By Sophia Lufkin
The Massachusetts Bible Society Collection at the BUSTh Library contains over 4,000 items, including Bibles and tracts from a wide range of cultures and languages. Our spotlight is on The Whole Book of Psalmes: Collected into English Metre, published in England in 1637. It includes Psalm translations by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and the 1560 Geneva Bible.
First published in 1562, this was one of the earliest translations of the Psalms into English. The authors composed this as a metrical psalter, meaning that they translated the original Hebrew into vernacular, rhyming poetry. The book included musical notation, and became one of the first congregational hymnals in the Church of England. It was distributed in churches, often bound together with the 1560 Geneva Bible. As the authors wrote in their title page, one of their hopes for this sing-along hymnal was that ordinary people would sing Psalms to themselves as they went about their daily lives, instead of contemporary “ungodly songs and ballads.” One of the most enduring hymns in this collection is William Kethe’s version of Ps. 100, “All People that on Earth Do Dwell.”
This edition was popular in its time, and was used in congregational worship until 1698. Perhaps unsurprisingly -- given its popularity with ordinary people -- critics derided the translations as simplistic and watered down. According to BUSTh librarians, Queen Elizabeth called this book “Geneva jigs” because she felt the tunes and translations were “inappropriately incompatible with the ancient prayers.”
The title page text reads:
“The Whole Book of Psalms: collected into English metre, by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and others, conferred with the Hebrew, with apt notes to sing them withall. Set forth and allowed to be sung in all churches, of all the people together, before and after morning and evening prayer, and also before and after sermons: and moreover in private houses, for their godly solace and comfort, laying apart all ungodly songs and ballads, which tend onely to the nourishing of vice, and corrupting of youth.”