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The poetical annals of this reign are almost intirely filled with metrical translations, from various parts of the Holy Scriptures. Wyatt and Surrey had translated some of the Psalms; but Sternhold, an enthusiast in the cause of the reformation, taking offence at the indecent ballads which were current among the courtiers; and, hoping to substitute a set of more holy subjects, undertook a translation of the Psalter. A similar attempt had been made in France by Clement Marot; and, strange to say, had been made with success: and though Sternhold did not possess the talents of Marot, his industry has been rewarded by still more permanent popularity. It is rather whimsical that the first versions of the Psalms were made, in both countries, by laymen and court poets; and they translated nearly an equal number: Marot 50, and Sternhold 51. Sternhold died in 1549; and his psalms were printed in the same year, by Edward Whitchurch.
John Hopkins, a clergyman and schoolmaster in Suffolk, rather a better poet than Sternhold,
added 58 psalms to the list. Of the other contributors, the chief, in point of rank and learning, was William Whyttingham, dean of Durham, whose translations are marked with the initials of his name. Thomas Norton, a barrister, and native of Sharpenhoe, in Bedfordshire, who assisted Sackville in composing the tragedy of Gorboduc, wrote 27. The intire collection was at length published by John Day, in 1562.
It certainly is not easy to discover the grand features of Hebrew poetry, through the muddy medium of this translation, but it is a curious repertory, and highly characteristic of the time in which it was written. Metre was the universal vehicle of devotion. Our poets were inspired with a real and fervent enthusiasm, and though the tameness and insipidity of the language in which they vented this inspiration, may surprise and disgust a modern reader, it was probably once thought to derive grandeur and sanctity from its subject.
The most notable versifiers of this reign were, John Hall, who published' “ certaine chapters “ out of the Proverbs of Solomon, and translated “ into English metre;" William Hunnis, a gentleman of the chapel, under Edward VI. afterwards chapel-master to Queen Elizabeth, and a most tedious contributor to the Paradise of Dainty
Devices ; archbishop Parker, and Robert Crowley, a preacher and printer in Holborn ; each of whom undertook a version of the Psalter; William Baldwin and Francis Seagur, both publishers of devotional poems; and Christopher Tye, doctor of music at Cambridge, 1545, and musical professor to prince Edward, and probably to the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, who translated and set to music the Acts of the Apostles.
Of such a period, it is not extraordinary that few specimens should be worth preserving, but it is rather singular that the best of these should be a drinking song. It is extracted from a play called Gammer Gurton's Needle, first printed in 1551.