Letters to the Editor

In the number 16 issue of the Tyndale Society Journal, Margaret Class contributed an intriguing article entitled Binding Tyndale (page 33). In the course of the article she recalled her attendance at the Tyndale Conference at the Huntington Library in 1996. There she came across The Four Gospels of William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526, and the Prospectus for the Victor Hammer press version. The Prospectus, said Margaret Class, quotes the London Times Literary Supplements of 1954, p.592:

The glory of English prose style beings with Tyndale, ‘he was no mere translator’, for ‘the language, the style and measure of Tyndale’s New Testament is a finer language, style and measure than the Greek which it translates’. How it happened, nobody can say. But the face of English letters is changed for all time.

When I read this I was immediately anxious to look at the Supplement in full. With modern microfilm and other technological devices this sort of request is child’s play and within an hour the full-page article was on my desk. It is a review of C S Lewis’s English Literature in the 16th Century which is Volume III in The Oxford History of Literature.

In the publication of 1954, of course, no author of the review is given. At that time all reviews and articles in both the Supplements and The Times were anonymous, but again we now have a system of establishing who wrote each contribution.

In this case it was Mr Heathcote William Garrod who was born in 1878 and died on Christmas Day 1960. From 1904–25 he was a tutor at Merton College, Oxford, but during the First World War he became Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Labour Department of the British Government and visited the United States as a member of the special Labour Mission. After the war he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford 1923–28 and Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University 1929.

He published a long list of books largely on poetry and poets and was involved in the publication of the Letters of Erasmus and was the Editor of the Journal of Philology.

There is a passage in the review which I think will interest members of The Tyndale Society.

… Mr Lewis divides the literature of the sixteenth century into three ‘ages’: the Late-Medieval, the Drab Age and the Golden Age. Perhaps only the first of these terms is intelligible. The period covered by it ends (roughly) with the end of Edward VI’s reign. Perhaps no chapter in Mr Lewis’s book is so well written, or with such zest, as that upon the end of the Middle Ages in Scotland – the opening paragraphs, upon James IV, are in Mr Lewis’s best manner. The Scots of the period are a hundred times better, in their poetry, than the English. Mr Lewis is a little wilful about it all, but near truth. Specially likeable – and ponderable – is his account of Gavin Douglas’s translation of the Aeneid. ‘Vergil is very much less classical than we supposed’ – the humanists, with their hearts on decorum, have spoilt him for us. ‘To read Vergil again with Douglas’s version fresh in our minds is like seeing a favourite picture again after it has been cleaned’. From Douglas we pass to Dunbar. What is ‘the most lyrical of all English poems?’ ‘In one sense’ (not specified, but presumably the sense in which poetry is music) it is Dunbar’s poem on the Nativity. Read it, and then read Milton on the same theme. You will find Milton (or Mr Lewis does) hardly bearable. After that, in the chapter on the close of the Middle Ages in England, it is not to be expected that Mr Lewis will find many bearable poets. In fact, if the period has a poet, it is Skelton. Mr Lewis likes to be up to date. ‘Mr Graves’, he writes, ‘Mr Auden and others receive from Skelton principally what they give, and in their life, if not alone, yet eminently, does Skelton live’. Was it not Skelton whom Erasmus called ‘the supreme light and glory of English literature?

When he passes from the medieval period to the Drab Mr Lewis takes the prose first. But the central mystery of it he may be thought to miss. He has a great deal to say about both the Bible and the Prayer Book. But he does not say what before all else needs saying. The glory of English prose style begins with Tyndale and Cranmer. If there is anything in the ‘drab Age’ that matters, these two wrought it. And it is no good calling them mere translators. The language, the style, the measure of Tyndale’s New Testament is a finer language, style and measure than the Greek which it translates. It is the Greek that is drab, and Tyndale that is golden. How it happened nobody can say. But the face of English letters is changed for all time. ‘Prose does not become golden so suddenly as verse’, say Mr Lewis. Yet did ever anything so golden happen so suddenly, and with so little prelude, as the prose of Tyndale? ...’

Sir Edward Pickering
Executive Vice Chairman, Times Newspapers Limited
and Patron of the Tyndale Society
25 September 2000

Dr Robert B.Salters of the University of St Andrews kindly wrote in by email to comment on the McHardy obituary, compiled from an Associated Press Report, which appeared in the last issue of the Journal.

‘In the current Tyndale Journal (August 2000 no.16), page 45, there is an obituary of W.D. McHardy, in which it is said that he was the first layman to occupy the Regius Chair of Hebrew in Oxford. In fact, McHardy was not a layman: he was an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. He was the first ‘‘non-canonical’’ holder of that chair.

‘I knew McHardy from having worked with him on the translation of the REB. I was always aware of his being an ordained minister though I do not know where he served … . The Times obituary in April does mention this fact.’


The Rev Anthony Trotman has written:

My family was very closely connected with the Tyndale family back in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The result is that I have in my possession quite a lot of information about the Tyndales, mostly gleaned by my father. … I have a feeling I should pass on some of the information to anyone who might be interested.

William Tyndale never had the opportunity to get married but his brother Edward made up for it by being married twice, each wife having six children. His fifth child and third daughter was Katherine who married Richard Trotman. They are my immediate grandparents ‘with eight greats’, making William my uncle with ten ‘greats’. Hence our interest.

Yours faithfully Anthony E.F.Trotman

I am extremely grateful to the Rev Trotman for getting in touch with the Society. We hope to prepare several articles for publication in future editions of the Journal based on the interesting material he was kind enough to send us. –VEO

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