The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book

The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book

The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book

The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book

Excerpt

In 1640, within ten years of their arrival in America, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay produced their first book and printed it on their own press. The volume was the Bay Psalm Book--a literary monument of the cultural and religious aspirations of the early settlers of the country.

The work, entitled The Whole Booke of Palsmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, was published in seventeen hundred copies, of which only eleven survive--five complete and the others lacking a varying number of leaves. The fascination of the book was dramatized with uncommon force when, in January, 1947, a copy sold in New York for $151,000, the highest price ever paid for a volume at a public sale. It was also the highest price paid anywhere for a book in the English language, a copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare being a poor second at $77,000.

The volume has often been described; yet, apart from its external features, it has never been examined. It is always spoken of as the first book printed in America, never as the first book written and printed in America. Moses C. Tyler, the brilliant nineteenth-century historian of American literature, decried it as "a sort of prodigy," and his opinion has been echoed ever since. There have been notable efforts in our time to place the poetry of the New England Puri-

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