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I have not half exhausted my list; but I fear to exhaust your lordship's patience, and therefore leave these names only as a specimen of the agency employed by the Society, in its work of biblical translation and revision. Whatever mistakes or imperfections of judgment may have occurred, I think that such names as I have adduced are a pledge that there was no lack of careful consideration, or any pains spared to secure the best advice and assistance.
But still it is replied, that the Society has in various cases printed imperfect versions. I have not the leisure, the scholarship, or the opportunity to verify or disprove this fact by my own industry; but I am willing, for the purpose of the present argument, to take the representations of the Society's warmest, and not most scrupulous opponents, and what is the result? It comes simply to the question, which may be plausibly argued on both sides, as to what is the measure of excellence in a version of the Scriptures to entitle it to be printed where no better is to be had. The mind revolts from the idea of presenting the words of inspiration in an imperfect form; but in truth all translations are imperfect, and it is a point of difficulty to decide where the line of prohibition is to begin or end. Even tentative versions are not useless. What was Wyckliffe's but a tentative version? What, again, were the attempts of Tyndal and Coverdale? It is easy to find passages extremely faulty in every version; and if our early English versions had been held back upon the ground of their many * serious errors, the Reformation could never, without a miracle, have been effected; nor would there have been the basis for a better version, as completed by King James's translators. Every person versed in such studies knows how unfair it is to take here and there a text badly translated, and to hold it up to public abhorrence, without adding, if it be the fact, that the translation, as a whole, is intelligible, and is capable of conveying to-. the reader the great facts and doctrines of the Gospel. This is no reason why it should not be mended; but we ought not to despise the day of small things; and in this view I doubt whether there are three translations, perhaps not one, in the Bible Society's voluminous polyglot, which were not worth at least commencing with as a basis for an improvedversion. First translations are always experimental; and even if it were proved that the Bible Society has in any cases experimented too hastily, still there is the sub-' stratum of something better, and by the aid of successive Christian scholars it may become a highly valuable version, which, humanly speaking,would not have existed, but in consequence of the first unsuccessful attempt.I have never heard a missionary say of any one vernacular version that he. would not rather have that than nothing; and in the course of explaining it to the natives in his sphere of labour he has gradually amended its errors,. and formed a better text for a new edition. The following pleasing incident related by Archdeacon Corrie, of Calcutta, at the anniversary of the Calcutta Bible-Association, may enliven this jejune discussion.
"About twenty years ago, when I was stationed at Chunar, a native Roman-Catholic used to visit me for religious instruction. There was not at that time any translation of the Scriptures to put into his hands. I therefore selected some of the most important passages of the Bible; and according to the best of my ability, dictated a translation of th^m, very: imperfect, it is true, to the poor man, who wrote it on a number of piecesof loose paper. I soon lost sight of him, and heard nothing of him for many years; but have been lately informed by the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, of Gorruckpore, that a short time ago he had been called to visit the same. man on his death-bed. On entering into conversation with him, he was. surprised by the extent of his acquaintance with- scriptural religion, and the. propriety . of the feelings which he- expressed in reference to the solemn
situation in which he was placed. He asked an explanation, when the poor man produced the loose slips of paper on which he had written my translations. On these, it appeared that his soul had fed through life, and through them he died such a death that Mr. Wilkinson entertained no doubt of his having passed into glory."
Such is Archdeacon Corrie's testimony to the value of even a few fragments of the sacred word applied by the Holy Spirit in a translation " very imperfect," and written down from mere dictation on loose scraps of paper. Now it is not at all probable that any one printed version has been so rude as those extemporaneous renderings; and none have been mere detached verses, but either the whole, or considerable portions of the sacred oracles; and yet some men despise them because they have not sprung up all at once in a state of perfection. I doubt not that a good misrepresenter might have made an excellent clap-trap speech on the " horrible mistakes" of these rough notes; and the next post would have carried out to India that Archdeacon Corrie had become a neologist and a despiser of the word of God. The parallel applies in substance to the present question; for though it would not be right wilfully to enshrine gross blunders in print, any more than to set up certain libels in stereotype, yet, if we wait till immaculate versions can be procured, we may wait till many generations shall have passed into eternity. But these objectors know not—for I will not impute wilful reticence—the immense difficulty of procuring even a tolerable translation of the Holy Scriptures. Do they forget the history (taking only the authentic portion) of the Septuagint, and that the Apostles, if not also our Lord himself, occasionally made use of this version? Do they forget the whole narrative of Tetraplas and Hexaplas, and innumerable recensions and families of texts? Is the story of the Vulgate unknown to them, or the five hundred years which it took to render it such as it is at present? Have they never heard of the pious labours of Jerome, and his not less candid remark upon the unavoidable errors of his predecessors > Have they marked the changes in the English translations from its foundation, as laid by WyclifF in the fourteenth century, to its completion in the seventeenth? Are they even aware of the vast pains and labour which the friends and agents of the Bible Society have for years bestowed upon the improvement of versions; not excepting that of Luther himself, which ia at this moment under careful revision? yet from this version, valuable, but very faulty, sprang a large crop of Protestant versions, such as the Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Belgic, and Low German, and this for many years without any direct recurrence to the fountain-head of the original tongues. Yet millions of happy spirits found their way to heaven by these versions of versions; and though it would have been their duty to procure better had it been in their power, they would have felt little pleasure at the hypercriticism which should have denounced either Luther or his copyists as corrupters of the word of God.
Under all the circumstances of the case I cannot wonder that the committee of the Bible Society, though exercising a considerable measure of caution, and procuring the best information within their reach, were in general favourable to the plan of sending out early versions rather than waiting from lustrum to lustrum, till criticism was exhausted, and scholarship was satisfied. It might be a fault; zeal may be impatient; and the solemn feeling that months and years were rapidly ebbing away, and that souls were passing into eternity, ignorant of God and salvation, may have led the conductors of the Society, amidst a choice of difficulties, occasionally to take the popular rather than the over-cautious side; and, if in any instance they did so, I am not sure that what has been gained does not more than counterbalance what is to be regretted. But admit that their
Christ. Obsehv. No. 364. 2 I
judgment deceived them,—and I postulate it rather from concession than conviction,—still they have afforded a useful commencement; multiplicate proof sheets to correct from; the original stock remains alive, and on it may be grafted a better quality of fruit, without the delay and despair of commencing the work anew. All good vernacular translations have been formed by successive criticisms improving upon bad ones. At the same time it is desirable that new versions, wherever practicable, should be made directly from the original tongues, and old ones corrected by them; learned or vernacular renderings being used chiefly as dictionaries and rough drafts to assist the translator in examining into the sense of the Bacred text. This has not always been done in modem versions, and it could not in the nature of things be so; for the persons who happen to understand a barbarous oral dialect are not of necessity the most profound Greek and Hebrew scholars and biblical critics. But we have Mr. Piatt's own published testimony, not retracted since his secession from the Society, that this has been always the wish and endeavour of the committee; though where it is not attainable, a good version into Bullom or Sosoo from King James's translation is not to be despised, if no better can be procured. The Bible Society, I am quite sure, have striven in every instance to get the best they could; and they ought not to be blamed if their best was sometimes imperfect, provided, after due consideration, it was found incomparably better than none.
But these are general matters ; I will come now, my lord, to the specific objections. When some writer in the Quarterly Review penned, several years since, most unfair and unmeasured charges against several of the Bible Society's versions, he was replied to with great ability, and in a manner perfectly satisfactory to every candid mind, by Mr. Piatt, who at that time held the office of honorary librarian to the Society; and it was generally considered that the matter was fairly set at rest *. But the
■ • I am happy to say that Mr. Piatt, though he has seceded from the Society, bore his testimony at the Trinitarian meeting, to the general character of the Society's versions, stating that it was but seldom that errors in translation had occurred, and that these were incident to human nature. Words as nearly as possible to this purport I myself heard him utter; and more than that, I afterwards saw them in the autograph of a short-hand writer, who, of course, knew nothing of their bearing, and could not therefore hare had any motive for falsifying them. But this important statement was suppressed in the first account published of the Sackville-street Society's speeches; and afterwards, when this mutilation was exposed, and it became necessary for the committee in giving to the world these speeches in an official form, not to pass it over in silence, what did they do ? why, they falsified it; and instead of making Mr. 1' hit t say what he did, and what I can prove him to have said by many ear-witnesses and the short-hand writer's manuscript, they have published the following version of it, and distributed it in many thousands of copies. "These things, it may be said, have occurred but seldom, and there will be always errors in beings liable to the infirmities of human nature." Can any thing be more dishonest than this interpolation of "it may be said ;" thus making the sentence the interjection of another person, instead of Mr. Piatt's own testimony? It shews how much the force of it was felt, and renders it doubly valuable. But is this falsification of documents the right mode of conducting a society upon " scriptural principles?"
I may add, while alluding to this unhappy attempt to form what is called " a Trinitarian Bible-Society, guarded by scriptural tests," that while I am writing, this illstarred institution is again afloat in a stormy sea, without rudder, compass, or pilot. It was only a few days since that, in one of my former letters, I traced its progress up to that period, but pleaded exemption from attempting to catch the next Cynthia of the moment. I mentioned how obediently it had followed all the exhortations of the Christian Observer. The Naval-and-Military Bible-Society last May adopted an antiSocinian test, and to this moment has no other; and the Trinitarian Society at first intended to have no other, but on being told that this was inconsistent, and that they ought, if theV once begun, to go on and exclude Roman Catholics, they very reverently obeyed. Well, then, it was added, you ought next to go on to the Irvingites, and exclude diem from your committee: straightway they obeyed Vain. And here many persons subject has been since taken up in a different quarter, and upon different principles. I find in a variety of Sackville-street pamphlets and speeches, an allegation that several of the Society's versions have been grossly heterodox; which charge of heterodoxy is urged as a powerful argument for a change in the constitution of the Society. I could turn to twenty or thirty versions of this statement; but I should remind your lordship, that though multiform in appearance, they spring nearly all from one source, though, being echoed and re-echoed by various copyists, thoughtless persons consider each iteration as a new proof. I will take one of the versions, as much to the point as any, and which will furnish me with three separate heads of accusation. The Rev. Mr. Melvill, in his published speech at the formation of the Trinitarian Society, asserts that the Bible Society has been an awful instrument of promoting neology on the continent—a charge absurd on the face of it, and the truth of which my reverend friend did not pretend to know of his own knowledge,—and then he adds: " Neither-is the Strasburgh Bible a solitary instance : might I not advance similar assertions without fear of contradiction, in regard to the Lausanne Bible, the Danish New Testament, and the Turkish? Were not these editions so blotted with heresy, that he who had opened them to learn the way to the Father, must have remained in ignorance, or been led into the foulest delusions?" "The pounds of English nobles, and the pence of English peasants, have gone to the distribution of tenets, which making Christ a man, and nothing more than a man, leave the world in its ruins, unreconciled to his Maker."
These, my lord, are fearful charges, and it becomes my duty to meet them with openness and Christian integrity. In the present letter I have to deal with the Lausanne Bible, the Danish New Testament, and the Turkish; the Strasburg preface comes under the heading of my next epistle. These three charges are well calculated to cause a strong impression among those who receive assertions, like the above, for facts; the asserters themselves having had equally implicit faith, till at last the story with many amplifications gains ground; and those who did not credit it at the fountain head, take it for granted at second-hand.
I begin with the Lausanne accusation. Mr. Melvill, in regard to what
thought tlie whole was to stop; but the unlucky Christian Observer having last month suggested to them to call a public meeting and re-arrange the whole, a public meeting is obediently summoned for the 4th of April, and the litigant members of this " Society conducted upon scriptural principles," are to have such another " beargarden" as Mr. Rowland Hill said they had made of the Bible-Society meeting last May. Yet in one thing at least the committee are consistent—their old plan of secrecy. The meetings of all our religious societies are fair, open, and above board; but this Society, as is now known and admitted, was got up in stealth; no person was to speak or vote against the committee's proceedings; clergymen, dissenting ministers, and governors, were secretly and fraudulently cashiered of their rights ; every thing has been transacted with closed doors, but doors not thick enough to prevent much of the noise and quarrelling getting vent abroad: and now, faithful to their systematic and studied course of clandestine secrecy, the committee being forced by a requisition of more than fifty of their members to call a public meeting for the exposure of their delinquencies, have actually advertised that no person shall be admitted into the room who has not first deposited a guinea in their box. The great body of the friends of religion of all classes who are wont to frequent such meetings being thus excluded, and with them those awkward divulgers of iniquity, reporters (unless some zealous member should have specially qualified one by the tender of a guinea), the committee hope that their misdeeds will not go forth to the public. But it is all in vain; the whole Babel must, and ought to fall: it has been commenced and carried on in a spirit which will not bear the light; and though Exeter Hall should be as hermetically sealed as the committee room in Sackville Street, it will be impossible to revive in any honest and impartial mind the credit of an institution, which, for whatever reason, loves darkness rather than light, and dares not throw itself frankly upon the sympathies and intelligence even of its own friends.
he states of it, says that he does so " without fear of contradiction j" but whether he " feared " contradiction or not, he shall have it, and in as strong terms as I can courteously use to a brother clergyman and personal friend. I feel confidently assured that Mr. Melvill never examined, perhaps never saw, this Lausanne version of which he affirms so positively that no man could learn from it the way to the Father, and that it teaches that Christ is nothing more than a man, leaving the world in the ruins of the Fall unreconciled to God. Now, my lord, I am far from having the talent or eloquence of my reverend friend, but I have the power of opening my eyes and seeing whether his statement is true; and I contradict it wholly, unreservedly, and with the most perfect confidence. My friend smiles and shakes his head; but has he seen the book? He has read of it in Sackvillestreet circulars; and so have I, my lord, and I have learned to distrust thera as much as I do West-Indian manifestoes. But the book itself is on my table, and I will shew whether or not it verifies my friend's assertions. I say not that there are no bad readings in it; I am sorry to say there are; and I will notice this point anon, and also the bearing of the whole matter upon the Bible Society.
Mr. Melvill's charge is in substance, and it is expressed more distinctly by several of the Sackville-street writers, that the chief editor of this French Testament—Professor Levade of Lausanne—being a Socinian, Neologian, or something of that character, if not an absolute Deist, did corruptly Socinianize the readings of this version under the pretence of improving them; the inference from which is, that the Bible Society ought to adopt a Trinitarian test: though how this follows I see not, for there was no Socinian in Earlstreet to confederate with this wicked confederator. Let me ask my friend Mr. Melvill two questions: Was Professor Levade a man likely to wish deliberately to Socinianize the Bible; and in point of fact has he done so? My reverend brother says Yes to both questions, and this " without fear of contradiction:" I answer No, with much assurance of " contradiction," but with no fear of confutation. I am aware that, after the bold charges which have been urged against Professor Levade, it may be hazardous to plead for a mitigation of sentence: but it must be remembered I am not undertaking the defence of his personal piety or character, which are not within my jurisdiction, but only asserting for him that measure of theological orthodoxy which must prevent the suspicion of any wish or attempt on his part to perpetrate the enormities alleged against him.
But first let me ask, my lord, who is this said Professor Levade? Published documents are better evidence than gossip and scandal; and on turning to these 1 find a mass of attestations much larger than I can transfer to my pages. But I take a few samples. And first I glance at the following from the pen—yes, my lord, from the pen of my good friend Mr. T. P. Piatt, one of the seceders from the Bible Society, and an active founder of the Trinitarian institution. Writing from Paris in 1822, he says,—
"I reached Lausanne on Tuesday evening the 11th, and was received by Professor Levade, I may literally say, with open arms. He seems to be indeed the very life of
vising the recent edition of the Scriptures, all the details of business seem to pass through his hands. He took me from one cabinet and closet to another, and I found them as full of Bibles of all types and dimensions as the warehouses in Earl-street; he opened his desk and drawers, and shewed me his packets of letters, his books and registers arranged and drawn up with an accuracy and regularity which would have reflected no discredit upon the most able agent in the Society's offices. Amidst the doubts and perplexities in the Canton, and the opposition which it excites, the mind of the Professor seems to rest on the Bible Society as on a ground of security and peace*."
ident, and his labours in re
» In the same letter Air. Piatt, whose testimony is now so carefully concealed by the opposers of the Bible Society, states,—'' The Bible Societies abroad are not less