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VI. The Genevan Psalter: Calvin, Marot And Beza.

The singing of Psalms had established its place in the public worship of Geneva when Marot arrived, toward the end of 1542, but to him and the other French refugees it was a novelty indeed. The sight of the great congregation gathered in St. Peter’s, with their little Psalm books in their own hands, the great volume of voices praising God in the familiar French, the grave melodies carrying holy words, the fervor of the singing and the spiritual uplift of the singers,—all of these moved deeply the emotions of the French exiles now first in contact with them, and, most of all, Marot, for he recognized the songs the congregation sang as being his own. His work of Psalm translation thus gained a new meaning, and he was more easily persuaded by Calvin and his associates to proceed in it with a view of putting the complete Psalter before the congregation.

This work involved the personal coöperation of Calvin and Marot. Marot would object to the changes Alexandre had introduced in the text of his Psalms as sung at Geneva; 58 Calvin would insist upon certain amendments in the old work and the new in the interests of fidelity to Scripture. Altogether during the period of his sojourn at Geneva, Marot added nineteen to the number of his versions of Psalms. These, together with an improved text of his earlier versions, he printed at Geneva in August, 1543, as Cinquante Pseaumes5252In reality forty-nine, the Nunc Dimittis counting as the fiftieth. en francoys par Clement Marot, introduced by his famous “Epistle to the Ladies of France.” This publication was literary, and not liturgical, the Psalms not being set to music. There can hardly be a question that Calvin at once proceeded to have this done, and that in 1543 or 1544 he printed a new edition of his Psalter containing the forty-nine Psalms; but no copy of such edition has come to light.5353The Ecclesiastical Registers of Geneva, 16 June, 1543, show the publication of another lost edition of “The Psalms of David, with the Prayers of the Church,” to which the date affixed to Calvin’s preface (10 June, 1543) corresponds. But that edition could hardly have had Calvin’s supervision or approval, as the printer inserted in it the Ave Maria, which canticle, when seen by the consistory, was ordered to be expunged. There seems to have been another edition that summer, for which Calvin prepared the enlarged preface of 10 June, 1543. This must have been a reprint of the Psalms already in use. See Douen, vol. i, p. 448.

This coöperation of Calvin and Marot at Geneva is one of the most curious episodes in the history of Psalmody. All that is known of it argues a spirit of accommodation and devotion to a common cause which redounds to the credit of both men. The familiar charge of cruel treatment on Calvin’s part, and gross misconduct on Marot’s, may be alike dismissed as unsupported. It is especially to Calvin’s credit that he recognized so frankly the superiority of Marot’s work, that he accepted the poet’s own text as against that previously adopted, in spite of the practical inconvenience of such a change, and that he suppressed his own Psalm versions, and substituted Marot’s, because better. Anxious for the completion of the Psalter, he requested the Council to make a grant to Marot, that he might stay and proceed in 59 his work. This was refused.5454Registres du Conseil, 14 Octobre, 1543: cited Bovet, op. cit., p. 20. Soon after, Marot quitted Geneva, and died at Turin in August, 1544. The action of the Council no doubt disappointed him; and Beza is formally correct in saying that Marot “had been bred up in a very bad school, and could not submit his life to the reformation of the Gospel;”5555Histoire Ecclésiastique, Antwerp, 1580, vol. i, p. 33 (quoted in H. Morley, Clement Marot and other Studies, London, 1871, vol. ii, p. 62). For Beza’s relation to this book, see H. M. Baird, Theodore Beza, N. Y., 1899, pp. 310 ff. but justice demands that the reformation of the Gospel referred to should be explained as meaning the Calvinistic discipline as then imposed upon Geneva.

The refusal of the Council to engage Marot to complete the Psalter, whether caused by prejudice or parsimony, was a blow to Calvin as well as to the poet; and Marot’s death quenched any reasonable expectation of completing the Psalter on the same level of poetic excellence. Marot’s success raised up a number of imitators, but so far as the Calvinistic Psalter was concerned, his death arrested its progress for several years.

In the autumn of 1548, four years after Marot’s death, Theodore Beza arrived at Geneva in the enthusiasm of his new faith. Out of the old life of prosperous gayety which he renounced he brought with him a considerable equipment of Renaissance scholarship and literary accomplishment. On attending the public worship for the first time, he heard Marot’s XCIst Psalm sung by the congregation, and, as he himself has told us,5656Note to Latin Paraphrase of 91st Psalm: Psalmorvm Davidis et aliorvm Prophetarvm Libri Qvinqve; ed. London, 1586, p. 412. received an impression so deep that it remained with him all his life. It is likely that Beza, with his literary instincts and confirmed habit of verse making, felt a disposition to try his hand at Psalm translation. It is certain that Calvin, who had been seeking some one capable of assuming Marot’s unfinished work,5757Calvin to Viret, 15 March, 1545: Opera, vol. xii, 47. believed that he had found him in the person of Beza. Beza informs us that he 60 undertook the work at Calvin’s instigation,5858In the dedication of his Latin Psalms, quoted in Bovet, p. 25, note. but he did not begin it until after going to Lausanne as professor of Greek at the end of 1549.

Beza’s progress was not rapid enough for Calvin, who wrote Viret on January 24, 1551:

“If he has any of the Psalms ready, they need not be kept waiting for company. Ask him to send at least some of them by the first messenger.”5959Opera, vol. xiv, 27, 28.

Beza quickly responded. On March 24, 1551, he obtained permission of the Council to print the remainder of the Psalms with musical notes,6060Douen, vol. i, p. 552. and during that year the first instalment appeared from the Genevan press of his friend, John Crespin, as Trente-quatre pseaumes de Dauid, nouuellement mis en rime francoise au plus pres de l’hebreu, par Th. de Besze de Vezelay en Bourgogne. In this the Psalms were introduced by a lengthy “Epistle to the Church of our Lord,” evidently designed to replace Marot’s “Epistle to the Ladies of France” with deeper notes of encouragement to the “little flock” under persecution, and which long continued to be reprinted as an introduction to the Psalters.

Calvin was entirely satisfied with the new Psalm versions of Beza, whom he had come to hold in the deepest affection. He sent a copy of them to Madame de Cany early in 1552, that she might see for herself what Beza was doing for the Church, and be led to intercede for his relief against the pecuniary pressure of his enemies; in order “that he may follow out this work, and better things beside.”6161Opera, vol. xiv, 451-454. These other demands evidently diverted Beza’s hand from Psalm translation. His thirty-four Psalms and Marot’s forty-nine were gathered together and printed at Geneva in 1552 as Pseaumes octante-trois de Dauid, but no new material was added till the reprint of 1554, under the same title but 61 appending six new versions of Beza. One more appeared in an edition of 1554 or 1555. It was not until 1562, sixteen years after Marot’s death, and twenty-three years after the publication of Calvin’s first collection, that the complete Psalter appeared at Geneva, under the designation afterwards so familiar: Les Pseaumes mis en rime francoise par Clement Marot et Theodore de Beze (Geneue, Antoine Dauodeau et Lucas de Mortiere, pour Antoine Vincent.)

The Genevan Psalter, Facsimile of Title Page.

Facsimile of Title Page of one of the complete editions of 1562.
(Douen, bibliographie, No. 106, bis.)
Size of original page, 5-5/8 x 3-5/8 inches.

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