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"Oh! weep for those that wept by Babel's stream,
Mourn-where their God hath dwelt, the godless dwell!
"And where shall Israel lave her bleeding feet?
The hearts that leap'd before its heavenly voice?
"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country-Israel but the grave !"-BYRON.
In a previous number of this Journal we reviewed some of the compositions of "the Royal Minstrel"—not so much with the purpose of evincing the divine inspiration of these truly magnificent hymns-nor of eliciting the lessons of moral or religious wisdom which they very amply contain-nor even of pointing out any corrections that may profitably be made in the current translation of particular Psalms or passages of Psalms as, simply, with the design of making evident the rules of metrical and artistic composition by which the inspired authors were guided-and of which every one of the Psalms, when carefully considered, will be found to display the most beautiful and instructive exemplifications.
The great principle which we mean to recommend to the notice of our readers is this-that in each of these Psalms there is one leading idea
chiefly of an emotional or sentimental nature-which idea has been carefully selected by the composer-is beautifully and consistently carried through all the varieties of imagery and of apparent transition which the individual compositions may manifest-and without attention to which, on the part of the reader, much of the true beauty, and artistic excellence, and designed effect of the Psalm must be missed, or be altogether unapparent.
Each of the Psalms is essentially, and by the very design of its composition, a divine SONG or ODE-intended to be sung or played to MUSIC and so arranged in its metre, its progressive exhibition of sentiment, its occasional transitions, and the very kind of language which is employed in it, as to correspond with the nature and progressive variations of the melody, or chaunt, or instrumental symphony by which it was meant to be accompanied. Accordingly, as, in an ordinary song, the words and the music are always understood to be necessary for the production of the entire effect designed to be accomplished-insomuch, that the words must seem to melt into the melody, and the melody to serve as an additional exponent of the meaning or spirit of the words,-so, in the Divine Songs of the Hebrew poets, the nature of each individual composition is best understood, when viewed with a reference to that style of Music to which it was originally fitted, and with the tones and progressive movements of which it was meant to correspond. The peculiar Music of the Hebrews is, indeed, now utterly lost-but the emotional sentiment, the prevailing spirit of each of the Sacred Lyrics, is still quite apparent to a careful reader-and the beauty of the composition will be enhanced in the estimation of all intelligent perusers of each Psalm, by considering it as corresponding in its progress-first, with the musical prelude-then with the leading air or key-note of the piece-then with the occasional variations sometimes with powerful reiterations of the key-note or pervading tone-and lastly, with the solemn, or triumphant, or softly confiding, or it may be, humbly supplicating tone of the concluding harmony, that was meant to give effect to the whole spirit and emotional sentiment of the piece.
There cannot, then, be a more egregious mistake, than to suppose that the particular Psalms are only unarranged masses of devotional or rapturous feeling-often unintelligible in the greater part of their evolutionand only breaking out, occasionally, into bursts of pious or prophetic sensibility, which alone are the portions of each Psalm that remain to us as of any real importance-or the beauty and meaning of which we are in a condition to seize and to appreciate. We are in the habit of hearing only detached portions of these inestimable compositions, during the solemnities of worship-generally in very imperfect translations-and not unfrequently applied to purposes, or made explicatory of situations, which never had entered into the minds of the original composers ;-and from all of these circumstances, we are apt to have an impression of the true merits and beauty of these divine Songs, very far indeed below their intrinsic excellence and altogether unlike the impression which is received from the perusal of the same Odes, by a person who has carefully studied, and who, by such study, has arrived at an intelligent perception of, the
simple but august grandeur by which they are really pervaded,-and of the high but very intelligible rules of art, which were unquestionably adhered to in their original construction.
In our previous article on this subject, we chose some of the best known, or most easily understood, of the Psalms of David, with the view, rather of recommending our leading principle to the notice of our readers, than of fully evolving the matchless beauty of the separate compositions to which we then referred. Our specimens were then altogether, or chiefly, taken from Psalms which are generally understood to have been composed by the "Monarch Minstrel"—and our intention in the present article, was to have passed on to the consideration of some others of the Divine Odes, which bear the marks of different hands, but which are, in our estimation, of not inferior grandeur and interest, to those that accompanied "the harp" of the great artist, whose name is now familiarly appended to the whole. Before passing on, however, to a rapid review of these remaining compositions, we again revert to a slight notice of some other compositions of the "Royal Psalmist"-classing them under the three leading divisions-as either highly lyrical and sublime—or as obviously prophetic-or lastly, as penitential and self-abasing. Our review of one or two of each of these classes, must of necessity be very rapid and cursory-but our object will be accomplished, if we make evident our leading idea-and if we succeed in recommending the study of the Psalms, as emotional, and in the strictest sense of the phrase, intellectually musical Songs, to the attention of our readers.
Of the highly lyrical Odes, we may take as specimens, the Twentyfourth-and the Sixty-eighth-the former intended to celebrate the praises of God-as a Being, who, though the Lord of universal nature, yet has chosen to select for himself a place of abode among the inhabitants of the earth,-and the latter intended to celebrate the triumphs of Jehovah, as not only the object of pious adoration-but as the Leader of the armies of his people-the vanquisher of their enemies-and, in a peculiar sense, the LORD OF HOSTS.
The TWENTY-FOURTH Psalm has been very generally-but without any good authority-considered as having been composed on the occasion of the transference of the Ark into the City of God. We know, however, from the explicit statement of the sacred historian, (1 Chron. xvi. 7,) that the Psalm actually composed and made use of on that occasion, was the Hundred and Fifth. But the true grandeur and peculiar lyric sublimity of the Psalm before us, is felt, when we give it a still more general and comprehensive signification, as celebrating the wondrous fact, that though the whole earth belongs unto the Lord"—and is his temple, in which all creatures should worship him-yet he has seen fit to choose for himself a peculiar place of abode and of worship among men,-to prescribe the qualities of character which he requires in those who would acceptably approach him-and thus, in one sense, to sanctify earth, by taking it into direct communion with whatever is highest and most august in heaven.
The Psalmist enters on this magnificent subject without a preludebut in that high strain of diction and of feeling, and, we may believe,
when the Hymn was in actual use, with that splendour of music, vocal and instrumental, which were suited to a theme at once so august and so endearing.
"The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof—
He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods." That is, he has given it a perpetual stability amidst the ceaseless agitation of the waters that encompass it—and that roll through it ;-for, in this sense, the words now before us correspond with those used in describing the same thing in the Hundred and thirty-sixth Psalm, verse 6. "He hath stretched out the earth above the waters."
Or, as the whole verse is given in the version of Buchanan in very beautiful Latin, which, however, we thus interpret :
"He has established the solid earth above the sea,
That it should be for ever stable, amidst the unstable waves,
All things then belong to God-all nature is his temple-but he hath chosen Mount Zion as his peculiar place of worship among men,
“Who, then, shall ascend into the hill of God—
Who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands-and a pure heart,
Whose soul is not the prey of idle and vain thoughts-
This is the generation of them that seek him,
That seek thy face, O God of Jacob."
Purity, seriousness, and sincerity, are thus pointed out as the leading and indispensable characteristics of the acceptable worshipper.
And here follows the Diapsalma-the Selah, or interruption-by a change of music, and more solemn tones-to the progress of vocal celebration to be immediately succeeded, however, by a more triumphant burst of voices and of instruments, accompanying what constitutes the highest lyrical passage of the Hymn.
"Make the gates wide, and be opened up, ye everlasting doors,
Who is the King of Glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Make the gates wide, and be opened up, ye everlasting doors,
This, we have said, is the true lyrical burst of the Psalm, and the application of which seems not to have been generally understood. It is neither the doors of the tabernacle, nor the gates of the temple, that are here denominated by the inspired Psalmist, "the everlasting doors"-but those invisible, spiritual, and poetically conceived gates, by means of which a communication is opened between heaven and earth-gates, which Seraphim and Cherubim are here poetically conceived to attend
-and by the uplifting of which the descent is made of the King of Glory to dwell among men. The King of Glory, that is, the supreme object of adoration to angels and men, is thus identified with him who is also the Lord of Hosts-the leader of the armies-the vanquisher of the enemies of his favoured people :
"Who is the King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts-he is the King of Glory."
As the TWENTY-FOURTH PSALM is chiefly dedicated to the celebration of the King of Glory, who also takes up his abode among men-so the SIXTY-EIGHTH is devoted to the celebration of his triumphs as the Lord of Hosts-or the Leader of the armies of his people. This Psalm, the singular grandeur of which has been universally acknowledged, is yet as universally admitted to be covered, in some of its passages, with an obscurity, which the utmost assiduities of criticism have not been altogether able to dispel. Yet the general strain of the Psalm—and the singular beauty of particular passages-are quite apparent, and, with these advantages, we are quite in a capacity to do all that we have proposed to ourselves in these cursory observations.
The Psalm, we have said, is a magnificent lyrical celebration of the triumphs of God, as the Lord of Hosts-the Leader of the victorious armies of his people,-and throughout the greater part of the Hymn, there runs a beautiful contrast between the struggles which the chosen people were forced to maintain during the earlier portions of their remarkable history, and the happy and peaceful condition in which they eventually found themselves under the grandeur of their divine Leader, and as the established possessors of the promised territory. This alternation of description is one of the finest artifices of lyrical poetry—as it is also of musical intonation-and there is every reason for believing that this national Hymn was accompanied, in its public recitation, by alternating tones of triumphant and of sweetly pleasing harmony, in correspondence with the tones of feeling which the descriptions of the Psalmist were meant to express and to call forth.
The Psalm commences with this fine burst of triumphant feeling, which may be considered as the prelude to all that follows-and the music accompanying which must be conceived to have possessed a corresponding character of elevation and of triumph,—
"Let God arise-let his enemies be scattered;
As wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish before God." But," says the Psalmist, in illustration of that tone of alternating feeling which runs throughout the whole Hymn,
"But let the righteous be glad-let them rejoice before God;
Yea, let them exceedingly rejoice."
The Psalmist proceeds to contrast the former struggles of the chosen people with their present peaceful, prosperous, and triumphant condition.