The King James Bible

A leaf from 'The Holy Bible ... Newly translated out of  the Originall Tongues: and with the former Translations diligently compared and reuised by his Maiesties speciall Commandemente, Appointed to be read in Churches. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most excellent Maiestie. Anno. Dom. 1613 (380 x 260 mm)

If there is any English leaf in my collection which needs no introduction it is surely this one, from the celebrated King James (or 'Authorised') Version of the Bible. Of that book Thomas Macaulay wrote that 'if everything else in our language should perish [it] would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.'

My leaf is from a 1613 printing of the Bible, indistinguishable, as far as I can tell, from the original one produced by the same printer two years earlier. He was Robert Barker, son of Christopher, though such was the scale of the enterprise that he had to bring in three other stationers to put up the money and share the profits.

 The King James Bible is distinctive because of the vertical and horizontal rules, the large size of gothic type for the main text, the use of roman for the headings and references, the fine chapter initials, and the absence of page or folio numbering. According to David Crystal, writing at the time of the quatercentenary in 2011, this Bible popularised about 250 English idioms – more than any other literary source – many still current today. One such appears on my leaf in the last verse of chapter XLVIII: 'There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked' (often misquoted as 'no rest for the wicked').

The King James version brought to an end the sequence of overlapping or competing Bible versions and reigned supreme, apart from minor revisions, until the 20th century. Regrettably it has now been superceded in most services of the Church of England by the 1970 New English Bible.

 

 

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