Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Archive for December, 2011

Myths Debunked: King James and the King James Bible

Trevelyon Miscellany. 1608. Folger.

OK, more myths to bust. King James I did not translate the King James Bible, and he was also no saint! I’ve seen at least one recent book (a collection of KJV excerpts) entitled King James’s Bible. The implicit claim of this title is true, to the extent that the KJV was commissioned by King James, and it was presumably the Bible he himself used from 1611 until his death in 1625. But, in this last sense, it was pretty much everybody else’s Bible, too.

James certainly did not do any of the translating of the KJV. He was a very scholarly king, interested in theology and the Bible. Among other works, he wrote a book on demonology (1597) and a learned exposition on several chapters of Revelation. He also translated some of the Psalms into meter, but this practice tended to involve turning English prose versions into verse, rather than rendering the original Hebrew into English. Lots of people wrote metrical Psalms at this period, and most didn’t know Hebrew.

James set the KJV ball rolling, but once it was in motion he more or less left it alone. The eminent scholars worked away on the project for years, without any involvement from the monarch. The dedicatory Epistle to King James at the front of the KJV refers to the king as the “principle mover and author of this work.” However, the word “author” in this case doesn’t mean what it does in a phrase like “the author of Shakespeare’s works is William Shakespeare.” It’s closer to our word “authority,” or really someone who authorizes or instigates (as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it).

James I at the hunt (standing, right). Gascoigne, The noble art of venerie or hunting. 1611. Folger.

It’s interesting that the British tend to refer to the KJV as the “Authorized Version,” while Americans prefer the “King James Bible.” The term “Authorized Version” dates from only the nineteenth century, while as early as 1723, according to one writer, it was “commonly called King James’s Bible.” In the seventeenth century, most people just referred to it as the new or latest translation. For the first American edition of the KJV, the “Revolutionary Bible” of 1782, the printer Robert Aitken carefully removed any reference to King James.

I’ve also occasionally heard the KJV described as the “St. James Bible.” Maybe people have the “St. James Infirmary Blues” going through their heads, or they’re thinking of the many churches dedicated to St. James (there are actually several saints by this name, including St. James the Great, St. James the Less, and St. James the Just). I don’t know. But the only James associated with the KJV is King James I, and he was never canonized. Not only was he less than saintly in his behavior (a bit of a party animal), but he was not a Catholic, which seems a fairly basic requirement for sainthood.

We can keep calling it the King James Bible, but we shouldn’t let that nickname mislead us into giving James more credit than he’s due.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, on view through January 16, 2012.


Apollo 8 and the King James Bible

Earthrise. NASA.

Forty three years ago today, on December 24, 1968, a global radio and television audience estimated at half a billion people listened to a live broadcast from lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 astronauts. Their spacecraft was the first manned vehicle in history to reach the Moon and the first to go into orbit around it; hours earlier, they had photographed the planet Earth above the lunar surface in a famous image now known as “Earthrise.”

As the Christmas Eve broadcast came to an end, Lunar Module Pilot William Anders began to read from the book of Genesis, using the words of the King James Bible translation, produced more than three and a half centuries earlier. (Genesis, in particular, was translated by the First Westminster Company, one of six companies of translators who worked at Oxford, Cambridge, or Westminster.) Using a copy of the text on a fireproof page, prepared in advance of the mission and kept at the back of the flight plan, Anders started with the familiar words, “In the beginning…”

Command Module Pilot James Lovell continued the Genesis passage, followed by Commander Frank Borman, who had chosen the reading. Borman then brought the broadcast to an end with the words: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good earth.”

Listen to the original audio of the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis (with transcript) on our Manifold Greatness website. The Apoll0 8 recording is also included in the  audio guide to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.


From Graceland to Shakespeare’s Globe, Our Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Shakespeare's Globe

Succumbing to an irresistible urge, we’ve put together this list of the most-viewed posts from our Manifold Greatness blog to date this year. Seasoned online observers may not be surprised that mentions of Elvis Presley, debunked myths, and Bible printing errors earned high viewing statistics.

1) Manifold Greatness at Rhodes College. Folger exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin reports in this blog post on the recent 1611 Symposium at Rhodes College in Memphis, which also hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition. As he notes, the trip included a keynote address by scholar and Bible translator Robert Alter—and a tour of Graceland, which lent Elvis Presley’s King James Bible to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

2) Taking the Stage at Shakespeare’s Glove (and beyond!). The 400th anniversary year of 2011 included countless full-length readings of the 1611 King James Bible, most famously for a full week on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, described here. We later shared a great eyewitness report from Folger Education festivals project coordinator Carol Kelly, who was there on Easter Sunday.

3) Shakespeare Did Not Write the King James Bible, No Way, No How. Curator Hannibal Hamlin debunks the common, but mistaken, belief that Shakespeare contributed to the King James Bible. In other posts, he’s taken on the idea that the King James Bible influenced Shakespeare’s plays (earlier English Bibles did, the KJB didn’t), and the notion that May 2 is the KJB’s publication date (it isn’t).

Elvis Presley King James Bible. Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

4) The King and the King James Bible. Folger exhibition curator Steve Galbraith writes on the King James Bible owned by Elvis Presley (and now displayed at the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, as noted above) and Presley’s love of gospel music. Other “association copies” on view include a King James Bible owned by Frederick Douglass and one made for King James’s older son Prince Henry, as well as Bibles linked to Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne.

5) The Wicked Bible. The commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” just isn’t the same without the word “not”! This famous printing error is the subject of another post by curator Steve Galbraith on what may have caused it, the consequences for the Bible printer, and the “wicked” challenge of locating this rare edition.

6) Hallelujah! Handel’s Messiah and the King James Bible. The words of the King James Bible may well be most familiar to audiences today from performances of this familiar oratorio, first noted in this blog post from the April 13 anniversary of its Dublin premiere. Folger Consort artistic director Bob Eisenstein recently shared this fascinating, fresh look at the Messiah, which one early admirer said was worth riding “40 miles in the wind and rain” to hear.

7) Gregory Peck Moby Dick Released Today — 1956. One of many literary works (and subsequent movies) deeply influenced by the King James Bible is Melville’s Moby-Dick, represented in this blog post by the classic film.

The John Alden Bible. 1620. (c) The Pilgrim Society. Pilgrim Hall Museum.

8) The First King James Bible in America? This Thanksgiving week post considers the King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower (this Bible, on loan from Pilgrim Hall,is in the Folger exhibition, too!)… and the open question of Bibles in Jamestown.

9) The Bible and Othello. This fall, Folger Theatre produced Othello, first performed in 1604, the year that work began on the King James Bible; scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Othello in 1603 or 1604. Curator Hannibal Hamlin writes about biblical (though not KJB-specific) connections to the play.

10) Discovering a “Judas Bible.” Curator Steve Galbraith writes on about another classic early King James Bible printing mistake—and on making a discovery within the Folger collection as the current exhibition was prepared.

Our thanks to everyone who contributed to the Manifold Greatness blog this year (see this full list of blog consultants and contributors) and to all of you who read our blog and created these rankings, one view at a time!  Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible  will be open to the public, free of charge, at the Folger Shakespeare Library through January 16. (Holiday hours: The Folger exhibition will be closed on December 24 through 26, but will be open as usual on December 31, January 1, and January 2.) 


Red-Letter Days

King James Bible. 1611. Folger.

My two favorite categories of English language idioms are those derived from printing and those derived from baseball. I can find no excuse for discussing baseball terms and phrases in a blog devoted to the King James Bible, so I’ll simply provide you with this link to Wikipedia and move on to printing.

One of the happy byproducts of the history of bookmaking is the bits of language that have traveled out of the printing house and into our common English parlance. Calling letters upper and lower case, for example, comes from the physical arrangement of the two type cases that held majuscule (capital or upper case) letters and minuscule (lower case) letters. For a visual aid, check out these photos from the Bodleian Library.

Other common idioms that may have bibliographic roots are “out of sorts” and “mind your p’s and q’s.” I have small children, so I often find myself talking like I’m in a printing house. The truth is, however, that the jury is out on these origins of these phrase, but The Happy Dragons’ Press is on the case (please note that “on the case” is not a printer’s term).

Another common bibliographic idiom travels back centuries to early manuscript Bibles. Today the term “red-letter day” is often used to donate special days of any sort, but it has its origins in liturgical calendars found in manuscript and printed Bibles. While most of the days of the calendar were written or printed in black ink, the more special days were emphasized by being written or printed in red ink. These red-letter days typically included saint’s days and other festivals.

King James Bible. 1611. Folger. (Detail)

Like most Bibles that came before it, the King James Bible includes a calendar. The page from the 1611 King James Bible shown above in full (with a close-up view here) is for the month of December, which happens to contain a number of red-letter days—including, of course, Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

NOTE: For audio comments from Steven Galbraith on how the printer used black and red inks on this calendar page (and for a closer look at the page itself), go to Read the Book on the Manifold Greatness website; select “December calendar” from the Choose a Page menu. Read the Book is also available at a computer station within the Manifold Greatness exhibition, on view at the Folger Shakespeare Library through January 16.


“A New Song: Celebrating the King James Bible” from Folger Consort

We’re delighted to announce that CDs and mp3 downloads of Folger Consort’s “A New Song” are now available online. You may recall from this earlier blog post that the Folger’s resident early music ensemble, Folger Consort, joined forces with the Washington National Cathedral’s vocal chamber ensemble CATHEDRA in late September and early October to perform “A New Song: Music Inspired by the King James Bible.” This new release is the happy result.

A New Song: Celebrating the King James Bible is Folger Consort’s first entirely new recording in eleven years. Musical settings of biblical verse and other sacred works from the reigns of England’s James I and James II by composers Henry Purcell, Thomas Tomkins, Orlando Gibbons, and John Blow are complemented by instrumental fantasies by Purcell, Gibbons, and Giovanni Coprario. Much more information, including preview audio clips, album notes, and more, is available at the link cited above, www.cdbaby.com/cd/folgerconsort11.

Performers include Washington National Cathedral’s chamber vocal ensemble CATHEDRA and instrumentalists Risa Browder, violin; Robert Eisenstein, violin; Christopher Kendall, lute, theorbo; Adam Pearl, organ; Alice Robbins, viol, basse de violon; and Henry Valoris, viola. Robert Eisenstein and Christoper Kendall are the artistic directors of Folger Consort. The running time for the full CD is  77 minutes, 24 seconds.

The “New Song” concerts were among several KJB-related Folger Shakespeare Library programs produced during the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, on display through January 16. Another Folger Manifold Greatness program takes place this Friday, December 16: Poetics and the Bible, with poet Jacqueline Osherow and scholar Michele Osherow.


The Hamlin Family Bible

Hamlin family Bible on display at Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. 2011.

It was a particular treat to be able to include a Bible from my own family in the Family Bibles case of the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. My fellow exhibition curator Steve Galbraith, exhibition manager Caryn Lazzuri, and I had been looking for a nineteenth-century Bible to represent the later history of family Bibles, when publishers provided pre-printed genealogical pages. We also thought it would be good to use an American Bible, continuing our transatlantic story.

Around the same time, after my father’s death in January 2011, I came across an old Bible in my parents’ home in New Haven. It was an old, somewhat worse-for-wear, King James Bible, printed in Boston in 1841 by B.B. Mussey. A battered plastic wrapper around it still had a mailing label attached, addressed to Louise Hamlin, known to me in childhood as “Cousin Louise.” On looking through the Bible, I found some family history recorded on blank leaves between the Old Testament and the New, one of the places often used for this purpose. The information related to, and was presumably written by, my great-great-great grandfather, Hannibal Hamlin.

Campaign banner. 1860. Library of Congress.

Hannibal Hamlin is actually of more than family interest, since he served as Vice-President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, during the first term of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Hamlin entered politics in his home state of Maine, where he was a member of the House of Representatives. Hamlin later served as U.S. representative, U.S. senator, and Governor of Maine, before becoming Vice President. He started out as a Democrat, but in a move that caused considerable shock in Washington, he crossed the floor of the Senate in 1856 to join the new Republican Party as a protest against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Hamlin was a life-long opponent of slavery, which was part of the reason he was dropped from the ticket for Lincoln’s second presidential campaign.

In the Bible, Hamlin records his two marriages, first to Sarah Jane Emery. Sarah Jane died in 1855; Hamlin must have liked the family, since he married her sister Ellen Vesta Emery the next year. The births of Hamlin’s children are also recorded in the Bible. Charles and Cyrus were the most important historically, both serving as officers during the Civil War. Cyrus championed the enlistment of African-American troops, and led a brigade of black soldiers at the Siege of Port Hudson. On retirement he was awarded the honorary rank of brevet major general. He died of yellow fever in 1867. Charles fought at Gettsyburg, and retired with the honorary rank of brevet brigadier general. Charles and his sister, Sarah, were at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot.

Charles had a number of children. One of them, Cyrus, was my great-grandfather. Another, Charles Eugene, was the father of Louise, to whom the Family Bible was passed down, along with much other family memorabilia. I still have Hamlin’s baby rattle, the walking sticks that got him around Washington, his copy of Byron’s works, and lots of pictures. Charles Eugene also wrote a biography of the vice president. I’m lucky to have so much information about my family history, but like so many American and British families, I have some of that information stored in the old family Bible.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Handel’s Messiah: Worth “Forty Miles in the Wind and Rain”

On display in the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition: Messiah. ca. 1807. Folger.

It always strikes me around this time of year, when our thoughts turn toward Messiah, that if things had turned out differently Georg Frideric Handel might never have invented the English oratorio. Most of us are familiar with the form through Messiah, which received its first performance in Dublin in 1742, and has been wildly popular practically ever since. In fact, since its first London performances it has been performed every year and unlike so much music from the first half of the eighteenth century it has never fallen out of favor with audiences.

A little digression here: Messiah (which takes much of its text from the King James Bible) was never intended as a Christmas piece, but rather was first offered during Lent. We of the Folger Consort, although we too have succumbed to the modern tradition of Christmas-time performances, favor the institution of Monteverdi’s masterpiece, the Vespers of 1610, as the new standard December masterpiece and the return of Messiah performances to their original schedule. But that is probably material for another blog post…

But back to the chain of events which led Handel, a German living in London who loved Italian opera above all else, to invent the English oratorio, and hence to write this most beloved of works.

Starting with fifteen wildly popular performances of Rinaldo in 1711, he had great success with opera. But Handel’s three decade run in London as a successful opera producer and composer ended in 1737. It really wasn’t his fault—his operas continued to be sung by famous singers and the tunes were just as appealing as ever. But by the 1730s he had rivals, all competing for the shrinking number of Londoners who were still inclined to attend long Italian operas. Audiences were becoming dissatisfied with pieces featuring implausible plots sung entirely in an incomprehensible language.

Messiah word book. London, 1749(?), Folger.

Yet Handel still yearned to compose theatrical music. As early as 1713 he was in the habit of playing on the organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral and then crossing the street to the Queen’s Arms Tavern to indulge his legendary appetite for, well, extra-musical refreshments. Some of his Cathedral companions there no doubt assisted the German opera composer in acquiring a thorough knowledge of the English choral tradition, especially the music of Henry Purcell.

He used this knowledge in the creation of his only truly original musical form, the English oratorio. Although the oratorios were never staged, the musical style and dramatic sweep of the recitatives and arias are straight from the opera tradition. Handel’s use of English and choruses made the form unique. The struggles of the Old Testament heroes and fates of their people portrayed in their librettos, or ‘word books,’ found a national resonance with the subjects of George I. Prosperous Londoners, at the center of their vast empire, really did identify with the chosen people of the Bible.

Christopher Kendall and Robert Eisenstein, artistic directors of the Folger Consort. Photo: Mig Dooley.

It has been fashionable for scholars to deny the supremacy of Messiah in Handel’s vast body of works, and it is unfortunate, in a sense, that the popularity of this and a few other works overshadow the true scope of Handel’s genius. He was a composer who drew equally upon French, Italian, German, and English traditions to forge a uniquely personal musical style in orchestral, chamber, vocal, and especially theatrical music. And yet Messiah does illustrate his greatness, in a perfectly proportioned work including splendid examples of Handel’s wit, great humanity and compassion. And, of course, the work has remained incredibly popular. It seems pointless to deny the judgment of those like Benjamin Victor, who in 1752 declared his willingness to “ride forty miles in the wind and rain to be present at a performance of the Messiah in London.”

As a gift to the public in conjunction with the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Folger Consort present a free download of six selections from a live audio recording of Handel’s Messiah from performances by Folger Consort and the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. 

Robert Eisenstein is, with Christopher Kendall, one of two artistic directors of the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library.


I Swear It’s Not Too Late

The Byrds. Turn, Turn, Turn! LP cover.

Forty-six years ago today, the Byrds released their second album, Turn! Turn! Turn! The album’s title track is a folk rock interpretation of a song Pete Seeger had written in 1956 based on Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1 as translated in the King James Bible. Seeger’s adaptation was popular among the artists of the early 60s folk scene, but when the Byrds applied their groundbreaking folk rock sound to the song, it soared to #1 on the charts in the U.S.

Over the decades, the popularity of the Byrds’ version has not only continued but the recording has become a powerful cultural landmark. The opening jangle of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker is a sound that immediately evokes the turbulent times of the 1960s. The song’s concluding appeal for peace, “I swear it’s not too late” (Seeger’s original contribution to the lyrics), will be forever linked with the Vietnam War. Yet the song and its message remain somehow timeless, an unlikely collaboration spanning the centuries between the King James Bible translators, Seeger, and McGuinn.

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers