David Dickson, A Brief Explication of the First Fifty Psalms (1655)

This book bundles together three volumes in which Scottish Minister and Theologian David Dickson (c. 1583–1663) offers his commentary on the psalms, including A Brief Explication of the First Fifty Psalms, A Brief Explication of the Other Fifty Psalms, and A Brief Explication of the Last Fifty Psalms, all printed in this second edition in 1655. At the time of publication, Cromwell was Lord Protector in England, and Dickson was known for having played a role in the fight against episcopal rule of the Church of Scotland and having been present at the welcoming of Charles II there in 1650. He would refuse to take the Oath of Supremacy at the Restoration in 1660. These acts would presumably have been meaningful to the earliest owners of the book.

In 1759, when Mary Butler of Lancaster signed the book, this copy was over a hundred years old and Dickson’s part in the Civil Wars a distant memory. She signed her name with the addition of the phrase “her book” along with place and date and some flourishes underneath. Additional dates appear above her name with some faded signatures from previous owners.

I have not been able to trace who Mary Butler was, given that it is a common name. But explications of psalms had long been popular among Protestant women readers, who used them for contemplative purposes. The first of the three works by Dickson was dedicated to two women, Margaret Douglas, the Marchioness of Argyle (1610–c. 1678), and her daughter Lady Anne Campbell (d. before 1660), the wife and daughter of Scotland’s de-facto leader during the Interregnum. In it, Dickson specifically addresses the mother-daughter bond in ways that must have appealed to female readers of different generations:

the daughter finding her self led by her Mothers hand, in her tender youth unto Christ the Saviour, looketh on her as her mother twice; and the Mother having power and place to draw the vaile of her daughters virginall modesty, retirednesse, and prudence, which concealeth much of the lustre of accomplishments from the sight of others who stand at a greater distance, doth look upon her notable endowments, and growing graces, as more then a recompence of all the paines sustained in bringing forth, and bestowed upon education of such a plant so wel fitted for that which is most desirable in earth and heaven

(Sig. A3v)

Though I have not found more female signatures in it, this particular copy of Dickson’s work was clearly much read and has been heavily annotated with notes in what looks like a different hand from Mary Butler’s.

Like other devotional books, this copy shows that it was used for many years and passed down generations of readers, which included women.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay by W. Johnston on 7/27/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

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