The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692: A Reexamination of the Evidence concerning the Bay Psalm Book and the Eliot Indian Bible as Well as Other Contemporary Books and People

By George Parker Winship | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE REVISED PSALM BOOK

A FIRST EDITION

IN THE summer of 1646 the Massachusetts authorities summoned the clergy and lay delegates of all the churches of this and the other confederated colonies to meet in a synod or convention at Cambridge. Having agreed that there was urgent need of doing something to check a growing tendency to independence among the orthodox congregations of the Independent order, the assembly adjourned to June of the next year, when an "epidemicall disorder" quickly drove them to their homes. Before dispersing, however, they disposed of one minor problem by asking President Dunster to revise the text of the BAY PSALM BOOK. There had been dissatisfaction with the version of 1640 on many counts, but one thing particularly stood in the way of unifying the churches. The clergy of the communities dependent on Plymouth and Salem had refused to follow Boston in adopting the new translation for regular use in their services. Most of them clung to the Ainsworth version which the Pilgrims had brought from Holland, finding flaws in the unfamiliar renderings of the new verses. The practical problem that confronted the Synod was to introduce changes which would enable the faultfinders, especially those of the populous northern Massachusetts settlements, to sing in unison with the metropolitan area.

When the task of harmonizing the criticisms of the BAY PSALM BOOK was laid on his doorstep, Dunster was fortunate in having a willing helper under his own rooftree. This was the graduate of Emanuel College, Richard Lyon, who for three years had been a member of the President's household. Cotton Mather before 1700 and Thomas Prince forty years later, each of whom had better means of knowing the facts than any later writers, both stated that Lyon assisted with the revision. Prince was a persistent book collector as well as a local historian, and he must have known that the revised text was printed at Cambridge in 1651, although no copy of that edition is now in his sadly depleted library, for he wrote that "in two or three years they seem to have completed it." The work was, however, in all probability finished much more

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