George Sandys: Travel, Colonialism, and Tolerance in the Seventeenth Century

By James Ellison | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

SANDYS'S PSALMS AND LAUDIANISM

SANDYS turned to versifying the Book of Psalms in the early 1630s, probably shortly after the publication of the great 1632 edition of the Ovid. His full psalter was first published in 1636; in 1638 a considerably expanded edition appeared, adding paraphrases of the Book of Job and the other 'poetical' parts of the Bible, as well as musical settings by Henry Lawes. This edition was a considerable event in the annals of Caroline poetry, carrying tributes to Sandys from brother-poets Thomas Carew, Edmund Waller, Henry King, and Sidney Godolphin, among others, as well as musical settings of the psalms by Henry Lawes, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. 1 Sandys published his verse psalter at the height of the Laudian ascendency. It is a complex and fascinating work: in many ways it is the most important example we have of a 'Laudian' style in English religious poetry, 2 but it also includes covert criticisms of the powerful prelate and the ecclesiastical policies of the Caroline government. It serves, as we shall see, as a salutary reminder that there were many shades of religious opinion in the 1630s: there were not merely Laudians and anti-Laudians, Calvinists and anti-Calvinists, but numerous different religious and political views straddling these binary opposites. Strongly Laudian in style, and in his approach taken towards the vexed questions of free will and predestination, Sandys (like his associates at Great Tew) was nonetheless highly critical of Laud's administration of the Church of England, and of the disastrous alienation of many moderate members of the Church which was the result of his policies. The political and religious attitudes expressed in Sandys's later religious poetry are in fact very much in accord with the doyen of an earlier age, Richard Hooker: ceremonialist in style, but moderate and irenic in politics.

When Sandys was preparing his psalter, the Church of England was going through a period of drastic upheaval. Charles I and Laud, working as a team, 3

____________________
1
For the history of English psalm-setting, see Nicholas Temperley, 'Psalms, Metrical: England', The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. (1980), vol.15, pp.358―71.
2
Crashaw's poetry from the period prior to his conversion to Catholicism, when while he was still nominally a member of the Laudian church, is better viewed as crypto-Catholic; Robert Herrick's religious poems would probably be the closest rival to Sandys.
3
Recent attempts to separate the agendas of Charles and Laud are unconvincing: see Julian Davies, The Caroline Captivity of the Church: Charles I and the Remoulding of Anglicanism

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