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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: August ::
Re: KJV
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0736  Thursday, 6 August 1998.

[1]     From:   Sara Vandenberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Aug 1998 13:47:25 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0730  Re: Bible

[2]     From:   Richard J Kennedy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Aug 1998 15:29:40 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0730  Re: Bible

[3]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Aug 1998 18:51:36 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0730  Re: Bible


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sara Vandenberg <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Aug 1998 13:47:25 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 9.0730  Re: Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0730  Re: Bible

Were the KJV translators paid?  If not, why would Jonson, Shakespeare,
or other professional writers have chosen to be involved?

Sara van den Berg

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Aug 1998 15:29:40 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 9.0730  Re: Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0730  Re: Bible

                      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 incomparable 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 preceding 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

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 Aug 1998 18:51:36 -0700
Subject: 9.0730  Re: Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0730  Re: Bible

> From:           Carl Fortunato <
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> As far as I know Ben Jonson referred to him as
> having "Small Latin and Less Greek,"  and there is no evidence of Greek
> expertise in the plays whatsoever.  It is my understanding, for example,
> that Troilus & Cressida seems to use Chapman's translation of Homer as a
> source, not the original.  And he seems to have known no Hebrew.

I don't know why Jonson said what he said, but having studied the matter
for myself, I'd say he frequently worked from more than one source, and
one of the sources he would use, would be the original. In the case of
Greek originals, that meant the Greek. He was marvelously gifted
linguist. Indeed the world has probably never seen a greater. He may not
have been a Hebrew scholar, but my guess is that, sure, he knew his Peys
and his Kofs.

> > The translators names may have been known to someone, but not all of
> > them are known to us. There were six or eight that were never given.
>
> Source for this?

Sorry. Don't have it handy.

Marvelous how Shakespearean their
>  >prose!
>
> There is a huge difference in the vocabulary of the two.  And "their
> prose"?  Do you think Shakespeare translated the entire King James.

No, sorry. I should have added "in some places."

> To some people's ears, any good Elizabethan writing sound Shakespearean.
> The King James is very well written, but it doesn't sound anything like
> Shakespeare's writing to me.  And all the evidence seems to tell against
> it.

Except the evidence of common sense.

> From:           David Evett <
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> Stephanie Hughes' is only the most recent of many postings to SHAKSPER
> wishing to claim for Shakespeare a hand in the Authorized Version of the
> Bible.

Sorry for lack of clarity. I don't claim anything for Shakespeare. I
simply think that it's odd that none of the truly great writers of the
day appear to have been involved in this important undertaking.

> The idea is preposterous on several grounds.  The most salient
> is that the groups that did the work were composed of learned clergymen,
> graduates of the two universities with special scholarly competence in
> Hebrew and Greek.  The Church of England in 1604-11 was the Established
> Church; the Establishment was embodied in a cadre of professional
> churchmen trained at Oxford and Cambridge and certified by the bishops
> by placement in ecclesiastical posts.  We know the names of 47 of the 54
> scholars who were to have been recruited to do the work;

There you go, Carl. 47 of 54. Who were the missing seven, and why were
they missing?

> all of those 47
> about whom we have any further information (which is to say most of
> them-see Gustavus S. Paine, The Learned Men) were either beneficed
> clergymen or university dons (or both) with reputations as scholars of
> the Oriental languages.  David Daiches in his book on the AV can
> document from published or manuscript works the claim of special
> linguistic competence (especially in Hebrew) for fewer than half of
> them.

I'm not saying they didn't know how to write, or to translate. I'm
saying that's a lot of university dons who were able to write clearly,
succinctly, and beautifully. And I'm doubting it.

> But nowhere in the surviving documents can we find any reason to
> suppose that alternative skills, such as a demonstrated gift for the
> invention of startling metaphor, a great interest in the appropriation
> of new words, a knack for exploiting the capabilities of English grammar
> in striking and often novel ways, a penchant for swift and frequent
> shifts in register-things that seem to me particularly characteristic of
> Shakespearean prose-were criteria for appointment.  All the emphasis in
> the documents falls on two desiderata: literal accuracy, and doctrinal
> purity.  Style was at no point a consideration per se.

I agree on both points. Translating the Bible for an authorized version
didn't require the skills of a poet. How interesting that that's what
was the result in so many places.

> Indeed, although Hughes recognizes the ecclesiastical and scholarly
> character of all those men whose names we have, she chooses not to
> observe the corollary of this-that no laymen appear in the list, however
> gifted as writers

"Chooses not to observe?" Hmmm. I thought I mentioned that I thought it
odd that translators of the psalms like Mary Sidney, or writers of
religious verse like John Donne, had (apparently) no part in it.

> -not Ben Jonson, not John Donne (not ordained until
> 1615), not George Chapman or Samuel Daniel or Michael Drayton or Fulke
> Greville or Walter Ralegh.

Ahah! The missing seven!

> We should not be surprised-in our far more
> democratic age we do not find the names of Iris Murdoch or John Updike
> or Toni Morrison or David Mamet or Adrienne Rich or Harold Pinter or
> Brian Friel or Tony Kushner among the translators of the New Revised
> Standard or New English or Anchor Bibles.   Those most significant late
> C20 translations, like the AV, were produced  by scholars, not by
> novelists or poets or playwrights.

Which is, perhaps, why it makes such dull reading, and why it is so
curious that the KJV is so beautiful.

> A third obstruction to the hypothesis is that according to all the
> contemporary testimony (and, I would guess, according to sophisticated
> late C20 linguistic analysis), the translation was a truly corporate
> enterprise, in which the concurrence of several voices, not only living
> but dead, produced each and every sentence.   Any line by line
> comparison among the early modern England translations , from Tyndale to
> King James, will indicate the surprising degree to which the latter
> involved, not so much work from scratch, the translators going directly
> from Hebrew or Greek to English without reference to any other guide
> than their own understanding, as choice among earlier versions.  (See
> the very informative materials in Charles C. Butterworth, The Literary
> Heritage of the King James Bible, esp. pp. 253-353.)  Under such
> conditions, any single voice-but particularly one as distinctive as
> Hughes seems to think Shakespeare's is  ("Marvelous how Shakespearean
> their prose!")  would necessarily have been muffled.

No so surprising. Translators of all sorts of things frequently made use
of as many translations as they could.

In any case, the production of an authorized version of the Bible would
have been an extremely delicate matter at that time, and the choice of
translators would have been equally delicate. The story as it has come
down to us seem to me to have been cooked up for public consumption.
Spread the responsibility as far as possible throughout the community of
top level clergymen, and because poetry had a bad reputation in those
days, best not to mention them.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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