Thanks to translators and printing presses, the English Bible was more available in Herbert’s time than ever before.  Big English Bibles for church lecterns had appeared under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  But it was the translation of 1560, made by English Protestant exiles in Geneva, which held the field.  It had gone through more than fifty editions when Herbert was born [in 1593].  It was cheap and available in handy quarto and octavo formats.  It kept selling after the King James translation appeared in 1611, when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge.  The King James Bible first appeared in large folio format to sit on church lecterns, printed in Gothic black-letter type.  But it was soon available in the smaller formats and the clearer Roman typeface, slowly overtaking the Geneva translation in popularity.  As well as being the central ingredient of church services, it was affordable and could be studied at home.  It was exhilarating to have the authoritative text, God’s Word, in your own hands, as Herbert testifies.  There were commentaries to assist study.  Calvin’s were popular: “worthy to be compared to the ancients”, according to John Donne.  Herbert possessed “the comment of Lucas Brugensis [a Catholic writer] upon the Scripture” and valued it enough to leave it to his curate, John Hayes, in his will.  His Country Parson “hath one Comment, at least, upon every book of the Scripture and, ploughing with this, and his own meditations, he enters into the secrets of God treasured in the holy Scripture”, which was “the book of books, the storehouse and magazine of life and comfort”.

From: Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert by John Drury (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 10.  Originally published in hardcover in 2013.


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