Saturday, July 4, 2009

Geneva Jiggs & Beza's Ballets

George Wither (1588-1667) was a minor poet and author of what is said to be the "first work in English on literary aspects of the Bible," Preparation to the Psalter (1619), a discussion of the nature of the Psalms and of principles of translation," as well as "a defence of poetry" (David Norton, A History of the Bible as Literature, p. 131). His theological leanings over the course of his colorful life were all over the map from Arminian to Calvinist to Puritan to conforming Anglican to Quaker sympathies. He expressed love for the Psalms and wrote a version of the Psalter (Psalmes of David, 1632), while campaigning against exclusive psalmody and publishing a hymnal (Hymnes and Songs of the Church, 1623). He admitted to having a limited knowledge of Hebrew and the story is told that he took Parliament's side during the English Civil War and, after being captured by Royalist troops who were preparing to execute him, spared him at the request of Sir John Denham who allegedly claimed that they should do so "for the stated reason that at least 'whilest G.W. lived, he [Denham] should not be the worst Poet in England'" (Hannibal Hamlin, Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literaure, p. 52, citing John Aubrey, Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. O.L. Dick (Harmondsworth, 1949, rpr. 1982), p. 183).

I cite him here because he takes note -- in the context of his own dissatisfaction with the psalters then in use and expressed desire to improve them -- of a memorable derisive description employed by opponents of the Psalter.

Preparation to the Psalter (1619, 1919), p. 20:

...yet I vnderstand, that fome fectaries and fauourers of the Church of Rome, haue of late yeares difapproouved the tranflation of thefe Pfalmes into the vulgar tongues, & fcoffed at the finging of them in the reformed Churches; in fo much, that they haue in fcorne tearmed them Geneua Iiggs, and Beza's Ballets:

Albert Bailey claims (The Gospel in Hymns, p. 13) that Queen Elizabeth herself scornfully called called them "Geneva jiggs," in part due to their lively melody.

John Cotton defended the melodies used in Puritan Psalters, not claiming perfection, but inviting anyone to compare Psalms sung in Reformed Churches to cathedral chants. In answering the objection that "sinful men, or the man of sin hath an hand in making the melody" used in the Psalter, he writes, Singing of Psalms, A Gospel Ordinance (1647, republished as John Cotton on Psalmody and the Sabbath, 2006, p. 75):

And yet they that had an hand in making the melody of the English Psalms, (whether in Old England or New) were men of a better spirit then Ahab. But I can but marvel, why you should put in the man of sin, as having any hand at all, in making this melody. For neither the man of sin, (by whom I suppose you mean Antichrist) nor any Antichristian Church have had an hand in turning David's Psalms into English songs and tunes, or are wont to make any melody in the singing of them, yea they reject them as Geneva Gigs [Genevah Gigs, in the original]; and they be cathedral priests of an antichristian spirit, that have scoffed at Puritan Ministers, as calling the people to sing one of Hopkins Jigs [Jiggs], and so hop into the pulpit. God keep all anti-Psalmists from the like antichristian spirit. They that have been in antichristian churches can tell you, that Popish Churches are not wont to sing David's Psalms translated into verse in their own country meter, but they only sing the prose of David's Psalms in cathedral notes. Which how far yourself close withal, I leave to yourself to consider.

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