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BOOK OF PS A LMS,
GEORGE R. NOYES.
PUBLISHED BY GRAY AND BO WEN.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1831, by Gray & Bowen, in the
Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
CAMBRIDGE : E. W. METCALF AND CO.,
Printers to the University.
I. GENERAL CHARACTER AND VALUE OF THE PSALMS.
The Book of Psalms has been styled by some of the German critics, in allusion to a portion of Grecian literature, THE HEBREW ANTHOLOGY; that is, a collection of the lyric, moral, historical, and elegiac poetry of the Hebrews. Regarded in this light alone, it presents a most interesting subject of literary taste and curiosity. Many of these psalms must have been composed some hundreds of years before the period, which is commonly assigned to the existence of the Iliad of Homer. But it is not with them as with many of the productions of the classic muse, of which the antiquity constitutes their greatest claim upon the attention of the scholar; and of which the subjects possess little or no interest for the world in its manhood. It was the privilege of the Hebrew bards to be employed upon subjects, possessing an interest as enduring as the attributes of God, and the nature of dependent man. Their poetry has the deep foundation of eternal truth. It comes, for the most part, in language the most glowing from the very depths of the soul, rich in sentiments adapted to the soul's most urgent wants. Hence its living spirit, its immortal freshness. Hence its power of reaching the hearts of all men, in all countries and in all ages. Where in the whole compass of literature can one find more of the thoughts that breathe and words that burn,' than in the Hebrew Anthology? Then, too, what variety is there in the subjects of these ancient compositions ! How diverse the states of heart and fortune that occasioned them! How various the strains of joy, sorrow, love, hope, fear, remorse, and penitence, which come from the sacred lyre! Surely his must be a singular human soul, that is not touched by some of them.
What a sensation would be produced in the literary world by such a collection of poetry as is presented in the Book of Psalms, could it come recommended by the attraction of novelty. But the truth is, that, in general, the ear is accustomed to these admirable productions, before the mind can comprehend their meaning, or feel their beauty; so that, in maturer life, it requires no inconsiderable effort to give them that attention, which is necessary for the reception of the impressions they are adapted to impart.
Another obstacle to a proper estimate of the sacred poetry is the very imperfect translation, and wretched arrangement, in which it has been presented to English readers. Let the lover of poetry imagine what impressions he should receive from the odes of Collins or Gray, cut up into fragments like the verses in the common version of the Bible, and he may comprehend what injustice has been done to the Hebrew poets.
The compositions in the Book of Psalms are the productions of various authors and periods, belong to different species of poetry, and possess various degrees of poetic merit. While some of them present the fresh gushes of excited feeling, or the calmer expression of the sublimest sentiments, in the boldest language of poetry; others consist only in the artificial arrangement of moral maxims, in a sententious style; or in elaborate and imitative prayers and praises, prepared for the public worship of God.
The peculiar religious character of the Psalms, which distinguishes them from the productions of other nations of antiquity, is well worthy of the attention of such as are disposed to doubt the reality of the Jewish Revelation. I do not refer to the prophetic character, which some of them are supposed to possess, but to the comparative purity and fervor of religious feeling, which they manifest; the sublimity and justness of the views of the Deity and of his government of the world, which they present;