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It is worth reflecting on this Feast Day how one little book, crudely produced by early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, has become the most expensive book in the world, outstripping unique versions of the Bible, Shakespeare's First Folios and Jean-Jacques Audubon's famous Birds of America.

On Tuesday, a copy of the Bay Psalm Book sold at Sotheby's, New York, for $14.2 million, a sum even Croesus would have found eye-watering. Rarity is, of course, a factor. There are believed to be only eleven of these volumes in existence. The books were so thoroughly used that most fell into disrepair sooner rather than later. These few have survived Independence Wars, Civil Wars, World Wars, boundary disputes and hard-driven migration. But their intrinsic value is surely bound up in all the hope, the longing, the nostalgia, the idealism, the quest for freedom, equality and a Promised Land, dreamed by the founding fathers of America. This was the pilgrims' rightful inheritance, in the gift of a beneficient God whose bounty was freely available to the focused and thankful heart.











Months of pitching and rolling on the Atlantic under changeable stars, in insanitary conditions and fed on a scratch diet that barely kept body and soul together, must have caused some misgivings. The sight of an expansive, untamed wilderness must have been daunting, their cultural heritage abandoned for good. For most, there was no going back. It would have taken many seasons for the magnitude of the undertaking to sink in. It is impossible to dwell on this with a dry eye.

But what did they seek in order to steel their courage and confirm the ground under their feet? A book of Psalms, the first recourse for the bewildered and anchorless, where the map of God's heart is reflected in daily human vicissitudes, a compendium of 'givens', without any challenges to theological construction and meaning.

What those pioneers sought was a new translation from the Hebrew, one fit for the realities of the New World and couched in democratic phrases. In such circumstances, the striving for commonwealth was not a design, but an instinct of survival. They wanted their Psalms in verse. Singing was their inspiration. Breathing together, chanting harmonies, strengthened a sense of family and corporate purpose whilst engraving truths in the memory.

The text is said by some scholars to be graceless and awkward. But the ministers responsible made it clear they 'attended conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry, in translating the Hebrew words into English language'. The press had to be transported all the way from England. The ink is said to be uneven, the standard of workmanship poor and the book riddled with misprints and idiosyncratic punctuation.

But what remains to the twenty-first century is a living legacy charged with the power of that virgin experience on the threshold of a vast unknown. It is a moving testimony to faith rewarded, to the hardwon fruits of labour in field and vineyard, to the population of a Continent pledged to freedom and opportunity. This little book flags the chapter in global history in which Western civilisation took root in America and led to the birth of a great nation.

What a fine irony that capitalist cultures can only express their homage to a vision via mercantile currency!












Wishing all American friends and colleagues a Happy Thanksgiving (and Hanukkah) !



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Biography

bio

Rosy Cole was born and educated in the Shires of England. She has been a professional writer for thirty years and has worked as a Press Officer and Publisher's Reader. She is a member of the Society of Authors, the Historical Novel Society, the Poetry Society and redroom.com

Among widespread interests, she lists history, opera, musicals, the arts, vegetarian cookery, drawing and painting, gemmology and homoeopathy. Theology also is an abiding interest. As a singer, she has performed alongside many renowned musicians in theatres, churches and concert venues throughout England and Italy and, in 1992, was selected to join the BBC Rome Pilgrimage Choir in a series of broadcasts for Pentecost Week which included an occasion inside the Vatican when she was privileged to meet Pope John Paul II. In addition, she has run a music agency specialising in themed 'words-and-music' programmes, bringing her two greatest passions together.

Material for the Berkeley Series has been gathered over a long period and has spookily coincided with Rosy's researches into her own family tree which have revealed several generations of ancestors a stone's throw from Berkeley Castle! No connection has yet been established with the characters in Mary Cole's story, but those forebears would almost certainly have known her.

Rosy's first book of poetry, The Twain, Poems of Earth and Ether, was published in April 2012, National Poetry Month, and another collection is in preparation. The Second Book in the Berkeley Series is due for publication in spring, 2014. She has also written under the pseudonym, Marion Grace.

Rosy lives in West Sussex with her son, Chris, and her black Springador, Jack, who keeps a firm paw on the work-and-walkies schedule! More Biography