The 1640 Cambridge, Massachusetts, Whole Booke of Psalmes, or “Bay Psalm Book”: the first book printed in British America, the first book written in British America, and the first book printed in English in the New World.
The Bay Psalm Book is a religious and cultural manifesto of the Puritan Fathers and a towering icon of the founding of the United States.
Of an edition of 1,700 copies, just 11 copies survive, of which this is one of only 6 that retain their original title-page.
This is the first copy of America’s first book to appear at auction since 1947—when it set a record for the price of a printed book—and only the second since 1894.
THE STORY OF THE BAY PSALM BOOK
The Puritan Background
The Puritan translation and printing of The Whole Booke of Psalmes was not simply coincident with the founding of America—in a very real way it was the founding of America.
Puritanism began, in the phrase of Francis J. Bremer, as a movement to reform the English Reformation, and it counted among its basic tenets—in addition to its members leading devotional individual and community lives—removing remnants of Roman Catholic teaching and ceremony from the Church of England, making the holy scriptures available in the vernacular languages of worshippers, and supplying every parish pulpit with a university-educated preacher.
The ascension of Charles I with his French Catholic bride in 1625—and the rigid enforcement of Anglican orthodox practices by William Laud, Bishop of London and from 1633 Archbishop of Canterbury—exacerbated the division between the Puritans and the hierarchy of the national church, and many Puritans saw emigration as the only way they could continue to live and worship in their chosen manner. Following the lead of John Winthrop’s eleven-vessel fleet that in the spring and summer of 1630 carried some 700 passengers to New England, between 1630 and 1640 about 20,000 English emigrants settled in the recently chartered Massachusetts Bay Colony. (During this “Great Migration,” a like number of Puritans emigrated from England to three other, variously welcoming destinations: the Netherlands, Ireland, and the West Indies, Barbados in particular.)
But the Puritans sailed to the New World seeking not just to survive, but to flourish. John Winthrop’s shipboard sermon, “A Modell of Christian Charity,” has lost little of its inspirational authority over the succeeding centuries. In order to accomplish their goals, Winthrop advised his flock, the Puritans had only to “follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. … [M]en shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘may the Lord make it like that of New England.’ For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”
It is in this context—one of deliberation and intentionality—that the creation and printing of the Bay Psalm Book must be seen.
Singing (& Translating) the Psalms
One of the fundamental innovations of the Reformation was the introduction of psalm-singing by the entire congregation rather than just by a designated choir. Puritans, like most Protestant congregations, embraced the singing of psalms as part of their worship service. The founders of the Reformation, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Myles Coverdale, all wrote metrical translations or paraphrases of the Psalms, the most celebrated being Luther’s version of Psalm 46, “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”).
Of course, the Massachusetts Bay Puritans had psalters in England, and they undoubtedly carried to the New World both Henry Ainsworth’s version of the Psalms in prose and meter and the poetical paraphrases of Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins. But there were political, or denominational, issues with both of these standard works that probably contributed to their not being officially adopted by the Cambridge congregation.
Sternhold and Hopkins’s Book of Psalmes was essentially the authorized psalter of the Church of England, with some 200 issues passing through the press from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. The Sternhold and Hopkins text was frequently appended to editions of the Geneva Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, a circumstance acknowledged in the preface to the Bay Psalm Book: “wee have cause to blesse God in many respects for the religious indeavours of the translaters of the psalms into meetre usually annexed to our Bibles.”
But while the Puritans were not Separatists, they were Nonconformists, and they had left England not in order to replicate the Church of England but to reform it. They may have esteemed Sternhold and Hopkins’s “indeavours,” but they did not want to use them in their worship.
Henry Ainsworth, an English minister and scholar, had been allied with the Puritans, but he eventually became a Separatist and settled in Amsterdam in 1593. There he pastored an English expatriate church and translated and had printed The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre with Annotations (1612), copies of which landed at Plymouth Rock with the Pilgrims in 1620. Adopting Ainsworth’s Book of Psalmes would inevitably link the Puritans with the Separatist Pilgrims; moreover, the Bay Psalm Book preface mentions that there were objections to the “difficulty” of Ainsworth’s tunes.
But overriding these parochial concerns, the ministers, if not the congregants, of Massachusetts Bay found many shortcomings in the standard metrical translations of the Psalms, as the preface details: “it is not unknowne to the godly learned that they have rather presented a paraphrase then the words of David translated according to the rule 2 chron. 29. 30. and that their addition to the words, detractions from the words are not seldome and rare, but very frequent and many times needles[s], (which we suppose would not be approved of if the psalmes were so translated into prose) and that their variations of the sense, and alterations of the sacred text too frequently, may iustly minister matter of offence to them that are able to compare the translation with the text. …” (Note: the “rule” in II Chronicles 29:30 reads, “Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer”; KJV.)
Cotton Mather’s 1702 colonial history, Magnalia Christi Americana, provides a concise and, perhaps, somewhat more comprehensible synopsis of the Puritans’ position: “Tho’ they blessed God for the Religious Endeavors of them who translated the Psalms into the Meetre usually annex’d at the End of the Bible, yet they beheld in the Translation so many Detractions from, Additions to, and Variations of, not only the Text, but the very Sense of the Psalmist, that it was an Offence unto them.”
And, so, as early as 1636 the New England Puritans were discussing the need for a translation that would more exactly express the Hebrew original, and the “chief divines” of Massachusetts Bay (to use Cotton Mather’s phrase) determined to produce their own metrical translation of the Psalms. The resulting text, The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, was the work of several hands representing the intellectual genius of colonial New England. John Cotton, Richard Mather, Thomas Welde, John Eliot, John Wilson, and Peter Bulkeley were likely the principal authors, but others among the “thirty pious and learned Ministers” that Mather counted then in Massachusetts Bay may have contributed as well. Moreover, John Josselyn’s Account of Two Voyages to New England (London, 1674) records that when he visited Boston in June 1638, he carried to John Cotton “from Mr. Francis Quarles the poet, the Translation of the 16, 25, 51, 88, 113, and 137. Psalms into English Meeter, for his approbation,” and Cotton may have adapted some of these for the Bay Psalm Book.
The Psalms are prefaced by, as the title-page has it, “a discourse declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God.” The preface, like the translation of the psalms, may have been a collaborative effort, but the surviving manuscript is in the hand of John Cotton. (No manuscripts of the metrical psalms themselves are known.)
The preface to the Bay Psalm Book is a remarkable statement of purpose. It explicates the Puritans’ reasons for favoring scriptural psalms, particularly those of David, over psalms and hymns of more modern composition; for supporting the translation of the Hebrew psalms into English poetry; and for having the psalms sung during worship not by a choir or soloist, but “by the whole churches together with their voices.”
Despite the Puritans’ insistence on congregational singing (contrasted with what the preface describes as “one man singing alone and the rest joyning in silence, & in the close saying amen”), the 1640 Whole Booke of Psalmes does not contain any musical notation. While the inclusion of music, in either metal or wood type, would have complicated the printer’s task, the real reason notation is absent is that it was neither expected nor necessary. In fact, not until the putative ninth edition of 1698, printed in Boston by Bartholomew Green and John Allen, was the Bay Psalm Book printed with music.
Instead of specific musical notation, the first edition of the Bay Psalm Book appends to the end of the text proper a brief “admonition to the Reader,” that explains that “The verses of these psalmes may be reduced to six kindes, the first wherof may be sung in very neere fourty common tunes; as they are collected, out of our chief musicians, by Tho. Ravenscroft.”
In 1621, the English musicologist Thomas Ravenscroft published an expanded edition of Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalter under the title The Whole Booke of Psalmes, with the Hymnes Evangellical, and Songs Spirituall. Composed into 4. Parts by Sundry Authors, with such several Tunes as have beene, and are usually sung in England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands: Never as yet before in one Volume published. Ravenscroft himself wrote about half of the more than one hundred tunes featured in his compilation, and most Puritan congregants would have been familiar with the most popular of them.
The “six kindes” of verses mentioned in the Admonition are distinguished by their metrical length. The first kind of verse referred to—those that could be sung to “neere fourty” tunes—is “common meter”: alternating lines of eight and six syllables. The third kind is “long meter,” in which all lines (usually in quatrains) are of eight syllables. The other four kinds of verses are to be sung to tunes for other, less common metrical schemes: quatrains of eight, eight, six, and eight syllables; alternating quatrains of six and four syllables; six lines of eight syllables; and eight lines of eight syllables. Most psalms could have been sung to a variety of tunes that would be well known to the worshippers.
In the case of six psalms—51, 85, 100, 117, 133, 138—the Massachusetts Bay translators provided versions in both long and common meters, introducing the alternative translation as “Another of the same.” Thus the first two verses of Psalm 100 are given in long meter as
Make yee a joyfull sounding noyse
unto Iehovah, all the earth:
2 Serve yee Iehovah with gladnes:
before his presence come with mirth.
In the second, common-meter translation these lines run
Make yee a joyfull noyse unto
Iehovah all the earth:
2 Serve yee Iehovah with gladnes:
before him come with mirth.
John Cotton and his collaborators also use the preface to explain the method and purpose of their new translation. While the translators assume that “no protestant doubteth but that all the bookes of the scripture should by Gods ordinance be extant in the mother tongue of each nation, that they may be understood of all, hence the psalmes are to be translated into our english tongue,” they also argue that “as all our english songs … do run in metre, soe ought Davids psalmes to be translated into meeter. …” But they caution worshippers not to think “that for the meetre sake wee have taken liberty or poeticall licence to depart from the true and proper sence of Davids words in the hebrew verses, noe; but it hath been one part of our religious care and faithfull indeavor, to keepe close to the original text.” (One simple but significant way the Bay Psalm Book kept close to the original text was by dividing the Psalms into five books, as in the Hebrew original—and as Sternhold and Hopkins, for example, did not.)
Four very particular principles of their “plaine and familiar translation of the psalmes and words of David” are detailed—and Cotton is at pains to explain that the New England Whole Booke of Psalmes is a translation, not a presumptuous “paraphrase to give the sense of his meaning in other words.” First, the Bay Psalm translators shunned additions, except when unavoidable even in prose translation. Second, they adopted—in the manner of English-language Bibles—English idioms rather than Hebrew ones, “lest they might seeme english barbarismes.” Third, they allowed themselves on occasion to contract or expand “the same hebrew word, both for the sense and the verse sake”: “as when wee dilate who healeth and say he it is who healeth; so when wee contract those that stand in awe of God and say Gods fearers.” Finally, in cases where a single Hebrew word cannot be adequately translated by a single English word, they have translated not just the word but what they deem as the “more full and emphaticall signification” of it, giving as examples “mighty God, for God”; “humbly blesse for blesse”; and “truth and faithfulnes for truth.”
The final paragraph of the preface provides an eloquent and convincing justification of the resulting translation: “If therefore the verses are not alwayes so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that Gods Altar needs not our pollishings: Ex. 20. for wee have respected rather a plaine translation, then to smooth our verses with the sweetnes of any paraphrase, and soe have attended Conscience rather then Elegance, fidelity rather then poetry in translating the hebrew words into english language, and Davids poetry into english meetre. …”
Some of the translations in the Bay Psalm Book are undeniably awkward, but the full work does not merit much of the modern criticism that has been leveled against it. The translation certainly affords examples of psalms that are rendered intelligible but graceless, as for instance, Psalm 2:
Why rage the Heathen furiously?
muse vaine things people do;
2 Kings of the earth doe set themselves,
Princes consult also:
with one consent against the Lord,
and his anoynted one.
3 Let us asunder break their bands,
their cords bee from us throwne.
4 Who sits in heav'n shall laugh; the lord
will mock them; then will he
5 Speak to them in his ire, and wrath:
and vex them suddenlie.
6 But I annoynted have my King
upon my holy hill
7 of Zion: The established
counsell declare I will.
God spake to me, thou art my Son:
this day I thee begot.
8 Aske thou of me, and I will give
the Heathen for thy lot:
and of the earth thou shalt possesse
the utmost coasts abroad.
9 thou shalt them break as Potters sherds
and crush with yron rod.
10 And now yee Kings be wise, be learn’d
yee Iudges of th’earth (Heare.)
11 Serve yee the lord with reverence,
rejoyce in him with feare.
12 Kisse yee the Sonne, lest he be wroth,
and yee fall in the way.
when his wrath quickly burnes, oh blest
are all that on him stay.
But there are also psalms that are presented as emotive and appealing lyrics. The twenty-third Psalm, despite its familiarity in other versions, is here a poetic prayer that can stand comfortably with most seventeenth-century Colonial American verse:
The Lord to mee a shepheard is,
want therefore shall not I,
2 Hee in the folds of tender-grasse,
doth cause mee downe to lie:
To waters calme me gently leads
3 Restore my soule doth hee:
he doth in paths of righteousnes:
for his names sake leade mee.
4 Yea though in valley of deaths shade
I walk, none ill I’le feare:
because thou art with mee, thy rod,
and staffe my comfort are.
5 For mee a table thou hast spread,
in presence of my foes:
thou dost annoynt my head with oyle,
my cup it over-flowes.
6 Goodnes & mercy surely shall
all my dayes follow mee:
and in the Lords house I shall dwell
so long as dayes shall bee.
(It is worth noting that the Bay Psalm Book’s translations of psalms 19, 23, and 107 are anthologized in the Library of America’s volume of American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, ed. David S. Shields, 2007.)
David Daniell, writing in The Bible in English, gives perhaps the fairest and most judicious recent assessment of the literary achievement of the 1640 Cambridge Whole Booke of Psalmes. While not blind to the shortcomings of some of the translations—indeed, he deems selected passages “not even passable poetry in English,” “nearly gibberish,” and “hardly verse”—Daniell acknowledges that many other contemporary metrical translations contained deficient, if not nonsensical, sections as well.
Daniell further notes that “the very form itself, of Psalms intended to be sung in metre, invites a certain ruggedness. … The principles of Hebrew poetry were not yet fully understood in the West in 1640: those translators of Bay Psalms who did their best with the Hebrew still had to struggle with a fairly baffling original form, never mind the difficulty of getting it all into singable short verses in English, to be taken line by line by, or for, a congregation. Though tempting, it is quite wrong to bring to these verses high criteria of what lyric poetry should be. … There is no reason not to relish the bad lines: but what should be appraised is the religious energy that made the ‘first book printed in America’ … a book of congregational Psalms.”
Printing the Bay Psalm Book
But it is as a book and not as a text, that the Bay Psalm Book is best known, celebrated, and revered. And while the faithful translation into English meter of The Whole Booke of Psalmes could be accomplished with men and materials already in Massachusetts Bay Colony, its printing required the importation of both.
The Reverend Jose Glover was a Puritan from a wealthy family of London merchants with interests in the West Indies. When the Massachusetts Bay Company was charted in 1628, Glover, like his brothers, subscribed for £50 of its capital stock, just as they had supported earlier colonizing efforts. In 1636, Glover resigned his pulpit in Surrey rather than read from it—as was required by Archbishop Laud—a decree allowing “lawful recreation” after Sunday worship service.
Two years later, Glover had determined to settle in Massachusetts Bay, and in the summer of 1638 he secured passage for his family on the ship John of London. In addition to his wife and five children, servants, and household furnishings, Glover sailed with a printing press valued at £20; 240 reams of paper worth £60; and a case of assorted type. It was the inclusion of these stores among the vessel’s cargo that led Samuel Eliot Morison to call the John of London “the publishing fraternity’s Mayflower.”
Glover also had under his custody on the John of London one Stephen Day, a locksmith by trade, who was indentured to the Glovers and who himself was accompanied by his wife, children, and servants. But the father of the American press was fated to beget a posthumous child: the Reverend Glover died during the voyage to Boston Harbor.
Undeterred, Glover’s widow, Elizabeth, established the press at Cambridge by the end of 1638. Stephen Day—perhaps assisted by his eighteen-year-old son Matthew, who may have been apprenticed as a printer in London—acted as compositor and pressman. The press was probably set up at the house that Mrs. Glover had purchased for Day on Crooked Lane, now 15 Holyoke Street.
A somewhat cryptic memorandum of uncertain date (but evidently before 1654 or 1655) copied into Harvard’s College Book III records that “Some Gentlemen of Amsterdam gave towards the furnishing of a Printing-Press with Letters … fourty nine pound & something more,” but there is no reason to think this is any more accurate than the preceding entry, which states “Mr Joss: Glover gave to the Colledge a ffount of printing Letters.” It seems more likely that Glover intended to found his own independent printing shop, perhaps as a form of ministry. (Three years after fulfilling her late husband’s vision, the widow Glover would marry Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, and after Elizabeth’s death in 1643, Glover’s press and type—the latter perhaps only briefly—did find their way to Harvard.)
The press seems to have excited a good bit of local interest, perhaps because it was seen as legitimizing the cultural aspirations of Bay colonists. On 7 September 1638, the Reverend Edmund Browne wrote to a colleague in England, “We have a Cambridge here, a college erecting, youth lectured, a library, and I suppose there will be a presse this winter.” Within three months, the press had arrived in Cambridge, as attested by letter from Hugh Peter, 10 December 1638, to Patrick Copland in Bermuda: “We have a printery here and thinke to goe to worke with some special things. …”
In short order, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, press was in operation. In a journal entry for March 1639, John Winthrop noted “A printing house was begun at Cambridge by one Daye, at the charge of Mr. Glover, who died on seas hitherward. The first thing which was printed was the freeman’s oath; the next was an almanack made for New England by Mr. William Peirce Mariner [master of one of the ships of the Winthrop fleet]; the next was the Psalms newly turned into metre.”
The Freeman’s Oath had to be sworn to by any man twenty years of age, and six months a householder, wanting to become a citizen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and thus be eligible to hold office and vote in elections. Stephen Day’s edition of the oath was likely imposed as a small handbill, and although the printing historian Hugh Amory speculated that as many as 2,000 copies were printed, no copies are known to survive. The text of the Oath, however, is preserved by later printings—notably its inclusion in John Childs’s 1647 New-Englands Jonas Cast Up at London, from which Mark Hoffman took the text for his notorious forgery.
About William Peirce’s almanac—no copies of which, authentic or forged, are recorded—nothing is known, including its format, text, or the size of the edition. It is worth noting that not only is there no evidence to corroborate Winthrop’s recollection of the mariner’s almanac, the reference to it in his holograph journal is crossed out.
About “the Psalms newly turned into metre” much is known. The edition was substantial, about 1,700 copies, a number that can be extrapolated from the documentary evidence of a suit brought against Henry Dunster by the heirs of Jose and Elizabeth Glover in 1656. After Elizabeth’s death in 1643, Dunster ran the press for six years. In 1649 he leased it to Samuel Green, and when he retired from the presidency of Harvard in 1654, he sold the press to the college. This last action seems to have prompted the Glover children to seek the return of what they considered their property, as well as an accounting of Dunster’s printing activity. (Dunster was ordered by the Middlesex Court to make restitution in the amount of £117, about half of which was accounted for by the press and that portion of the Glovers’ paper stock remaining at the time of Dunster’s marriage to Elizabeth.)
The Stephen Day-Samuel Green accounts, published in Hugh Amory’s First Impressions, indicate that The Whole Booke of Psalmes was printed on 37 sheets of paper and that 130 reams were consumed by the edition. Since each ream was comprised of 480 sheets, the number of copies printed can be easily calculated. The reams of paper carried to Boston with the rest of the printing equipment acquired by Jose Glover were typical of the paper used by dozens of London printers in hundreds of publications of the later 1630s.
The great majority of the paper used by the London shops, and thus the paper commonly supplied by English paper merchants, was imported from Norman and Breton paper mills, in the small size usually called Pott, with sheet dimensions of approximately 30 × 40 cm. Pots were a common watermark type for this size, but various mills used also other watermarks, one of the most common being a depiction of two columns, with the papermaker’s initials in a banderole between them and a surmount of a grape cluster. In the English paper trade this was called Pillar paper, and Edward Heawood’s Watermarks, Mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries provides a good conspectus of these under the heading “Post or Pillar.”
In this copy of the Bay Psalm Book there are two different Pillar stocks, one appearing in ten sheets, and quite close in type to Heawood’s no. 3506, which he traced from a copy of Wye Saltonstall’s English translation of Historia mundi: or Mercator’s Atlas, folio, printed in London by Thomas Cotes, 1635. There are at least seven different stocks of Pot-watermarked paper in the present copy, some with double handles and some with single, one of which is of the type of Heawood nos. 3626-3627. The 1649 Platform of Church Discipline (“Printed by S[amuel] G[reen] at Cambridge in New England … 1649”, 4to) was also printed on a mixture of Pot- and Pillar-watermarked papers, which may have represented the last remainder of Glover’s original paper stock.
The type of the Bay Psalm Book, unlike the paper, was of English manufacture. The text type is a 95 English Roman (i.e., 20 lines of text type measure 95 mm), but an 83 Pica and a 53 Brevier appear as well, as do larger display capitals, a Hebrew font, a very few printer’s ornaments, and various other sorts. Writing in his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas described the type as “Roman, of the size of small bodied English, entirely new, and may be called a very good letter.”
The type was not new, however. Some of the pieces are visibly worn, and Amory speculates that “Glover surreptitiously obtained his type from the stock of a sympathetic printer like [the Puritan William] Jones, and not directly from one of the four licensed English founders, who were much more strictly supervised.” This would also help explain some of the deficiencies in Day’s type-case: italics seem to be in short supply and he evidently had no apostrophes at all, having to set inverted commas in their stead. In addition, some of the Hebrew characters appear to have been cut in wood, perhaps necessitated by missing sorts. Whether metal or wood, the Hebrew letters in the Bay Psalm Book represented the first Hebrew printing in the New World.
Day imposed The Whole Booke of Psalmes as a quarto, although an octavo format would have been much more efficient. (Amory calculates that printing the book as an octavo would have saved more than half the paper that was used.) But an octavo imposition is much more complicated, with eight pages (rather than four) having to be set for the outer and inner forme of each sheet. In addition, Day’s principal text type, the 95 English Roman, was not well suited to the smaller format.
Stephen Day is remembered as America’s first printer, but not as an accomplished one. His lack of experience, coupled with an extreme idiosyncrasy in spelling, produced a book that, in the words of George Parker Winship, “looks the part that the fates assigned it to play. It has every appearance of being an effort of beginners on a remote frontier.” (One example of Day’s inexact orthography is found in the preface where two successive paragraphs include the spellings “metre,” “meeter,” and “meetre.”)
The faults of the book are as obvious as they are understandable, and Isaiah Thomas summarized them 200 years ago: The Bay Psalm Book “abounds with typographical errors. … This specimen of Daye’s printing does not exhibit the appearance of good workmanship. The compositor must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation. ‘The Preface,’ is the running title to that part of the work. ‘The.’ with a period, is on the left hand page, and ‘Preface.’ on the right. Periods are often omitted where they should be placed, and not seldom used where a comma only was necessary. Words of one syllable, at the end of lines, are sometimes divided by a hyphen; at other times, those of two, or more syllables, are divided without one; the spelling is bad and irregular. One thing is very singular—at the head of every left hand page throughout the work, 'PSALM' is spelled as it should be; at the head of every right hand page, it has an E final, thus, 'PSALME.'"
Long as Thomas’s litany of Day’s eccentricities is, it can be expanded. Day not infrequently set catchwords to correspond with the running-head rather than with the first word of the text. He sometimes used the running-head as the caption-title for a psalm beginning a new page. He freely substituted wrong-font italic capitals for the appropriate roman correspondents. He employed ligatured sorts indifferently with non-ligatured ones. He inked the type unevenly, and occasionally entire lines are printed in blind. He did not clean his type well between pulls, and there is ample evidence of dirty or ink-clotted type, and occasionally of pulled letters. The ink, a compound of lampblack and varnish, was presumably made by Day.
One significant error undoubtedly demonstrates Day’s inexperience. In the present copy, and in the copy given by Middlecott Cooke to Harvard, sheet D was turned upside down in reiteration. The outer forme is printed correctly, but the inner is inverted, so that D1r is backed by D3v, D2v is fronted by D4r, D3r is backed by D1v, and D4v is fronted by D2r. While this is a printer’s error and not an issue point, it is certainly likely to have occurred early in the press run and not to have affected many copies.
Hugh Amory was the first to publish this mistake, but his melodramatic description seems overwrought, particularly when contrasted with the reaction of the first (or at least early) owner of the present copy. While Amory imagines a “disaster” analogous to a computer crash “erasing hours of toil,” the staid seventeenth-century reader, recognizing that nothing was lost or erased, simply made a few concise annotations indicating how the printer’s mistake could be corrected: thus, “miss 2 leaves” at the foot of D1r and D4r and “Turn back a leafe” on D3r and D2r.
Day acknowledged that his printing included mistakes by including a highly selective list of errata, headed “Faults escaped in printing,” on the recto of the final leaf of The Whole Booke of Psalmes. While he cites only seven faults specifically, Day recognized that there were inevitably more than that, directing the reader that “The rest, which have escaped through oversight, you may amend, as you finde them obvious.”
The seven errors he does list are an odd lot. The first seems extraordinarily exacting, considering the standard of spelling throughout the volume: Day instructs that in Psalm 9, verse 9, the word “oprest” should be corrected to “opprest.” Other of the faults are more substantive: in Psalm 21, verse 8, the inaccurate reading “the Lord” is to be replaced by “thine hand,” and in Psalm 143, verse 6, “moreover I” is to be substituted for the erroneous “I even I.”
But the proofreading of the Bay Psalm Book was arbitrary at best. Psalms 9 and 18 both have two errata noted, but no faults at all are pointed out between psalms 21 and 143. One of the errors cited in the “Faults escaped” is that in verse 29 of Psalm 18 the word “thee” appears as “the.” But this is a mistake that appears, unremarked, elsewhere in the book, including in the first verse of Psalm 9—the facing page of which contains two of the seven printing errors noted in the errata. In this copy, all of the mistakes pointed out by the printer, save one, have been neatly corrected by an early reader.
There are press corrections in the Bay Psalm Book as well, some certainly the work of Day himself, but at least one reveals the hand of one of the “learned Ministers.” Verse 23 of Psalm 69 reads in the present copy, “And let their eyes be darkened / that they may never see: / with trembling also make their loynes / to shake continuallie.” This reading is found in all extant copies save the one remaining in the collection of the Old South Church in Boston, where the final two lines are set as “their loynes also with trembleing / to shake continuallee.” Because of the imbalance of the surviving versions—and because the common reading is a better parallel to the preceding line “And let their eyes be darkened”—this emendation must have been made very early in the press run.
Since he was known as a locksmith, and because his few surviving holographs show him to be poorly lettered, Stephen Day has frequently been pushed aside by historians who suppose it more probable that it was Matthew Day who actually first operated the Cambridge press. But contemporary documentation supports Stephen. In December 1641, the General Court granted the elder Day “300 acres of land where it may be convenient, without prejudice to any towne” in consideration for his “being the first that set upon printing.” This grant was reconfirmed in 1655 “for Recompence of his Care and Charg in furthering the worke of Printing.” And there is also his own testimony from a suit he brought against Henry Dunster in Middlesex Court in 1656 seeking £100 for his “Labour and Expences about the printing presse and the utensils and appurtenances thereof, and the mannaging the said worke.” (The court found for the defendant and Day was ordered to pay costs.)
Matthew Day did succeed his father as printer at the Cambridge press in 1643, likely at Dunster’s insistence. And the quality of the printing was improved. The output of the press became even more artful when Samuel Green took over the shop about 1649. It is inconceivable that Stephen Day could have managed—at all, let alone elegantly—the composition and printing of Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe up-Biblum God, John Eliot’s Indian Bible, which Green so successfully managed with the assistance of Marmaduke Johnson and James Printer.
But Stephen Day was the first, and if he was a locksmith by trade rather than a printer, then the magnitude of his accomplishment ought to be enhanced rather than diminished. His edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes is not just a book; it is a sacred relic of America’s founding and a touchstone of America’s material and intellectual culture. In no other country has the product of the hand printing press had the historical impact that it did in the United States, from John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s; and from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to John Dunlap’s broadside of the Declaration of Independence to his publication of the Constitution in the Pennsylvania Packet. And these all had as their progenitor Stephen Day’s imperfect, yet somehow irreproachable, printing of the Bay Psalm Book. Stephen Day merits gratitude and commendation, and he deserves the encomium that Walt Whitman offered more than two centuries later to others, who like Day, left the past behind to seize “a newer, mightier world, varied world, … world of labor and the march”: Pioneer! O pioneer!
The Reception and Continued Significance
of the Bay Psalm Book
If later readers freely found fault with the translations in the Bay Psalm Book, many contemporary readers fully embraced it. The volume was sold for twenty pence, and the 1640 edition was immediately adopted by nearly every congregation in the southern part of Massachusetts Bay—hence the volume’s familiar name. Still, an edition of 1,700 copies was very large for the population of the colony—which has been estimated to be about 3,500 families totaling between 15,000 and 20,000 individuals. And some colonists, notably the Pilgrims who had settled around Plymouth, did not adopt the Cambridge Whole Booke of Psalmes.
It is likely, then, that some copies were sent to England—perhaps surreptitiously, since the book violated the Stationers’ Company’s patent. Portions of the Bay Psalm Book preface were included in Nathanael Homes’s survey of Gospel Musick (London, 1644), and the work of the “chief divines” of New England was first reprinted in an authorized London edition of 1647.
Of that large first edition of 1640, just eleven copies are known to have survived, five of which lack their title-pages—further evidence of the popularity of the work. The Bay Psalm Book was intended as a utilitarian book for the common people (in a way that the Gutenberg Bible surely was not), and copies were subjected to hard and constant use.
A second American edition was issued in 1651, revised by Henry Dunster and Richard Lyon, partly because, according to Increase Mather’s Magnalia, “It was thought that a little more of Art was to be employed upon the verses.” Wilberforce Eames identified more than fifty additional editions of the Bay Psalms, which continued to be printed into the second half of the eighteenth century in New England, England, and Scotland.
The scholars and ministers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who, according to their preface, had “attended Conscience rather then Elegance, fidelity rather then poetry, in translating the hebrew words into english language,” created a work that would shape the religious and social life of the new nation. They created a work that is as much an icon of the founding of America as Plymouth Rock—and nearly as durable. They also created a new center of publishing: by 1700, Boston had surpassed Oxford and Cambridge to become the second most active publishing center of English-language books in the world, behind only London.
Thomas Prince and the Book Collections
of the Old South Church in Boston
The Puritans were a bookish people. Printing was one of the first commercial enterprises of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So it is no surprise that the Old South Church, established in 1669, quickly became one of the chief repositories of historical and theological books in New England. Of course, the first books in the Church’s library would not have been collected as artifacts; they would simply have been part of the “furniture and fixtures” of an active congregation. One explanation—perhaps the only plausible explanation—for the Old South’s having at one time five copies of the Bay Psalm Book is that several of them were probably there since the beginning, as utilitarian hymnals of founding members. The Church also undoubtedly made an effort to stay current with the published sermons and other pamphlets of the principal Congregationalist ministers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including the prolific Mather family. Bequests of various sizes also helped to fill the shelves of the Old South’s steeple chamber.
During the first half of the eighteenth century, the book collecting of the Old South Church became a bit more systematic and scholarly. This was due to the conjunction of two remarkable co-ministers, the Reverends Thomas Prince and Joseph Sewall. From 1713 through 1769, one or both of these men filled the pulpit at Old South, and each left a legacy not only of ministry, but also of bibliography. At his death in 1758, Thomas Prince bequeathed to the Church his self-designated “New-England Library,” which likely included two copies of the Bay Psalm Book. (Prince has popularly been credited with having collected all five copies of the 1640 Whole Booke of Psalmes once belonging to Old South, but this is certainly not the case.) Sewall survived Prince by eleven years, and a major portion of his library was also left to the Church.
Thomas Prince (1687–1758) grew up with access to the library of his grandfather, Thomas Hinckley, the last governor of Plymouth Colony, and he early developed an appreciation of books. In addition to printed books, the young Prince learned the importance of preserving manuscripts and ephemera, much of which he utilized in compiling his Chronological History of New-England in the Form of Annals (Boston, 1736). Prince had begun his New-England Library shortly after entering Harvard in 1703; he wrote in the preface to his Chronological History that his passion for collecting was inspired when he “chanced in my leisure Hours to read Mr. Chamberlain's Account of the Cottonian Library: Which excited in me a Zeal of laying hold on every Book, Pamphlet, and Paper, both in Print and Manuscript which are either written by persons who lived here, or that have any Tendency to enlighten our History.”
Following his graduation from Harvard, Prince travelled through the West Indies and Europe for two years before settling in England. During this period, and until his return to Massachusetts in 1717, he gathered a sizeable theological library, which he augmented with the works of many of his colonial contemporaries, particularly the Mathers, with whom he was closely associated. Prince had two distinct bookplates made, one for his New-England Library and the other denominated for his “South-Church-Library in Boston, Begun to be collected by Thomas Prince upon his being ordain’d their colleague Pastor with the Rev. Mr. Joseph Sewall, Oct. 1. 1718.”
The 1640 Whole Booke of Psalmes, of course, united Prince’s two bibliographical interests. He can rightly be adjudged the Cardinal Mazarin of the Bay Psalm Book, being the first to promote, if not to recognize, the primacy of the work in American printing. His final bibliographical work was his own edition of the Bay Psalms, incorporated into The Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament, faithfully translated into English Meter. Being the New-England Psalm-book, revised and improved, which was published in Boston by Henchman and Kneeland in 1758, just in time for selections to be read at his funeral.
Following Prince’s death, His “books and papers,” according to the 1870 catalogue of the collection, “were deposited on shelves, and in boxes and barrels in a room in the steeple of the church, under the belfry, which according to tradition had been Prince's study. There this valuable deposit was left for many years without care, and subject to many vicissitudes. During the siege of Boston in 1775-6, the Church, being used as a riding-school by the British troops, was often frequented by idle spectators, who must have had access to the collection, and may be responsible for some of the loss it has sustained. In heating the building, it is known that the pulpit and pews were consumed, and the parsonage which stood adjoining and had been the mansion of Winthrop, the first governor of the Colony, was demolished to keep up the fires during the long winter.”
Beginning in 1814, several attempts were made to compile a catalogue of the Library of the Old South Church. Perhaps because of his penchant for better organization, including having bookplates for many of his books, Prince’s fame in the nineteenth century had eclipsed that of the Rev. Sewall and others of his contemporaries. During this period, the term “Prince Library” came to be used as a convenient generic designation for all of the books belonging to the Old South Church, regardless of their individual provenances. Because of this imprecise nomenclature, hundreds of items never owned by Prince (including more than 250 volumes from the Sewall family alone) were included in the published inventories of the purported “Prince Library.”
The 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince, former pastor of the Old South Church. Presented by Him to the Old South Church and Society provides an example of the inexact treatment of the books in the Church’s library. Five copies of the Bay Psalm Book are noted, but under four different headings. Four copies are cited in Part I of the catalogue, devoted to the “Chiefly Religious” works: no. 112, placed with the quartos, is described as “The Whole Book of Psalms, translated into English metre, (imperfect.) 1640.” No. 259, among the duodecimos, is catalogued as “The whole Book of Psalms, translated into English metre. 1640. (Perfect copy.).” No. 579 describes two further copies, shelved with the octavos: “The Psalms in English Metre, 1640. 2 copies—(one imperf.).” The fifth copy is catalogued as no. 132 in Part II, “Select Catalogue of Historical Works … in the Rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society,” with the octavos, as “The Whole Book of Psalms, translated into English metre, 1640.”
As the size and significance of the Old South’s library outgrew the Church’s ability to properly administer it, the deacons placed the Church’s books on deposit at the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1814. In 1866, the deacons transferred the deposit to the Boston Public Library, where the book collection of the Old South Church continues to be housed.