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(Originally Titled "The Learned Men": The Text Here Used Is That Of "The Learned Men")
Chapter 4: The Westminster Groups
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The Westminster Groups 

            The learned men arranged to carry on their work of translation in groups convenient to the other duties which, for many of them, came first. There were six groups: two at Westminster, one for the Old Testament and one for the New; two at Oxford, one for each Testament; and two at Cambridge, one for the Old Testament and one for the Apocrypha.

            The Westminster group of the Old Testament was headed by Lancelot Andrewes, and met in his pleasant deanery. It included John Overall, Dean of St. Paul’s; Hadrian Saravia, John Layfield, Robert Tigue, Francis Burleigh, Jeffrey King, Richard Thomson, William Bed-well, and Richard Clarke, all Hebrew scholars, greater or lesser. I shall present here the chief of these men and tell briefly of the rest in a postscript at the end of this book.

            John Overall, son of George Overall, was baptized in the cloth-making village of Hadleigh, Suffolk, some fifty miles from London, March 2, 1560. Within a little over a year he appears to have been an orphan. At the Hadleigh grammar school he was a sizar, or poor student, who served the master for his board and lodging. Two or three years later he moved on with the master to Trinity College. Grave and handsome, he was in 1592 vicar at Epping, beyond Epping Forest, in Essex. In 1596 he rose to the royal chair of divinity at Cambridge. Two years later, after some conflict about the choice, he became, at the queen’s behest. Master of Catherine Hall there. For one who had been a poor boy it was a very rapid advance.

            Yet from this, advancement was to come. In 1602 the queen, on the urging of Sir Philip Sidney’s friend, Sir Fulke Greville, made Overall Dean of St. Paul’s. He of course retained his post at Cambridge.

            At that time St. Paul’s was a peculiar problem, its state one far from ideal grace. The nave, called Paul’s Walk, had long been a meeting and trading place for all sorts of rough, noisy people. In an uproar like that of swarming bees, men and women thronged there to exchange news, to buy and sell horses, servants, and all kinds of things, to pick pockets and to concoct lawless schemes. It was a place where fops showed off and women from the streets sought, found, and bargained with men. Thomas Dekker wrote of the scene: 

What swaggering, what facing and out facing. What shuffling, what shouldering, what justling, what jeering, what byting of thumbs to beget quarrels, what holding uppe of finger to remember drunken meetings, what braving with feathers, what bearding with mustachoes, what casting open of cloakes to publish new clothes, what muffling in cloakes to hyde broken elbows . . . such trampling up and downe, such spelling, such halking, and such humming (every man’s lips making a noise, yet not a word to be understoode) . . . foote by foote, and elbow by elbow, shall you see walking the Knight, the Gull, the Gallant, the upstart, the Gentleman, the Clowne, the Captaine, the Apple-squire (pander), the Lawyer, the Usurer, the Citizen, the Bankerout, the Scholler, the Begger, the Doctor, the Ideot, the Ruffian, the Choater, the Puritan, the Cutthroat, the Hye-man, the Low-men, the True-man, and the Thiefe . . . whilst devotion kneeles at her prayers, doth prophanation walk under her nose in contempt of Religion.

            Indeed it seemed that in Paul’s Walk all the evil folk mentioned in the Bible rambled and strutted. There the jostling, the shuffling, the swearing, the coney catching, the squeals and shrieks and guffaws, the whole smelly hubbub, became so scandalous that Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part II, and Ben Jonson in Every Man in His Humour, make reference to this profanation.

            Part of Overall’s work as dean was to clean up this messy traffic. This he did rather quickly, for a time at least, while he rode between London and Cambridge. He also extended his responsibilities by getting for himself the livings at Algarkirk in Lincolnshire and Clothal in Hertfordshire. He was one of those condemned by Chaderton and others for being “plural parsons” with several incomes.

            Now at the age of forty-four, just before he became a Bible translator, he felt able to support a wife. On April 16, 1604, at Mitcham, Surrey, he married the lovely Anne, daughter of Edward Orwell of Christ Church, London. Called “the greatest beauty of her time in England,” she was the most recent bride among the learned men as the Bible translation got under way. Before it was done, her flighty conduct would occasion gossip.

            Why Overall was placed in the Hebrew group at Westminster is unclear, for he knew little of that language, being mainly a Latin scholar. Fuller wrote of him that on his appointment to preach before the queen, “he professed . . . that he had spoken Latin so long, it was troublesome to speak English in a continued oration.” With no great fondness for preaching, he was content to quote the church fathers, and in general his views made him “a discreet presser of conformity.” Thus he wrote, “If any man shall therefore affirm that ... all civil power, jurisdiction, and authority was first derived from the people and disordered multitude, or either is originally still in them or else deduced by their consents, naturally from them, and is not God’s ordinance originally descending from Him and depending upon Him, he doth greatly err.” Clearly Overall had no use for any sense of commonwealth, no belief that the people of themselves could evolve government.

            Asked by the Earl of Essex whether a man might lawfully enjoy recreation upon the Sabbath after evening prayer. Overall thought that he might—that it was “necessary that both body and mind should have recreation, that a man may be so tedious and worn out in the service of God that he may not be fit for God’s service.” Thus the dean, with all his duties, seems to have thought that serving God might be wearing. Yet while he was vicar at Epping he had written of a common theological point with simplicity and almost evangelical zeal: “I was requested to come visit some of my parish that were sick, and coming I found them sicker in mind than body. The thing that troubled their minds, so they said, was this. They could not be persuaded that Christ died for them. Wherein, having by the comforts of the gospel, as I thought best, somewhat eased and persuaded them, I took occasion afterward in my sermon, for their sakes, to handle this point . . . Christ died for all men sufficiently, for the believer only effectually, as the sun that shineth sufficiently to give light to all, though it doth it effectually only to them that open their eyes; as water that is sufficient to quench all the thirsty, but doth it only to them that drink it; as physic that is sufficient to cure all maladies, but doth it effectually only where it is applied. So Christ, the sum of righteousness, the water of life, the heavenly medicine.”

            We may discount some of the praise of Overall because it is of the kind that the florid writers about these Elizabethan worthies gave freely to all. Yet he was a prodigious learned man, they said, learned and judicious, with a strong brain to improve his great reading, and accounted one of the most learned, controversial divines of his day, one of the most profound of the English nation.

            As a translator it was easy for Overall to go from St. Paul’s to Westminster, a trifle over two miles. He could have gone by road or by Thames river boat. St. Paul’s was under Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London. To what extent the ambitious bishop and the successful dean were jealous of each other can only be surmised, but Overall seems to have been enough in the Bancroft party to rise with him. He made himself deeply useful to the bishops by preparing a great volume of canons.

            Like Andrewes and Overall, Dr. Hadrian Saravia approved the divine right of kings and the August functions of bishops. King James and Bishop Bancroft must have found him a wholly safe man, sound in doctrine and practice. He was “a terrible high churchman,” one to exude the richer airs of Europe, for he was among the few learned men of foreign birth and training. Born in Artois in 1531 and therefore the oldest translator, Saravia had a father of Spanish descent and a Flemish mother. Both had become Protestants, so he had no popish childhood to outgrow.

            After training for the Church in the Low Countries, Saravia took part in drawing up the Walloon confession of faith and founded the Walloon church in Brussels. Copies of the confession were given to the Prince of Orange and to Count Egmont, the leaders of the Low Countries’ Protestants, on behalf of the Calvinists. At Leyden, Saravia was professor of divinity in the university and received the degree of doctor of divinity while he was pastor of the French Reformed Church there. No link appears between him and the Pilgrims or Brownists who fled from England to Holland and later sailed from Leyden to Plymouth, Massachusetts, after Saravia had left the Low Countries.

            Before reaching England Saravia was pastor of a church at Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Oxford gave him the doctor of divinity degree in 1590. There, while serving as vicar of Lewisham in Kent, he was a prebend of Canterbury, Worcester, and Westminster. His great friend was Richard Hooker, Rainolds’ student, who tried to lessen conflicts and became known as the seeker for the golden mean. Izaac Walton wrote that “those two excellent persons began a holy friendship increasing daily to so high and holy affection that their two wills seemed to be but one and the same. . . . They were supposed to be confessors to each other.”

            Much of Saravia’s writing is in Latin, but in plain English he maintained the authority of the bishops by apostolic warrant, and his “Treatise on the Different Degrees of the Christian Priesthood,” published in 1590. maintained that “by apostles are meant bishops,” with Titus and Timotheus in their turn created bishops by divinely authorized ordination. He warned the clergy of Guernsey that to overthrow this primitive polity was “not so much to reform as to deform,” and explained that “a sound form of government does not allow all to have equal authority for governing.” Clearly he was a man who disliked change and distrusted novelty.

            Thus, writing of the great value of the universities, he said that without these seminaries of all learning and virtue, “the refinements of society and civilization generally would vanish, and leave mankind to relapse into that wild state of the savages of America.” Only three of the learned men seem to have mentioned America, then so vastly unknown, and Saravia appears to have looked upon the New World with distaste and horror.

            A younger member of the Hebrew group at Westminster, Dr. John Layfield, had actually gone out with those daring men who enlarged England’s pride by voyage to lands beyond the seas. Layfield, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, fared forth to the West Indies as chaplain to the third Earl of Cumberland.

            Dr. Layfield enjoyed the flaunting colors of the tropics, and described with childlike delight what he saw on the islands where he landed. His is the sole really mundane writing that we have by any of the translators; he was earthy where all the rest were lofty. His long account of the voyage to Puerto Rico may be read in Purchas, His Pilgrims.

            The voyage was made in a spring late in the 1590's, some say 1596, others 1598. In May at the island of Dominica Layfield wrote: “By two in the afternoon we were come so near abroad the shore that we were met with many canoes manned with men wholly naked, saving that they had chains and bracelets and some bodkins in their ears, or some strap in their nostrils or lips. . . . They are men of good proportions, strong and light limbed, but few of them tall, their wits able to direct them to things bodily profitable. . . . They have wickers platted something like a broad shield to defend the rain, they that want these use a very broad leaf for that purpose. They provide shelter against the rain because it washeth off their red painting, laid so on that if you touch it you shall find it on your fingers. . . . They saw their women as naked as we had seen their men and alike attired even to the boring of their lips and ears. Yet in that nakedness they discovered some sparks of modesty, not willingly coming in the sight of strange and apparelled men, and when they did come busy to cover what should have been better covered. . . .”

            Though we can prove nothing by mere diction, there are many words in this passage that are found in the King James Bible: apparel, attired, discovered, nakedness, boring ears, covered, profitable. The rhythms of Layfield also may remind us faintly of those in the books on which he labored.

            “The soil is very fat,” he wrote, “even in the most neglected places matching the garden plats in England for a rich black mold; so mountainous (certain in the places where we came near the sea coasts) that the valleys may better be called pits than plains, and withall so impassably wooded that it is marvelous how those naked souls can be able to pull themselves through them without renting their natural clothes. . . . These hills are apparelled with very goodly trees of many sorts. The tall-ness of these unrequested trees makes the hills seem more hilly than of themselves happily they are; for they grow so like good children of some happy civil body, without envy or oppression, as that they look like a proud meadow about Oxford, when after some eruption Thames is again couched low within his own banks, leaving the earth’s mantle more rugged and flaky then otherwise it would have been.”

            Of Puerto Rico he wrote: “The soldiers which were found to lie abroad in the fields, when they awaked found as much of their bodies as lay upwards to be very wet. ... A wolvish kind of wild dogs which are bred in the woods and there do go in great companies together . . . live off crabs ... an animal, a living and sensible creature . . . these woods are full of those crabs. . . . Parrots and parakeets are here ... I have ordinarily seen them fly in flocks. . . .”

            More than Lancelot Andrewes even, Layfield observed details and set them down. About plants he was exact and charming. 

“A woody pine apple is of an exceeding durance and lasting. The taste of this fruit is very delicious, so as it quickly breedeth a fullness. For I cannot like it in the palate to any (me thinks) better than to very ripe strawberries and cream, the rather if a man hath already eaten almost his belly full. ... It groweth upon a bush like an artichoke.”

            About drinks, which intrigued all Elizabethans, he said: “The Spaniard hath two . . . sorts of drink, the one called Guacapo made of molasses (that is the coarsest of their sugar) and some spices; the other kind, and used by the better sort of them, is called Alo which is a kind of Bragget (honey and ale fermented together) with many hot spices. . . .” Of cassava juice he wrote: “Sodden, there is made a pretty kind of drink somewhat like small ale.” This is the writing of one who imbibed all the drinks with taste and good cheer. Conceivably he later relished fixing in English the Bible passages about drinking.

            The strange plantains impressed him. “These plantains are a fruit which grow on a shrub between an herb and a tree; but it is commonly called a tree of the height of a man, the stem of it as big as a man’s thigh, the fruit itself of the bigness and shape of a goat’s horn, it groweth yellowish and mellow being ripe either upon the tree or with keeping, and then eaten raw or roasted it is a good meat, coming near to the relish of an Apple-john [a new word when Layfield wrote] or a duson that hath been kept till it is over-ripe, saving that methought I still found some taste of a root in it, the meat of it is lapped up in a thin skin, which being scored the long way with a knife, delivereth what is within it. . . .” That is an early record of the banana, a word which dates from 1597.

            “Their Yerva will not have me forget it. This herb is a little contemptible weed to look upon, with a long wood stalk creeping upon the ground, and seldom lifting itself above a handful high on the ground. But it hath a property which confoundeth my understanding, and perhaps will seem strange in the way of philosophers, who have denied every part of sense to any plant; yet this certainly seemeth to have feeling. For if you lay your finger or a stick upon the leaves of it, not only that very piece which you touched but that that is near to it will contract itself and run together, as if it were presently dead and withered, not only the leaves but the very sprigs, being touched, will so disdainfully withdraw themselves, as if they would slip themselves rather than be touched, in which state both leaf and sprig will continue a good while, before it return to the former great and flourishing form, and they say that so long as the party which touched it standeth by it, it will not open, but after his departure it will. ... It must be more than sense, whence such a sullenness can proceed.”

            That is easy, zestful writing, fairly direct though loose. Compare it with the simple, exact, firm accounts of the temple and tabernacle in Exodus and I Kings. Of Dr. Layfield it is said that “being skilled in architecture, his judgment was much relied on for the fabric of the tabernacle and temple.”* (*Collin, Ecclesiastical History, 1852. Vol. VII, page 337. This is the only plain statement I have found about what wording any translator wrought.)

            In 1602 Dr. Layfield became rector of a great London church, St. Clement Danes, which stands amid a parting of the traffic in the Strand. There, near where the learned men worked on the Bible at Westminster, he stayed for years.

            Like Dean Overall, not long before the translating began and doubtless because he too had achieved a good living, Layfield let romance into his life. On January 22, 1603, John Layfield, aged forty, was licensed to marry Elizabeth, widow of John Brickett. She seems at once to have melted into his background, for we have no further mention of her. When Layfield needed more money, Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter, wrote to his half brother, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, asking that the latter give the living at Gravely to his “well worthy” chaplain. Dr. Layfield. There is no record showing whether he got the place.

            Another of the younger men in the Westminster Hebrew group, Richard Thomson, called “Dutch” Thomson, was born in Holland of English parents. In 1587 he took his B.A. at Clare Hall, Cambridge, and he received his M.A. degree from both Cambridge and Oxford. His living was at Snailwell, Cambridgeshire. Later his sponsor was Sir Robert Killigrew. A great interpreter of Martial’s Latin epigrams, he was also called a “grand propagator of Arminianism,” the anti-Calvinist way of thought developed in Holland.

            Prynne said he was “a debauched drunken English Dutchman who seldom went to bed one night sober.” Yet Richard Montague called him “a most admirable philologer.” Few divines were averse to drinking, and few wholly abstained from it. “Dutch” Thomson is the only one of the learned men to whom any referred as drunken. But if he had what others may have thought too much by night, he arose in the morning with his head clear enough to go forward competently with the day’s work.

            William Bedwell was a far more famous scholar in England, where he was the father of Arabic studies. Arabic he held to be the “only language of religion” as well as the chief language of diplomacy and business, “from the Fortunate Islands to the China Seas.” Born in 1562, Bed-well was of Trinity College, Cambridge, and traveled in Holland, where he went to Leyden to see the Arabic collections of Scaliger, the famous linguist. In 1601 he was rector of St. Ethelburgh’s in Bishopsgate Street, London. Not only an Oriental scholar, he was a mathematician, with a notable library of books on mathematics and astronomy.

            In a hack work called “The Survey and Antiquity of the Towns of Stamford . . . and Tottenham High Cross,” he described the town of Tottenham as “compounded of a quadrate and triangle, which kind of figure is of Euclid and his scholars both Greeks and Latins called trape-soiden.”

            Still odder writing may be found in his Mahomet Unmasked and his Arabian Trudgman. A trudgman, he said, “signifieth an interpreter.” But some of his interpretations may be questioned: thus he said of “sarrha, serra, or as the Spaniards do pronounce it sierra, a desert place, a wilderness. Sahara: the stony country, the sands; the same almost that sarra is, that is a wilderness of desert, un-tilled and uninhabited, by reason that it is nothing but rocks and overspread with sand.” Would any modem scholar connect Sahara with sierra, which means a long jagged mountain chain, from the Latin meaning “saw”?

            Among the learned men of course were preachers as well as scholars. Richard Clarke, a fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and vicar on the island of Thanet, beyond the mouth of the Thames, was one of the six preachers in Canterbury Cathedral. Also he preached in the famous metropolitan Church of Christ, Canterbury. His sermons show the shape of his thought and his popular style: “There are two sorts of atheism, mental and vocal ... I pardon the mouth atheist. For he that shall openly say. There is no God, will ipso facto be thought beside himself. Or if he seem to have his wits, yet they that hear him will abhor him; they will stop their ears against his blasphemy, they will hiss at him, they will spit at him; his impious assertion shall not stumble any one. But the heart atheist that saith God is, but thinks it not, and lives accordingly, ungodlily, unrighteously, unsoberly . . . his sin is greater than his hypocrisy.”

            The Westminster Hebrew group seems to have been a truly balanced team. It glowed with Elizabethan fire that ran through Andrewes, the linguist with a good temper; Overall, the plugging workman; Saravia, who had solid Leyden training; Layfield, of the simple style, who had voyaged to America; Thomson the master of word roots; Bedwell, versed in Eastern tongues; and Clarke, the zealous preacher. These, with the lesser men of the group, could sit down in a stone room by the fire and discuss in placid, capable fashion the books of the Bible they were to translate.

            Nearly all these men at Westminster were from the south of England, most of them holding livings in or near London. They needed to be within a day’s ride on horseback from their places to carry on this special work regularly.

            But there the likeness ended, for all shades of opinion were to be found among them. “Dutch” Thomson the Arminian came naturally by his views, but Saravia the high churchman had studied at Leyden and what did he think of Jacobus Arminius? Strict Calvinists, of course, liked even less the Arminian softening of the doctrine of predestination, and at this time the conformists in the English Church were perhaps less rabid than the Puritans.

            Yet it is clear that while they worked together, at least, these learned men with all their shades of doctrine bore with each other. In the Westminster Hebrew group were none who fought in the open. They could unite in their desire to contrive a good and useful Bible and to confirm themselves in the good will of the king and of Bancroft, the strongest moving force in the Church. At the same time they had their own inner urges toward rewards— better livings, honors, added money. How could they afford to fight among themselves?

            The Greek group at Westminster translated the Epistles. Their head was William Barlow, Dean of Chester, whose account of the Hampton Court parley is our main source for what took place there. As Chester is a long way from London, Barlow must often have stayed away from his duties as dean.

            William Barlow had studied at St. John’s College, Cambridge. He was a fellow at Trinity Hall in 1590, and granted a degree of doctor of divinity in 1599. Meanwhile in 1597 he was rector of St. Dunstan’s in the East in London. Chaplain to Archbishop Whitgift, he also preached before the queen as one of her chaplains. She praised his sermon on the plow, saying, “Barlow’s text might seem taken from the cart, but his talk might teach all the court.” At the 1601 convocation he preached a famous “barley loaf” sermon that the Puritans misliked. At Hampton Court he showed that he misliked the Puritans.

            An important event of his career before he began to translate the Bible was his role at the execution of the Earl of Essex, February 23, 1601. Three chaplains, of whom Barlow was one, heard the condemned lord recite the Creed on the scaffold, Essex, so tall, so youthful-looking, so blond, clad in scarlet, lay down and after a moment gave the sign for the end by thrusting out his scarlet arms. The mighty axeman thrice raised the axe in a mighty curve and thrice smashed it down. He was so frightened that he first slashed the earl through the shoulder, then through the head, and at last through the neck in a fashion most grisly. Stooping, he lifted the bloody head, held it high for all to see, and roared as was his final duty, “God save the Queen!”

            About kings and queens, Barlow was always sound. Thus he wrote: “It is the prudence of a prince which swayeth the scepter as the stern guides the ship.” The king’s body, he said, is “sacred by holy unction.” Sacred providence, he declared, “is to keep kings’ persons and their authority sacred; that is, free from touch of disgrace, or dismay of terror by any human power.” King James greatly approved of him.

            Others in this New Testament group were John Spenser, Roger Fenton, Ralph Hutchinson, Michael Rabbett, Thomas Sanderson, and William Dakins.

            John Spenser had many livings. Son of John, gent., he was born in Suffolk in 1559. In 1577 he earned his B.A. degree at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he received his doctor of divinity degree in 1602. He was rector of Aveley and Ardleigh, Essex, of Feversham, Kent, of St. Sepulchre’s, Newgate, and of Broxtourne, Hertfordshire, all close enough to each other for relatively easy travel. His wife was a sister of George Cranmer. Another close friend of Richard Hooker, he wrote the foreword to Hooker’s most famous work. Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Spenser’s flowing style carried figures of speech to great lengths. In his sermon at Paul’s Cross, “God’s Love to His Vineyard,” he elaborated on the comparison of the Church to a vine rooted in Christ, warning the Church in elaborate metaphors which ranged from horticulture to climate, from fencing to irrigation.

            Roger Fenton, one of the bright young men among the Bible scholars, was born in Lancashire in 1565 and became a fellow of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. In 1601 he was rector of St. Stephen’s Walbrook, and in 1603 rector of St. Benet’s, Sherehog. Since in 1604 he was also chaplain to Sir Thomas Edgerton, the Lord Chancellor, he appears to have been favored by the elite of the state. As has been observed, many of the translators had patrons in high places.

            Fenton’s main printed work was A Treatise on Usury, in which he described what he called “the usury of nature, that most important and primitive increase which the earth yieldeth in fruits unto man for his seed sown.” With this man must not meddle. Usury in terms of interest on loans was another matter; Fenton doubted its virtue even for the benefit of widows and orphans. Yet, though he deplored the multiplying coneys of this branch of finance, Fenton became the “painful, pious, learned and beloved” rector of Chigwell, in Essex—a living maintained by those who knew enough to invest wisely. In other ways also the ravens came and the manna fell for him, because he had friends among the lofty.

            While the sermons of these worthies gather dust on their shelves, the English Bible, for us the word of our God, stands forever. How could such men as Barlow, Spenser, and Fenton have risen to the literary heights reached by the King James version? We may say in awe and in the words which they so miraculously managed to choose for St. Paul, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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