John Seldon was no literary critic, and his remarks on the Authorized Version of the Bible (1611) show an extraordinary insensibility to the merits of that mighty book. That it is the greatest monument, by far, of Jacobean prose there can be very little doubt, and the objection which Seldon himself made and which has been rather unwisely echoed since – that it does not directly represent the speech of its own or any time – is entirely fallacious. No good prose style ever does represent, except in such forms as letter-writing and the dialogue in plays and novels, the spoken language of its time, but only a certain general literary form, colored and shaped not too much by contemporary practice. The extraordinary merits of the Authorized Version are probably due to the fact that its authors, with almost more than merely human good sense of purpose and felicity of result, allowed the literary excellences of the texts from which they worked – Hebrew, [Aramaic,] Greek, and Latin – and those of the earlier versions into English from that called Wyclif’s to the Bishops’ Bible, to filter through their own sieve and acquire a moderate, but only a moderate, tincture of the filter itself in passing. No doubt the constant repetition, universal till recently and pretty general – fortunately – still, of the text in the ears of each generation has had much to do with its prerogative authority, and still more with the fact that it still hardly seems archaic. But the unanimous opinion of the best critics from generation to generation, and still more the utter shipwreck of the elaborately foolish attempt to revise it some years ago,* are evidences of intrinsic goodness which will certainly be confirmed by everyone who, with large knowledge of English at different periods, examines it impartially now. There is no better English anywhere than the English of the Bible, and one of its great merits as English is its retention of the “blend” character of all the truest English products.
*Saintsbury is referring to the English Revised Version (1881).
From: A Short History of English Literature by George Saintsbury (London: The Macmillan Company, 1898), pp. 380-381.