If you love the Bible, you love English literature, and you adore words this would be a good book to read.
I remember a conversation with a friend – a cynic, agnostic/atheist (he couldn’t decide), and a curmudgeon who couldn’t help but be lovable in his crankiness. We worked together and often got sidetracked discussing our philosophies, viewpoints, etc. We were opposites on so many issues; but we respected one another and usually had a cracking good time while we debated. Finally, for efficiency, we restricted theology to Thursdays.
Once, out of the blue, he asked, “Do you read the Bible every day, [insert last name]?”
I squirmed and replied, “Well, I try to, but I have varying levels of consistency.”
“You read the King James Version?” he continued.
“Uh, no. Readability–vocabulary–not the best choice.” We often telescoped our sentences when we talked.
“You’re flat wrong, Carol. You ought to be reading the King James Version. You will develop an ear for strong, muscular words, for poetry, for cadence, for language if you read the KJV.”
Isn’t it funny that, twenty years later, we now agree on that one? I’m not an “exclusive KJV” Christian, but I really am enjoying reading through it.
Cleland McAfee’s The Greatest English Classic (1912) tells the story of translations before the KJV, the making of the KJV, and why it is a classic. He then outlines the influence the KJV has had on literature and history.
This interested me: He divided English literature since the making of the KJV (began 1604) into these groups:
1. Jacobean Period (Milton, Bunyan, Dryden, Addison, Pope)
2. Georgian Period (Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Scott, Wordsworth)
3. Victorian Age (Arnold, Browning, Carlyle, Dickens, Eliot, Kingsby, Macauly, Ruskin, Stevenson, Swinburne, Tennyson, Thackery)
4. American Writers (Franklin, Poe, Irving, Bryant, Curtis, Emerson, Hawthorne, Holmes, Lowell, Longfellow, Thoreau, Whittier)
Remember: this book was written in 1912. Do you notice who is missing from the list? Miss Jane!! HELLO!! And I am heartbroken to tell you I didn’t copy the quote about Austen, so I shall have to paraphrase:
~ Austen doesn’t have any lasting influence on the flow of English literature. ~
So that’s what he thought back then. There was enough other good stuff to atone for this grievous offence, but I did contemplate throwing the book against the wall for one moment.
“The tendency of language is always to become vague, since we are lazy in the use of it. We use one word in various ways, and a pet one for many ideas.” (p.102)
I gleaned several names of authors I’d like to explore from this book (John Ruskin, Maria Edgeworth, Thomas Grey). I was also reminded of favorite passages I’ve read in the past that I’d like to revisit (from Eliot, Dickens and Tennyson).