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For it is not much abone one hundreth yeare ago, sens scripture hath not bene accustomed to be redde in the bulgar tonge within this realme, and many hundred yeares before that, it was translated and redde in the Saxones tonge, whych at that tyme was oure mothers tonge, whereof there remayneth pet divers coppes, founde lately in olde Abbeis of soch antique maners of writynge and speaking that fewe men now ben able to reade and understonde them.
Cranmer's Preface to Great Bible, 1540.
WHEN Christianity is first introduced into a country, there is ever, on the part of those who accept it from oral teaching, a strong craving to possess its written Records in their own tongue. According to several of the Early Fathers, a similar desire had been felt and gratified in Britain on its reception of the Gospel, though Latin was well understood by the educated classes during the period of Roman supremacy, and was also the language of the earliest Western translation of the Bible. But while copies of the Scriptures, as Gildas records, were burned in the streets of British towns during the persecution under Diocletian, no fragments of any old version in the Keltic dialects of England or Scotland have been preserved.2 After the legions were called away, bands of fierce warriors, -Jutes, Saxons, and Angles,—from the shores of the Eider, the Elbe, the Weser, and the Baltic, crossing the sea at various times, invaded and occupied the country, dispossessed the natives, and swept away civilization and Christianity. This barbarian dominion had lasted several dark and dismal years, when the mission of Augustine led to the conversion of Ethelbert, king and Bretwalda, in A.D. 597. The result was that the public services of religion were gradually organized among the pagan settlers; the Keltic tribes which had been driven into
1 Chrysostomi Opera, vol. III, p. 86. Ed. Benedict. Parisiis, 1837. * Opera, English Trans., Giles, p. 10. London, 1844.
3 The poem of Beowulf had its origin among the pagan Saxons. Edited by Kemble, London, 1837.
Wales, Ireland, and the Hebrides, having preserved no little of their earlier ecclesiastical institutions.1
While the Catholic Church had its grand and impressive service, it was early and often felt desirable to attempt a translation of the Latin Bible into the speech of common life. Such a translation might be sometimes a solitary experiment, or it might proceed from a generous wish to bring those who Idid not understand Latin face to face with the divine truth vailed in it. The Psalms, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer were in this way, and from time to time, rendered into the mother tongue, and those fragments appear to have been cherished as monastic treasures, or carefully kept as literary curiosities. Theodore of Tarsus, seventh Archbishop of Canterbury, on his first visitation, enjoined parents to see that "their children were taught to say the Creed and the Lord's Prayer in the vulgar tongue."2 In the same spirit Bede writes to Egbert who had been recently raised to the primacy of York, exhorting him to cause the Lord's Prayer and the Creed to be turned into Anglo-Saxon for the use of the priesthood, as well as of the laity,3 and he appeals to his own example, for he had prepared such a translation for native teachers, ignorant of Latin. Aidan, the meek and pious Scottish Bishop of Lindisfarne (A.D. 635), who, according to Bede, "had a zeal of God" not quite according to knowledge, since he kept Easter according to the custom of his own country, employed all his associates, whether monks or laymen, in reading the Scriptures or in learning psalms.4 The state
1 So few Keltic words have been preserved, that they give no appreciable colouring to our language, except in names of localities, of which considerable number survive. Morley's English Writers, vol. I, Pt. I, p. 163.
Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, Vol. I, p. 150. London, 1860. 3 Opera, vol. I, p. 14. Ed. Giles. "Even the mass itself was not entirely read in Latin. The
wedding form was no doubt in Anglo-Saxon, and its hearty sound and simple sterling substance are preserved in the English ritual to the present day." Lappenberg's History of England under the Anglo-Saxons, vol. I, p. 202. Thorpe's Trans., London, 1845 Palgrave's England and Normandy, vol. II, p. cxxxvi.
4 Bede, Works, vol. II, p. 276. Ed. Giles, London, 1843.
ment seems to imply the existence and use of oral or written Northumbrian versions. Ussher records of Edfrid, of Lindisfarne (A.D. 710), that he translated most of the books of Scripture into Anglo-Saxon;1 but the tradition lacks proof. Aldhelm, of Sherborne, in his treatise De Laudibus Virginitatis, praises some nuns for their earnest and continuous study of the Scriptures; and his eulogy seems to suggest that the sacred sisters possessed some portions of the Bible in their Anglo-Saxon or birth tongue. The reading of Scripture was in those earlier times regarded as harmless, at least it was not frowned upon as perilous, for there was no popular restlessness under the established faith. Most of the older fragmentary Bibles have perished in the lapse of centuries, and in the destruction of the religious houses, when valuable libraries were dispersed as waste paper, or sold as fuel. The use of books, it is evident, must have been confined very much to the clergy, and the possession of them to the more wealthy and cultured of the laity. These early versions had no immediate bearing on the later English translations of the Bible, and therefore a history of them in merest outline only is sketched in the following pages; but as some readers may be interested in a brief account of the changes which at sundry times have passed over the old Saxon tongue, moulding in various ways the language of Cadmon and Alfred into that of Wycliffe and Tyndale, a very few remarks on these successive alterations have been given-all tending to prove that the first so-called Anglo-Saxon translation was as truly an English Bible as is the present Authorized Version of 1611.3
Now, the common and convenient epithet Anglo-Saxon, as applied to these native translations, though it may be rather apt to mislead, easily explains itself: its first part indicating those invaders who took possession of the country, and called it, after themselves, Engla-land, England; and the second part
ANGLO-SAXON OR EARLIEST ENGLISH.
3 Research among Anglo-Saxon MSS. on the part of patient and skilled collators is yet greatly needed to give us their history, and a critical estimate of their age and value.