Atlantic Monthly, Volume 3, Issue 17, March, 1859
Part 5 out of 5
days will have no excuse for not sitting at the feet of Jesus; there
will be no cumbering with much serving; the Church will have only Maries
in those days."
This remark, made without the slightest personal intention, called a
curious smile into Mrs. Scudder's face, which was reflected in a
slight blush from Mary's, when the crack of a whip and the rattling of
wagon-wheels disturbed the conversation and drew all eyes to the door.
There appeared the vision of Mr. Zebedee Marvyn's farm-wagon, stored
with barrels, boxes, and baskets, over which Candace sat throned
triumphant, her black face and yellow-striped turban glowing in the
fresh morning with a hearty, joyous light, as she pulled up the reins,
and shouted to the horse to stop with a voice that might have done
credit to any man living.
"Dear me, if there isn't Candace!" said Mary.
"Queen of Ethiopia," said the Doctor, who sometimes adventured a very
The Doctor was universally known in all the neighborhood as a sort of
friend and patron-saint of the negro race; he had devoted himself to
their interests with a zeal unusual in those days. His church numbered
more of them than any in Newport; and his hours of leisure from study
were often spent in lowliest visitations among them, hearing their
stories, consoling their sorrows, advising, and directing their plans,
teaching them reading and writing, and he often drew hard on his slender
salary to assist them in their emergencies and distresses.
This unusual condescension on his part was repaid on theirs with all the
warmth of their race; and Candace, in particular, devoted herself to the
Doctor with all the force of her being.
There was a legend current in the neighborhood, that the first efforts
to catechize Candace were not eminently successful, her modes of
contemplating theological tenets being so peculiarly from her own
individual point of view that it was hard to get her subscription to
a received opinion. On the venerable clause in the Catechism, in
particular, which declares that all men sinned in Adam and fell with
him, Candace made a dead halt:--
"I didn't do dat ar', for one, I knows. I's got good mem'ry,--allers
knows what I does,--nebber did eat dat ar' apple,--nebber eat a bit ob
him. Don't tell me!"
It was of no use, of course, to tell Candace of all the explanations of
this redoubtable passage,--of potential presence, and representative
presence, and representative identity, and federal headship. She met all
with the dogged,--
"Nebber did it, I knows; should 'ave 'membered, if I had. Don't tell
And even in the catechizing class of the Doctor himself, if this answer
came to her, she sat black and frowning in stony silence even in his
Candace was often reminded that the Doctor believed the Catechism, and
that she was differing from a great and good man; but the argument made
no manner of impression on her, till, one day, a far-off cousin of hers,
whose condition under a hard master had often moved her compassion, came
in overjoyed to recount to her how, owing to Dr. H.'s exertions, he had
gained his freedom. The Doctor himself had in person gone from house
to house, raising the sum for his redemption; and when more yet was
wanting, supplied it by paying half his last quarter's limited salary.
"He do dat ar'?" said Candace, dropping the fork wherewith she was
spearing doughnuts. "Den I'm gwine to b'liebe ebery word _he_ does!"
And accordingly, at the next catechizing, the Doctor's astonishment was
great when Candace pressed up to him, exclaiming--
"De Lord bress you, Doctor, for opening de prison for dem dat is bound!
I b'liebes in you now, Doctor. I's gwine to b'liebe ebery word you say.
I'll say de Catechize now,--fix it any way you like. I did eat dat ar'
apple,--I eat de whole tree, an' swallowed ebery bit ob it, if you say
And this very thorough profession of faith was followed, on the part of
Candace, by years of the most strenuous orthodoxy. Her general mode of
expressing her mind on the subject was short and definitive.
"Law me! what's de use? I's set out to b'liebe de Catechize, an' I'm
gwine to bliebe it,--so!"
While we have been telling you all this about her, she has fastened her
horse, and is swinging leisurely up to the house with a basket on either
"Good morning, Candace," said Mrs. Scudder. "What brings you so early?"
"Come down 'fore light to sell my chickens an' eggs,--got a lot o' money
for 'em, too. Missy Marvyn she sent Miss Scudder some turkey-eggs, an'
I brought down some o' my doughnuts for de Doctor. Good folks must lib,
you know, as well as wicked ones,"--and Candace gave a hearty, unctuous
laugh. "No reason why Doctors shouldn't hab good tings as well as
sinners, is dere?"--and she shook in great billows, and showed her white
teeth in the _abandon_ of her laugh. "Lor bress ye, honey, chile!" she
said, turning to Mary, "why, ye looks like a new rose, ebery bit! Don't
wonder _somebody_ was allers pryin' an' spyin' about here!"
"How is your Mistress, Candace?" said Mrs. Scudder, by way of changing
"Well, porly,--rader porly. When Massa Jim goes, 'pears like takin' de
light right out her eyes. Dat ar' boy trains roun' arter his mudder like
a cosset, he does. Lor', de house seems so still widout him!--can't a
fly scratch his ear but it starts a body. Missy Marvyn she sent down,
an' says, would you an' de Doctor an' Miss Mary please come to tea dis
"Thank your mistress, Candace," said Mrs. Scudder; "Mary and I will
come,--and the Doctor, perhaps," looking at the good man, who had
relapsed into meditation, and was eating his breakfast without taking
note of anything going on. "It will be time enough to tell him of it,"
she said to Mary, "when we have to wake him up to dress; so we won't
disturb him now."
To Mary the prospect of the visit was a pleasant one, for reasons which
she scarce gave a definite form to. Of course, like a good girl, she had
come to a fixed and settled resolution to think of James as little as
possible; but when the path of duty lay directly along scenes and among
people fitted to recall him, it was more agreeable than if it had lain
in another direction. Added to this, a very tender and silent friendship
subsisted between Mrs. Marvyn and Mary; in which, besides similarity of
mind and intellectual pursuits, there was a deep, unspoken element of
Candace watched the light in Mary's eyes with the instinctive shrewdness
by which her race seem to divine the thoughts and feelings of their
superiors, and chuckled to herself Internally. Without ever having been
made a _confidante_ by any party, or having a word said to or before
her, still the whole position of affairs was as clear to her as if
she had seen it on a map. She had appreciated at once Mrs. Scudder's
coolness, James's devotion, and Mary's perplexity,--and inly resolved,
that, if the little maiden did not think of James in his absence, it
should not be her fault.
"Laws, Miss Scudder," she said, "I's right glad you's comin'; 'cause you
hasn't seen how we's kind o' splendified since Massa Jim come home. You
wouldn't know it. Why, he's got mats from Mogadore on all de entries,
and a great big 'un on de parlor; and ye ought to see de shawl he
brought Missus, an' all de cur'us kind o' tings to de Squire. 'Tell
ye, dat ar' boy honors his fader and mudder, ef he don't do nuffin
else,--an' dat's de fus' commandment wid promise, Ma'am; an' to see him
a-settin' up ebery day in prayer-time, so handsome, holdin' Missus's
han', an' lookin' right into her eyes all de time! Why, dat ar' boy is
one o' de 'lect,--it's jest as clare to me; and de 'lect has got to come
in,--dat's what I say. My faith's strong,--real clare,'tell ye,"
she added, with the triumphant laugh which usually chorused her
conversation, and turning to the Doctor, who, aroused by her loud and
vigorous strain, was attending with interest to her.
"Well, Candace," he said, "we all hope you are right."
"_Hope_, Doctor!--I don't hope,--I _knows_. 'Tell ye, when I pray for
him, don't I feel enlarged? 'Tell ye, it goes wid a rush. I can feel it
gwine up like a rushin', mighty wind. I feels strong, I do."
"That's right, Candace," said the Doctor, "keep on; your prayers stand
as much chance with God as if you were a crowned queen. The Lord is no
respecter of persons."
"Dat's what he a'n't, Doctor,--an' dere's where I 'gree wid him," said
Candace, as she gathered her baskets vigorously together, and, after
a sweeping curtsy, went sailing down to her wagon, full laden with
content, shouting a hearty "Good mornin', Missus," with the full power
of her cheerful lungs, as she rode off.
As the Doctor looked after her, the simple, pleased expression with
which he had watched her gradually faded, and there passed over his
broad, good face a shadow, as of a cloud on a mountain-side.
"What a shame it is," he said, "what a scandal and disgrace to the
Protestant religion, that Christians of America should openly practise
and countenance this enslaving of the Africans! I have for a long time
holden my peace,--may the Lord forgive me!--but I believe the time is
coming when I must utter my voice. I cannot go down to the wharves or
among the shipping, without these poor dumb creatures look at me so that
I am ashamed,--as if they asked me what I, a Christian minister, was
doing, that I did not come to their help. I must testify."
Mrs. Scudder looked grave at this earnest announcement; she had
heard many like it before, and they always filled her with alarm,
because--Shall we tell you why?
Well, then, it was not because she was not a thoroughly indoctrinated
anti-slavery woman. Her husband, who did all her thinking for her, had
been a man of ideas beyond his day, and never for a moment countenanced
the right of slavery very so far as to buy or own a servant or attendant
of any kind; and Mrs. Scudder had always followed decidedly along the
path of his opinions and practice, and never hesitated to declare the
reasons for the faith that was in her. But if any of us could imagine an
angel dropped down out of heaven, with wings, ideas, notions, manners,
and customs all fresh from that very different country, we might easily
suppose that the most pious and orthodox family might find the task of
presenting him in general society and piloting him along the courses of
this world a very delicate and embarrassing one. However much they might
reverence him on their own private account, their hearts would probably
sink within them at the idea of allowing him to expand himself according
to his previous nature and habits in the great world without. In like
manner, men of high, unworldly natures are often reverenced by those who
are somewhat puzzled what to do with them practically.
Mrs. Scudder considered the Doctor as a superior being, possessed by a
holy helplessness in all things material and temporal, which imposed
on her the necessity of thinking and caring for him, and prevising the
earthly and material aspects of his affairs.
There was not in Newport a more thriving and reputable business at that
time than the slave-trade. Large fortunes were constantly being turned
out in it, and what better Providential witness of its justice could
most people require?
Beside this, in their own little church, she reflected with alarm, that
Simeon Brown, the richest and most liberal supporter of the society, had
been, and was then, drawing all his wealth from this source; and rapidly
there flashed before her mind a picture of one and another, influential
persons, who were holders of slaves. Therefore, when the Doctor
announced, "I must testify," she rattled her tea-spoon uneasily, and
"In what way, Doctor, do you think of bearing testimony? The subject, I
think, is a very difficult one."
"Difficult? I think no subject can be clearer. If we were right in our
war for liberty, we are wrong in making slaves or keeping them."
"Oh, I did not mean," said Mrs. Scudder, "that it was difficult to
understand the subject; the _right_ of the matter is clear, but what to
_do_ is the thing."
"I shall preach about it," said the Doctor; "my mind has run upon it
some time. I shall show to the house of Judah their sin in this matter."
"I fear there will be great offence given," said Mrs. Scudder. "There's
Simeon Brown, one of our largest supporters,--he is in the trade."
"Ah, yes,--but he will come out of it,--of course he will,--he is all
right, all clear. I was delighted with the clearness of his views
the other night, and thought then of bringing them to bear on this
point,--only, as others were present, I deferred it. But I can show him
that it follows logically from his principles; I am confident of that."
"I think you'll be disappointed in him, Doctor;--I think he'll be angry,
and get up a commotion, and leave the church."
"Madam," said the Doctor, "do you suppose that a man who would be
willing even to give up his eternal salvation for the greatest good of
the universe could hesitate about a few paltry thousands that perish in
"He may feel willing to give up his soul," said Mrs. Scudder, naively,
"but I don't think he'll give up his ships,--that's quite another
matter,--he won't see it to be his duty."
"Then, Ma'am, he'll be a hypocrite, a gross hypocrite, if he won't,"
said the Doctor. "It is not Christian charity to think it of him. I
shall call upon him this morning and tell him my intentions."
"But, Doctor," exclaimed Mrs. Scudder, with a start, "pray, think a
little more of it. You know a great many things depend on him. Why! he
has subscribed for twenty copies of your 'System of Theology.' I hope
you'll remember that."
"And why should I remember that?" said the Doctor,--hastily turning
round, suddenly enkindled, his blue eyes flashing out of their usual
misty calm,--"what has my 'System of Theology' to do with the matter?"
"Why," said Mrs. Scudder, "it's of more importance to get right views of
the gospel before the world than anything else, is it not?--and if, by
any imprudence in treating influential people, this should be prevented,
more harm than good would be done."
"Madam," said the Doctor, "I'd sooner my system should be sunk in the
sea than it should be a millstone round my neck to keep me from my duty.
Let God take care of my theology; I must do my duty."
And as the Doctor spoke, he straightened himself to the full dignity of
his height, his face kindling with an unconscious majesty, and, as he
turned, his eye fell on Mary, who was standing with her slender figure
dilated, her large blue eye wide and bright, in a sort of trance of
solemn feeling, half smiles, half tears,--and the strong, heroic man
started, to see this answer to his higher soul in the sweet, tremulous
mirror of womanhood. One of those lightning glances passed between his
eyes and hers which are the freemasonry of noble spirits,--and, by
a sudden impulse, they approached each other. He took both her
outstretched hands, looked down into her face with a look full of
admiration, and a sort of naive wonder,--then, as if her inspired
silence had been a voice to him, he laid his hand on her head, and
"God bless you, child! 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast
thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest
still the enemy and the avenger!'"
In a moment he was gone.
"Mary," said Mrs. Scudder, laying her hand on her daughter's arm, "the
Doctor loves you!"
"I know he does, mother," said Mary, innocently; "and I love
him,--dearly!--he is a noble, grand man!"
Mrs. Scudder looked keenly at her daughter. Mary's eye was as calm as a
June sky, and she began, composedly, gathering up the teacups.
"She did not understand me," thought the mother.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
_The New Testament_. Translated from the Original Greek, etc. By
LEICESTER AMBROSE SAWYER. Boston: John P. Jewett & Co. 1858.
Few books merit the criticism which they receive; fewer receive all they
merit. Here is a work, a translation, which is more likely than most to
get its deserts, because its circle of critics will be unusually large.
It purports to be a new and improved version of "the Book of Books,"
and puts forth claims which will be conceded only after it shall have
sustained the most extensive, minute, and even prejudiced scrutiny. The
Bible has more readers than any other book; and that which claims to be
an improved Bible must, if it secure anything like a general attention,
meet with criticisms from all quarters. Mr. Sawyer is fortunate in one
respect: his work will be examined and judged by multitudes who never
undertook to criticize any other hook; he will have, therefore,
ultimately, a popular judgment of his task and its performance. But he
is unfortunate in another point: for he must meet that popular sentiment
which at the outset looks with disfavor upon anything that has even the
appearance of meddling with the commonly received and almost universally
approved version of the Holy Scriptures. Let us, in a brief space and
with as little of formal and scholastic criticism as possible, examine
Mr. Sawyer's translation.
A work of such a character as this should be judged not more by its
absolute or intrinsic merits than by a comparison of them with the
design avowed and the claims advanced by the author. In a task of such
magnitude we ought not to expect to find everything perfect. If the
completed structure have a symmetry of proportions and excellence of
finish approaching reasonably near to the plan proposed, we should not
too severely censure minor defects. Critics rarely accord all that
authors claim; the former measure the actual achievement,--the latter
look to the ideal conception; if the one be in a reasonable degree
commensurate with the other, we should be lenient toward the faults of
With this charitable substratum for our critical structure, let us test
Mr. Sawyer's new version by contrasting it with his own avowed design
and the claims with which he introduces his completed task. In the
Preface he says,--
"This is not a work of compromises, or of conjectural interpretations
of the Sacred Scriptures, neither is it a paraphrase, but a strict
[strictly] literal rendering. It neither adds nor takes away; but aims
to express the original with the utmost clearness and force, and with
the utmost precision."
This is a somewhat pretentious claim. A strictly literal rendering of
any language into another is by no means always an easy task; and it is
especially difficult to couple, as the translator in this case asserts
he has done, the utmost clearness, force, and precision in the
expression of the thought, with minute exactness of version. We
are surprised that Mr. Sawyer should have rested his claim for the
excellence and superiority of his translation mainly upon this quality
of literalism, for it is often the case that the closest literalist is
the worst translator. It is often impossible to render the thoughts
expressed in the peculiar idioms of one tongue into exactly
corresponding idioms of another. There are idiomatic forms, especially
in the Greek, which have no precisely correspondent forms in the
English, and yet these are not unfrequently the most forcible
expressions of any to be found in the original; any attempt to render
these literally must be abortive; and a literal rendering, or as nearly
literal as possible, is the worst translation, because it sacrifices
the clearness, force, and precision, to say nothing of the grace and
delicacy, of the original. The French language abounds in words and
phrases the literal translation of which into English perverts the
meaning and destroys the force of the original. Still more is a strictly
literal rendering incompatible with the preservation and transference of
the beauties of style and the strength of diction. The widest range of
the thought, its more delicate shades and subtiler connections, often
depend in great part upon the peculiar forms of the language in which
they are first clothed; and by a strictly literal translation the scope
of the thought is narrowed, its finer lines obscured, and that which
is of more importance than all else, the fitness of the expression, is
altogether lost. The utmost strictness of literal translation is a poor
compensation for the resultant poverty of language and dilution of
thought; and by as much as the original is more impressive in its rich
and fitting garb, by so much the more is it made to appear mean and
unlike itself when forced to clothe itself in scanty second-hand
We have said thus much on this point for two reasons: first, because it
is on this chiefly that Mr. Sawyer appeals to the public for a verdict
in favor of his translation; and secondly, because it is a common and
popular notion, that, the more literal a translation can be made,
especially in the case of the Bible, the better and more trustworthy
it will be. And we are willing to admit, that, in translating the Holy
Scriptures, the greatest degree of strictness in literal rendering,
compatible with the full and correct expression of the thought, is and
should be a first consideration; the translator should take no liberties
with the text, by way either of omission, alteration, or compromise; he
must in no way vitiate the thought; and if he keep within this rule,
he will have escaped just criticism, and may claim the merit of
faithfulness to his task. Has Mr. Sawyer, then, in his New Testament,
given a strictly literal rendering? and is it an improvement on
the common version? We have space for only a few specimens of his
translation, and we have taken some of the first that attracted our
notice; it will be observed that they are none of them abstruse or
_Matt_. ii. 16.
"Then Herod, when he saw that he was _mocked_ of the _wise men_, was
exceeding wroth, and sent forth and _slew_ all the children that were in
Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under,
according to the time which he _had diligently inquired_ of the _wise
_Chap_. ii. _verse_ 4.
"Then Herod seeing that he was _despised_ by the _Magi_, was exceedingly
angry, and sent and _destroyed_ all the children, in Bethlehem, and in
all its borders, from two years old and under, according to the precise
time which he _had learned_ of the _Magi_."
Here is a comparison of the two translations of a simple narrative text
taken at random. The essential changes (improvements?) made by Mr.
Sawyer are in the words which we have Italicized. Two of these changes,
the substitution of "Magi" for "wise men," and of "destroyed" for
"slew," we shall pass with the single observation, that the rendering
of the common version is in both instances the more accurate and better
expressed. Mr. Sawyer substitutes "despised" for "mocked," as the
translation of [Greek: henepaichthae]. Is this literal? or is it an
improvement? The Greek verb [Greek: hemaiso] has the signification
primarily _to deride, to mock, to scoff at_, and secondarily _to delude,
to deceive, to disappoint_, but it has not the meaning to _despise_. The
word _mock_ is used in our language in both these significations,--in
the secondary sense when it refers to men's hopes or expectations,--as,
_to mock one's hopes_, that is, to delude or disappoint one's
expectations. In this sense, and in this alone, it is obviously used in
this passage. The wise men did not scoff at King Herod, but they did
delude him; they mocked his expectation of their return, and went back
to their own country without returning to report to him, because they
had been "warned of God in a dream," not because they despised the
king. To say, as Mr. Sawyer does, that they "despised" him, is neither
warranted by the meaning of [Greek: _enepaichthae_], nor is such a
rendering accordant with the facts of the story or the connections of
the thought. It is a forced and far-fetched translation, and a change
from the common version much for the worse. The same word is of frequent
occurrence in the Scriptures. In the Septuagint, Jer. x. 14, it is used
in the same sense as in Matt. ii. 16. It is worthy of note that in no
other instance does Mr. Sawyer render it by "despised." In Luke xviii.
32 and xxii. 63, and Matt. xx. 19, he translates it "mocked," like the
common version. Mr. Sawyer should be more consistent, if he would have
us put faith in his scholarly pretensions and literal accuracy. The
passage in which he indulges in this variation from his own rule is the
one of all the list where such a translation is particularly fitting,
and where neither force, clearness, nor precision is gained by the
Mr. Sawyer renders [Greek: _katha thov chrinon du haekribose_] thus:
"according to the precise time which he had learned."--Is this literal
or correct? [Greek: _'Akriboo_] signifies _to inquire diligently,
assiduously, or accurately_, and has no such signification primarily as
_to learn_. If the reader will now turn to Mr. Sawyer's translation of
the 7th verse of the same chapter of Matthew, he will there find that
he translates [Greek: _haekribose_] "asked"! And yet it stands in that
passage in precisely the same connection of thought as in the 16th
verse; so that we have our translator, who gives us only strictly
literal renderings, translating the same word, occurring in the same
relative connection, in the one instance by "asked," and in the other
by "had learned,"--neither of them legitimate translations, and neither
precisely expressing the thought. The rendering "asked" falls as far
short of the full and forcible meaning of [Greek: _haekribose_], in
the one case, as "had learned" varies from its strictly literal
signification in the other.
We will now examine another passage illustrating Mr. Sawyer's consistent
fidelity to literal renderings. He translates the word [Greek:
_phuchae_], Luke xii. 19, 20, and 23, "soul"; thus, "I will say to my
_soul_," find "Is not the _soul_ more than the food?"--agreeing with
the common version in the first instance, and differing from it in the
second. But he renders [Greek: _phuchae_] in Mark viii. 36, 37, Luke
xvii. 33, and Matt. xvi. 26, "life"; thus, "For what is a man profited,
if he shall gain the whole world and lose his _life_?" "For whoever
wishes to save his _life_ shall lose it." In these cases he seems to
have made his choice between the renderings "soul" and "life" according
to no rule of translation or of criticism in philology, but as his fancy
dictated. How shall we explain these inconsistencies, and, at the same
time, grant Mr. Sawyer his claim to literalness of rendering?
Luke ix. 24, 25, Mr. Sawyer translates [Greek: _phuchae_] "life," and
then renders [Greek: _eauthon de apolesas ae zaemiotheis_] "and destroys
himself or loses his life." The common version is "and lose himself or
be cast away," which is not only more strictly literal, but far more
forcible. [Greek: _'Apollumi_] conveys the strongest idea of _total,
irremediable ruin_; and [Greek: _zaemioo_], when used, as in this
passage, in the aorist tense, has the signification of _bringing loss
or ruin upon one's self_. Both these thoughts are lost in Mr. Sawyer's
translation; and a more tame, insufficient, and tautological rendering
than his could scarcely be imagined.
Another instance of Mr. Sawyer's singular choice of renderings, in his
zeal for improvement, is found in Luke viii. 46, which he translates,
"Some one touched me; for I perceived a _power_ going from me." The
common version, "Somebody touched me; for I perceive that _virtue_ is
gone out of me," is clear and precise; Mr. Sawyer's version, "a power,"
is more indefinite and less forcible. Any intelligent reader will at
once perceive that the common version is the better, and that Mr.
Sawyer's improved rendering is almost meaningless.
One more example of these strictly literal renderings must suffice, John
iii. 4. common version,--"Nicodemus saith unto him, 'How can a man be
born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb
and be born?'" Sawyer's version,--"Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man
be born when he is old? can he become an unborn infant of his mother a
second time, and be born?'" The absurdity of the form of language put
into the mouth of Nicodemus by Mr. Sawyer is obvious at a glance; no
such thought was ever so expressed by any speaker in any language; it is
wholly forced and unnatural; and upon comparing Mr. Sawyer's translation
with the original, we find that he has paraphrased the passage with a
vengeance, altogether omitting to translate the clause [Greek: _eis
thaen koilian ... eiselthein kai gennaethaenai_], and interpolating an
expression, instead, which is neither in the original text nor in the
thought. Probably Mr. Sawyer's motive for taking this extraordinary
liberty was a false delicacy, amounting to prudery; but it ill assorts
with his assertion, that his work is not a paraphrase, nor one of
compromises, or of conjectural interpretations.
We might proceed with numerous illustrations' exhibiting the weakness of
Mr. Sawyer's claim of an improved and strictly literal rendering, but
these are enough. Before he claims much on the score of scholarly
accuracy or critical rendering, he must explain these inconsistencies
and remove these blemishes. But if such faults are patent in the
simplest narrative passages, what confidence can we place in Mr. Sawyer
as a translator of difficult, abstruse, doctrinal, and disputed texts?
In every instance in which we have tested his translation of the
original, the changes which he has made from the common version not
only, in our judgment, are no improvements, but positively render the
expression less clear, less forcible, and less precise; of course, as
the language is made worse, the thought is, in the same proportion,
Another peculiarity of Mr. Sawyer's translation, which we suppose he
claims as an improvement, does not meet our approval. In all cases where
there is no word in our language which expresses the signification
of the Greek, as in the names of weights and measures, Mr. Sawyer
substitutes for the language of the common version the foreign word of
the original,--sometimes merely giving the orthography of the Greek in
English letters, sometimes affixing a termination,--and frequently he
adds, in brackets, an explanation of his rendering. As examples of this,
we quote the following:--
"Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a _modius_ [1.916
"I tell you that you shall not go out thence till you have paid even the
last _lepton_ [2 mills]"
"It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three _sata_ [33
quarts] of flour."
"And there were six stone water-jars there, placed for the purification
of the Jews, containing two or three _metretes_ [16.75 or 25.125
"And he desired to fill his stomach with the _carob pods_ which the
"And one poor widow came and cast in two _lepta_, which is a _quadrans_
It requires no knowledge of the original to pass judgment on such
changes as are here made from the common version. The practice which
Mr. Sawyer here introduces and sanctions is a vicious one in any
translation, and is especially so in the case of the Holy Scriptures,
which are to be read by the unlearned and ignorant as well as by the
scholar and the critic. Mr. Sawyer's translation of such words as we
have noted above conveys no idea to the mind of the common reader, and
requires a glossary to make it intelligible. There is in his choice of
words a pedantry and affectation of learning that are in bad taste.
But in this, as in his other strictly literal renderings, he is
inconsistent, and does not adhere to his own rule. He translates Matt.
vi. 30,--"And if God so clothes the grass of the field, which to-day is,
and tomorrow is cast into the _oven_," etc. If he were consistent in his
practice, he would have rendered the word "oven" _klibanon_, and then,
in parenthesis, explained that it signifies "a large round pot, of
earthen or other material, two or three feet high, narrowing towards
the top, on the sides of which the dough was spread to be baked in thin
cakes." Probably Mr. Sawyer was deterred from following his rule in this
case by the formidableness of the necessary parenthesis; but there is as
much reason why he should have written _klibanon_ instead of "oven,"
as there is for substituting _lepton_ for "farthing," or _modius_ for
"bushel," or _carob pods_ for "husks,"--and in fact more reason,
because the word "oven," which he indorses and uses, conveys a far more
imperfect idea of the original, [Greek: _klibanon_], than those words of
the common version which he has rejected do of their originals. All such
changes as those instanced above, in our judgment, mar the simplicity
and obscure the meaning of the passages where they occur.
But we will now notice what appears to us a more serious defect than
any of those already mentioned. Mr. Sawyer throughout his translation
substitutes vulgar Latinisms and circumlocutions for the vigorous
phrases of the received version. Sometimes this is done at the expense
of homely Saxon words which are the very sinews of our language; and
wherever such words are sacrificed for Latinisms, the beauty and force
of the whole are impaired or destroyed. Again, the translator seems to
have a peculiar antipathy to everything like poetical expressions or the
euphonious arrangement of sentences. He has evidently fallen into the
error of supposing that the most prosaic rendering is necessarily
the most exact; whereas the fact is, that the most poetical form of
expression of which a passage is susceptible is often the most clear,
forcible, and precise. The best method of giving the reader an idea of
the justice of this portion of our criticism of Mr. Sawyer's version is
to quote some passages in contrast with the common version.
"_If thou wilt_, let us make here three tabernacles."
"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of
Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord:
thou knowest that _I love thee_."
"God be _merciful_ to me a sinner."
"Give us this day our _daily_ bread."
"_And therefore_ I cannot come."
"And to whom men have _committed_ much, of him they will ask the more."
"I _give tithes_ of all that I _possess_."
"For which of you intending to build a tower sitteth not down first and
_counteth the cost_?"
"And upon this rock I will build my _church_."
"If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if _he repent_,
"And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors,
saying unto them, _Rejoice with me_, for I have found my sheep which was
"And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, _Peace_, be
"As we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen
_deemed that they drew near to some country_."
"Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and _broad_ is the
way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat;
because strait is the gate and _narrow_ is the way which leadeth unto
life, and few there be that find it."
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they _toil not_,
neither do they spin."
"_If you please_, we will make here three tabernacles."
"When therefore they had breakfasted, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon,
son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord,
you know that _I am a friend to you_."
"God, be _propitious_ to me a sinner."
"Give us to-day our _essential_ bread."
"_On this account_ I cannot come."
"And of him with whom men have _deposited_ much, they will ask more."
"I _tithe_ all I _acquire_."
"For what man of you wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down
and _estimate the expense_?"
"And upon this rock will I build my _assembly_."
"If your brother sins, reprove him; and if _he changes his mind_,
"And coming to the house, he calls together his friends and neighbors,
saying, _Congratulate me_; for I have found my sheep that was lost."
"And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the lake, _Hush!_ Be
"When we were borne along in the Adriatic, at about midnight the sailors
_suspected that some land was approaching them_."
"Enter In through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate, and _spacious_
the way which leads to destruction, and many are they that enter in by
it; for narrow is the gate, and _compressed_ the way which leads to
life, and few are those who find it."
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they _perform no hard
labor_, neither do they spin."
These must suffice. We cannot extend our quotations, nor is there
occasion to do so. We think we have seen enough of Mr. Sawyer's use of
words and phrases, enough of his improvements on the common version of
the Bible, to convince any candid mind that his is neither a literal nor
a correct translation; that so far from having improved the version,
by adding clearness, force, or precision, he has injured it in each
of these respects; and that the world would be immensely the loser
by accepting him as a substitute for the forty-seven translators who
composed the famous Council of King James in 1611. We are informed that
Mr. Sawyer has completed his improved version of the Old Testament, and
will soon publish it. We almost shudder in anticipation of the sounds
which he has probably evoked from the harp of Judah's minstrel king, of
the colors which he has put on the canvas where are painted the glowing
visions of Isaiah, and of the rude matter-of-fact method in which he
has doubtless used the modern telescope to penetrate and scatter the
glorious and solemn mysteries of the cloud-land of prophecy out of which
spake the God of Daniel. But we forbear, and must wait till we have the
remainder of this _magnum opus_ before we venture to hazard an opinion
of its merits.
* * * * *
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