memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘rev. Gamaliel Milner’

My Lyre of David

I have occasionally wondered about the relationship between Psalter, Lyre and Music.

(Get a life, will ya!)

The word psalms is derived from the Greek Ψαλμοί (Psalmoi), perhaps originally meaning music of the lyre or songs sung to a harp and then to any piece of music.

From psallein play upon a stringed instrument and then to make music in any fashion.

No historical personage comes more readily to mind than the biblical King David when the word harp is mentioned. Yet the instrument, kinnor, translated harp in the King James Version of the Bible, was not a harp at all, but a lyre. The other stringed instrument David played, nevel, translated as psaltery by the KJV, was likewise not a psaltery, and it may not have been a true harp either.

Vocal melodies and instrumental accompaniment at that time were commonly conducted using gestures of the hands and fingers. Apparently the Hebrew Scriptures were sung to melodies conducted by a gestural system, for a transcription of such gestures is still found in the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Indeed I believe that to this day the Torah is sung, rather than read, in some synagogues.

Be that as it may let us turn our attention to my copy of the LYRE OF DAVID

Of this my father recorded that:

Lyra Prophetica

Davidis Regis





… Londini MDCLXIV 


Inscribed: Gamaliel Milner (name also in Hebrew letters) and Westminster School.

A word by word analysis of the Psalms printed entirely in Hebrew and Latin, it was acquired by my grandfather while he was still at school; the book was already two centuries old (1664). He took his Hebrew studies very seriously and read from the Hebrew Bible regularly until the end of his life. (Not bad going for a Church of England vicar!) He has inserted the 18th century Milner book plate.

The print is clear, clean and crisp and easy to read although I doubt if it will appear on Kindle.

I had the book rebound in full leather at «my» book binders in Oporto in 2000 and as usual a very fine job they made of it.


I like to heft it in my hands, savouring that four-centuries-old-book smell and admiring the binding – this is good for another couple of centuries, I think.

The Fragment of Parchment (2)


Back to the impressive book which hosted the fragment, (see my post EAT YOUR HEART OUT, FACEBOOK pub. 30th June 2011), which merits further examination.
Here is the title page:

This is the first chapter:

And I can’t resist including some sample pages:

And the MAHRATTA page:


And finally the page with the fragment:


Now I don’t about anyone else, but I’m a bit rusty with my ancient Samarian script. What we need at this point is one of those forensic archaeologists know-it-alls who pop up regularly in films like The Raiders of the Lost Arc who will glance at it and give a glib solution.
Actually we have the genuine article, a scholar with a deep knowledge of Latin, ancient Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit and Hebrew and other Semitic languages. He also made a specialty of the Polynesian group (we found a Maori dictionary among his books). He was claimed to know 26 languages.
It is of course our great grandfather – the Rev. Gamaliel Milner, whose book it was.

He set out to identify the parchment. He concluded that it was part of ancient Samaritan manuscript of the Pentateuch – Genesis 36.
(Of course it was, how silly of me, it was on the tip of my tongue – you probably know the verse; it’s that rib-tickling one which enumerates all the sons and grandsons of Esau. His brother Jacob may have been the favourite but Esau’s family seem to have done alright for themselves).
Finally just to conclude, also pasted at the back there’s an intriguing envelope addressed to Rev. Selwyn & wife and a letter from «The Chief of the Samiratans» dated 1877

(He claims that the fragment is from the second book of Moses; note the cool correction by Gamaliel on the right side of the envelope just under the stamp)

The Fragment of Parchment (1)

The son of the Bishop Selwyn,
Who had been killed and
Eaten by New Zealand savages,
Rev. and scholar travelled in the Middle East.
In Northern Palestine he encountered
A form of Judaism at Nablus practised by the
Samaritans of Samaria.
He befriended the priest
Who gave him a page of an old parchment in Samarian
Which later his widow Mrs Selwyn
Gave to my great-grandfather,
Also a Rev. and scholar, who pasted it
In the appropriate section of
The Bible for Every Land.


Let us follow the heavy green book
From the grand rectory at Gloucester
To the square-stone house of Thurlstone,
From the vicarage of Stannington
To the parsonage of Launceston
On the Devon/Somerset border.
Back again to Thurlstone
Where it languished for decades
Behind the red horse-hair curtain
In the corridor outside my father’s room
On dusty shelves of old/odd books.
On my father’s passing it was transferred
By road to northern Portugal where it rested for a couple
Of years in my little shelve-lined hall
Until the time came when circumstances obliged me
To end up in this place.
After four or five years, on emerging from the shadow-lands
Back into the light, I took down the heavy green book,
Found the old parchment
And it boggled my mind.



(To be continued)

An eccentric clergyman

The afore-mentioned book, THE BIBLE OF EVERY LAND, belonged to my scholarly great-grandfather, the Rev. Gamaliel Milner, who was reputed to have mastered no fewer than sixteen foreign languages. He had a voracious intellectual appetite for the contents of his many books without particularly caring for them per se.

I think it is fairly safe to say that my great-grandfather was an eccentric man. Born in 1852, the only surviving child of A respectable South Yorkshire family, he early showed signs of precocity of mind and expression. We have a diary of his which recollects some of his first thoughts:

–          The pulpit spanned the main avenue of the church which was taken up by proprietary pews. It was in one of these pews as I sat by my Father that the thought came to me for the first time: Who am I? Whence have I come?


He was first sent to a private school at Ripon then to Westminster School (separated from the great Abbey by just a cloister) where he was assiduous in his studies. In October 1869 he wrote to his mother:

–          You will be pleased to hear that Dr. Scott thought the translation from Horace which I wrote to be pretty good and gave one of those silver pennies to those with whose exercises he is pleased.

Horace Ode XXIV

  1. Why need there be a limit to my grief
  2. For the dear form that I no longer see.                                                                                                              Grant to this sorrowing friend this relief
  3. To sing a fitting dirge, Melpomene
  4. O thou that hast from Heaven’s Eternal fire
  5. A sweet melodious voice and the poetic lyre …

He went up to Christ Church Oxford in the autumn of 1870 (the year of the Franco-Prussian war). His rooms there were immediately under Great Tom; he chose them in the hope that the striking of the clock would awaken him early for his studies. He soon found however that he got accustomed to the sound and slept through it. He later bought an alarm bed, a contraption which at the time set turned up and deposited the sleeper on the floor …

He attended lectures on Sanscrit, Virgil, Thucydides, Divinity and Composition. He joined the University Volunteers and tells his mother not to be too anxious about his shooting. He thinks he hit the target fewer times than anyone else …


As soon as he came down from Oxford he was appointed Oriental Languages Fellow at St. Augustine’s College Canterbury, a college for training missionaries. It was at Canterbury that he met my great-grandmother Annie Horsley; a child of the British Raj, she had been born at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father, Col. W. H. Horsley RE, was stationed.

I have one of her sketch-books from presumably the early years of her marriage (c. 1880); the drawings show accomplishment and a sensitivity which is difficult to reconcile with the strict and forbidding matron who stares at the camera in later years.


She was very religious and abhorred alcohol in all its forms; when she became mistress of Thurlstone House after the death of her father-in-law, J.C. Milner (born, lived and died in the same house – a grand old man of 83), there is a story (which still sends a frisson of dismay unto the present generation) of how she ordered all the wine in the cellars (wine nurtured from grapes under a southern sun or matured in casks from the golden Douro valley) to be poured away down the cold stone sinks of the pantry.

What a crying shame,

what a waste!

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