Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Translators for King James

This post is a continuation of the preceding post. Please read the other one first.

Adam Nicolson’s Power and Glory (P&G) gives a mass of information and insight about the Translators. Fortunately for me in my task of analysis, Nicolson ends the book with a section of potted biographies where their education and careers are summarized. The following information is drawn from it.

Only very few of the Translators would have been early bilinguals: no doubt Hadrian à Saravia, born in what is now France, of Flemish and Spanish parents; and Richard Thomson, born in Holland of English parents, an “English Dutcheman”. For the rest, their bilingualism would have begun when they went to school. At that point they would have entered the Tudor school system for the upper and middle classes. Either they went to one of the ‘public’ schools, so called because they were open to anybody who could pay the fees, or else to one of the more local ‘grammar schools‘. Both kinds taught Latin and Greek; some also taught Hebrew. The teaching method was the traditional Scholastic approach: to acquire a reading knowledge of foreign languages by studying a grammar and applying this knowledge to the interpretation of texts with the use of a dictionary. P&G gives the names of the schools that eight Translators went through.

(The grammar schools were one of the most last lasting developments of the English Renaissance. Three centuries later, I went to one; and my father went to the King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham, founded in 1552. We both learned Latin, but - since the curriculum had broadened by our time - we were able to substitute German for Greek.)

In the next stage of their education, the Translators were even more homogeneous: P&G records 42 of them as being graduates of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Five of them went on to become professors of Hebrew; five were professors or teachers of Greek, including Henry Savile, tutor in Greek to Queen Elizabeth, who collaborated with other Translators to publish a famous edition of the works of St. John Chrysostom. One Translator, Richard Brett, a graduate of Oxford, is said to have been a “scholar in Latin, Greek, Chaldee, Arabic, Hebrew and Aethiopic tongues.” (Chaldee means the Aramaic used in parts of the Old Testament, and Aethiopic is the Semitic liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.)

Besides the language qualifications, seven Translators were professors of Divinity, i.e. theology, an essential field of background knowledge for the work.

And finally, there is the consideration that all but one of the Translators were ordained clergymen in the Church of England. As such, they were necessarily well-acquainted with the other English translations of the Bible, earlier or contemporary, and with the heated discussions over them. Some also read Bibles in other European languages. Many such discussions were terminological; they concerned how to translate individual words (Greek ecclesia by church or by congregations, for example). In short the Translators were already well trained in translator disputation.

We have established that from their school days the Translators were Native Translators. Can they be categorized as Expert Translators? We can’t apply the criteria of the 21st century to the 17th century. In those days there were no accrediting bodies, no degrees or diplomas in translation, no schools of translation. But the information cited above justifies our granting them an equivalence. It was genuinely for their linguistic and subject expertise and their prior knowledge of translations that they were appointed.

Another Expert criterion, one that is still applied, is whether the Translators had other published translations to their name. Some did. Richard Thomson, the English Dutcheman, was notorious for his witty, bawdy translations of Martial’s Epigrams (though I can’t trace that they were actually published). James Montague edited and translated works by James I himself.

Were they also Professional Translators? That question too can’t be answered in terms of the 21st century. Just one Translator resigned his university position to work full time on the translation. Generally speaking, the incentive wasn’t money but currying favour with the supervising bishops and with the king himself that could lead to advancement in the hierarchy. No payment in cash is recorded by P&G (except one of 50 pounds), and the reason is simple: James’s predecessor, Queen Elizabeth, had left the King’s exchequer empty. Only the revisers on the General Committee of Review were paid regularly, but by a private sponsor, the Stationers’ Company, a guild to which printers belonged. Fortunately, most of the Translators already had ‘livings’, i.e. a church position with an assured income attached to it. But some did not, and for them provision had to be made, livings had to be provided. A lot of initial effort had to go into pressuring bishops to find livings for that purpose, and we can consider the beneficiaries as professionals for the duration of the work, as we can too the revisers. The rest not.

To sum up, the KJV was the work of Expert Translators, whose initiation as Native Translators had begun as soon as they went to school and whose subsequent training was long and of the highest quality. A minority of them were temporary Professionals.

One last remark. It concerns not the KJV but Nicolson and his book. As Geoffrey Moorhouse, the enthusiastic reviewer for The Guardian, wrote, “Power and Glory is a fine piece of history, ecclesiology and literature all rolled into one and, what's more, like the Authorised Version itself, it sings.”

References (see also the preceding post)

James I, King of England. The Workes of the most high and mightie Prince, James ... King of Great Britaine, France and Ireland ... Published by James [Montagu], Bishop of Winton and Deane of his Majesties Chappel Royall. London, 1616.

Sir Henry Savile (ed. with the assistance of John Bois et al., Translators). Tou en hagiois patros hêmôn Iôannou archiepiskopou Kônstantinoupoleôs tou Chrysostomou ton heuriskomenon... [Greek text of the writings of St. John Chrysostom, one of the Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church]. Published at Eton College, probably the most famous of the ‘public’ schools, 1610-1612, 8 vols. Savile was Provost, i.e. Head, of Eton. The tradition of Greek studies continues at Eton today: see The Eton Greek Software Project at Savile also published a Latin-English translation of part of Tacitus.

Authorized King James Version. Wikipedia.

Geoffrey Moorhouse. The making of a monument. The Guardian, May 17, 2003.

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