C. Rous (R) – the Scottish Version

Most people this days if they think about them at all, assume metrical psalms are a Scottish phenomenon. The Scots have remained faithful to metrical psalmody much longer than anyone else. Until the latest editions, the Church of Scotland Church Hymnary was produced bound with a metrical psalter. Music versions were printed in stable-door format. The pages in the psalter section are cut in half, with words on the bottom section and tunes on the top, so that one can easily turn up whichever tune is chosen for any particular psalm.

The version the Scots use, though, was not originally Scottish. It was produced by Francis Rous, Puritan MP and Provost of Eton at the time of the Civil War. It was adopted by the Church of Scotland to replace the Old Version, possibly because its author had Presbyterian sympathies, rather in the way that many modern evangelicals assume that the NIV is their translation.

This may upset some Scots, but this version is usually the least verbally successful.  Both the Old Version and the Rous version share with Shakespeare, the feature that English pronunciation has changed over the centuries. Verse from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often does not scan because the ‘ed’ on the end of words was pronounced as a separate syllable instead of being run into the previous one as it usually is now. Despite that, though, the Rous version contains more examples than the other versions of grammar that has been twisted and inverted uncomfortably to fit the metre.

For a long time the Scots did not admit hymns or even accept the use of musical instruments in church. In Gaelic areas particularly this is often still the case. Until well into the nineteenth century there were only twelve approved tunes.

SH and TB have metrical versions of the Church of England canticles, but the Scottish psalter has a much fuller paraphrase section, containing other extracts of scripture, and largely added in the late C18.

By the 1929 edition of the Church Hymnary, which was produced at the time of the reunion, some psalms are recommended as ‘most suitable for public worship’. Reading this, it is difficult to avoid inferring that the others are not. The modern edition of the Church Hymnary goes much further than the 1929 version. Like many hymn books, it groups hymns by topic. It has omitted the separate metrical psalter altogether, but included various favoured selected extracts  from it with the other hymns in each of the topic sections. It has also added some modern versions.

The familiar version of the 23rd psalm, ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’ seems to be the only psalm widely known outside Scotland that comes from the Rous psalter. ‘Crimond’ is the name of the familiar tune, not the words. Nor is it the only tune associated with that psalm in Scotland.