Book Reviews

Gerald Bray (ed.), Documents of the English Reformation Corrected Reprint James Clark & Co., Cambridge, 2004. 675pp, £25

Upon its publication in 1994, Gerald Bray’s Documents of the English Reformation quickly and quite rightfully established itself as an essential volume for students of the reformation in England. The reason for its success remains as evident now as it was then.

Bray’s primary focus on theological documents, for instance, was a valuable complement to the political and economic documents which had been collected for publication in the preceding decades. And his decision to reprint documents in their entirety, while preventing the inclusion of a few important sources, was a welcome departure from cut-and-paste readers which can too often fall prey to an editor’s pet interests. Likewise, the scope of the work — including documents from 1526 through to 1700 — wisely acknowledged that the turbulent events of Henry VIII’s reign, and even those of his children’s reigns, did not constitute the alpha and omega of the reformation, but were only an important part of what became the “long reformation” in England. Also ensuring the volume’s warm welcome were helpful introductions, appendices, and indices, as well as a practical (if somewhat distracting) critical apparatus which highlighted the evolution of various documents and their relation to other sources.

Those who made fruitful use of the first edition will therefore be pleased to know that none of the above has been lost in what is being billed as the “corrected reprint” of that edition. The publisher’s designation is important, as any who were hoping for a substantially “revised” or “enlarged” edition will be disappointed. Also bound to be unsatisfied are those who hoped the publisher might take to heart previous pleas for a volume in hardcover rather than paperback. Ultimately more disappointing, however, is that this “corrected” reprint does not contain as many corrections as one would have expected. Updated bibliographical information has been provided in the introduction, and some misspelling has been remedied; but, for example, on page 285 quibus still appears once as guibus and Londinensi still appears as Londineusi. Likewise, the Henrician reformer Robert Barnes still languishes in obscurity while an unknown “Richard” Barnes receives credit for representing the Crown in the negotiations which produced the 1536 Wittenberg Articles (p.118). Also unfortunate is that some minor typesetting errors have been introduced where they did not previously exist, as for example with the inverted commas two-thirds of the way down page thirteen.

Such pedantic observations, however, can by no means overshadow the great benefits Bray’s collection will continue to provide students of the English reformation. And for a work of nearly 700 pages, the very reasonable price offers yet one more reason to expect that this will remain a standard resource for some time to come.

Korey D. Maas, University of Oxford, April 2005

Thomas McCrie, History of the Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Spain in the Sixteenth Century [Edinburgh theologian, 1772-1835. The spelling “M’Crie” is also found.] Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication 1842

When reading through the book that is the subject of today’s review, I picked a passage for publication in the previous issue of the TSJ, as a “preview of coming attractions”. I had a lot to learn! First, I was using voice recognition technology for my transcription. Dragon VRT has trouble placing my accent and sprinkles the output text with literals.

My troubles didn’t end there. McCrie’s spelling of place-names was outmoded, and later in the book he recanted one detail in the Juan Diaz story, which I had to delete altogether. Proofreading was a nightmare! I took pride, nonetheless, in bringing a rare antiquarian book to a Tyndalian audience — I found just one copy on Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) and splurged on it.

But what does “rare” mean, exactly? Tyndale Society members have David Daniell, Jasper Ridley, Geoffrey Elton, and even (eek!) “Colonel” Eamonn Duffy on their shelves, but few have McCrie — or so I thought. In our community you make such assumptions at your own risk. Later email traffic showed that “McCrie’s Reformation in Spain” was not that uncommon, and can be found on CDROM. But even if we overlook the king’s ransom I paid for the hard copy, the McCrie remains, by most definitions, an uncommon text (his history of the Italian Reformation will have to wait for another time, or another lifetime).

McCrie’s historianship belongs to a different epoch. His was an era when Protestants wore white hats and Catholics black, when the Reformation saga marked an inexorable process toward fulfilment of God’s plan. For McCrie, the Inquisition’s body count was 2,000 a year, rather than the aggregate2,000 asserted by today’s revisionists. Confiscations and penances — now deemed a sign of the Inquisition’s “leniency” and concern for “due process” — are an unmitigated evil. Who writes like this any more?

“It is a fact now admitted on all hands, that the Reformation has ameliorated the state of government and society in all the countries into which it was received. By exciting inquiry and diffusing knowledge, it led to the discovery and correction of abuses; imposed a check, by public opinion, if not by statute, on the arbitrary will of princes; generated a spirit of liberty among the people; gave a higher tone to morals; and imparted a strong impulse to the human mind in the career of invention and improvement.” (pp. 276-277).

There is something about the very title which would stop even modern secular readers dead in their tracks. Reformation in Spain? Come again?

For sure, contemporary orthodox Catholics would have seen Spanish Protestantism, not as an oxymoron perhaps, but certainly as a deplorable condition to be hunted down and crushed. The thinking went like this: “English Protestants, German Protestants – well, what do you expect? But Spanish Protestants???”.

Yes indeed. They are not a figment of McCrie’s imagination. He honours their memory thusly:

“But we are not on this account to conclude that the Spanish martyrs threw away their lives, and spilt their blood in vain. They offered to God a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour. Their blood is precious in his sight; he has avenged it, and may yet more signally avenge it.” (p. 255).

Where were these pockets of heterodoxy situated? The Monastery of San Isidro in Seville was one. And Spanish martyrs were not men only.

“At Valladolid, as at Seville, the reformed doctrine penetrated into the monasteries. It was embraced by a great portion of the nuns of Santa Clara, and of the Cistercian order of San Belén; and had its converts among the class of devout women, called beatas, who are bound by no particular rule, but addict themselves to works of charity.” (p. 174).

Inquisitorial policy of the period showed a mix of denial and assertions of unity combined with a pitiless enforcement effort at home and abroad. According to hard-liners, the arrest of one Spanish heretic was far sweeter than the imprisonment of several Lutherans from other lands. Spanish reformers were the ultimate prize.

That explains why Spanish exiles bore such a price on their head, caused such grief for their families, and provided such an endless stream of Cain-and-Abel stories (of which Juan Diaz is only one example). Readers will recall how Michel Servet, while in Switzerland in the early 1530s, was contacted by his brother who assured Michel that he could expect the warmest possible welcome back home.

But if Spaniards abroad wore the “mask, which [none] can throw off without bidding an eternal farewell to his country,” foreign travel and heretical influences also waylaid other orthodox children of the Church. Cardinal Pole got in trouble upon his return to Spain after re-inducting England back into the Catholic Church. In mainland Spain, Archbishop Carranza and Doctor Egidius likewise fell under suspicion. McCrie recounts one rumour that Emperor Charles V himself converted to the reformed faith in his final days, after retiring into the monastic life. If none were immune from allegations of heresy, even the obdurate might be touched by God’s grace. These are perennial Christian themes.

Members of the fairer sex were not spared; and the author’s pen quivers with a frisson of aghast fascination at tales of robbed female modesty and virtue.

“(…) Dona Juana was conducted in her turn to the place of torture. Refusing to confess, she was put into the engine del burro, which was applied with such violence, that the cords penetrated to the bone of her arms and legs; and some of the internal vessels being burst, the blood flowed in streams from her mouth and nostrils.” (p. 237).

You did expect at least one torture scene, didn’t you?

Perhaps the name of Anne Askew just popped into your head. The lives and deaths of the early Reformers are rich in parallelisms; and while the names of the fallen Spaniards mean little, their resemblances to our English friends will strike many a chord. And as Tyndalians, we spare a thought for translators of the Bible.

We read of Hebrew Bibles being burned in Seville by order of Torquemada. Later we hear of the publication of a Spanish-language version of the Pentateuch in Venice, intended specially for Spanish Jews, printed in Venice in 1497. An early version in the Valencian dialect by Bonifacio Ferrer was printed in Valencia in 1478. It makes for very strange reading.

The triumvirate of Francisco Enzinas, Juan Perez, and Cassiodoro de Reyna — pioneers of the Castilian tongue — are all given their due. As always, vernacular bibles have to be printed on friendly ground: Enzinas’s Spanish New Testament was published in Antwerp in 1543. A succession of Bibles follows. McCrie, a wishful thinker, sketches a picture of collegiality perhaps at odds with historical realities.

“[Juan Perez’s] version of the New Testament came from the press, in 1556; his version of the Book of Psalms followed in the course of the subsequent year (…). They were all printed at Venice. (…) The task which he left unfinished was continued by Cassiodoro de Reyna, who, after ten years’ labour produced a translation of the whole Bible, which was printed in 1569 at Basle. It was revised and corrected by Cypriano de Valera, who published the New Testament in 1596 at London and both Testaments in 1602 at Amsterdam. “ (pp. 152-153).

Most of the New Testaments of Perez and Enzinas were captured and burned by the Inquisition — but not all.

“Many copies of the Spanish Bible, published by Cassiodoro de Reyna (…) made their way into Spain notwithstanding the severest denunciations of the Holy Office, and the utmost vigilance of the familiars.” (p. 246).

These Tyndales of Spain are far from home (Antwerp is a frequent stopping point on their journeys). They aren’t on chummy terms with their relatives. They must choose between their work and their families. For instance, Enzinas’s vocation estranged him from his mother. The apologists for the Inquisition exploited these private tragedies and specialized in blaming the victim; reformers were painted as sinister loners cut off from normal bonds of regeneration and kinship.

McCrie paints on a broad canvas, with bookends (i) in the early Christian era and (ii) the unwinding of the Inquisition’s operations in the 1700s. The Prohibition on Spanish bibles is lifted by an edict dated 20 December, 1782. McCrie implies that Spanish Catholicism was a macabre diversion. He quotes iconoclastic voices from the dawn of the Spanish Church, hinting at all manner of glorious possibilities that never came to pass. For instance, a National Council, in the beginning of the fourth century, prohibited the worship of images, and the use of pictures in churches. These yellowing press clippings from the First Millennium don’t exactly qualify as auguries of the Reformation and they hardly catapult us into the world of Luther and Tyndale.

McCrie is vague on the Islamic influence in Spain, better on the Jewish community, better still on the shifting linguistic and cultural boundaries between France and Spain. For him, the Complutensian Polyglot of 1517 is a triumph of the status quo rather than a hopeful Humanist interlude. And then he brings us to the final scaffold, where we honour the memory of an unknown beata.

“The last person who was committed to the flames, was a beata, burnt alive at Seville, on the 7th of November 1781. (… ) ‘I myself (says Mr. Blanco White) saw the pile on which the last victim was sacrificed to human infallibility. It was an unhappy woman, whom the Inquisition of Seville committed to the flames, under the charge of heresy, about forty years ago. She perished on a spot where thousands had met the same fate. I lament from my heart, that the structure which supported their melting limbs was destroyed…’”. (pp. 251).

In short, this book, though dated and quaint, is a cherishable reference source.

Neil L. Inglis, June 2005.

Peter Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England Paperback, Oxford University Press, 344 pp, 2004

This may seem at first sight a book on the periphery of academic debate concerning the Reformation, but its subject lies at the very heart of 16th century theology. The Reformation was essentially a battle, sometimes literally, between Protestant and Catholic believers about the best way for the soul to get to heaven. Protestant theology focussed upon the Bible, whereas Catholic belief gave more weight to tradition and the works of theologians, popes or saints — a theological position which holds true today. With the fate of the soul at stake, the nature and beliefs surrounding the dead became of critical concern. This book deals with these beliefs in Reformation England. The book takes a long view of the Reformation with a chronology from 1480 to 1630. This 150-year span is neat in terms of a numerical number, but does lead to unanswered questions — why 1480 and why 1630 as start and finish dates?

By the late 15th century when this book starts the notion of purgatory between heaven and hell had become a crucial part of religious belief and doctrine. Purgatory was not only a place where the souls of sinners were purged, but also the concept allowed for a direct interaction between the living and the dead. The living could pray or perform good works for the dead and so hasten the soul’s passage through the terrors of purgatory to allow it to reach heaven. However, the Reformation swept away the notion of purgatory from the English Church.

Marshall therefore sets out to chart the process of how religious belief changed in relation to the dead in the seven chapters of the book. There is therefore a combination of analysis of the chronological development of thought and belief about the dead with thematic chapters on ghosts and the afterlife. Marshall tackles many questions head on, and whilst not coming to any definitive conclusions, offers many useful insights into the perpetual problems surrounding the analysis of evidence.

The evidence itself is difficult because all that remains in detail is the writings of theologians or clergymen, whether in treatises or sermons. The real difficulty therefore lies in trying to understand what the general population thought or believed. Wills and inscriptions on tombs or brasses therefore take on a heightened importance — but were only the wishes or thoughts of the elite. Marshall gives an interesting example of the difficulty of using such evidence when he explores church’s attempt to ban the ringing of bells at Halloween. The authorities viewed such ringing as continuation of beliefs about purgatory (because the bells were rung to help the souls of the dead) but to the local population it might have been custom without any purgatorial overtones.

One of the themes running through the book is that of memory and commemoration of the dead. Memory for the deceased was a complex question for Protestants because on the one hand the state valued hierarchy (as shown on personal tombs and brasses in church) and individual morality, but on the other hand memory of a person could easily lead to prayers for their soul or ‘idolatry’. Marshall charts the swings of the pendulum between the initial destruction of brasses and tombs which lead to the government successfully legislating to preserve them.

One welcome, and unexpected, chapter is that devoted to ghosts (Chapter 6). The ghost of Hamlet’s father springs to mind in a Reformation context, and like this ghost, ghosts in general were a particularly intriguing theological problem, especially for the early Reformers. If souls either went to heaven or hell for eternity, how then could they return? The medieval Catholic church had less of a problem, for souls could come back from purgatory for a specific reason and so be seen in ghostly form. Protestants tried various explanations: the imagination of the weak, a devil or really souls from the afterlife, but none completely explained them. Ghosts stood outside the religious framework and could be good (such as giving warnings), frightening, or evil, but most of all they were haphazard and disorderly.

This is an important book which takes one crucial theme of the Reformation and explores the theological and social implications of changes in belief. The book examines the many different theological views about the dead and their place in heaven or hell through the writings of theologians or clergymen. Interspersed are fragments of evidence from parish life. Together they form a cohesive book which gives valuable insights into both the views of the dead and the changing theology of the time.

Christopher Daniell, June 2005

David Price and Charles C. Ryrie, Let It Go among Our People: An Illustrated History of the English Bible from John Wyclif to the King James Version The Lutterworth Press, 2004, l60pp.

The year 2004 commemorated the quatercentenary of the Hampton Court Conference summoned by James I to settle disputes between bishops and Puritan divines, from which emerged an unexpected decision to make a new revision of the English Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek texts without controversial marginal notes. In 1611 the marvellous masterpiece of the Authorised Version (abr. AV) or the King James Version (abr. KJV) was eventually produced. It is no coincidence, therefore, that before and after 2004 there appeared several publications on the history of the English Bible, focusing on the AV. For example,

apart from those on Tyndale by David Daniell and others. The year 2004 also witnessed the completion of Conrad Lindberg’ s monumental works on the Wycliffite Bible in the publication of King Henry’s Bible MS Bodley 277: the Revised Version of the Wyclif Bible, Vol. IV.

The book under present review may be said one of the best introductions to the history of the English Bible from the Wycliffite Bible to the Rheims- Douay Bible for the general reader. Readers will learn with no small surprise, if they did not know already, that in England, unlike many countries in Europe, it was severely and rigidly prohibited on pain of death to translate the Bible — the word of God — into the vernacular language and ‘Lives were lost along the way — not only for producing English Bibles, but also for merely owning or reading them.’ (p.7) John Wyclif in effect was condemned as heretical by church and university authorities. His followers, the so-called Lollards suffered continuous persecutions, and the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete English Bible, initiated by Wyclif and carried out by his followers, Nicholas Hereford and John Purvey among others, was rigorously proscribed. In like manner, William Tyndale, the first person to translate the Bible into English from its original Hebrew and Greek and the first to print the Bible in English, was martyred in 1536 for his religious activities including the translation of the Bible.

The book, with a title from the words attributed to King Henry VIII speaking of the Coverdale Bible, consists of eight chapters with two appendices, a select bibliography and an index. The eight chapters are arranged in chronological order with the titles which rather vaguely describe the contents of the book. More explicitly, Ch. 1 discusses the Wycliffite Bible (Early Version c1384, Later Version c1395) with a very brief note on the Bible in Old English; Ch.2 gives a short but adequate introduction to Renaissance scholarship, focusing on Desiderius Erasmus; Ch.3 deals with William Tyndale and his translation of the Bible (NT 1526, Pentateuch 1530, Jonah 1531). [Here the authors sometimes disagree with David Daniell, the latest biographer of Tyndale (pp. 42,48).]; Ch.4 is on Miles Coverdale and his Bibles (Coverdale Bible 1535, the Great Bible 1539); Ch.5 on the Geneva Bible produced by Puritan exiles at Geneva (1560/NT 1557); Ch.6 on the Bishops’ Bible (1568), which was later used as the official basis of the AV; Ch.7 on the Rheims-Douay Bible prepared by Roman Catholic refugees in France (1610/NT 1582); Ch.8, the richest and best chapter, is on the Authorised Version (1611), which is a main topic of this book. At the end of the book there are two appendices: App.1 lists the partial revisions of the AV; App.2 gives an annotated list of some of the more significant Bible translations from 1876 to 2002.

The book is written throughout in lucid and succinct style and is adequately provided with a number of illustrative pictures of good quality and short textual specimens such as Tyndale (1526), Geneva (1560) and French Geneva (1554) compared in parallel. There are also a number of very informative boxes: Important Editions of the Bible in Greek and Hebrew; Tyndale’s Lord’s Prayer 1534; Hebrew Idioms from the AV; the Great Polyglot Bibles; Nicknames and Curiosities, and some others. Some readers will be particularly delighted to find many linguistic and stylistic comments illuminating the characteristics of each Bible, especially the AV which the authors call “An Audible Bible”.

Useful and interesting information about each English Bible is distributed liberally throughout the book. Let us provide just a few random examples. In the 1572 Bishops’ Bible, the text of the Psalms was unusually printed side by side with the earlier, more familiar version of the Great Bible, but by 1577 the Great Bible version of the Psalms, which was incorporated into the Prayer Book, had eliminated the original less happy translation of the Bishops’ Bible itself. [It is regrettable that a very important Bodleian copy of the 1602 Bishops’ Bible does not seem to be mentioned in this book, although the copy contains many relevant ms. corrections by some of the Jacobean translators.] As to the AV, profiles of some of the Jacobean translators, all eminent and erudite scholars of the age but some of them full of eccentricities, are included (pp.119-123). For Lancelot Andrewes, there is T. S. Eliot’s comment:

Andrewes ‘takes a word and derives the world from it; squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning, which we should never have supposed any word to possess.’; the checkered life of George Abbott who published a massive study of Jonah in 1600. [It might be more amusing for readers to know that he had preached a different sermon on Jonah every Thursday from 1594 to 1599 — 260 addresses on that single topic alone.] The AV has a number of marginal, mainly philological notes besides the references to parallel scriptures, although the current popular editions usually omit these. In the OT there are 6,637 philological notes, ‘Over 4,000 of which give literal renderings of the Hebrew idioms and some 2,156 offer alternative ms. readings, while the NT has 765 notes, of which 35 give ms. variants, 112 literal renderings of Greek idioms and 582 possible translations.’ (p.128). In addition to these detailed statistics, the authors cite the often-quoted statistical data from Charles Butterworth (1941, p. 231) that in the AV, 39% is original; 19% derives from the Geneva Bible; 18% from Tyndale; 13% from Coverdale; 4% from Bishops’ Bible. [Perhaps on this point John Nielson and Royal Skousen’s recent article (Reformation III, 1998) should be referred to, because Butterworth’s statistics require some qualifications.] Of no less importance is the authors’ observation on the Hebrew idioms in the AV: ‘More than their predecessors, the translators tried to replicate the style of the Hebrew syntax and they tried to do this systematically.’ (p.132) [Actually, however, not quite systematically in my view.] They refer to ‘and’ verbosity and distinctive Hebrew constructions such as infinitive absolute and casus pendens. Among Hebrew idioms from the AV, ‘sour grapes’ is cited. However, this popular English idiom alludes not to the Bible but, as is well-known, to Aesop’s fable about a fox. As for matters typographical, one has wondered why the paragraph mark (!) abruptly and strangely enough disappears after Acts 20:36. The authors nonchalantly but perhaps correctly assume that ‘Barker [the printer of the 1611 edition] simply ran out of them.’ (p.124).

The authors are occasionally careless with their facts and descriptions. There are also some moot points. On page 11 the authors write ‘In truth, neither Wyclif nor James I is known to have translated a single word of the Bibles named after them.’ As to Wyclif, perhaps we should avoid making such a hasty assertion. On page 18 we read ‘Note that the letter ‘y’ often designates either ‘th’ or ‘i’.’ This is misleading even in a book intended for the general reader. The medieval script for ‘th’ is the Runic thorn ‘?, though looking like ‘y’ it was later confused with that letter; the alternative letter for ‘i’ is ‘y’. On page 20 the authors write about the wording of the Wycliffite Bible: “We do not have the expression ‘do no theft’, and nor did fourteenth-century English.” Indeed the idiomatic expression in Present-day English is ‘commit no theft’, but things appear otherwise in Middle English, as the MED quotes five instances at least of ‘do (no) theft’. On page 54 the authors write “Tyndale’s colloquialism ‘and all to rent you”’, but I suspect that this was not colloquial in Tyndale’s time, but rather literary or archaic denoting ‘completely or entirely’. The expression is used in the AV, Milton, Bunyan and others. See OED s. v. ‘all’ 14b. On page 124 we read “Matthew 23:24 reads (and still mistakenly does) ‘strain at a gnat’ rather than ‘strain out a gnat’.” But ‘strain at’ cannot be definitely stigmatized as mistranslation or printer’s error. See OED s. v. ‘strain’ 21. On page 140 we read about the revisions of the AV that ‘This revision, the first to omit the Apocrypha, was printed in 1629 by two Cambridge printers, Thomas and John Buck.’ But in fact it does include the Apocrypha. See A. S. Herbert (ed.),Historical Catalogue (1968).

Some minor misprints have crept into this well-produced book: p. 121a, 1.13 “the room Apparently, Henry...” appears obscure; p.124a, 1.9 for “Acts 10: 36” read “Acts 20: 36”; p.l26b, 1.14 for “Luke (with the ox) and John (with the eagle)” read “John (with the eagle) and Luke (with the ox)”; p. 135a, 1.18 for pent (‘the face of )” read pene (‘the face of )”; p.139b, 1.1Sf. for “as a present tense subjunctive” read “as a past subjunctive”.

As a whole, Let It Go among Our People is a useful and readable synthesis of the historical development of the English Bible in the Renaissance period for readers who want to understand the tumultuous political and literary history of how the AV — “the noblest monument of English prose”—came to be. The spectacular and mysterious ups and downs of the translation and dissemination of the English Bible are successfully and vividly conveyed. We owe the authors David Price and Charles Ryrie, specialists respectively in Renaissance studies and in the history of the English Bible, great gratitude for an illuminating work which will certainly go among all people interested in the English Bible or in Renaissance and Reformation cultural history. The Lutterworth Press, the name of which is noted in connexion of John Wyclif, is also to be complimented for a handsome layout and printing produced at a reasonable price.

Yoshio Terasawa, May 2005 Prof. Emeritus, University of Tokyo

Melvyn Bragg,The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. Arcade Publishing, from £21.63 (first published by Hodder & Stoughton 2003)

‘Yo, g, here’s the down low on the dope vibes’. That sentence is simply collegespeak that can be roughly translated, ‘Excuse me, friend, here’s the information on the most current ways of communicating’. But, is it English? Of course, it is.

If one has any doubt, one could benefit from Melvyn Bragg’s race through the 1500 year history of the English language that begins when a few thousand Frisian speakers invaded a relatively small island and ends with today’s two billion English speakers spread across the globe. It is indeed an adventure with many narrow escapes and sudden twists, turning the language in unexpected ways at unexpected moments. It is a story well told by a master story teller. There is not a dull page in the book, but it must be understood that Bragg is neither a historian nor a linguist. He is, as many viewers of the British media know, a writer of fiction and non-fiction as well as a radio and television presenter. In fact this book has its origin an ITV series, but Bragg has added to the content and to the depth of his earlier treatment. There are many histories of the English language, but few authors of such books can match Bragg’s mastery of the language itself.

Bragg presents a host of characters such as Shakespeare and Chaucer whose names are known around the world, but he makes it clear that millions of others have made their contribution to English, even though history cannot now document their names. Modern English — in its many variations around the world — has been influenced by kings in their royal courts and Creole slaves in the cotton fields. It has absorbed words and elements from Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Hindi and Gullah. And it continues to do so. In fact, the ability of English to change by absorbing new elements is, in Bragg’s opinion, one of the characteristics that has allowed it to become the world’s language. English no longer belongs only to the English but to all those who use it in the corporations and the campuses of the world. Each user leaves a contribution to the adventure.

Readers of this journal will be delighted by the recognition that Bragg gives to William Tyndale, but Tyndalians will be disappointed by the content. Introducing his chapter-length treatment of Tyndale, Bragg says that Tyndale, by his work as a translator, prepared a book that ‘became the most influential book there has ever been in the history of the language, English or any other’ (p. 98). And he adds, ‘It is impossible to over-praise the quality of Tyndale’s writings. Its rhythmical beauty, its simplicity of phrase, its crystal clarity have penetrated deep into the bedrock of English today wherever it is spoken’ (p. 103). Bragg is to be commended for recognizing Tyndale’s verbal contribution to the hoard of English words and phrases. He gets the big picture right, but stumbles over some historical facts. Contrary to Bragg, Tyndale never met Erasmus (p. 101). And when one recalls that Tyndale lived only long enough to translate about half of the Old Testament, it is certainly misleading to speak of Tyndale’s Bible in the same way that one can speak of the Wycliffe Bibles and the King James Bible. To cite another example, when Bragg speaks of two hired assassins who trapped Tyndale and took him to Vilvoorde Castle (p. 104), the informed reader will certainly cringe and is left wondering if the author errs in other ways as well. For Bragg, Tyndale’s significance is that his work, when incorporated into the work of others and authorized by the crown, propelled English forward by the fact that it was endorsed by both the royalty of earth and of heaven. ‘English at last had God on its side. The language was authorized by the Almighty Himself ” (p. 108). Valid or not, Tyndale deserves both a more accurate and nuanced treatment.

Melvyn Bragg is a word artist who covers the canvas with a wide brush, getting parts of the story wrong in small ways but somehow the big picture is still breathtakingly stunning.

Donald Dean Smeeton, February 2005

Gerard B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith (eds) A Thomas More Source Book

Catholic University of America Press, USA 2004 paperback £27.60

Who was Sir Thomas More? Most people only know him through the play, A Man for all Seasons, through reading Utopia, through a knowledge of 16th century English history and, if they are members of the Tyndale Society, as the opponent of William Tyndale. Probably the majority only know some aspects of the man he was. This book claims to be ‘an introduction to More’s life and writings for the general reader’. It provides us with carefully selected passages from various aspects of More’s life.

My main criticism of the book is that the first part The Earliest Accounts of Thomas More’s Life takes up 150 pages, thus leaving only 250 pages for More’s writings. The introduction opens a window on Thomas More, his life, his writings and him as a person. One of the strong points is the footnotes referring to the passages from More’s writings printed in this book.

Part 1 The Earliest Accounts of Thomas More’s Life contains three sections. The first is Erasmus on Thomas More, in which More seems to be too good to be true. Just to quote one of the many similar statements, Erasmus wrote ‘It would be difficult to find a more felicitous extempore speaker, so fertile are both his mind and the tongue that does his bidding’ (p.12). The second is William Roper’s The Life of Sir Thomas More, Knight. Roper married Thomas More’s oldest and favourite daughter and he, like Erasmus, could see no faults in Thomas More. Thomas More’s attitude to heretics was that he would ‘let them have their churches quietly to themselves, so that they would be content to let us have ours quietly to ourselves’ (p.33). The third section is an Elizabethan play of 1592, Sir Thomas More, written by Anthony Munday, Henry Chettle, William Shakespeare, and others. I failed to see the value, as part of a source book, of this play written approximately 57 years after his death. Once again, like the other two sections in this part of the book, he is portrayed as a man who had no dark side to his character. We get a picture of the sense of humour permeating his life ‘For know, Erasmus, Mirth wrinkles up my face, and I still crave, When that forsakes me, I may hug my grave’ (p. 111). Even with his fall his sense of humour was there, ‘No, wife, be merry, and be merry all: You smiled at rising: weep not at my fall’ (p 135): until, at last, ‘Here More forsakes all mirth, good reason why: The fool of flesh must with her frail life die.’ (p.156.)

Part 2 is Writings on Love and Friendship. In “On His First Love” we catch a glimpse of More, which is not normally seen, as he opens his heart to reveal his emotions and himself as a romantic lover. Two poems follow in which More has complete control over his mind and his emotions, the second, “On Detachment”, could almost apply to the first, “Twelve Properties of a Lover”. This is followed by four letters, to John Colet, to his children, to his wife Alice, and finally a letter written from prison to Antonio Bonvisi. This part ends with Plutarch’s Essay and More’s Poem.

Part 3 consists of Writings on Education. A letter to his children’s teacher is followed by two letters to his children. A letter to Oxford University, warning them to deal with the “Trojans” who speak and act against the humanist learning, especially one who ‘has chosen during Lent to babble in a sermon against not only Greek but Roman literature, and finally against all polite learning, liberally berating all the liberal arts’ (p.206). The next two sections in this Part are short extracts on “Conscience and Integrity”, “On Pride”, and the final section, “Erasmus on More’s Approach to Education”. Erasmus was impressed by the education of More’s children (especially his daughters and two other girls who were ‘included’ in his family) ‘setting thereby a new precedent which, if I mistake not, will soon be widely followed, so happy is the outcome’ (p. 222).

Part 4 is entitled Writings on Government. The first section is “On Dealing with Lions”, Thomas More’s counsel to Thomas Cromwell, ‘in counsel given to his Grace, ever tell him what he ought to do, but never tell him what he is able to do, so shall you show yourself a true faithful servant, and a right worthy Counselor. For if the lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him’ (p. 232). That section is followed by “Poems on the Human Condition and the Art of Governing” and “Other Poems on Politics”. “Thomas More’s ‘Petition for Freedom of Speech’” (pp 240-241) and “More Defends the Liberty of the House” (pp 243-245) are modern language versions from Roper’s Life of Thomas More – these are also found on pages 22-27, and I wondered why this, and other extracts from this work, were included in different sections when the whole of Roper’s Life of Thomas More is printed in Part 1. This Part finishes with two more sections, “On Private Property, Riches, and Poverty” and “On Law and Liberty”.

Part 5 is Writings on Religion. It begins with “More’s Conception of God”, where a passage from Dialogue of Comfort is followed by several quotations from A Treatise on the Passion, finally two from Thomas More’s Prayer Book. We then have “Private Judgement and God’s Word,” followed by “The Two Swords; Heresy and Just War”. This Part ends with “More’s Defense of the Clergy” and “On the Condition of Church and State in England”.

The tone of the whole of this Source Book, I believe is summarised in a quotation from The Apology of Sir Thomas More

‘For first, as for my own side, look at my Dialogue, my Supplication of Souls, and both parts of the Confutation, and you will clearly see that I have used with reference to neither the clergy nor the laity any hot, offensive word, and that I have refrained from discussing in particular the faults of either the one group or the other, but have acknowledged that the truth is that neither party is faultless’(p. 299).

Part 6, which ends this Source Book, is More’s Last Days. The material in this Part consists of “Thomas More’s letter to Erasmus after resigning as Lord Chancellor” followed by the inscription on his tomb and epitaph. “Thomas More’s Account of his First Interrogation” in his letter to his daughter Margaret, is followed by “A Dialogue on Conscience” which comprises a letter from Alice Alington to Margaret, and Margaret’s reply which is mainly Thomas More’s explanation (without giving his reasons) why he is unable to take the oath regarding the king’s supremacy. We then have a merry tale – “The Tale of Mother Maud” — which concerns one’s conscience. “More’s Interrogation of 2 May 1535” is followed by his “Final Interrogation” before we pass onto his “Trial and Execution” and his “Last Words before Execution”. Some useful background information follows in the appendices.

It is a helpful introduction to Thomas More, the saint. I would have preferred more about Thomas More, the man. To have more of what Thomas More wrote and less of what others wrote or said about him would have made the Source Book more valuable. Having said that and with those reservations I would recommend it as a basic introduction, but for it to be read alongside John Guy’s biography Thomas More.

Ralph S. Werrell, January 2005.