The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

II. The “Authorised Version” and its Influence

§ 6. The Wyclifite versions

Nevertheless, it may be affirmed that both Wyclifite versions are far inferior in ease and idiomatic character to the Old English. It cannot be said that scholars are agreed as to the influence of the Wyclifite versions upon Tindale and the Authorised Version; but it is pretty clear that Tindale was influenced by them to a moderate extent, and that expressions of great force and beauty have, occasionally, been appropriated from Wyclif by the Authorised Version, either mediately or directly. One or two instances may suffice: John iv, 14, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” comes, through Tindale, from both the Wyclifite versions; 1 Cor. ii, 10, “the deep things of God,” which Tindale renders, “the bottom of God’s secrets,” and the Rheims version, “the profundities of God.” How easy it is to go stylistically astray in such matters is shown by the fact that two versions, both published within the last ten years, have, respectively, for the first passage above, “a spring of water … welling up for enduring life,” and “a fountain … of water springing up for the Life of the ages”; and, for the second, “the profoundest secrets of God,” and “the depths of the divine nature.”

The Wyclifite version of Exod. xix, 16, 18, 19 is subjoined, the spelling being modernised, and modern renderings being indicated:

  • WYCLIF (earlier).
  • And now the third day was come, and the morning [morewe, morrow] tide was full cleared; and lo! thunders began to be heard and lightnings [leytes, from the Old English word above] to shine, and the most thick cloud to cover the hill; and the cry of the trump more hideously made noise, and the people dreaded that was in the tents.… And all the hill of Sinai smoked, because [for thi that] the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke rose [steyde] up of it as of a furnace, and all the hill was full fearful; and the sound of the trump little by little [litil mele] sprang into more, and longer was stretched.
  • A hundred years later than the Wiclifite versions (20 November, 1483), Caxton published his Golden Legend, in which he had inserted considerable portions of the Pentateuch and the Gospels, on the basis, probably, of Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica. Caxton’s theory of translation, if we may judge from the preface to his Eneydos, was to seek a mean between “fair and strange terms,” by some regarded as “over curious,” and such “old and homely terms” as were now strange and almost disused. His aim lay in the wish to be generally understood. The clearness and beauty of the passage from Exodus will be readily seen.

  • CAXTON’S Golden Legend (spelling modernised).
  • When the third day came, and the morning waxed clear, they heard thunder and lightning, and saw a great cloud cover the mount; and the cry of the trump was so shrill that the people were sore afraid.… All the mount of Sinai smoked, for so much as our Lord descended on it in fire; and the smoke ascended from the hill as it had been from a furnace. The mount was terrible and dreadful, and the sound of the trump grew a little more, and continued longer.
  • It will be evident that the vocabulary of Caxton is drawn from the same source as Tindale’s, while it does not greatly differ from Wyclif’s, these sources being native English and Old French, with a very slight admixture of words coming directly from the Latin.