Изображения страниц

ity; and the grandest form of the visible interests of humanity is the state and statesmanship."

Thinking thus, we have ventured upon this attempt to commend the subject to the attention of our readers.

0. D.



It is remarkable that so important a work as Wycliffe's Bible should have remained in manuscript for nearly five hundred years, and be now for the first time printed. We know, from contemporary authorities, that, not long after it was translated, numerous copies were made by the laborious and costly process of transcription, and that persons of all ranks, from the monarch to the coinmon laborer, were eager to procure for them. selves, even at great expense, this vernacular version of the Scriptures. Soon, however, the most severe laws were enacted for its suppression. A single specimen of these will be sufficient to show the spirit of the times, and will enable us better to understand the difficulties and dangers which have attended the preservation of this great treasure.

Bishop Bale, in his account of the sufferings and death of Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, who, for holding the doctrines of Wycliffe, suffered martyrdom in the reign of Henry the Fifth, says:

“ In the said Parliament the king made this most blasphemous and cruel act, to be a law for ever : - that whatsoever they were that should read the Scriptures in the mother tongue (which was then called Wycliffe's learning), they should forfeit land, cattle, body, life, and goods from their heirs for ever, and so be con

* The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, with the Apoc. ryphal Books, in the earliest English Versions made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and his Followers ; edited by the Rev. Josiah FORSHALL, F. R. S., etc., late Fellow of Exeter College, and Sur FREDERIC MADDEN, K. H., F. R. S., etc., Keeper of the MSS. in the British Museum. Oxford, at the University Press. 1850. Four volumes. 4to.

+ The cost of a New Testament was equal to the salary of a curate for a year; and of an entire Bible in proportion. Fox, Acts and Monuments, Vol. I. p. 804, London ed. 1684, and The English Hexapla, p. 36.

demned for heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and most errant traitors to the land. Besides this, it was enacted, that never a sanctuary nor privileged ground within the realm should hold them, though they were still permitted to both thieves and murderers. And if in case they would not give over, or were after their pardon relapsed, they should suffer death in two man. ner of kinds ; that is, they should first be hanged for treason against the king, and then be burned for heresy against God.”*

Notwithstanding the severity of the laws, and the fact that a great many copies of the Bible in this version were destroyed by the officers of government, a considerable number have been preserved, and may now be found in some of the principal libraries of Great Britain; but it has never till the last year been printed entire.

The New Testament in what was supposed to be Wycliffe's original version was printed in a folio volume, under the editorial supervision of the Rev. John Lewis, at London, in 1731. This was reprinted, with a valuable Introduction, by the Rev. H. H. Baber, in a quarto volume, at London, in 1810. In Bagster's English Hexapla, quarto, London, 1841, we have what purports to be Wycliffe's New Testament, after a different manuscript from that used by the former editors. But all three editions, it now appears evident, were printed from the revision of Wycliffe's version made by some of his contemporaries, or followers. In 1848 William Pickering, of London, published in a small quarto volume, beautifully printed in black letter, the New Testament as it was originally translated by Wycliffe. No other portion of this Bible has been before published, if we except some few specimens given by the biographers of the author, or by writers on early Biblical versions.

This first English Bible has not heretofore, we think, attracted that attention to which its great importance entitles it. By some it has been regarded as a valuable memorial of the learning, zeal, and industry of the translator; by others, as merely an antique bibliographical curiosity. Indeed, it has for a long time been a sealed book to all but the privileged few who were skilled in the mysteries of ancient chirography, and familiar with the obsolete words of the earliest English literature. There have, however, always been scholars, in other countries as well as in England, who have felt that the publication of this version would be not only a just tribute to the memory of the author, but a really valuable contribution to the treasury of letters. The philologist, no less than the theologian and the student of history, had, it was truly said, a deep interest in this matter. Other nations had at great expense published their early versions of the Scriptures, while this, in some respects the most important of all, seemed doomed to perpetual oblivion. From the time of Fabricius, the eminent bibliographer, the English people have often been reproached for this neglect. Some of their most learned scholars and wisest men have felt and acknowledged the national disgrace. But it was a work involving a great amount of editorial labor, and a large investment of capital, without the prospect of a profitable return to the publishers. It is not strange, therefore, that private enterprise should hesitate to undertake such a publication. The liberal patronage of the Delegates of the University Press at Oxford in providing for the expense of the work, encouraged the editors, the Rev. Josiah Forshall and Sir Frederic Madden, to commence their task more than twenty years ago, and to continue their labors till the work was completed.

* Select Works of Bishop Bale, published by the Parker Society, Cambridge, 1849, p. 50.

This work embraces two entire and nearly contemporaneous versions of the Scriptures, printed side by side for the convenience of comparison. The first and earlier of these is Wycliffe's, which was made about the year 1380. The second is a revision of that version, supposed to have been prepared several years afterwards, principally by John Purvey, Wycliffe's curate at Lutterworth. The editors have compared the text of the copies from which they printed with numerous other manuscripts, and have given at the bottom of each page the various readings. They have furnished a copious glossary, which will not only be of service to the reader of these volumes, but “will be found by the philologist highly serviceable in enabling him to ascertain the usage of words at a definite period of our language.” The Preface, of thirty-eight pages, includes a short history of what had previously been done in England towards a translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular tongue; an account of the translation by Wycliffe and his contemporaries; a notice of the manuscripts used by the editors, and a statement of the method which they pursued in preparing the volumes for the press. They introduce their remarks as follows:

“ The versions now for the first time printed in an entire form, may be regarded as the earliest in the English language, which embrace any considerable portion of the Holy Scriptures. Though never used in the public service of the Church, they must have been widely circulated as well among the clergy as the laity, from the period of their completion in the latter part of the fourteenth century, until their place was occupied by the editions of the reign of Henry the Eighth. The influence which they exercised upon the religious opinions and sentiments of the nation at large was, without question, extensive. In the interval between the years 1382 and 1526 they diffused a great amount of Scriptural truth ; supplied to the opponents of the Papal system the most effectual means of exposing its abuses and errors ; and thus laid a deep foundation for the reforms of the sixteenth century.” - Preface, Vol. I. p. i.

A history of the Anglo-Saxon and early English versions of portions of the Scriptures is then given. This agrees pretty nearly with the statements of Lewis, Baber, Townley, and other previous writers on the same subject. It is here shown quite conclusively, that Sir Thomas More was mistaken in his opinion that before Wycliffe's time the whole Bible had been translated into English. There were Anglo-Saxon versions of considerable portions of the Old and New Testaments, and English versions of the Psalter and parts of the Gospels, It is worthy of note, that Wycliffe's Bible was the first English prose work of any magnitude after the language had acquired a distinctive character, in the fourteenth century."

“ Down to the year 1360, the Psalter appears to be the only book of Scripture which had been entirely rendered into Eng.

*" A copious and forcible language, formed by an infusion of NormanFrench into German, was now the common property of the aristocracy and the people. Nor was it long before genius began to apply that admirable machine to worthy purposes. . . English poets depicted in vivid tints all the wide variety of human manners and fortunes, and English thinkers aspired to kno or dared to doubt, where bigots had been content to wonder and to believe. The same age which produced the Black Prince and Derby, Chandos, and Hawkwood, produced also Geoffrey Chaucer and John Wycliffe.” Macaulay, Hist. Eng., Vol. I. Chap. I.

[ocr errors]

lish. Within less than twenty-five years from this date a prose version of the whole Bible, including as well the apocryphal as the canonical books, had been completed, and was in circulation among the people. For this invaluable gift, England is indebted to John Wycliffe. It may be impossible to determine with certainty the exact share which his own pen had in the translation, but there can be no doubt that he took a part in the labor of producing it, and that the accomplishment of the work must be attributed mainly to his zeal, encouragement, and direction. It was not probably until his later years that Wycliffe matured so extensive a design. He was led to the undertaking slowly and gradually ; and it was not completed until after several preliminary efforts.Ibid. p. vi.

The brief and imperfect account of this remarkable version, which is contained in the above extract, is about all that can now be known with certainty concerning its history. We know that the study of Hebrew and Greek was at that period almost entirely neglected in England and throughout the continent of Europe. Wycliffe therefore in all probability was not competent, even if he could have obtained Hebrew and Greek Biblical manuscripts, to make his version from those languages. He gave a pretty exact and literal translation of the Latin Vulgate. Purvey, the author of the revised version, which in this publication accompanies Wycliffe's, gives us in his Prologue to the Old Testament some account of his plan of proceeding; but it is much to be regretted that we have so little knowledge on the subject.

“ The persons who were thus engaged in preparing translations of Scripture anticipated, it is evident, powerful opposition to its circulation among the people, and regarded the task upon which they ventured, as attended with danger to themselves. From this apprehension it is, that the obscurity in part arises which attends the history of these translations ; since the authors never make known their names, and are careful to avoid the mention of circumstances which might lead to their detection.” Ibid.


xiii. Purvey's Prologue, which occupies sixty pages in this edition, has been printed separately three times before, as follows:- 1st. In 1536, under the title of " The Door of Holy Scripture"; 2d. In 1540, with the same title; 3d. In 1550, with the title, “ The Pathway to Perfect

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »