Tyndale, William

, otherwise named Hitchins, one of the first publishers of the Holy Scriptures in English, was born in 1500, about the borders of Wales, in what county is not mentioned. He was brought up from a child in grammar, logic, and philosophy at Oxford, for the most part in St. Mary Magdalen’s hall, where there is still a painting of him, but accounted an indifferent performance. Here he imbibed the doctrine of Luther, and privately taught it to some of the junior fellows of Magdalen college, and to other scholars. His behaviour was such, at the same time, as gained him a high reputation both for morals and learning, so that he was admitted a canon of cardinal Wolsey’s new college, now Christ-church. But as he made his opinions too public to remain here in safety, and, according to Tanner and Wood, was ejected, he retired to Cambridge, where he pursued his studies, and took a degree. After some time he went and lived at Little Sudbury, in Gloucestershire, with sir John Welch, knight, who had a great esteem for him, and appointed him tutor to his children. Here he embraced every opportunity to propagate the new opinions. Besides preaching frequently in and about Bristol, he engaged in disputation with many abbots and dignified clergymen, whom he met at sir John’s table, on the most important points of religion, which he explained in a way to which they had not been accustomed, and by references to the Scriptures, which they scarcely dared to search. Unable to confute him, they complained to the chancellor of the diocese, who dismissed him after a severe reprimand, accompanied with the usual threatenings against heresy.

Finding that this situation was no longer convenient, and that his patron could not with safety continue his protection, Tyndale came to London, and for some time | preached in the church of St. Dunstan’s in the West. While here, having conceived a high opinion of Dr. Cuthbert Tunstall, who had been promoted to the bishopric of London, in 1522, on account of the great commendations bestowed on him by Erasmus, he wished to become one of his chaplains. With this view he applied to sir Henry Guildford, master of the horse, and controller to king Henry VIII. who was a great patron of learned men, a particular friend to Erasmus, and an acquaintance of sir John Welch; and presented to him an oration of Isocrates, translated from the Greek; an undoubted proof of his learning at a time when Greek was understood by very few in England. Sir Henry readily complied with Mr. Tyndale’s request, but the bishop’s answer was, “That his house was full; he had no more than he could well provide for; and therefore advised our author to seek out in London, where, he added, he could not well miss employment.” Not being able to obtain any, however, he was supported by Mr. Humphrey Monmoutb, alderman of London, and a favourer of Luther’s opinions, with whom he remained for half a year, living in the most abstemious manner, and applying closely to his studies. His thoughts were at this time bent upon translating the New Testament into English, as the only means to enlighten the minds of the people in the knowledge of true religion; but being sensible he could not do this with safety in England, he went abroad, receiving very liberal pecuniary assistance from Mr. Monmouth and other persons. He first went to Saxony, where he held conferences with Luther, and his learned friends, then came back into the Netherlands, and settled at Antwerp, where there was a very considerable factory of English merchants, many of whom were zealous adherents to Luther’s doctrine. Here he immediately began his translation of the New Testament, in which he had the assistance of John Fryth, and William Roye, the former of whom was burnt in Smithfield for heresy, July 1533, and the latter suffered that dreadful death in Portugal on the same accusation. It was printed in 1526, in octavo, without the translator’s name. As there were only 1500 printed, and all the copies which could possibly be got in England, were committed to the flames, this first edition is exceedingly rare. The industrious Mr. Wanley could never procure a sight of it; but there was one in | Ames’s collection, which was sold after his death, for fourteen guineas and a half.

When this translation was imported into England, the supporters of popery became very much alarmed; they asserted that there were a thousand heresies in it; that it was too bad to be corrected, and ought to be suppressed; that it was not possible to translate the Scriptures into English; and that it would make the laity heretics, and rebels to their king. It is more painful, however, to record that such men as William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, and Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London, issued their orders and monitions to bring in all the New Testaments translated into the vulgar tongue, that they might be burnt. To destroy them more effectually, Tunstall being at Antwerp in 1526 or 1S27, procured Augustin Packington, an English merchant, to buy up all the copies of the English Testament which remained unsold; these were accordingly brought to England, and publicly burnt at Paul’s cross. But this ill-fudged policy only took off many copies which lay dead upon Tyndale’s hands, and supplied him with, money for another and more correct edition, printed in 1534, while the first edition was in the mean while reprinted twice, but not by the translator. Of Tunstall’s singular purchase, the following fact is related: “Sir Thomas More being lord chancellor, and having several persons accused of heresy, and ready for execution, offered to compound with one of them, named George Constantine, for his life, upon the easy terms of discovering to him who they were in London that maintained Tyndale beyond the sea. After the poor man had got as good a security for his life as the honour and truth of the chancellor could give him, he told him it was the bishop of London who maintained Tyndale, by sending him a sum of money to buy up the impression of his Testaments. The chancellor smiled, saying that he believed he said true. Thus was this poor confessor’s life saved.” Strict search, however, continued to be made among those who were suspected of importing, and concealing them; of whom John Tyndale, our author’s brother, was prosecuted, and condemned to do penance. Humphrey Monmouth, his great patron and benefactor, was imprisoned in the Tower, and almost ruined.

But these rigorous measures not producing the intended effect; and burning the word of God, in any shape, being regarded by the people as a shocking profanation, sir | Thomas More was induced to take up the pen. In 1529, he published “A Dyaloge,” in which he endeavoured to prove that the books burnt were not New Testaments, but Tyndale’s or Luther’s testaments; and so corrupted and changed from the good and wholesome doctrine of Christ to their own devilish heresies, as to be quite another thing. In 15 Jo, Tyndale published an answer to this Dialogue, and proceeded in translating the Five Books of Moses, from the Hebrew into English; but happening to go by sea to Hamburgh, to have it printed there, the vessel was wrecked, and he lost all his money, books, writings, and copies, and was obliged to begin anew. At Hamburgh he met with Miles Coverdale, who assisted him in translating the Pentateuch, which was printed in 1530, in a small octavo volume, and apparently at several presses. He afterwards made an English version of the prophecy of Jonas, with a large prologue, which was printed in 1531; but he translated no more books of the Scripture, as Hall, Bale, and Tanner, have asserted.

From Hamburgh he returned to Antwerp, and was there betrayed into the hands of his enemies. Henry VIII. and his council employed one Henry Philips on this disgraceful commission, who first insinuated himself into Tyndale’s acquaintance, and then got the procurator-general of the emperor’s court at Brussels, and other officers, to seize him, although the procurator declared that he was a learned, pious, and good man, and convey him to the castle of Villefort, where he remained a prisoner about a year and a half. The body of the English merchants procured letters from secretary Cromwell to the court at Brussels, for his release; but, by the farther treachery of Philips, this was rendered ineffectual, and Tyndaie was brought to trial, where he pleaded his own cause. None of his arguments, however, being admitted, he was condemned, by virtue of the emperor’s decree made in the assembly at Augsburg; and being brought to execution in 1536, he was first strangled and then burnt. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.

Besides his translations, he wrote various theological and controversial tracts, which were collected together, and printed by John Day, 1572, in one volume folio, together with John Fryth’s and Barnes’s works. Bale and Wood attribute some other pieces to him, and some translations | from Luther. He was one of the ablest writers of his time.

Of his translation of the Scriptures, Dr. Geddes says, that “though it is far fr >m a perfect translation, yet few first translations will be found preferable to it. It is astonishing, how little obsolete the language of it is, even at this day: and in point of perspicuity and noble simplicity, propriety of idiom, and purity of style, no English version has yet surpassed it.” He elsewhere declares, that, if he had been inclined to make any prior English version the ground-work of his own, it would certainly have been Tyndale’s: and that perhaps he should have done this, if their Hebrew text had been the same. The edition of the English Bible printed in 1537, usually called Matthew’s, was, in Mr. Wanley’s opinion, Tyndale’s to the end of Chronicles, and the whole of the New Testament; and this edition, by Cranmer’s solicitation, was permitted by the king. 1


Fox’s Acts and Monuments. Biog. Brit. Lewis and Newcombe’s Hist, of Translations of the Bible. Tanner, —Ath, Ox. vol. I.--Wordsworth’s Eccl. Biog. vol. II.