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The limits of an Introduction, like the present, preclude any observations upon the miscellaneous poetry of an age fertile of eminent persons, and covered with the most luxuriant harvest of the imagination; but there is one version of selected Psalms which seems to claim particular attention. The contributors were Francis and Christopher Davison, W. Bagnel, R. Gipps, and J. Bryan. The collection is among the Harleian manuscripts, but specimens have been published by Sir Egerton Brydges.
Francis Davison, well known as the editor of the Poetical Rhapsody, was the son of William Davison, the unfortunate Secretary of Queen Elizabeth; a man whose probity and excellence appear to have been unquestioned, even by his enemies, and who may be considered the victim of the deceit of Elizabeth, and the treachery of her ministers. In 1593, Francis became a member of Gray's Inn, and, before the completion of his twentieth year, he wrote the speeches of the Gray's Inn Masque, printed in Nichols's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth. In 1595 he was on the Continent, and, on his return, appears to have relinquished his former pursuits, and devoted himself to poetry. Mr. John Chamberlain, writing to Sir Dudley Carleton, on the 8th of July, 1602, alludes to the circumstance :—" It seems young Davison means to take another course, and turn poet; for he has lately sent out certain sonnets and epigrams*." The first edition of the Poetical Rhapsody was published in 1602. The fall of his father from his rank and dignities, and his subsequent imprisonment and poverty, must have blighted the prospects of the poet. After 1619 nothing has been discovered respecting him • and it has been supposed that he shared what has been called, with melancholy truth, the common lot of genius—
"an obscure life, and an early grave*." It was, perhaps, during hours of sorrow and penury, that these beautiful versions of the Psalms were composed; and the reader may coincide with Sir Egerton Brydges in esteeming them more honourable to the author, than his lighter compositions, written, as he tells us, in his younger days, " at idle times," as he journeyed "up and down" in his travels.
The following Paraphrase of the twenty-third Psalm will show that Davison could touch the harp of Sion with a grace and skill not unworthy the "sweet finger" of the Royal Minstrel. This Psalm has also been translated by Crashaw, with a richness and felicity of diction peculiarly his own. I shall speak of it more fully in the life of that poet.
God, who the universe doth hold
In his fold,
Me his sheep,
He feeds me in fields which bin -)■,
Fresh and green,
When my soul from heaven's way
Yea, though I stray through Death's vale,
Where his pale
* Autographs of Royal, Noble, and Remarkable Persons, by J. G. Nichols; fol. 1829.
t Be. f Reduced, led back.
Dreadless, having Thee for guide,
Should I bide,
Thou my board with messes large,
Neither dures thy bounteous grace
For a space,
Shall I spend
Donne adopted this metre, with a slight variation, in his version of the 137th Psalm. The following stanza, from the 130th Psalm, is very beautifully rendered, the alliteration in the fourth line being the only defect:—
My soul base earth despising
More longs with God to be X
Tired watchmen watch to see!
I have omitted a few lines in this translation of the 13th Psalm :—
Lord, how long, how long wilt Thou
Quite forget and quite neglect me?
Wilt Thou from thy sight reject me?
How long shall I seek a way
From this range of thoughts perplex'd,
"Where my griev'd mind, night and day,
How long shall my stormful foe
On my fall his greatness placing,
And be grac'd by my disgracing?
Hear, O Lord and God, my cries,
Mock my foe's unjust abusing,
Heavenly beams in them infusing.
Lest my woes too great to bear,
And too infinite to number,
Into Death's eternal slumber.
These black clouds will overblow,
Sunshine shall have his returning,
Into joy shall change his mourning.
"Grief-dulled" is a very picturesque epithet. The same graceful facility and religious fervour animate the 86th Psalm :—
Save my soul which Thou didst cherish
After Thy sweet-wonted fashion,
Send, O send, relieving gladness,
Let thine ears which long have tarried
For Thou, darter of dread thunders,
Heavenly Tutor, of thy kindness,
In knots to be loosed never,
Lord, my God, thou shalt be praised,
Mighty men with malice endless,
But Thy might their malice passes,
Thy kind look no more deny me,
And some gracious token show me,
Joseph Bryan has versified the 65th Psalm with great harmony of language and sweetness of fancy. Of his history I have been unable to obtain any illustrations; he must not, however, be confounded with Francis Bryan, whom, in the beautiful lines of Drayton,
The Muses kept
Dwellers beyond Thule's bands,
In fair lands,
By their guest,