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Rhymed Bibles

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The rhymed versions of the Bible are almost entirely collections of the psalms. The oldest English rhymed psalter is a pre-Reformation translation of the Vulgate psalms, generally assigned to the reign of Henry II and still preserved in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The Bodleian Library, Oxford, has another Catholic rhyming psalter of much the same style, assigned epigraphically to the time of Edward II. Thomas Brampton did the Seven Penitential Psalms, from the Vulgate into rhyming verse in 1414; the Manuscript is in the Cottonian collection, British Museum. These and other pre-Reformation rhyming psalters tell a story of popular use of the vernacular Scripture in England which they ignore who say that the singing of psalms in English began with the Reformation. Sir Thomas Wyat (died 1521) is said to have done the whole psalter. We have only "Certayne Psalmes chosen out of the Psalter of David, commonly called the VII Penitential Psalmes, Drawen into English metre". Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (died 1547), translated Pss. lv, lxxiii, lxxxviii into English verse. Miles Coverdale (died 1567) translated several psalms in "Goastly psalmes and spirituall songs drawen out of the Holy Scripture". The old Version of the Anglican Church, printed at the end of the Prayer Book (1562) contains thirty-seven rhyming psalms translated by Thomas Sternhold, fifty-eight by John Hopkins, twenty-eight by Thomas Norton, and the remainder by Robert Wisdom (Ps. cxxv), William Whittingham (Ps. cxix of 700 lines) and others. Sternhold's psalms had been previously published (1549). Robert Crowley (1549) did the entire psalter into verse. The Seven Penitential Psalms were translated by very many; William Hunnis (1583) entitles his translation, with quaint Elizabethan conceit, "Seven Sobs of a Sorrowful Soul for Sinne". During the reign of Edward VI, Sir Thomas Smith translated ninety-two of the psalms into English verse, while imprisoned in the Tower. A chaplain to Queen Mary, calling himself the "symple and unlearned Syr William Forrest, preeiste", did a poetical version of fifty psalms (1551). Matthew Parker (1557), later Archbishop of Canterbury, completed a metrical psalter. The Scotch had their Psalmes buickes from 1564. One of the most renowned of Scotch versifiers of the Psalms was Robert Pont (1575). Zachary Boyd, another Scotchman, published the Psalms in verse early in the seventeenth century. Of English rhyming versifications of the Psalms, the most charming are those of Sir Philip Sidney (d. 1586) together with his sister, Countess of Pembroke. This complete psalter was not published till 1823. The rich variety of the versification is worthy of note; almost all the usual varieties of lyric metres of that lyric age are called into requisition and handled with elegance.

The stately and elegant style of Lord Bacon is distinctive of his poetical paraphrases of several psalms. Richard Verstegan, a Catholic, published a rhyming version of the Seven Penitential Psalms (1601). George Sandys (1636) published a volume containing a metrical version of other parts of the Bible together with "a Paraphrase upon the Psalmes of David, set to new Tunes for Private Devotion, and a Thorow Base for Voice and Instruments"; his work is touching in its simplicity and unction. The Psalm Books of the various Protestant churches are mostly rhyming versions and are numerous: New England Psalm Book (Boston, 1773); Psalm Book of the Reformed Dutch Church in North America (New York, 1792); The Bay Psalm Book (Cambridge, 1640). Noteworthy also, among the popular and more recent rhymed psalters are: Brady and Tate (poet laureate), "A new Version of the Psalms of David" (Boston, 1762); James Merrick, "The Psalms in English Verse" (Reading, England, 1765); I. Watts, "The Psalms of David" (27th ed., Boston, 1771); J. T. Barrett, "A Course of Psalms" (Lambeth, 1825); Abraham Coles, "A New Rendering of the Hebrew Psalms into English Verse" (New York, 1885); David S. Wrangham, "Lyra Regis" (Leeds, 1885); Arthur Trevor Jebb "A Book of Psalms" (London, 1898). Such are the chief rhyming English psalters. Other parts of Holy Writ done into rhyming English verse are: Christopher Tye's "The Acts of the Apostles translated into English Metre" (1553); Zachary Boyd's "St. Matthew" (early seventeenth cent.); Thomas Prince's "Canticles, parts of Isaias and Revelations" in New England Psalm Book (1758); Henry Ainswort, "Solomon's Song of Songs" (1642); John Mason Good's "Song of Songs" (London, 1803); C. C. Price's "Acts of the Apostles" (New York, 1845). The French have had rhyming psalters since the "Sainctes Chansonettes en Rime Française" of Clement Marot (1540). Some Italian rhymed versions of the Bible are: Abbate Francesco Rezzano, "II Libro di Giobbe" (Nice, 1781); Stefano Egidio Petroni, "Proverbi di Salomone" (London, 1815); Abbate Pietro Rossi, "Lamentazioni di Geremia, i Sette Salmi Penitenziali e il Cantico di Mose" (Nizza, 1781); Evasio Leone, "II Cantico de' Cantici" (Venice, 1793); Francesco Campana, "Libro di Giuditta" (Nizza, 1782).


Bibliotheca Sussexiana, II (London. 1839); WARTON, History of English Poetry (1774-81); HOLLAND, The Psalmists of Britain (London, 1843).

About this page

APA citation. Drum, W. (1912). Rhymed Bibles. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Drum, Walter. "Rhymed Bibles." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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