No. 461. Tuesday, August 19, 1712. Steele

--Non Ego credulus illis--'

For want of Time to substitute something else in the Room of them, I am at present obliged to publish Compliments above my Desert in the following Letters. It is no small Satisfaction, to have given Occasion to ingenious Men to employ their Thoughts upon sacred Subjects, from the Approbation of such Pieces of Poetry as they have seen in my Saturday's Papers. I shall never publish Verse on that Day but what is written by the same Hand; yet shall I not accompany those Writings with Eulogiums, but leave them to speak for themselves.



'You very much promote the Interests of Virtue, while you reform the Taste of a Prophane Age, and persuade us to be entertained with Divine Poems, while we are distinguished by so many thousand Humours, and split into so many different Sects and Parties; yet Persons of every Party, Sect, and Humour are fond of conforming their Taste to yours. You can transfuse your own Relish of a Poem into all your Readers, according to their Capacity to receive; and when you recommend the pious Passion that reigns in the Verse, we seem to feel the Devotion, and grow proud and pleas'd inwardly, that we have Souls capable of relishing what the SPECTATOR approves.

'Upon reading the Hymns that you have published in some late Papers, I had a Mind to try Yesterday whether I could write one. The 114th Psalm appears to me an admirable Ode, and I began to turn it into our Language. As I was describing the Journey of Israel from Egypt, and added the Divine Presence amongst them, I perceived a Beauty in the Psalm which was entirely new to me, and which I was going to lose; and that is, that the Poet utterly conceals the Presence of God in the Beginning of it, and rather lets a Possessive Pronoun go without a Substantive, than he will so much as mention any thing of Divinity there. Judah was his Sanctuary, and Israel his Dominion or Kingdom. The Reason now seems evident, and this Conduct necessary: For if God had appeared before, there could be no wonder why the Mountains should leap and the Sea retire; therefore that this Convulsion of Nature may be brought in with due Surprise, his Name is not mentioned till afterward, and then with a very agreeable Turn of Thought God is introduced at once in all his Majesty. This is what I have attempted to imitate in a Translation without Paraphrase, and to preserve what I could of the Spirit of the sacred Author.

'If the following Essay be not too incorrigible, bestow upon it a few Brightnings from your Genius, that I may learn how to write better, or to write no more.

Your daily Admirer, and humble Servant, [1] &c.


I. When Israel, freed from Pharaoh's Hand, Left the proud Tyrant and his Land, The Tribes with chearful Homage own Their King, and Judah was his Throne.

II. Across the Deep their Journey lay, The Deep divides to make them Way; The Streams of Jordan saw, and fed With backward Current to their Head.

III. The Mountains shook like frighted Sheep, Like Lambs the little Hillocks leap; Not Sinai on her Base could stand, Conscious of Sovereign Power at hand.

IV. What Power could make the Deep divide? Make Jordan backward roll his Tide? Why did ye leap, ye little Hills? And whence the Fright that Sinai feels?

V. Let every Mountain, every Flood Retire, and know th' approaching God, The King of Israel: See him here; Tremble thou Earth, adore and fear.

VI. He thunders, and all Nature mourns: The Rock to standing Pools he turns; Flints spring with Fountains at his Word, And Fires and Seas confess their Lord.


There are those who take the Advantage of your putting an Half-penny Value upon your self above the rest of our daily Writers, to defame you in publick Conversation, and strive to make you unpopular upon the Account of this said Half-penny. But if I were you, I would insist upon that small Acknowledgment for the superior Merit of yours, as being a Work of Invention. Give me Leave therefore to do you Justice, and say in your Behalf what you cannot your self, which is, That your Writings have made Learning a more necessary Part of good Breeding than it was before you appeared: That Modesty is become fashionable, and Impudence stands in need of some Wit, since you have put them both in their proper Lights. Prophaneness, Lewdness, and Debauchery are not now Qualifications, and a Man may be a very fine Gentleman, tho' he is neither a Keeper nor an Infidel.

I would have you tell the Town the Story of the Sybills, if they deny giving you Two-Pence. Let them know, that those sacred Papers were valued at the same Rate after two Thirds of them were destroyed, as when there was the whole Set. There are so many of us who will give you your own Price, that you may acquaint your Non-Conformist Readers, That they shall not have it, except they come in within such a Day, under Three-pence. I don't know, but you might bring in the Date Obolum Belisario with a good Grace. The Witlings come in Clusters to two or three Coffee-houses which have left you off, and I hope you will make us, who fine to your Wit, merry with their Characters who stand out against it.

I am your most humble Servant.

P. S. I have lately got the ingenious Authors of Blacking for Shoes, Powder for colouring the Hair, Pomatum for the Hands, Cosmetick for the Face, to be your constant Customers; so that your Advertisements will as much adorn the outward Man, as your Paper does the inward. [2]


[Footnote 1: This letter and the version of the 114th Psalm are by Dr Isaac Watts, who was at this time 38 years old, broken down by an attack of illness, and taking rest and change with his friend Sir Thomas Abney, at Theobalds. Isaac Watts, the son of a Nonconformist schoolmaster at Southampton, had injured his health by excessive study. After acting for a time as tutor to the son of Sir John Hartupp, he preached his first sermon in 1698, and three years later became pastor of the Nonconformist congregation in Mark Lane. By this office he abided, and with Sir Thomas Abney also he abided; his visit to Theobalds, in 1712, being, on all sides, so agreeable that he stayed there for the remaining 36 years of his life. There he wrote his Divine and Moral Songs for children, his Hymns, and his metrical version of the Psalms. But his Horá Lyricá, published in 1709, had already attracted much attention when he contributed this Psalm to the Spectator. In the Preface to that collection of 'Poems chiefly of the Lyric kind, in Three Books, sacred, I. to Devotion and Piety. II. To Virtue, Honour, and Friendship. III. To the Memory of the Dead,' he had argued that Poesy, whose original is divine, had been desecrated to the vilest purpose, enticed unthinking youth to sin, and fallen into discredit among some weaker Christians. 'They submit indeed to use it in divine psalmody, but they love the driest translation of the Psalms best.' Watts bade them look into their Bibles and observe the boldness of its poetic imagery, rejected the dictum of Boileau, that

De la foy d'un Chrétien les mystères terribles D'ornemens egayéz ne sont point susceptibles;

and pointed to the way he had chosen for himself as a Biblical rhymer. Poesy, he reminds his readers, is, as his title indicates, not the business of his life.

'And if I seized those hours of leisure, wherein my soul was in a more sprightly frame, to entertain them or myself with a divine or moral song, I hope I shall find an easy pardon.'

Watts died in 1748, aged 74.]

[Footnote 2: Written in jest, but 'The Famous Spanish Blacking for Gentlemen's Shoes,' and 'The famous Bavarian Red Liquor which gives such a delightful blushing colour to the cheeks,' had long been advertised in the Spectator.]

Translation of motto:
VIRG. Ecl. ix. 34.
'But I discern their flatt'ry from their praise.'