the affections, without violating the fimpli
propensity which prompts even vulgar minds to express their more animated feelings in rhyme and music, he conceived a mode of universal psalmody, not too refined for common capacities, and fitted to please the populace. The rapid propagation of Calvin's religion, and his numerous proselytes, are a strong