1526 and all that

Patrons and trustees of the Tyndale Society gathered at The British Library at the beginning of July to witness the launch of a reprint of Tyndale's first version of the New Testament. Beautifully produced under the imprint of The British Library itself in the pocket-sized format of the original, the book was edited for the Society by Dr William ('Bill') Cooper who was present at the reception together with two of the four proof-readers to receive praise and thanks from our founder and Chairman, Professor David Daniell. Needless to say, both editor and proof-readers are all loyal members of the Society! The British Library was represented by David Way and many other staff members and the local community by its MP, Frank Dobson, whose enthusiasm for Tyndale was already known from the Fourth Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture which he gave in 1997 under the title Spread the word-the example of William Tyndale.

In his brief speech David Daniell rejoiced in the quality of the new edition and of its meticulous editing. What better means could there be to celebrate the miraculous survival of the exquisite original than to publish this first complete reprint'? Possibly only the mooted publication of a facsimile edition on handmade paper! But this would not meet Tyndale's own criterion of making his translation affordable even to the humble ploughboy whose modem equivalent would not be fazed by the modest price of 15 asked for the present volume. This is particularly praiseworthy given the sheer quality of printing and binding, the pleasing dust jacket designed by Justin Howes, the nice touch of a red silk ribbon bookmark and the inclusion of an excellent reproduction from the original of the coloured opening page of Saint John's Gospel.

In his Preface, David Daniell expands on his opening claim that this book is 'in three ways a landmark in the history of all English-speaking people': as the first translation from the original Greek, as a formative influence on the direction taken by the English language; and as the first of 'that majestic series of eleven great new translations of the Bible into English which ended in 1611'. The Preface ends with this reference to the 'Authorised Version':

'AV' triumphed for political and commercial reasons. It was some centuries before it became elevated to semi-divine status, which in parts of the world it still has. Its importance as a translation of the New Testament in particular is that so much of it directly transmits the work of Tyndale. Everything stems from this 1526 New Testament'.

In his Introduction, Bill Cooper gives some details of the history of the 1526 version up to the recent discovery of only the third known surviving copy at Stuttgart in 1997 (see articles in Reformation Vols 2 and 3). The new edition includes a reproduction of the title-page, which survives only in this latest specimen, bearing the challenge which was surely the source of Tyndale's own vocation:

The text has been transcribed by Bill Cooper from a facsimile of the volume which was bought by The British Library in 1994 and celebrated as the centre-piece of its exhibition Let There be Light, which opened in that same eventful year of the Tyndale Quincentenary. Apart from being 'silently corrected for "errours committed in the prentynge", whether or not noted by Tyndale' (including such adjustments as 'within' for 'with in' occasioned by its being set by German compositors), it is therefore as near to the original as possible. This makes an interesting comparison with David Daniell's ground-breaking edition of the 1534 translation published in 1989, which used modern spelling. In the Introduction to that volume, the Editor wrote, 'Modernising means, perforce, regularising, and Tyndale's time allowed much greater freedom'. Although the decision to modernise in that edition was undoubtedly the right one, the original spelling poses remarkably little difficulty. To quote again from the 1989 Introduction, 'it is striking how modern Tyndale feels', and a few lines from 'the pistle unto the Ebrues' illustrate this:

Fayth is sure confidence off thynges which are hoped for, and a certaintie off thynges which are not sene. By it the elders were well reported oft: Thorowe fayth we understonde that the worlde was ordeyned, by the worde off god: That by the menes of thynges whych apeare, thynges whych are ins isyble myghte be knowen ...

There can be no other writer of the 1520s whose English prose spans the half-millennium so effortlessly and it is good to be able to read him I almost wrote 'hear him' - exactly as he wrote.

I hope members will hasten to but this latest addition to the corpus of Tyndale publications and may it commend the man and his genius to many new readers!

Chas Raws

Editor's Note:
The Tyndale Society is extremely grateful to the British Library for its generosity in hosting this book launch. It was wonderful that so mans' members of the Library staff joined us for it. We are especially grateful to David Way. Catherine Britton and Richard John for making it such a success and to the staff of the bookshop for making us feel so welcome.

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