The Greatest English Classic A Study of the King James Version of
by Cleland Boyd McAfee
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In this connection it is well to notice the effort of the King James translators at a fair statement of the divine name. It will be remembered that it appears in the Old Testament ordinarily as "LORD," printed in small capitals. A very interesting bit of verbal history lies back of that word. The word which represents the divine name in Hebrew consists of four consonants, J or Y, H, V, and H. There are no vowels; indeed, there were no vowels in the early Hebrew at all. Those that we now have were added not far from the time of Christ. No one knows the original pronunciation of that sacred name consisting of four letters. At a very early day it had become too sacred to pronounce, so that when men came to it in reading or in speech, they simply used another word which is, translated into English, Lord, a word of high dignity. When the time came that vowels were to be added to the consonants, the vowels of this other word Lord were placed under the consonants of the sacred name, so that in the word Jehovah, where the J H V H occur, there are the consonants of one word whose vowels are unknown and the vowels of another word whose consonants are not used.

Illustrate it by imagining that in American literature the name Lincoln gathered to itself such sacredness that it was never pronounced and only its consonants were ever printed. Suppose that whenever readers came to it they simply said Washington, thinking Lincoln all the while. Then think of the displacement of the vowels of Lincoln by the vowels of Washington. You have a word that looks like Lancilon or Lanicoln; but a reader would never pronounce so strange a word. He would always say Washington, yet he would always think the other meaning. And while he would retain the meaning in some degree, he would soon forget the original word, retaining only his awe of it. Which is just what happened with the divine name. The Hebrews knew it was not Lord, yet they always said Lord when they came to the four letters that stood for the sacred word. The word Jehovah, made up of the consonants of an unknown word and the vowels of a familiar word, is in itself meaningless. Scholarship is not yet sure what was the original meaning of the sacred name with its four consonants.

These translators had to face that problem. It was a peculiar problem at that time. How should they put into English the august name of God when they did not know what the true vowels were? There was dispute among scholars. They did not take sides as our later American Revision has done, some of us think quite unwisely. They chose to retain the Hebrew usage, and print the divine name in unmistakable type so that its personal meaning could not be mistaken.

On the other hand, disputes since their day have shown how they translated when transliteration would have been wiser. Illustrate with one instance. There is a Hebrew word, Sheol, with a Greek word, Hades, which corresponds to it. Usage had adopted the Anglo-Saxon word Hell as the equivalent of both of these words, so they translated Sheol and Hades with the English word Hell. The only question that had been raised was by that Hugh Broughton of whom we were speaking a moment ago, and it had not seemed a serious one. Certainly the three terms have much in common, and there are places where both the original words seemed to be virtually equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon Hell, but they are not the same. The Revised Version of our own time returned to the original, and instead of translating those words whose meaning can be debated, it transliterated them and brought the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades over into English. That, of course, gave a chance for paragraphers to say that the Revised Version had read Hell out of the Scriptures. All that happened was that cognizance was taken of a dispute which would have guided the King James translators if it had existed in their time, and we should not have become familiar with the Anglo-Saxon word Hell as the translation of those disputed Hebrew and Greek words.

We need not seek more instances. These are enough to illustrate the saying that here is an honest version, the fruit of the best scholarship of the times, without prejudice.

II. A second trait of the work as a version is its remarkable accuracy. It is surprising that with all the new light coming from early documents, with all the new discoveries that have been made. the latest revision needed to make so few changes, and those for the most part minor ones. There are, to be sure, some important changes, as we shall see later; the wonder is that there are not many more. The King James version had, to be sure, the benefit of all the earlier controversy. The whole ground had been really fought over in the centuries before, and most of the questions had been discussed. They frankly made use of all the earlier controversy. They say in their preface: "Truly, good Christian reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better. That hath been our endeavor, that our work." Also, they had the advantage of deliberation. This was the first version that had been made which had such sanction that they could take their time, and in which they had no reason to fear that the results would endanger them. They say in their preface that they had not run over their work with that "posting haste" that had marked the Septuagint, if the saying was true that they did it all in seventy-two days; nor were they "barred and hindered from going over it again," as Jerome himself said he had been, since as soon as he wrote any part "it was snatched away from him and published"; nor were they "working in a new field," as Origen was when he wrote his first commentary on the Bible. Both these things—their taking advantage of earlier controversies which had cleared many differences, and their deliberation—were supplemented by a third which gave great accuracy to the version. That was their adoption of the principle of all early translators, perhaps worded best by Purvey, who completed the Wiclif version: "The best translation is to translate after the sentence, and not only after the words, so that the sentence be as open in English as in Latin." That makes for accuracy. It is quite impossible to put any language over, word for word, into another without great inaccuracy. But when the translators sought to take the sentence of the Hebrew or the Greek and put it into an exactly equivalent English sentence, they had larger play for their language and they had a fairer field for accuracy. These were the three great facts which made the remarkable accuracy possible, and it may be interesting to note three corresponding results which show the effort they made to be absolutely accurate and fair in their translation.

The first of those results is visible in the italicized words which they used. In the King James version words in italics are a frank acknowledgment that the Greek or the Hebrew cannot be put into English literally. These are English words which are put in because it seems impossible to express the meaning originally intended without certain additions which the reader must take into account in his understanding of the version. We need not think far to see how necessary that was. The arrangement of words in Greek, for example, is different from that in English. The Greek of the first verse of the Gospel of John reads that "God was the Word," but the English makes its sentences in a reversed form, and it really means, "the Word was God." So the Greek uses particles where the English does not. Often it would say "the God" where we would say simply "God." Those particles are ordinarily wisely omitted. So the Greek does not use verbs at some points where it is quite essential that the English shall use them. But it is only fair that in reading a version of the Scripture we should know what words have been put in by translators in their effort to make the version clear to us; and the italicized words of the King James version are a frank effort to be accurate and yet fair.

The second result which shows their effort at accuracy is in the marginal readings. Most of these are optional readings, and are preceded by the word "or," which indicates that one may read what is in the text, or substitute for it what is in the margin with equal fairness to the original. But sometimes, instead of that familiar "or," occur letters which indicate that the Hebrew or the Greek literally means something else than what is given in the English text, and what it literally means is given in the margin. The translators thereby say to the reader that if he can take that literal meaning and put it into the text so that it is intelligible to him, here is his chance. As for them, they think that the whole context or meaning of the sentence rather involves the use of the phrase which they put into the text. But the marginal references are of great interest to most of us as showing how these men were frank to say that there were some things they could not settle. They were rather blamed for it, chiefly by those who had committed themselves to the Douai version, which has no marginal readings, on the ground that the translation ought to be as authoritative as the original. The King James translators repudiate that theory and frankly say that the reason they put these words in the margin was because they were not sure what was the best reading. In the margin of the epistle to the Romans there are eighty- four such marginal readings, and the proportion will hold throughout most of the version. They were only trying to be accurate and to give every one a chance to make up his own mind where there was fair reason to question their results.

The third thing which shows their effort at accuracy is their explicit avoidance of uniformity in translating the same word. They tried to put the meaning into English terms. So, as they say, the one word might become either "journeying" or "traveling"; one word might be "thinking" or "supposing," "joy" or "gladness," "eternal" or "everlasting." One of the reasons they give for this is quaint enough to quote. They said they did not think it right to honor some words by giving them a place forever in the Bible, while they virtually said to other equally good words: Get ye hence and be banished forever. They quote a "certaine great philosopher" who said that those logs were happy which became images and were worshiped, while, other logs as good as they were laid behind the fire to be burned. So they sought to use as many English words, familiar in speech and commonly understood, as they might, lest they should impoverish the language, and so lose out of use good words. There is no doubt that in this effort both to save the language, and to represent accurately the meaning of the original, they sometimes overdid that avoidance of uniformity. There were times when it would have been well if the words had been more consistently translated. For example, in the epistle of James ii: 2, 3, you have goodly "apparel," vile "raiment," and gay "clothing," all translating one Greek word. Our revised versions have sought to correct such inconsistencies. But it was all done in the interest of an accuracy that should yet not be a slavish uniformity.

This will be enough to illustrate what was meant in speaking of the effort of the translators to achieve accuracy in their version.

III. The third marked trait of the work as a version of the Scripture is its striking blending of dignity and popularity in its language. At any period of a living language, there are three levels of speech. There is an upper level used by the clearest thinkers and most careful writers, always correct according to the laws of the language, generally somewhat remote from common life—the habitual speech of the more intellectual. There is also the lower level used by the least intellectual, frequently incorrect according to the laws of the language, rough, containing what we now call "slang," the talk of a knot of men on the street corner waiting for a new bulletin of a ball game, cheap in words, impoverished in synonyms, using one word to express any number of ideas, as slang always does. Those two levels are really farther apart than we are apt to realize. A book or an article on the upper level will be uninteresting and unintelligible to the people on the lower level. And a book in the language of the lower level is offensive and disgusting to those of the upper level. That is not because the ideas are so remote, but because the characteristic expressions are almost unfamiliar to the people of the different levels. The more thoughtful people read the abler journals of the day; they read the editorials or the more extended articles; they read also the great literature. If they take up the sporting page of a newspaper to read the account of a ball game written in the style of the lower level of thought, where words are misused in disregard of the laws of the language, and where one word is made to do duty for a great many ideas, they do it solely for amusement. They could never think of finding their mental stimulus in that sort of thing. On the other hand, there are people who find in that kind of reading their real interest. If they should take up a thoughtful editorial or a book of essays, they would not know what the words mean in the connection in which they are used. They speak a good deal about the vividness of this lower-level language, about its popularity; they speak with a sneer about the stiffness and dignity of that upper level.

These are, however, only the two extremes, for there is always a middle level where move words common to both, where are avoided the words peculiar to each. It is the language that most people speak. It is the language of the street, and also of the study, of the parlor, and of the shop. But it has little that is peculiar to either of those other levels, or to any one place where a man may live his life and do his talking. If we illustrate from other literature, we can say that Macaulay's essays move on the upper level, and that much of the so-called popular literature of our day moves on the lower level, while Dickens moves on the middle level, which means that men whose habitual language is that of the upper and the lower levels can both enter into the spirit of his writing.

Now, originally the Bible moved on that middle level. It was a colloquial book. The languages in which it first appeared were not in the classic forms. They are the languages of the streets where they were written. The Hebrew is almost our only example of the tongue at its period, but it is not a literary language in any case. The Greek of the New Testament is not the Eolic, the language of the lyrics of Sappho; nor the Doric, the language of war-songs or the chorus in the drama; nor the Ionic, the dialect of epic poetry; but the Attic Greek, and a corrupted form of that, a form corrupted by use in the streets and in the markets.

That was the original language of the Bible, a colloquial language. But that fact does not determine the translation. Whether it shall be put into the English language on the upper level or on the lower level is not so readily determined. Efforts have been made to put it into the language of each level. We have a so- called elegant translation, and we have the Bible cast into the speech of the common day. The King James version is on the middle level. It is a striking blending of the dignity of the upper level and the popularity of the lower level.

There is tremendous significance in the fact that these men were making a version which should be for all people, making it out in the open day with the king and all the people behind them. It was the first independent version which had been made under such favorable circumstances. Most of the versions had been made in private by men who were imperiling themselves in their work. They did not expect the Book to pass into common use; they knew that the men who received the result of their work would have to be those who were earnest enough to go into secret places for their reading. But here was a changed condition. These men were making a version by royal authority, a version awaited with eager interest by the people in general. The result is that it is a people's Book. Its phrases are those of common life, those that had lived up to that time. It is not in the peculiar language of the times. If you want to know the language of their own times, read these translators' servile, unhistorical dedication to the king, or their far nobler preface to the reader. That is the language peculiar to their own day. But the language of the Bible itself is that form which had lived its way into common use. One hundred years after Wiclif it yet speaks his language in large part, for that part had really lived. In the Bibliotheca Pastorum Ruskin makes comment on Sir Philip Sidney and his metrical version of the Psalms in these words: "Sir Philip Sidney will use any cow-boy or tinker words if they only help him to say precisely in English what David said in Hebrew; impressed the while himself so vividly of the majesty of the thought itself that no tinker's language can lower it or vulgarize it in his mind." The King James translators were most eager to say what the original said, and to say it so that the common man could well understand it, and yet so that it should not be vulgarized or cheapened by adoption of cheap words.

In his History Hallam passes some rather sharp strictures on the English of the King James version, remarking that it abounds in uncouth phrases and in words whose meaning is not familiar, and that whatever is to be said it is, at any rate, not in the English of the time of King James. And that latter saying is true, though it must be remembered that Hallam wrote in the period when no English was recognized by literary people except that of the upper level, when they did not know that these so- called uncouth phrases were to return to common use. To-day it would be absurd to say that the Bible is full of uncouth phrases. Professor Cook has said that "the movement of English diction, which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was on the whole away from the Bible, now returns with ever-accelerating speed toward it." If the phrases went out, they came back. But it is true that the English of the King James version is not that of the time of James I., only because it is the English of the history of the language. It has not immortalized for us the tongue of its times, because it has taken that tongue from its beginning and determined its form. It carefully avoided words that were counted coarse. On the other hand, it did not commit itself to words which were simply refinements of verbal construction. That, I say, is a general fact.

It can be illustrated in one or two ways. For instance, a word which has become common to us is the neuter possessive pronoun "its." That word does not occur in the edition of 1611, and appears first in an edition in the printing of 1660. In place of it, in the edition of 1611, the more dignified personal pronoun "his" or "her" is always used, and it continues for the most part in our familiar version. In this verse you notice it: "Look not upon the wine when it is red; when it giveth HIS color aright in the cup." In the Levitical law especially, where reference is made to sacrifices, to the articles of the furniture of the tabernacle, or other neuter objects, the masculine pronoun is almost invariably used. In the original it was invariably used. You see the other form in the familiar verse about charity, that it "doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not HER own, is not easily provoked." Now, there is evidence that the neuter possessive pronoun was just coming into use. Shakespeare uses it ten times in his works, but ten times only, and a number of writers do not use it at all. It was, to be sure, a word beginning to be heard on the street, and for the most part on the lower level. The King James translators never used it. The dignified word was that masculine or feminine pronoun, and they always use it in place of the neuter.

On the other hand, there was a word which was coming into use on the upper level which has become common property to us now. It is the word "anxiety." It is not certain just when it came into use. I believe Shakespeare does not use it; and it occurs very little in the literature of the times. Probably it was known to these translators. When they came, however, to translating a word which now we translate by "anxious" or "anxiety" they did not use that word. It was not familiar. They used instead the word which represented the idea for the people of the middle level; they used the word "thought." So they said, "Take no thought for the morrow," where we would say, "Be not anxious for the morrow." There is a contemporary document which illustrates how that word "thought" was commonly used, in which we read: "In five hundred years only two queens died in child birth, Queen Catherine Parr having died rather of thought." That was written about the time of the King James version, and "thought" evidently means worry or anxiety. Neither of those words, the neuter possessive pronoun or the new word "anxious," got into the King James version. One was coming into proper use from the lower level, and one was coming into proper use from the upper level. They had not yet so arrived that they could be used.

One result of this care to preserve dignity and also popularity appears in the fact that so few words of the English version have become obsolete. Words disappear upward out of the upper level or downward out of the lower level, but it takes a long time for a word to get out of a language once it is in confirmed use on the middle level. Of course, the version itself has tended to keep words familiar; but no book, no matter how widely used, can prevent some words from passing off the stage or from changing their meaning so noticeably that they are virtually different words. Yet even in those words which do not become common there is very little tendency to obsolescence in the King James version. More words of Shakespeare have become obsolete or have changed their meanings than in the King James version.

There is one interesting illustration to which attention has been called by Dr. Davidson, which is interesting. In the ninth chapter of the Judges, where we are told about Abimelech, the fifty-third verse reads that a woman cast a stone down from the wall and "all to break his skull." That is confessedly rather obscure. Our ordinary understanding of it would be that she did that for no other purpose than just to break the skull of Abimelech. As a matter of fact, that expression is a printer's bungling way of giving a word which has become obsolete in the original form. When the King James translators wrote that, they used the word "alto," which is evidently the beginning of "altogether," or wholly or utterly, and what they meant was that she threw the stone and utterly broke his skull. But that abbreviated form of the word passed out of use, and when later printers—not much later—came to it they did not know what it meant and divided it as it stands in our present text. It is one of the few words that have become obsolete. But so few are there of them, that it was made a rule of the Revised Version not to admit to the new version, where it could be avoided, any word not already found in the Authorized Version, and also not to omit from the Revised Version, except under pressure of necessity, any word which occurred there. It is largely this blending of dignity and popularity that has made the King James version so influential in English literature. It talks the language not of the upper level nor of the lower level, but of that middle level where all meet sometimes and where most men are all the while.

These are great traits to mark a book, any book, but especially a translation—that it is honest, that it is accurate, and that its language blends dignity and popularity so that it lowers the speech of none. They are all conspicuous traits of our familiar version of the Bible, and in them in part lies its power with the generations of these three centuries that have followed its appearance.



LET it be plainly said at the very first that when we speak of the literary phases of the Bible we are not discussing the book in its historic meaning. It was never meant as literature in our usual sense of the word. Nothing could have been further from the thought of the men who wrote it, whoever they were and whenever they wrote, than that they were making a world literature. They had the characteristics of men who do make great literature— they had clear vision and a great passion for truth; they loved their fellows mightily, and they were far more concerned to be understood than to speak. These are traits that go to make great writers. But it was never in their minds that they were making a world literature. The Bible is a book of religious significance from first to last. If it utterly broke down by the tests of literature, it might be as great a book as it needs to be. It is a subordinate fact that by the tests of literature it proves also to be great. Prof. Gardiner, of Harvard, whose book called The Bible as English Literature makes other such works almost unnecessary, frankly bases his judgment on the result of critical study of the Bible, but he serves fair warning that he takes inspiration for granted, and thinks it "obvious that no literary criticism of the Bible could hope for success which was not reverent in tone. A critic who should approach it superciliously or arrogantly would miss all that has given the Book its power as literature and its lasting and universal appeal."[1] Farther over in his book he goes on to say that when we search for the causes of the feelings which made the marvelous style of the Bible a necessity, explanation can make but a short step, for "we are in a realm where the only ultimate explanation is the fact of inspiration; and that is only another way of saying that we are in the presence of forces above and beyond our present human understanding."[2]

[1] Preface, p. vii.

[2] Page 124.

However, we may fairly make distinction between the Bible as an original work and the Bible as a work of English literature. For the Bible as an original work is not so much a book as a series of books, the work of many men working separately over a period of at least fifteen hundred years, and these men unconscious for the most part of any purpose of agreement. This series of books is made one book in the original by the unity of its general purpose and the agreement of its parts. The Bible in English is, however, not a series of books, but properly one book, the work of six small groups of men working in conscious unity through a short period of years. And while there is variation in style, while there are inequalities in result, yet it stands as a single piece of English literature. It has a literary style of its own, even though it feels powerfully the Hebrew influence throughout. And while it would not be a condemnation of the Bible if it were not great literature in English or elsewhere, it is still part of its power that by literary standards alone it measures large.

It is so that men of letters have rated it since it came into existence. "It holds a place of pre-eminence in the republic of letters." When John Richard Green comes to deal with it, he says: "As a mere literary monument the English version of the Bible remains the noblest language of the English tongue, while its perpetual use made of it from the instant of its appearance the standard of our language."[1] And in Macaulay's essay on Dryden, while he is deploring the deterioration of English style, he yet says that in the period when the English language was imperiled there appeared "the English Bible, a book which if everything else in our language should perish would alone suffice to show the extent of its beauty and power."

[1] Short History of the English People, Book vii, chap. i.

The mere fact that the English Bible contains a religion does not affect its standing as literature. Homer and Virgil are Greek and Roman classics, yet each of them contains a definite religion. You can build up the religious faith of the Greeks and Romans out of their great literature. So you can build up the religious faith of the Hebrews and the early Christians from the Old and New Testaments. "For fifteen centuries a Hebrew Book, the Bible, contained almost the whole literature and learning of a whole nation," while it was also the book of their religion.

As literature, however, apart from its religious connection, it is subject to any of the criteria of literature. In so far it is the fair subject of criticism. It must stand or fall when it enters the realm of literature by the standards of other books. Indeed, many questions regarding its dates, the authorship of unassigned portions, the meaning of its disputed passages may be answered most fairly by literary tests. That is always liable to abuse; but literary tests are always liable to that. There have been enough blunders made in the knowledge of us all to require us to go carefully in such a matter. The Waverley Novels were published anonymously, and, while some suspected Scott at once, others were entirely clear that on the ground of literary style his authorship was entirely impossible! Let a magazine publish an anonymous serial, and readers everywhere are quick to recognize the writer from his literary style and his general ideas, but each group "recognizes" a different writer. Arguments based chiefly on style overlook the large personal equation in all writing. The same writer has more than one natural style. It is not until he becomes in a certain sense affected—grows proud of his peculiarities—that he settles down to one form. And it is quite impossible to assign a book to any narrow historical period on the ground of its style alone. But though large emphasis could be laid upon the literary merits of the Bible to the obscuring of its other more important merits, it is yet true that from the literary point of view the Bible stands as an English classic, indeed, as the outstanding English classic. To acknowledge ignorance of it is to confess one's self ignorant of our greatest literary possession.

A moment ago it was said that as a piece of literature the Bible must accept the standards of other literary books. For all present purposes we can define great literature as worthy written expression of great ideas. If we may take the word "written" for granted, the rough definition becomes this: that great literature is the worthy expression of great ideas. Works which claim to be great in literature may fail of greatness in either half of that test. Petty, local, unimportant ideas may be well clothed, or great ideas may be unworthily expressed; in either case the literature is poor. It is not until great ideas are wedded to worthy expression that literature becomes great. Failure at one end or the other will explain the failure of most of the work that seeks to be accounted literature. The literary value of a book cannot be determined by its style alone. It is possible to say nothing gracefully, even with dignity, symmetry, rhythm; but it is not possible to make literature without ideas. Abiding literature demands large ideas worthily expressed. Now, of course, "large" and "small" are not words that are usually applied to the measurement of ideas; but we can make them seem appropriate here. Let us mean that an idea is large or small according to its breadth of interest to the race and its length of interest to the race. If there is an idea which is of value to all the members of the human race to-day, and which does not lose its value as the generations come and go, that is the largest possible idea within human thought. Transient literature may do without those large ideas. A gifted young reporter may describe a dog fight or a presidential nominating convention in such terms as lift his article out of carelessness and hasty newspaper writing into the realm of real literature; but it cannot become abiding literature. It has not a large enough idea to keep it alive. And to any one who loves worthy expression there is a sense of degradation in the use of fine literary powers for the description of purely transient local events. It is always regrettable when men with literary skill are available for the description of a ball game, or are exploited as worthy writers about a prize-fight. If a man has power to express ideas well, he ought to use that power for the expression of great ideas.

Many of us have seen a dozen books hailed as classic novels sure to live, each of them the great American novel at last, the author to be compared with Dickens and Thackeray and George Eliot. And the books have gone the way of all the earth. With some, the trouble is a weak, involved, or otherwise poor style. With most the trouble is lack of real ideas. Charles Dickens, to be sure, does deal with boarding-schools in England, with conditions which in their local form do not recur and are not familiar to us; but he deals with them as involving a great principle of the relation of society to youth, and so David Copperfield or Oliver Twist becomes a book for the life of all of us, and for all time. And even here it is evident that not all of Dickens's work will live, but only that which is least narrowly local and is most broadly human.

There is a further striking illustration in a familiar event in American history. Most young people are required to study Webster's speech in reply to Robert Hayne in the United States Senate, using it as a model in literary construction. The speech of Hayne is lost to our interest, yet the fact is that Hayne himself was gifted in expression, that by the standards of simple style his speech compares favorably with that of Webster. Yet reading Webster's reply takes one not to the local condition which was concerning Hayne, but to a great principle of liberty and union. He shows that principle emerging in history; the local touches are lost to thought as he goes on, and a truth is expressed in terms of history which will be valid until history is ended. It is not simply Webster's style; it is that with his great idea which made his reply memorable.

That neither ideas nor style alone can keep literature alive is shown by literary history after Shakespeare. Just after him you have the "mellifluous poets" of the next period on the one hand, with style enough, but with such attenuated ideas that their work has died. Who knows Drayton or Brown or Wither? On the other hand, there came the metaphysicians with ideas in abundance, but not style, and their works have died.

Here, then, is the English Bible becoming the chief English classic by the wedding of great ideas to worthy expression. From one point of view this early seventeenth century was an opportune time for making such a classic. Theology was a popular subject. Men's minds had found a new freedom, and they used it to discuss great themes. They even began to sing. The reign of Elizabeth had prepared the way. The English scholar Hoare traces this new liberty to the sailing away of the Armada and the releasing of England from the perpetual dread of Spanish invasion. He says that the birds felt the free air, and sang as they had never sung before and as they have not often sung since. But this was not restricted to the birds of English song. It was a period of remarkable awakening in the whole intellectual life of England, and that intellectual life was directing itself among the common people to religion. Another English writer, Eaton, says a profounder word in tracing the awakening to the reformation, saying that it "could not fail, from the very nature of it, to tinge the literature of the Elizabethan era. It gave a logical and disputatious character to the age and produced men mighty in the Scriptures."[1] A French visitor went home disgusted because people talked of nothing but theology in England. Grotius thought all the people of England were theologians. James's chief pride was his theological learning. It did not prove difficult to find half a hundred men in small England instantly recognized as experts in Scripture study. The people were ready to welcome a book of great ideas. Let us pass by those ideas a moment, remembering that they are not enough in them- selves to give the work literary value, and turn our minds to the style of the English Bible.

[1] T. R. Eaton, Shakespeare and the Bible, p. 2.

From this point of view the times were not perfectly opportune for a piece of pure English literature, though it was the time which produced Shakespeare. A definite movement was on to refine the language by foreign decorations. Not even Shakespeare avoids it always. No writer of the time avoids it wholly. The dedication of the King James version shows that these scholars themselves did not avoid it. In that dedication, and their preface, they give us fine writing, striving for effect, ornamental phrases characteristic of the time. Men were feeling that this English language was rough and barbarous, insufficient, needing enlargement by the addition of other words constructed in a foreign form. The essays of Lord Bacon are virtually contemporaneous with this translation. Macaulay says a rather hard word in calling his style "odious and deformed,"[1] but when one turns from Bacon to the English Bible there is a sharp contrast in mere style, and it favors the Bible. The contrast is as great as that which Carlyle first felt between the ideas of Shakespeare and those of the Bible when he said that "this world is a catholic kind of place; the Puritan gospel and Shakespeare's plays: such a pair of facts I have rarely seen save out of one chimerical generation."[2] And that gives point to the word already quoted from Hallam that the English of the King James version is not the English of James I.

[1] Essay on John Dryden.

[2] Historical Sketches, Hampton Court Conference.

Four things helped to determine the simplicity and pure English—unornamented English—of the King James version, made it, that is, the English classic. Two of these things have been dealt with already in other connections. First, that it was a Book for the people, for the people of the middle level of language; a work by scholars, but not chiefly for scholars, intended rather for the common use of common people. Secondly, that the translators were constantly beholden to the work of the past in this same line. Where Wiclif's words were still in use they used them. That tended to fix the language by the use which had already become natural.

The other two determining influences must be spoken of now. The third lies in the fact that the English language was still plastic. It had not fallen into such hard forms that its words were narrow or restricted. The truth is that from the point of view of pure literature the Bible is better in English than it is in Greek or Hebrew. That is, the English of the King James version as English is better than the Greek of the New Testament as Greek. As for the Hebrew there was little development for many generations; Renan thinks there was none at all. The difference comes from the point of time in the growth of the tongue when the Book was written. The Greek was written when the language was old, when it had differentiated its terms, when it had become corrupted by outside influence. The English version was written when the language was new and fresh, when a word could be taken and set in its meaning without being warped from some earlier usage. The study of the Greek Testament is always being complicated by the effort to bring into its words the classical meaning, when so far as the writers of the New Testament were concerned they had no interest in the classical meaning, but only in the current meaning of those words. In the English language there was as yet no classical meaning; it was exactly that meaning that these writers were giving the words when they brought them into their version.[1] There is large advantage in the fact that the age was not a scientific one, that the language had not become complicated. So it becomes interesting to observe with Professor March that ninety-three per cent. of these words, counting also repetitions, are native English words. The language was new, was still plastic. It had not been stiffened by use. It received its set more definitely from the English Bible than from any other one work—more than from Shakespeare, whose influence was second.

[1] Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts, p. 54,

The fourth fact which helped to determine its English style is the loyalty of the translators to the original, notably the Hebrew. It is a common remark of the students of the original tongues that the Hebrew and Greek languages are peculiarly translatable. That is notable in the Hebrew. It is not a language of abstract terms. The tendency of language is always to become vague, since we are lazy in the use of it. We use one word in various ways, and a pet one for many ideas. Language is always more concrete in its earlier forms. In this period of the concrete English language, then, the translation was made from the Hebrew, which was also a concrete, figurative language itself. The structure of the Hebrew sentence is very simple. There are no extended paragraphs in it. It is somewhat different in the New Testament, where these paragraphs are found, certainly in the Pauline Greek; but even there the extended sentences are broken into clauses which can be taken as wholes. The English version shows constantly the marks of the Hebrew influence in the simplicity of its phrasing. Renan says that the Hebrew "knows how to make propositions, but not how to link them into paragraphs." So the earlier Bible stories are like a child's way of talking. They let one sentence follow another, and their unity is found in the overflowing use of the word "and"—one fact hung to another to make a story, but not to make an argument. In the first ten chapters of I Samuel, for example, there are two hundred and thirty-eight verses; one hundred and sixty of them begin with AND. There are only twenty-six of the whole which have no connective word that thrusts them back upon the preceding verse.

In the Hebrew language, also, most of the emotions are connected either in the word used or in the words accompanying it with the physical condition that expresses it. Over and over we are told that "he opened his mouth and said," or, "he was angry and his countenance fell." Anger is expressed in words which tell of hard breathing, of heat, of boiling tumult, of trembling. We would not trouble to say that. The opening of the mouth to speak or the falling of the countenance in anger, we would take for granted. The Hebrew does not. Even in the description of God you remember the terms are those of common life; He is a shepherd when shepherds are writing; He is a husbandman threshing out the nations, treading the wine- press until He is reddened with the wine—and so on. That is the natural method of the Hebrew language—concrete, vivid, never abstract, simple in its phrasing. The King James translators are exceedingly loyal to that original.

Professor Cook, of Yale, suggests that four traits make the Bible easy to translate into any language: universality of interest, so that there are apt to be words in any language to express what it means, since it expresses nothing but what men all talk about; then, the concreteness and picturesqueness of its language, avoiding abstract phrases which might be difficult to reproduce in another tongue; then, the simplicity of its structure, so that it can be taken in small bits, and long complicated sentences are not needed; and, finally, its rhythm, so that part easily follows part and the words catch a kind of swing which is not difficult to imitate. That is a very true analysis. The Bible is the most easily translated book there is, and has become the classic for more languages than any other one book. It is brought about in part in our English version by the faithfulness of the translators to the original.

Passing from these general considerations, let us look directly at the English Bible itself and its literary qualities. The first thing that attracts attention is its use of words, and since words lie at the root of all literature it is worth while to stop for them for a moment. Two things are to be said about the words: first, that they are few; and, secondly, that they are short. The vocabulary of the English Bible is not an extensive one. Shakespeare uses from fifteen to twenty thousand words. In Milton's verse he uses about thirteen thousand. In the Old Testament, in the Hebrew and Chaldaic tongue, there are fifty-six hundred and forty- two words. In the New Testament, in the Greek, there are forty-eight hundred. But in the whole of the King James version there are only about six thousand different words. The vocabulary is plainly a narrow one for a book of its size. While, as was said before, the translators avoided using the same word always for translation of the same original, they yet managed to recur to the same words often enough so that this comparatively small list of six thousand words, about one-third Shakespeare's vocabulary, sufficed for the stating of the truth.

Then, Secondly, the words are short, and in general short words are the strong ones. The average word in the whole Bible, including the long proper names, is barely over four letters, and if all the proper names are excluded the average word is just a little under four letters. Of course, another way of saying that is that the words are generally Anglo-Saxon, and, while in the original spelling they were much longer, yet in their sound they were as brief as they are in our present spelling. There is no merit in Anglo- Saxon words except in the fact that they are concrete, definite, non-abstract words. They are words that mean the same to everybody; they are part of common experience. We shall see the power of such words by comparing a simple statement in Saxon words from the English Bible with a comment of a learned theologian of our own time on them. The phrase is a simple one in the Communion service: "This is my body which is given for you." That is all Saxon. When our theologian comes to comment on it he says we are to understand that "the validity of the service does not lie in the quality of external signs and sacramental representation, but in its essential property and substantial reality." Now there are nine words abstract in their meaning, Latin in their form. It is in that kind of words that the Bible could have been translated, and in our own day might even be translated. Addison speaks of that: "If any one would judge of the beauties of poetry that are to be met with in the divine writings, and examine how kindly the Hebrew manners of speech mix and incorporate with the English language, after having perused the Book of Psalms, let him read a literal translation of Horace or Pindar. He will find in these two last such an absurdity and confusion of style with such a comparative poverty of imagination, as will make him very sensible of what I have been here advancing."[1]

[1] The Spectator, No. 405.

The fact that the words are short can be quickly illustrated by taking some familiar sections. In the Ten Commandments there are three hundred and nineteen words in all; two hundred and fifty-nine of them are words of one syllable, and only sixty are of two syllables and over. There are fifty words of two syllables, six of three syllables, of which four are such composite words that they really amount to two words of one and two syllables each, with four words of four syllables, and none over that. Make a comparison just here. There is a paragraph in Professor March's lectures on the English language where he is urging that its strongest words are purely English, not derived from Greek or Latin. He uses the King James version as illustration. If, now, we take three hundred and nineteen words at the beginning of that paragraph to compare with the three hundred and nineteen in the Ten Commandments, the result will be interesting. Where the Ten Commandments have two hundred and fifty-nine words of one syllable, Professor March has only one hundred and ninety-four; over against the fifty two-syllable words in the Ten Commandments, Professor March has sixty-five; over against their six words of three syllables, he has thirty-five; over against their four words of four syllables, he uses eighteen; and while the Ten Commandments have no word longer than four syllables, Professor March needs five words of five syllables and two words of six syllables to express his ideas.[1]

[1] This table will show the comparison at a glance:

Syllables 1 2 3 4 5 6 The Commandments 259 50 6 4 0 0 319 Professor March 194 65 35 18 5 2 319

The same thing appears in the familiar 23d Psalm, where there are one hundred and nineteen words in all, of which ninety-five are words of one syllable, and only three of three syllables, with none longer. In the Sermon on the Mount eighty two per cent. of the words in our English version are words of one syllable.

The only point urged now is that this kind of thing makes for strength in literature. Short words are strong words. They have a snap and a grip to them that long words have not. Very few men would grow angry over having a statement called a "prevarication" or "a disingenuous entanglement of ideas," but there is something about the word "lie" that snaps in a man's face. "Unjustifiable hypothecation" may be the same as stealing, but it would never excite one to be called "an unjustifiable hypothecator" as it does to be called a thief. At the very foundation of the strength of the literature of the English Bible there lies this tendency to short, clear-cut words.

Rising now from this basal element in the literature of the version, we come to the place where its style and its ideas blend in what we may call its earnestness. That is itself a literary characteristic. There is not a line of trifling in the book. No man would ever learn trifling from it. It takes itself with tremendous seriousness. Here are earnest men at work; to them life is joyous, but it is no joke. That is why the element of humor in it is such a small one. It is there, to be sure. Many of its similes are intended to be humorous. A few of its incidents are humorous; but it has little of that element in it, as indeed little of our literature has that element markedly in it. We have a few exceptions. But what George Eliot says in Adam Bede is true, that wit is of a temporary nature, and does not deal with the deep and more lasting elements in life. The Bible is not a sad book. There are children at play in it; there are feasts and buoyant gatherings fully recounted. But it never trifles nor jests.

So it has given us a language of great dignity. Let Addison speak again: "How cold and dead does a prayer appear that is composed in the most elegant and polite forms of speech, which are natural to our tongue, when it is not heightened by that solemnity of phrase which may be drawn from the sacred writings. It has been said by some of the ancients that if the gods were to talk with men, they would certainly speak in Plato's style; but I think we may say, with justice, that when mortals converse with their Creator they cannot do it in so proper a style as in that of the Holy Scriptures."

As that earnestness of the literature of the original precluded any great amount of humor in the wide range of its literary forms, so in the King James version it precluded any trifling expressions, any plays on words, even the duplication of such plays as can be found in the Hebrew or the Greek. You seldom find any turn of a word in the King James version, though you do occasionally find it in the Hebrew. One such punning expression occurs in the story of Samson (Judges xv:16), where our version reads: "With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men." In the Hebrew the words translated "ass" and "heaps" are variants of the same word. It comes near the Hebrew to say: "With the jawbone of an ass, masses upon masses," and so on. These translators would not risk reproducing such puns for fear of lowering the dignity of their results. There is a deadly seriousness about their work and so they never lose strength as they go on.

That earnestness grows out of a second fact which may be emphasized—namely, the greatness of the themes of Bible literature. Here is history, but it is not cast into fiction form. History always becomes more interesting for a first reading when it is in the form of fiction; but it always loses greatness in that form. Test it by turning from a history of the American revolutionary or civil war to an historical novel that deals with the same period; or from a history of Scotland to the Waverly novels. In some degree the earnestness of the time is lost; the same facts are there; but they do not loom so large, nor do they seem so great. So there is power in the fact that the historical elements of the version are in stately form and are never sacrificed to the fictional form.

These great themes save the work from being local. It issues from life, but from life considered in the large. The themes of great literature are great enough to make their immediate surroundings forgotten. "The English Bible deals with the great facts and the great problems. It is from the point of view of those great facts that it handles even commonplace things, and you forget the commonplaceness of the things in the greatness of the dealing. Take its attitude toward God. One needs the sense of that great theme to read it fairly. It quietly overlooks secondary causes, goes back of them to God. Partly that was because the original writers were ignorant of some of those secondary causes; partly that they knew them, but wanted to go farther back. Take the most outstanding instance, that of the Book of Jonah. All its facts, without exception, can be told without mention of God, if one cared to do it. But there could not be anything like so great a story if it is told that way. One of his biographers says of Lincoln that there is nothing in his whole career which calls for explanation in other than a purely natural and human way. That is true, if one does not care to go any farther back than that. But the greatest story cannot be made out of Lincoln's life on those terms. There is not material enough; the life must be delocalized. It can be told without that larger view, so that it will be of interest to America and American children, but not so that it will be of value to generations of men in all countries and under all circumstances if it is told on those terms. Part of the greatness of Scripture, from a literary point of view, is that it has such a tremendous range of theme, and is saved from a mere narration of local events by seeing those events in the light of larger considerations.

Let that stand for one of the great facts. Now take one of the great problems. The thing that makes Job so great a classic is the fact that, while it is dealing with a character, he is standing for the problem of undeserved suffering. A man who has that before him, if he has at all the gift of imagination, is sure to write in a far larger way than when he is dealing with a man with boils as though he were finally important. One could deal with Job as a character, and do a small piece of work. But when you deal with Job as a type, a much larger opportunity offers.

It is these great ideas, as to either facts or problems, that give the seriousness, the earnestness to the literature of the Bible. Men who express great ideas in literary form are not dilettante about them. One of the English writers just now prominent as an essayist is often counted whimsical, trifling. One of his near friends keenly resents that opinion, insists instead that he is dead in earnest, serious to the last degree, purposeful in all his work. What makes that so difficult to believe is that there is always a tone of chaffing in his essays. He seems always to be making fun of himself or of other people; and if he is dead in earnest he has the wrong style to make great literature or literature that will live long.

It is that earnestness and greatness of theme which puts the tang into the English of the Bible. Coleridge says that "after reading Isaiah or the Epistle to the Hebrews, Homer and Virgil are disgustingly tame, Milton himself barely tolerable." It need not be put quite so strongly as that; but there is large warrant of fact in that expression.

Go a little farther in thought of the literary characteristics of the Bible. Notice the variety of the forms involved. Recall Professor Moulton's four cardinal points in literature, all of it taking one of these forms: either description, when a scene is given in the words of the author, as when Milton and Homer describe scenes without pretending to give the words of the actors throughout; or, secondly, presentation, when a scene is given in the words of those who took part in it, and the author does not appear, as, of course, in the plays of Shakespeare, when he never appears, but where all his sentiments are put in the words of others. As between those two, the Bible is predominantly a book of description, the authors for the most part doing the speaking, though there is, of course, an element of presentation. Professor Moulton goes on with the two other phases of literary form: prose, moving in the region limited by facts, as history and philosophy deal only with what actually has existence; and poetry, which by its Greek origin means creative literature. He reminds us that, however literature starts, these are the points toward which it moves, the paths it takes. All four of them appear in the literature of the English Bible. You have more of prose and less of poetry; but the poetry is there, not in the sense of rhyme, but in the sense of real creative literature.

A more natural way of considering the literature has been followed by Professor Gardiner. He finds four elements in the literature of the Bible: its narrative, its poetry, its philosophizing, and its prophecy. It is not necessary for our purpose to go into details about that. We shall have all we need when we realize that, small as the volume of the book is, it yet does cover all these types of literature. Its difference from other books is that it deals with all of its subjects so compactly.

It will accent this fact of its variety if we note the musical element in the literature of the Bible. It comes in part from the form which marks the original Hebrew poetry. It has become familiar to say that it is not of the rhyming kind. Rather it is marked by the balancing of phrases or of ideas, so that it runs in couplets or in triplets throughout. In the Psalms there is always a balance of clauses. They are sometimes adversative; sometimes they are simply cumulative. Take several instances from the 119th Psalm, each a complete stanza of Hebrew poetry; (verse 15) "I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways"; or this (verse 23), "Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes"; or this (verse 45), "And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts"; (verse 51,) "The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not inclined from thy law." Each presents a parallel or a contrast of ideas. That is the characteristic mark of Hebrew poetry. It results in a kind of rhythm of the English which makes it very easy to set to music. Some of it can be sung, though for some of it only the thunder is the right accompaniment. But it is not simply in the balance of phrases that the musical element appears. Sometimes it is in a natural but rhythmic consecution of ideas. The 35th chapter of Isaiah, for example, is not poetic in the Hebrew, yet it is remarkably musical in the English. Read it aloud from our familiar version:

"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

That can be set to music as it stands. You catch the same form in the familiar 13th chapter of I Corinthians, the chapter on Charity. It could be almost sung throughout. This musical element is in sharp contrast with much else in the Scripture, where necessity does not permit that literary form. For example, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is argumentative throughout, there is no part except its quotations which has ever been set to music for uses in Christian worship. It is rugged and protracted in its form, and has no musical element about it. The contrast within the Scripture of the musical and the unmusical is a very marked one.

Add to the thought of the earnestness and variety of the Scripture a word about the simplicity of its literary expression. There is nothing meretricious in its style. There is no effort to say a thing finely. The translators have avoided all temptation to grow dramatic in reproducing the original. Contrast the actual English Bible with the narratives or other literary works that have been built up out of it. Read all that the Bible tells about the loss of Paradise, and then read Milton's "Paradise Lost." Nearly all of the conceptions of Milton's greatest poem are built up from brief Scripture references. But Milton becomes subtle in his analysis of motives; he enlarges greatly on events. Scripture never does that. It gives us very few analyses of motive from first to last. That is not the method nor the purpose of Scripture. It tells the story in terms that move on the middle level of speech and the middle level of understanding, while Milton labors with it, complicates it, entangling it with countless

details which are to the Scripture unimportant. It goes straight to the simple and fundamental elements in the account. Take a more modern illustration. Probably the finest poem of its length in the English language is Browning's "Saul." It is built out of one incident and a single expression in the Bible story of Saul and David. The incident is David's being called from his sheep to play his harp and to sing before Saul in the fits of gloom which overcome him; the expression is the single saying that David loved Saul. Taking that incident and that expression, Browning writes a beautiful poem with many decorative details, with keen analysis of motive, with long accounts of the way David felt when he rendered his service, and how his heart leaped or sang. Imagine finding Browning's familiar phrases in Scripture: "The lilies we twine round the harp-chords, lest they snap neath the stress of the noontide— those sunbeams like swords"; "Oh, the wild joy of living!" "Spring's arrowy summons," going "straight to the aim." That is very well for Browning, but it is not the Scripture way; it is too complicated. All that the Bible says can be said anywhere; Browning's "Saul" could not possibly be reproduced in other languages. It would need a glossary or a commentary to make it intelligible. It is beautiful English, and great because it has taken a great idea and clothed it in worthy expression. But the simplicity of the Bible narrative appears in sharp contrast with it. In my childhood my father used to tell of a man who preached on the creation, and with great detail and much elaboration and decoration told the story of creation as it is suggested in the first chapter of Genesis. When it was over he asked an old listener what he thought of his effort, and the only comment was, "You can't beat Moses!" Well, it would be difficult to surpass these Bible writers in simplicity, in going straight to the point, and making that plain and leaving it. Where the Bible takes a hundred words to tell the whole story Browning takes several hundred lines to tell it.

The simplicity of the Bible is largely because there is so little abstract reasoning in it. Having few or no abstract ideas, it does not need abstract words. Rather, it groups its whole movement around characters. Three eminent literary men were once asked to select the best reviews of a novel which had just appeared. One of the three statements which they rated highest said of the book that it "achieves the true purpose of a novel, which is to make comprehensible the philosophy of life of a whole community or race of men by showing us how that philosophy accords with the impulses and yearnings of typical individuals." Few phrases could be more foreign to Bible phrases than those. But there is valuable suggestion in it for more than the literature of the novel. That is exactly what the Scripture does. Its reasoning is kept concrete by the fact that it is dealing with characters more than movements, and so it can speak in concrete words. That always makes for simplicity.

There are two elements common to the history of literature about which a special word is deserved. I mean the dramatic and the oratorical elements. The difference between the dramatic and the oratorical is chiefly that in dramatic writing there is a scene in which many take part, and in the oratorical writing one man presents the whole scene, however dramatic the surroundings. There is not a great deal of either in the Scripture. There is no formal drama, nothing that could be acted as it stands. It is true, to be sure, that Job can be cast into dramatic form by a sufficient manipulation, but it is quite unlikely, in spite of some scholars, that it was ever meant to be a formal drama for action. It does move in cycles in the appearance of its characters, and it does close in a way to take one back to the beginning. It has many marks of the drama, and yet it seems very unlikely that it was ever prepared with that definitely in mind. On the other hand, a most likely explanation of the Song of Solomon is that it is a short drama which appears in our Bible without any character names, as though you should take "Hamlet" and print it continuously, indicating in no way the change of speakers nor any movement. The effort has been measurably successful to discover and insert the names of the probable speakers. That seems to be the one exception to the general statement that there is no formal drama in the Scripture. But there are some very striking dramatic episodes, and they are made dramatic for us very largely by the way they are told. One of the earlier is in I Kings xviii:21-39. It is almost impossible to read it aloud without dramatic expression:

"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or, he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name. And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God."

That is not simply a dramatic event; that is a striking telling of it. It is more than a narrative. In narrative literature the scene is accepted as already constructed. In dramatic literature such appeal is made to the imagination that the reader reconstructs the scene for himself. We are not told in this how Elijah felt, or how he acted, nor how the people as a whole looked, nor the setting of the scene; but if one reads it with care it makes its own setting. The scene constructs itself.

The dramatic style does not prevail at most important points of the Scripture, because it is a fictitious style for the presenting of truth. It inevitably suggests superficiality. Things actually do not happen in life as they do in drama.

One of our latest biographers says that a scientific historian is always suspicious of dramatic events.[1] They may be true, but they are more liable to be afterthoughts, like the bright answers we could have made to our opponents if we had only thought of them at the time. You never lose the sense of unreality in the very construction of a drama. Life cannot be crowded into two or three hours, and justice does not come out as the drama makes it do. So that at most important points of the Scripture dramatic writing does not appear. The account of the carrying away into captivity of the children of Israel is at no point dramatic, though you can see instantly what a great opportunity there was for it. It is simply narrative. It is noticeable that none of the accounts of the crucifixion is at all dramatic. They are all simply narrative. The imagination does not immediately conjure up the scene. There may be two reasons for that. One is that there are involved several hours in which there is no action recorded. The other is that by the time the accounts were written the actual events were submerged in importance by their unworded meaning. The account of the conversion of Paul, on the other hand, brief as it is, has at least minor dramatic elements in it. On the whole, the Old Testament is far more dramatic than the New.

[1] McGiffert, Life of Martin Luther.

There is even less of the oratorical element in the Scripture. There is, to be sure, a considerable amount of quotation, and men do speak at some length, but seldom oratorically. The prophetical writings are generally too fragmentary to suggest oratory, and the quotations in the New Testament, especially from the preaching of our Lord, are evidently for the most part excerpts from longer addresses than are given. There are few of the statements of Paul, as in the 26th chapter of Acts, which could be delivered oratorically; but here again the Old Testament is more marked than the New. The earliest specimen of oratory is also one of the finest specimens. It is in the 44th chapter of Genesis, and is the account of Judah's reply to his unrecognized brother Joseph:

"Then Judah came near unto him, and said, O my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharoah. My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. And thou saidst unto thy servant, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, Go again and buy us a little food. And we said, We cannot go down; if our youngest brother be with us, then we will go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us. And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons: and the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: and if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life; it shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father."

That is pure oratory, and it is greatly helped by the English expression of it. Here our King James version is finer than either of the other later versions, as indeed it is in almost all these sections where the phraseology is important for the ear.

We need not go farther. Part of these outstanding characteristics come to our version from the original, and might appear in any version of the Bible. Yet nowhere do even these original characteristics come to such prominence as in the King James translation; and it adds to them those that are peculiar to itself.



THE Bible is a book-making book. It is literature which provokes literature.

It would be a pleasure to survey the whole field of literature in the broadest sense and to note the creative power of the King James version; but that is manifestly impossible here. Certain limitations must be frankly made. Leave on one side, therefore; the immense body of purely religious literature, sermons, expositions, commentaries, which, of course, are the direct product of the Bible. No book ever caused so much discussion about itself and its teaching. That is because it deals with the fundamental human interest, religion. It still remains true that the largest single department of substantial books from our English presses is in the realm of religion, and after the purely recreative literature they are probably most widely read. Yet, they are not what we mean at this time by the literary result of the English Bible.

Leave on one side also the very large body of political and historical writing. Much of it shows Bible influence. In the nature of the case, any historian of the past three hundred years must often refer to and quote from the English Bible, and must note its influence. An entire study could be devoted to the influence of the English Bible on Green or Bancroft or Freeman or Prescott—its influence on their matter and their manner. Another could be given to its influence on political writing and speaking. No great orator of the day would fail us of material, and the great political papers and orations of the past would only widen the field. Yet while some of this political and historical writing is recognized as literature, most of it can be left out of our thought just now.

It may aid in the limiting of the field to accept what Dean Stanley said in another connection: "By literature, I mean those great works that rise above professional or commonplace uses and take possession of the mind of a whole nation or a whole age."[1] This is one of the matters which we all understand until we begin to define it; we know what we mean until some one asks us.

[1] Thoughts that Breathe.

The literature of which we are thinking in this narrower sense is in the sphere of art rather than in the sphere of distinct achievement. De Quincey's division is familiar: the literature of knowledge, and the literature of power. The function of the first is to teach; the function of the second is to move. Professor Dowden points out that between the two lies a third field, the literature of criticism. It seeks both to teach and to move. Our concern is chiefly with De Quincey's second field—the literature of power. In the first field, the literature of knowledge, must lie all history, with Hume and Gibbon; all science, with Darwin and Fiske; all philosophy, with Spencer and William James; all political writing, with Voltaire and Webster. Near that same field must lie many of those essays in criticism of which Professor Dowden speaks. This which we omit, this literature of knowledge, is powerful literature, though its main purpose is not to move, but to teach. We are only reducing our field so that we can survey it. For our uses just now we shall find pure literature taking the three standard forms: the poem, the essay, and the story. It is the influence of the English Bible on this large field of literature which we are to observe.

Just for safety's sake, accept another narrowing of the field. The effect of the Bible and its religious teaching, on the writer himself is a separate study, and is for the most part left out of consideration. It sounds correct when Milton says: "He who would not be frustrate of his Power to write well ought himself to be a true poem." But there is Milton himself to deal with; irreproachable in morals, there are yet the unhappy years of his young wife to trouble us, and there were his daughters, who were not at peace with him, and whom after their service in his blindness he yet stigmatizes in his will as "undutiful children." Then, if you think of Shelley or Byron, you are troubled by their lives; or even Carlyle, the very master of the Victorian era—one would not like to scan his life according to the laws of true poetry. Then there is Coleridge, falling a prey to opium until, as years came, conscience and will seemed to go. Only a very ardent Scot will feel that he can defend Robert Burns at all points, and we would be strange Americans if we felt that Edgar Allen Poe was a model of propriety. That is a large and interesting field, but the Bible seems even to gain power as a book-making book when it lays hold on the book-making proclivities of men who are not prepared to yield to its personal power. They may get away from it as religion; they do not get away from it as literature.

The first and most notable fact regarding the influence of the Bible on English literature is the remarkable extent of that influence. It is literally everywhere. If every Bible in any considerable city were destroyed, the Book could be restored in all its essential parts from the quotations on the shelves of the city public library. There are works, covering almost all the great literary writers, devoted especially to showing how much the Bible has influenced them.

The literary effect of the King James version at first was less than its social effect; but in that very fact lies a striking literary influence. For a long time it formed virtually the whole literature which was readily accessible to ordinary Englishmen. We get our phrases from a thousand books. The common talk of an intelligent man shows the effect of many authors upon his thinking. Our fathers got their phrases from one great book. Their writing and their speaking show the effect of that book.

It is a study by itself, and yet it is true that world literature is, as Professor Moulton puts it, the autobiography of civilization. "A national literature is a reflection of the national history." Books as books reflect their authors. As literature they reflect the public opinion which gives them indorsement. When, therefore, public opinion: keeps alive a certain group of books, there is testimony not simply to those books, but to the public opinion which has preserved them. The history of popular estimates of literature is itself most interesting. On the other hand, some writers have been amusingly overestimated. No doubt Edward Fitzgerald, who gave us the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" did some other desirable work; but Professor Moulton quotes this paragraph from a popular life of Fitzgerald, published in Dublin: "Not Greece of old in her palmiest days—the Greece of Homer and Demosthenes, of Eschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, of Pericles, Leonidas, and Alcibiades, of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, of Solon and Lycurgus, of Apelles and Praxiteles—not even this Greece, prolific as she was in sages and heroes, can boast such a lengthy bead-roll as Ireland can of names immortal in history!" But "this was for Irish consumption." And popular opinion and even critical opinion has sometimes gone far astray in its destructive tendency. There were authoritative critics who declared that Wordsworth, Shelley, and Coleridge wrote "unintelligible nonsense." George Meredith's style, especially in his poetry, was counted so bad that it—was not worth reading. We are all near enough the Browning epoch to recall how the obscurity of his style impressed some and oppressed others. Alfred Austin, in 1869, said that "Mr. Tennyson has no sound pretensions to be called a great poet." Contemporary public opinion is seldom a final gauge of strength for a piece of literature. It takes the test of time. How many books we have seen come on the stage and then pass off again! Yet the books that have stayed on the stage have been kept there by public opinion expressing itself in the long run. The social influence of the King James version, creating a public taste for certain types of literature, tended to produce them at once.

English literature in these three hundred years has found in the Bible three influential elements: style, language, and material.

First, the style of the King James version has influenced English literature markedly. Professor Gardiner opens one of his essays with the dictum that "in all study of English literature, if there be any one axiom which may be accepted without question, it is that the ultimate standard of English prose style is set by the King James version of the Bible."[1] You almost measure the strength of writing by its agreement with the predominant traits of this version. Carlyle's weakest works are those that lose the honest simplicity of its style in a forced turgidity and affected roughness. His Heroes and Hero Worship or his French Revolution shows his distinctive style, and yet shows the influence of this simpler style, while his Frederick the Great is almost impossible because he has given full play to his broken and disconnected sentences. On the other hand, Macaulay fails us most in his striving for effect, making nice balance of sentences, straining his "either-or," or his "while-one-was-doing-this-the-other-was- doing-that." Then his sentences grow involved, and his paragraphs lengthen, and he swings away from the style of the King James version. "One can say that if any writing departs very far from the characteristics of the English Bible it is not good English writing."

[1] Atlantic Monthly, May, 1900, p. 684.

The second element which English literature finds in the Bible is its LANGUAGE. The words of the Bible are the familiar ones of the English tongue, and have been kept familiar by the use of the Bible. The result is that "the path of literature lies parallel to that of religion. They are old and dear companions, brethren indeed of one blood; not always agreeing, to be sure; squabbling rather in true brotherly fashion now and then; occasionally falling out very seriously and bitterly; but still interdependent and necessary to each other."[1] Years ago a writer remarked that every student of English literature, or of English speech, finds three works or subjects referred to, or quoted from, more frequently than others. These are the Bible, tales of Greek and Roman mythology, and Aesop's Fables. Of these three, certainly the Bible furnishes the largest number of references. There is reason for that. A writer wants an audience. Very few men can claim to be independent of the public for which they write. There is nothing the public will be more apt to understand and appreciate quickly than a passing reference to the English Bible. So it comes about that when Dickens is describing the injustice of the Murdstones to little David Copperfield, he can put the whole matter before us in a parenthesis: "Though there was One once who set a child in the midst of the disciples." Dickens knew that his readers would at once catch the meaning of that reference, and would feel the contrast between the scene he was describing and that simple scene. Take any of the great books of literature and black out the phrases which manifestly come directly from the English Bible, and you would mark them beyond recovery.

[1] Chapman, English Literature in Account with Religion.

But English literature has found more of its material in the Bible than anything else. It has looked there for its characters, its illustrations, its subject-matter. We shall see, as we consider individual writers, how many of their titles and complete works are suggested by the Bible. It is interesting to see how one idea of the Scripture will appear and reappear among many writers. Take one illustration. The Faust story is an effort to make concrete one verse of Scripture: "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Professor Moulton reminds us that the Faust legend appeared first in the Middle Ages. In early English, Marlowe has it, Calderon put it into Spanish, the most familiar form of it is Goethe's, while Philip Bailey has called his account of it Festus. In each of those forms the same idea occurs. A man sells his soul to the devil for the gaining of what is to him the world. That is one of a good many ideas which the Bible has given to literature. The prodigal son has been another prolific source of literary writing. The guiding star is another. Others will readily come to mind.

With that simple background let our minds move down the course of literary history. Style, language, material—we will easily think how much of each the Bible has given to all our great writers if their names are only mentioned. There are four groups of these writers.

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