Sternhold, Thomas

, an English poet and psalmodist, was born, according to Wood’s conjecture, in Hampshire, and, as Hoi imbed says, at Southampton; but Atkins, in his History of Gloucestershire, expressly affirms, that he was born at Awre, a parish about twelve miles from Gloucester; and adds, that his posterity turned papists, and left the place. He studied for some time at Oxford, but not long enough to take any degree. By some interest that he had at court, he was preferred to the office of groom of the robes to Henry VIII. which he discharged so well that he became a personal favourite of the king, who by his will left him a legacy of an hundred marks. Upon the decease of king Henry, he was continued in the same employment by Edward VI. and having leisure to pursue his studies, he acquired some degree of esteem about the court for his poetical talents. He wa> a man of great piety, in his morals consequently irreproachable, and was a stedfast adherent to the principles of the Reformation. Being offended with the immodest Soul'S, which were then the usual entertainment of persons about the court, he undertook to translate the Psalms into English metre, hoping the courtiers might find in them a proper antidote and substitute for their licentious songs: but he died in 1549, without completing the work. His will was proved Sept. 12th of that year, and in it he is styled groom of his majesty’s robes; and it appears that he died seized of lands to a considerable value in Hampshire and Cornwall.

He lived to versify only fifty-one of the Psalms, which were first printed by Edward Whitechurch in 1549, with the title “All such Psalms of David as Thomas Sterneholde late grome of the kinges majestyes robes, did in his lyfe-­tyme drawe into Englyshe metre.” This book is dedicated to Edward VI. by the author, and seems therefore to have been prepared by him for the press; but Wood, and his followers, are mistaken, in saying, that Sternhold caused musical notes to be set to his Psalms, for they were published, both in 1549 and 1552, without notes; the first edition with notes did not appear until 1562 .*


Ames takes notice of another work by Sternhold, “Certayne chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon drawen into metre,” printed in 1551.

Sir John | Hawkins thinks it worthy of remark, that both in France and England the Psalms were first translated into vulgar metre by laymen; and, which is very singular, by coiuv tiers. Marot was of the bedchamber to Francis I. and Sternhold groom of the robes to Henry VIII. and Edward VI. Their respective translations were not completed by themselves, and yet they translated nearly an equal number of Psalms, Marot fifty, and Sternhold fifty-one.

Sternhold’s principal successor in carrying on the translation of the Psalms was John Hopkins, who was admitted A. B. at Oxford in 1544, and is supposed to have been afterwards a clergyman of Suffolk. He was living in 1556. Warton pronounces him a raiher better poet than Sternhold. He versified fifty-eight of the Psaims, which are distinguished by his initials. Bishop Tanner styles him “poeta, ut ea ferebant tempora, eximius” ajid Bale, “Britanuicorum poetarum sui temporis non infimus;” and, at the end of the Latin commendatory verses prefixed ix’s “Acts and Monuments,” are some stanzas of his h seem to justify this character. Five other Psalms were translated by William Whitting-ham, the puritan dean of Durham, and he also versified the decalogue, the prayer immediately after it, and very probably the Lord’s prayer, the creed, and the hymn “Veni Creator;” all which follow the singing-psalms in our version. Thomas Norton (See Norton) translated twenty-seven more of the psalms; Robert Wisdome the twenty-fifth, and also wrote that once very popular prayer at the end of the version, “Preserve us, Lord, by thy dear word,” &.c. which is a literal translation of Luther’s hymn upon the same occasion. Eight psalms, which complete the whole series, have the initials W. K. and T. C. but we have no account of either of these authors.

The complete version was first printed in 1562, by John Day, entitled “The whole book of Psalms, Collected into English metre by T. Sternhold, J. Hopkins, and others, conferred with the Ebrue; with apt notes to sing them withall:” Heylin, who seems to have a singular aversion to psalmody, says that “this was a device first taken up in France by one Clement Marot,” but this is a mistake. Luther, and before his time, John Huss, ajid the Bohemian brethren, had metrical psalms and hymns in the German language, which they sung to what Dr. Burncy calls unisonous and syllabic tunes, that were either adopted or imitated | by all posterior reformers. In ibe edition of 1562 the tunes are chiefly German, and still used on the continent by Lutherans and Calvinists, as appears by c-iiaiion, particularly the melodies set to the Uth, 14th, 113th, 121-th, U7th, and l.vuii Psalms.

The original motive to the undertaking of Sternhold and his coadjutors was not solely the introduction of Psai insinging into the English protestant churches; it had also for its object the correction of public morals, as appears from the declaration contained in the title-page of our common version, and which has been continued in all the printed copies from the time of its first publication to this day, “Set forth and allowed to be sung in churches of the people together, before and after evening prayer, as also before and after sermon; and, moreover, in private houses, for their godly solace and comfort, laying apart all ungodly songs and ballads,which tend only to the nourishment of vice, and the corrupting of youth.” About the beginning of the reign of queen Elizabeth these Psalms were printed along with the book of Common Prayer, so that Heylm’s nice distinctions between an allowance, which he calls a connivance, and an -approbation, seem to be unnecessary, and certainly are inconclusive. Sternhold and Hopkins’s version, be its merit what it may, had all the sanction it co-aid have, that of undisturbed use, in all churches and chapels, for above a century and a half, and it has not yet entirely;.o that of Tate and Brady. On its poetical merits it would be unnecessary to enter. It is valuable chiefly as a monument of literary antiquity, and as fixing the sera of an important addition to public worship, a subject which we regret to observe, both Mr. War ton and Dr. Burney have treated with unbecoming levity.1