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CHAP. Judges, those of Esther, Job, and Judith, also the
two books of Maccabees, with part of the first and
in a Saxon version of the Psalms a little previous to his death. By the
This, however, is the extent of our information Anglo
on this interesting question as connected with the Anglo-saxon period of our history. The Anglonorman clergy, were far more competent to have supplied their flock with this efficient means of information ; but in this respect the example of their predecessors was slighted, or we may rather suppose disapproved. Some fragments of scriptural knowledge, may have been preserved by means of certain lessons which occurred in the ritual of the period; but the first attempt after the conquest, to place any more complete portion of the scriptures before the english people, appears to have been made by the author of a rhyming paraphrase on the gospels, and the acts of the apostles, intitled “ Ormulum.”10 Subsequent to the date of this work, which evidently belongs to one of the earliest stages of our language, we perceive a similar application of mind in a collection of metrical pieces, called Salus Animæ, or in english " Sow“lehele."11 In the huge volume thus designated, the materials are not all of the same class. The object of the compiler, or transcriber, seems to have been to furnish a complete body of legendary and scriptural history in verse, or rather to collect into one view, all the religious history he could find. It professes, however, to exhibit an outline, both of the Old and New Testament, and its composition is supposed to have preceded the opening of the fourteenth century. In Benet College, Cambridge, there is another work of the same description, the offspring of the same period, and containing notices of the principal events recorded in the books of Genesis and Exodus. In that collection, there is also a copy of the Psalms in english metre, which is attributed to about the year 1300; and two transcripts of nearly the same antiquity, have been preserved; the one in the Bodleian library, the other in that of Sir Robert Cotten.12 But it is not until the middle of the following century, that we trace the remotest attempt to produce a literal translation even of detached portions of the scriptures. The effort then made was by Richard Roll, called the Her
8 Turner's Hist. iv. 442. Baber.-The extent of Elfric's labours are learnt, as stated above, from varions incidental notices occurring in such of his works as have descended to us. In his Epitome of the Old and New Testament, he has not only made his selection from the scriptures, but has frequently added things to the sacred story from other writers. A copy of this work, printed with an english translation by William L'Isle in 1623, is in the Bodleian, and another has been for some time in my possession. It is thus it begins ; “ Abbot Elfrike, greeteth friendly “ Sigwerd, at East Heolon. True it is I tell thee, that very wise is “ he who speaketh by his doings; and well proceedeth he both with God “and with the world, who furnisheth himself with good works. And
very plain it is in holy scripture, that holy men employed in weil “ doing, were in this world held in good reputation.".
9 Spelman, i. 3.3.1. Prefatio Regis Aluredi, M. ad Leges suas See also Baber, 62.
19 Ibid. Bodleian. Junius i.
11 Warton's History of English Poetry, sect. i. MSS. Bodleian, 779, Baber.
12 Ibid. 65.
CHAP. mit of Hampole. His labours also, were restricted
to a little more than half the book of Psalms, and to these a devotional commentary was annexed. Contemporary with this recluse, were some devout men among the clergy, who produced vernacular translatìons of such passages from the scriptures as were prominent in the offices of the church; while others ventured to complete separate versions of the gospels or the epistles. The persons thus laudably employed were certainly few in number; but parts of St. Mark and of St. Luke, and of several among the epistles, are included in the results of their labour which have descended to
It should also be stated, that these versions, which are of various merit, were generally guarded
by a comment.13 Novelty
From these details, as the sum of our informaliffe's de- tion, on the point to which they refer, it is evident,
first,--that a literal translation of the entire 'scrip
tures, the laborious enterprise completed by Wycscriptures
liffe about this period, was strictly a novel event in our religious history; and secondly,—that the publication of such a work, to be the property not of distinguished individuals but of the people in general, was a measure far beyond any thing contemplated by his precursors in the labours of translation. The only ground of suspicion in the least degree plausible, as to the claims of Wycliffe to the originality asserted, is contained in a production described as a Prologue to the Bible," and in a manuscript of the Bodleian. The writer of the prologue speaks of being employed in translating
sign in translating the
13 Ibid. 66. 67. Lewis.
the whole Bible, and refers also to an existing CHAP. version. But that this document has been erroneously attributed to Wycliffe, is unquestionable, as it adverts to more than one event subsequent to the decease of our reformer. 14 In the Oxford manuscript also, everything depends on the date attached to it; but here an erasure has most evidently taken place; and it is hardly to be doubted that to supply the vacancy thus produced would be to make the work a production of the year 1408.95 The author of the prologue noticed above refers to an “ Englyshe Bible of late trans
lated,” by which he evidently intends that produced by the rector of Lutterworth. In the esteem of the reformer's opponents, to have produced our first translation of the sacred writings was a very doubtful honor; but it is nevertheless one of which they have been not a little concerned to deprive him.
Had their zeal in this particular, been conducted Testmony with any appearance of success, the testimony of ton re Knighton must have been sufficient for ever to de- specting termine the question with the unprejudiced enquirer. That historian must be allowed to have lations of
the scripknown the customs of his contemporaries, and especially the place assigned by his own order to the inspired records, quite as well as any mo
the reformer's trans
14 It is a curious production, and has been twice printed. The references to John Gerson, to an enactment of the University of Oxford, and to the proceedings of the parliament in 1395, determine its date as subsequent to the time of Wycliffe.
15 Baber. Historical Account and Memoirs of Wycliffe. The present state of the numerals referred to is as follows, McCC viu. To supply the vacancy would be, we may reasonably suppose, to form the date assumed in the text.
CHAP. dern writer. Adverting to the zeal of Wycliffe,
in rendering the scriptures the property of the people, he thus writes. • Christ delivered his
gospel to the clergy and doctors of the church, “ that they might administer to the laity and to “weaker persons, according to the state of the
times and the wants of men. But this master “ John Wycliffe translated it out of latin into en“glish, and thus laid it more open to the laity, and to
women who could read, than it had formerly been “ to the most learned of the clergy, even to those of “ them who had the best understanding. And in “ this way the gospel pearl is cast abroad, and trod“ den under foot of swine, and that which was be“ fore precious to both clergy and laity, is rendered as it were the common jest of both.
The jewel “ of the church is turned into the sport of the
people, and what was hitherto the principal gift “ of the clergy and divines, is made for ever com“ mon to the laity.”10 It was thus the canon of Leicester bewailed the translation of the Bible
16 De Eventibus Col. 2614. To the same effect is the decision of an english council in 1408, with the archbishop Arundel at its head. “ The “ translation of the text of holy scriptures out of one tongue into another " is a dangerous thing, as St. Jerome testifies, because it is not easy to “ make the verse in all respects the same. Therefore we enact and “ ordain, that no one henceforth do, by his own authority, translate any “ text of holy scripture into the english tongue, or any other, by way of “ book or treatise ; nor let any such book or treatise now lately com
posed in the time of John Wycliffe aforesaid, or since, or hereafter to “ be composed, be read in whole or in part, in public or in private, under
pain of the greater excommunication.” Wilkins Concilia. iii. 317. The spirit of this enactment was evidently that of the majority of the clergy in the age of Wycliffe. He describes them as affirming it to be “heresy “ to speak of the holy scriptures in english,” but this is said to be a condemnation of “ the Holy Ghost, who first gave the scriptures in tongues “ to the apostles of Christ, as it is written, to speak the word in all “ languages that were ordained of God under heaven.” Wicket.