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(Originally Titled "The Learned Men": The Text Here Used Is That Of "The Learned Men")
Chapter 7: Starting The Work
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Starting the Work 

            The translators went to work with zeal and forethought, here slowly and there fast. Edward Lively at Cambridge was an organizer and planner on whom all the Hebrew group there, and others too, could depend. Lancelot Andrewes, Dean of Westminster, was ardent and busy. These two were foremost among the directors.

            John Overall, the prosy Dean of St. Paul’s who had a wife on whom he must keep an eye; Hadrian Saravia, the most strict of the high churchmen; Laurence Chaderton, the grave Puritan, and John Rainolds, the Puritan father of the King James Bible; William Barlow, Dean of Chester, who wrote of the Hampton Court meeting, and Miles Smith who saw the work through from first to last; John Layfield who had been to the New World; Richard Thomson the Arminian who drank his fill daily; Francis Dillingham who knew what a wife should be though he never had one; stern Thomas Ravis the Dean of Christ Church; handsome plump Sir Henry Savile whom his students disliked; George Abbot the dull plodder who rose beyond all the others because his mother caught and ate a pike, and Samuel Ward the Puritan sinner with remorse of conscience; Andrew Downes who was forthright and full of vigor but jealous; and John Bois the man of all work who has shown us how they all conferred— these were among the translators who stood out.

            Yet we must suspect that many of the rest, about whom we know too little, may have given much to the King James version as it stands. They were weavers of a tough, pliant fabric, full of figures, conceits, and subtle shadings, which had to withstand the wear and tear of ages. Each insight counted. The abstract and the concrete had to blend in the one immense design.

            When the three groups met at their respective centers, they had a set of guiding principles which Bishop Bancroft, with advice from others, had prepared or at least approved. We must credit the valiant, ambitious Bancroft with being able to choose and manage firmly. All looked up to him, even those who deplored him and winced at his methods. He doubtless consulted a good deal with Dr. Andrewes, described as sweet and smiling, who was directly under him to handle details.

            The rules which the powers of Church and state composed were as follows: 

1.         The ordinary Bible read in church, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible, to be followed and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit. 

2.         The names of the prophets and the holy writers with the other names of the text to be retained as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used. 

3.         The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz. the word “church” not to be translated “congregation.” (The Greek word can be translated either way.) 

4.         When a word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by most of the ancient fathers. 

5.         The division of the chapters to be altered either not at all or as little as may be. 

6.         No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot without some circumlocution be so briefly and fitly expressed in the text. 

7.         Such quotations of places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit reference of one scripture to another. 

8.         Every particular man of each company to take the same chapter or chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together to confer when they have done, and agree for their parts what shall stand. 

9.         As any one company hath dispatched any one book in this manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this point. 

10.       If any company upon the review of the book so sent doubt or differ upon any place, to send them word thereof with the place, and withal send the reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at the general meeting which is to be of the chief persons of each company at the end of the work. (Thus in the end they all had to agree enough to let all readings pass.) 

11.       When any place of special obscurity be doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to send to any learned man in the land for his judgment of such a place. 

12.       Letters to be sent from every bishop to the rest of his clergy, admonishing them of his translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as being skillful in the tongues and having taken pains in that way, to send his particular observations to the company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford. (This indicates that many must have aided in the work.) 

13.       The directors of each company to be the deans of Westminster and Chester for that place, and the King’s professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either university. 

14.       These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishops’ Bible – Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s (Great Bible), Geneva. 

15.       Besides the said directors before mentioned, three or four of the most ancient and grave divines in either of the universities, not employed in translating, to be assigned by the vice-chancellor, upon conference with the rest of the heads, to be overseers of the translation, as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the fourth rule above specified. 

            Some historians have said that nothing came of the plan for overseers. But a letter, dated April 19, 1605, from Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester, to Sir Thomas Lake, secretary to the king, refers to Dr. George Ryves, “warden of New College in Oxford and one of the overseers of that part of the New Testament that is being translated out of Greek.” The king had said, as we have seen, that any vacant living worth more than twenty pounds a year should be reserved for a translator. Bishop Bilson, himself one of those who reviewed the translators’ work and made final revisions, asked the king to permit Ryves and Nicholas Love, schoolmaster of Winchester, to exchange some livings within Bilson’s gift, “So that they may lay more together.” This implies that both Ryves and Love, though not of the translators, had a clearly defined assignment. “The men,” Bilson said, “are both of good report, the one employed in the oversight of the translation, and the other takes no small pains in doing his duty.” George Ryves, born in 1569, was a son of John Ryves of Damory Court, near Blandford, Dorset, and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Merwyn of Fonthill, Wiltshire. He had been Warden, or head, of New College since 1599. In his mid-thirties, he was hardly one of the “most ancient” divines, though ancient had a wide meaning. Perhaps his work on the Bible was partly going from one learned man to another, to keep them informed of the work of their associates and to prod them.

            Other writers have stressed that the work was slow in starting. On this point there is a letter of Lancelot Andrewes, dated the last of November, 1604, to a Mr. Hartwell: “But that this afternoon is our translation time, and most of our company are negligent, I would have seen you; but no translation shall hinder me, if once I may understand I shall commit no error in coming.” Thus we see that the work at Westminster began promptly, though some of the Hebrew group there were unprepared or had stayed away when they should have met and discussed.

            Understandable delay, as in many literary undertakings, must have occurred when other duties intervened because, as we have seen, translation was a part-time job without regular pay. Yet aside from providing them with fixed fees or salaries, the king was as good as his word in aiding the select divines. To Edward Lively, the royal “Hebrew reader at Cambridge,” who, having lost his wife, had eleven children left out of thirteen, he gave, September lo, 1604, the living at Purleigh, Essex, a few miles from Cambridge. A month later he urged that Thomas Ravis, Dean of Christ Church, be Bishop of Gloucester. In 1605 there was a decree of the chapter at York to keep a residentiary’s place for Andrew Bing. He was subdean of York for forty-six years.

            William Barlow, Dean of Chester, in 1605 also, rose a little to be Bishop of Rochester. As Rochester was the least, the poorest, of the dioceses, he chose for his seal, with forlorn, brave meekness, a Latin motto which meant “set down in the lowest room.” That year too the good Lancelot Andrewes, who had refused Queen Elizabeth’s offer to make him a bishop, became Bishop of Chichester, southwest of London. Later Andrewes became the king’s almoner, and received a grant to retain his place as prebend of St. Paul’s and all his emoluments until October 2, 1607, on account of the poverty of his Chichester bishopric. Thus did the king reward his preferred translator.

            On July 12, 1605, Bancroft made Jeffrey King vicar of Horsham, Sussex. The Earl of Exeter on August 19 wrote to Salisbury (Cecil) asking that his chaplain, Dr. John Layfield, who had some years since returned from his voyage of romance to the West Indies, be made parson at Gravely.

            There were other cases in which, after appeals and wangling by the mighty and lesser folk, learned men rose a bit in the complex, sacred scales of the Church and received rewards for added duties, without direct grants from the king. Yet the extra appointment entailed additional duties which had nothing to do with the work of translation. On November I, 1606, Sir Henry Savile, the plump translator who was the unpopular Master of Merton College, wrote to Sir Thomas Lake a plaintive letter which showed how many other matters a translator might have to keep in mind. “I have sent the bearer my man,” he wrote, “to understand whether you have moved His Majesty for some timber trees for his poor and ancient college of Merton, Oxford. The work will be great and cost £”3000; 300 trees will not furnish us . . . but I dare not present a petition for more than 100 which I hope will not be denied.”

            Besides the interruption of outside labors, the learned men had also, almost from the beginning, the interruption of death. Dr. Richard Edes, Dean of Worcester, died November 19, 1604, perhaps before he could do any work on the Bible, though he may have left some notes of use to his colleagues.

            Then to the dismay of all concerned, Edward Lively, one of the chairmen to whom the divines and scholars were to send their advice, took sick with “an ague and a squinsey,” died in four days, and was buried at St. Edward’s, Cambridge, May 7, 1605, only seven months after he had received the good living at Purleigh, Essex. It was said that “too earnest study and pains about the translation hastened his death.” Though he left eleven orphans without means of support, they survived and did well, and there are descendants of Edward Lively in the United States today. There is a statement that his death delayed the others who had begun to amend the Scriptures, yet they took the loss in their stride and went forward.

            Early in the year 1606 died Ralph Hutchinson, the Westminster translator, aged about fifty-seven. He left a few notes about phrases in the New Testament. John Bois used these, which still exist in copy. They show how early the most painful re-examination of the Bible text began, and how the final product came from joint efforts.

            Others replaced those who died, but who replaced whom? The accounts are clouded and conflicting. One replacement was Dr. John Aglionby, born about 1566, fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, a chaplain to Queen Elizabeth, principal in 1601 of Edmund Hall, Oxford, and a chaplain to King James as soon as he came to the throne. Punning on his name, they compared him to an eagle – “He was of an aquiline acumen.” Then there was Leonard Hutton, who was born about 1557, received his early training at the Westminster school, was a student at St. John’s College, Oxford, and was vicar of Floors, Northamptonshire, in 1601. In 1592 for Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Oxford he wrote a play in Latin about a war of grammar between two rival kings, verb and noun. His Latin verses are to be found today at Oxford. He became subdean of Christ Church, and after Robert Burton settled there, the two must have known each other well. In 1600 Hutton engaged in a solemn disputation, worthy of Burton, about whether in the rebirth concupiscence is a sin. He married Anne Hamden, and had a daughter, Alice.

            So far we have met forty-seven translators out of the king’s original fifty-four, all that are named on the chief lists that have come down to us. To these should be added the name of William Thorne, for whom there is ample evidence.

            In 1606 fourteen bishops, among them Bilson of Winchester and Ravis of Gloucester, both translators, signed with many a flourish a formal plea: “At the request of Doctor Thorne, his majesty’s chaplain, we whose names are hereunto subscribed have thought it equal and just to make known unto all, whom it appertaineth, that he hath for many years read the public Hebrew lecture with very good recommendation in the University of Oxford, that he is now likewise very necessarily employed in the translation of that part of the Old Testament which is remitted to that university, that he doth govern in the church of Chichester where he is dean with judgment and discretion, and that in the one and the other place he hath ever been and now is of very good and honest reputation. In regard whereof our opinion and hope is that he will approve himself worthy of further promotion in the church.” Despite the lofty commendation, Thorne failed to be preferred much more, but he earned the name of translator.

            Additional names of which mention may be found besides those of Leonard Hutton, John Aglionby, and Thomas Bilson, already referred to, were Daniel Featley, born Fairclough, Arthur Lake, James Montague, who became Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Sparke who had been at Hampton Court but is mentioned as a translator only in a life of King James on which one can hardly depend, and William Eyre. Some authorities say that Daniel Featley was too young to share in the work; others that he had something to do with it, and he is on the British Museum list of translators. Perhaps many of these names are false leads. Proof, one way or the other, is most difficult. The surmise that many aided in the translation unofficially, seems justified. Many must have offered advice on verses, helped solve hard problems, and queried readings on which the chosen learned men agreed. Hugh Broughton, the rabid Puritan, was angry at being left out, but his friends among the translators may have consulted him and used some of his phrasings.

            The lives of the learned men were quiet, except for their many mundane duties. Years later John Selden wrote in his Table Talk, “The translation in King James’ time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downes) and then they met together, and one read that translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Italian, Spanish &c. If they found any fault, they spoke; if not, he read on.” Andrew Downes dealt with many other books than those of the Apocrypha, for he was learned in the Greek of the New Testament too.

            What ancient-language texts did they work with? They had the Complutensian Polyglot of 1517, published at Complutum, now Alcara de Henares, Spain, and they had the Antwerp Polyglot, 1569-72. These gave Hebrew and Greek texts with versions in other tongues added. Of course they had the Latin Vulgate, though that was suspect because it was popish. With some fragments of early scrolls, they had countless comments by the early church fathers and ancient scholars. Often they referred to St. Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), whose works Sir Henry Savile had begun to edit, with help from Andrew Downes and John Bois. Another reference authority was the Geneva scholar, Theodore Beza (1519-1605).

            Since the time of King James other Bible manuscripts and fragments have come to light, though none, save perhaps the Isaiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls, goes back to early Christian days, let alone to its original writer. The various manuscripts and fragments contain thousands of variant readings, throughout. What the King James men had, and what we have today in greater variety, consists of copies derived from former copies and so on backward. The text as it stands in any scholarly edition must, by the very nature of the problem, be in many respects corrupt. We can only trust that what we have is a reasonably accurate text of the sixty-six books, which through the ages the churches came to accept as the Holy Scriptures. It should be obvious, therefore, that no English rendition is, or can be from any literary standpoint, the precise word of God.

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