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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: John Bulwer; The KJV Bible
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0122. Thursday, 15 February 1996.

(1)     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Feb 1996 12:43:15 -0500
        Subj:   Q: John Bulwer

(2)     From:   Richard J Kennedy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Feb 1996 19:54:07 -0800
        Subj:   The KJV Bible


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Feb 1996 12:43:15 -0500
Subject:        Q: John Bulwer


Katherine Rowe asked:

>Can anyone recommend strong critical essays on John Bulwer (of Chirologia,
>Anthropometamorphosis, etc.) or his work?

By all means look at Joseph R. Roach's The Player's Passion.

Cary

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Feb 1996 19:54:07 -0800
Subject:        The KJV Bible

Why couldn't Shakespeare have had a hand in the making of the KJV? He was
retired, at leisure, and who else was so excellent a writer? Besides, the job
has a great mystery about it, and perhaps some- thing is to be discovered here.
It certainly seems that the game's afoot. Here's something I wrote several
years ago.


                      SOME NAMELESS SKILL

Queen Elizabeth died in March, 1603, and in the month of January, 1604, King
James commanded a new revision of the Holy Bible to be written, and that summer
he named 54 clerics and scholars to bring about the work, the number to be
added to as necessary.  After an unexplained delay of about 3 years, work was
begun in earnest in 1607, the translators being divided into 6 groups based at
Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster.  The translation of the King James Bible
was  finished in 1610 and put through the press and published in 1611,
acclaimed ever since to be the most beautiful English prose in all our
literature.

We know practically nothing about how these 54 men worked at this prodigious
labor. We might expect that someone would have kept notes of the many
conferences held during those several years, but no notice has been left to us,
nor do we have any correspondence between the groups.  Two or three small and
slight anecdotes have been told, second-hand stories of the smallest importance
if we were to understand how this magnificent work was achieved. Nor is there a
word left to us by the translators themselves, neither in diary nor in letter,
nor yet in attic or archive has been found a jot of information to tell us how
these 54 men set themselves to the task.  One man alone left some fragments of
linguistic quibbles, but that is all.  And not a single translator has been
remembered in epitaph for his part in this singular labor, nor was there revel,
nor reception by the crown, nor barely a murmur when the work was done.

It's almost spooky, as if ghosts had been employed by King James.  We know
nothing about how these men settled the style and searched out the poetry they
left us, the grace of the Gospels, the Song of Solomon, the Psalms, and the
soul of the Prophets.  From the beginning of their labor to the end, it seems
that a shroud of silence was thrown over all.

"Direct evidence on the subject there is none," so wrote F.H.A. Scrivener in
THE AUTHORIZED EDITION OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE, 1910.  "For never was a great
enterprise like the production of our Authorized Version carried out with less
knowledge handed down to posterity of the labourers, their method and order of
working."

It is strange also that King James paid not a pound of gold to support these
men through the years of their great study and travail, nor did he repay them
by mention when this gigantic effort was laid to the press, nor did he pay the
printers the cost of the printing.  But at last was published the result of
this invisible effort, a book that ranks in the top ten you take to a desert
island, there on a bamboo bookshelf to rest beside the poetry and plays of
Shakespeare.  And it is a wonder--some say it is a miracle--that a 54 man
committee, as it were, could construct such a beautiful and lofty tower to God,
and not fall a-babbling and a-scattering of words amongst themselves.

                                        ********

The English Bible--a book which if everything else in our language should
perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power

                              T.B. Macaulay, --On John Dryden, 1828

The plays of Shakespeare and the English Bible are, and ever will be, the twin
monuments not merely of their own period, but of the perfection of English, the
complete expression of the literary capacities of the language....

                   George Saintsbury, --History of Elizabethan
                   Literature, 1887

...It is probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of
the world.  Its English is extraordinarily simple, pure, eloquent, and lovely.
It is a mine of lordly and imcomparable poetry, at once the most stirring and
the most touching ever heard of.

                         H.L. Mencken, quoted in Paine (below)

The Authorized Version is a miracle and a landmark.  Its felicities are
manifold, its music has entered into the very blood and marrow of English
thought and speech...

                         Robinson, H. Wheeler, -- The Bible in its
                         Ancient and English Versions, 1940

For the Biblical style is characterized not merely by homely vigour and
pithiness of phrase, but also by a singular nobility of diction and by a
rhythmic quality which is, I think, unrivalled in its beauty.

          Lowes, John Livingston, --Essays in Appreciation,
          1936

...and it is curious that such an unmatched result should have been the result
of labours thus combined, and not, as far as is known, controlled by any one
guiding spirit.  ...no known translator under James has left anything which at
all equals in strictly literary merit the Authorized Version.

                       Saintsbury, George, op.cit.

How did this come to be?  How explain that sixty or more men, none a genius,
none even as great a writer as Marlowe or Ben Jonson, together produced writing
to be compared with (and confused with) the words of Shakespeare?

                       Paine, Gustavus S., --The Learned Men, 1959

...that a committee of forty-seven should have captured a rhythm so personal,
so constant, that our Bible has the voice of one author speaking through its
many mouths; that is a wonder before which I can only stand humble and aghast.

          Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, quoted in Opfell (below).

It is a miracle and a mystery, since group writing seldom achieves great
heights.  Individual writings of the committeemen show no trace of the
magnificent style...

                                   Opfell, Olga S.  --The King James Bible
                                   Translators, 1982

In their general effect, the six sections of the 1611 Bible show a remarkable
uniformity of style, considering that in the English backgrounds of each there
were differences not only between the sections, but also within each section.

                 Butterworth, Charles C.  --The Literary Lineage of
                 the King James Bible, 1971

To know that the Bible words were beyond the choosing of the best of them, we
have only to look at their individual writing.

Because he was the final critic who looked for flaws and smoothed out the whole
translation, there is perhaps more of Dr. Miles Smith in the King James version
than of any other man.  Some critics said that his own style was heavy,
involved, rough.

Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester, with Miles Smith, at the end revised all
that the rest had done.  We may well ask how his style fitted him to burnish
the whole final draft, but if we use this criterion we may ask in vain.  Bishop
Bilson was for the most part a dull writer.

        Paine, Gustavus S., op.cit.

The Authorized Version, setting a seal on all, set a seal on our national
style, thinking and speaking.  It has cadences homely and sublime, yet so
harmonises them that the voice is always one.

        Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, --On the Art of Writing,1914.

Perhaps the greatest of literary mysteries lies in the unanswered question of
how fifty-four translators managed to infuse their work with a unity of effect
which seems the result of one inspired imagination.  The mystery will never be
solved.

                    Chase, Mary Ellen, --The Bible and the Common
                    Reader, 1960

...all is clear, correct, lucid, happy, awaking continual admiration by the
rhythmic beauty of the periods, the instinctive art with which the style rises
and falls with the subject, the skilful surmounting of the difficulties the
most real, the diligence with which almost all which was happiest in prededing
translations has been retained and embodied in the present; the constant
solemnity and seriousness which, by some nameless skill, is made to rest on
all.

                      Trench, Richard Chenevix, --On the Authorized
                      Version of the New Testament, 1858

                         ***

If there was a singular author of the KJV (besides God), and I were to round up
the usual suspects, I'd visit Shakespeare and ask him his alibi.
 

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