American Notes

It was 3 January 1842 when Charles Dickens entered the state room of the steam packet Britannia bound first of all for Halifax Nova Scotia and then on to Boston. One hundred and fifty eight years later David and Dorothy Daniell boarded a New York bound jet at Heathrow to begin a short lecture tour on the East Coast. Deprived of the comforts of the state room of the Britannia, but thankfully spared the sea sickness of their predecessor’s voyage the Daniells landed and first made their way to The University of Hartford, Con-necticut to give the Hertford College, Oxford/University of Hartford Lecture.

Established six years ago, this annual lecture series invites eminent scholars from Oxford to give a major public lecture to the members of the university and other interested persons from the Greater Hartford area. The lecture series has been given in the past by such luminaries as geneticist Sir Walter Bodmer; archaeologist of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Professor Martin Biddle and television pundit and poet, Tom Paulin.

Speaking to a packed and appreciative audience, Professor Daniell gave a seminal lecture entitled William Tyndale – The Man Behind Shakespeare. Developing the theme already well known to Tyndalians, Professor Daniell illuminated his audience with his masterful exposition of the debt that Shakespeare owed to the language of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament. It is, of course, the language of the Gloucestershire ploughboy that we hear so very clearly in many of Shakespeare’s characters written some 60 years or more after Tyndale’s untimely death in 1536, The audience were riveted to hear of the debt owed by what many wrongly consider to be the first English Bible, The King James Version of 1611. They were astonished to learn the enormous percentage of the KJV that relies directly upon the words of Tyndale. It is Professor Daniell’s thesis that although Shakespeare never directly mentions Tyndale, his linguistic debt is huge. As he so clearly put it ‘Tyndale gave the nation a plain prose style of direct address which was so important in the life of the nation under Elizabeth and after, and which led directly to the great dramatic power of Shakespeare.’

Two days later, in the Upper East Side apartment of Mary Clow, David Daniell again spread the message of the debt of the whole English speaking world to William Tyndale. An invited audience of about 20 listened with rapt attention to the unfolding story of the Tyndale Bible and learned of the ‘great wrong’ that it is our duty to right in disseminating the true origins of the English Bible. The gathering was then fascinated by a showing of the wonderful 1930s film commissioned by J Arthur Rank of the life of Tyndale. This scholarly and erudite party broke up changed as we all are by the discovery that one of the fundamental intellectual myths that so many of us held is plainly wrong and that it is to Tyndale that we must look for our studies of the origins of the English Bible.

Not to waste a moment of his time on the East Coast, Professor Daniell was then able to make use of valuable research time amongst some of the great Bible holdings of New York City in preparation for the forthcoming history of the English Bible due to be delivered to the printers in the Spring of 2001.

Just as Dickens captured the heart of those Americans that he met in his 1842 visit to the United States, Professor Daniell ‘wowed’ all those priv-ileged to hear him speak on this American journey.

Peter Baker, Nov.2000

Valid XHTML 1.0!