Cymraeg | English



CHAPTER I : Why translate the Bible into Welsh?

CHAPTER II : Who was William Morgan?

CHAPTER III : The Bible of Bishop Morgan

CHAPTER IV : The significance of the translation

CHAPTER III : The Bible of Bishop Morgan

You made each word sound so sensible,
The word of God so comprehensible!

(Rhys Cain)

Doctor William Morgan translated the Bible throughout, in recent years; an essential, remarkable, godly and learned work; for which we Welsh will never be able to give sufficient thanks as much as he deserved. It must be realized that before that point the condition of Welsh was feeble indeed, a period when one could not hear anything but a bawdy ballad or some other kind of licentiousness in it, without any learning or art or usefulness.

(Maurice Kyffin, Deffyniad Ffydd Eglwys Loegr, 1595)

By today it is impossible to decide exactly when William Morgan started on the work of translating the Bible. Sir John Wynn claimed that Richard Davies and William Salesbury had transferred a large proportion of the work in an unfinished state to Morgan, implying thus that his achievement as a translator should not be exaggerated. Wynn's words have a hint of malice in them, or maybe he genuinely believed that one man could never have achieved so much in so short a time singlehandedly. It is usually a matter for committees of bishops and scholars to produce Bibles, such as the ‘Bishops' Bible' of 1568, or the Authorized Version of 1611, and committees are the rule with such versions in the twentieth century. William possibly began the task, hoping that others would join in – in 1584 his friend Dr. Powel talked as though it were Morgan's intention to translate only some of the books of the Old Testament. It would be rational to think that he began with the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, and the experts consider that it is likely that he worked on these from 1579 to 1583, completing the rest of the Old Testament between 1583 and 1587. During 1587 he was in London supervising the printing and proof-reading, and by late in 1588 the Bible was ready.

The First Book of Moses, or the book of Genesis, in the 1588 Bible.

Figure 29. The First Book of Moses, or the book of Genesis, in the 1588 Bible.

He lost heart at times, and was much sustained by Archbishop Whitgift, as he explains in his preface:

I had hardly started on the work when I should have stumbled, as it is said, at the threshold, quite overcome by the difficulties of the task and by the greatness of the cost, and I should never have been able to see through the press anything but the Pentateuch, were it not for the Most Reverend Father in Christ the Archbishop of Canterbury, an excellent Maecenas to literature and scholarship, most zealous defender of the truth, and most learned guardian of order and dignity, unless he had succeeded in getting me to complete the work.
The reference to Maecenas is to one who had been a generous patron of culture in Ancient Rome. He said that Whitgift had pressed him to come to London to stay at Lambeth Palace, but that he had refused this offer because Lambeth was on the far side of the river and he would constantly have been crossing the Thames to see the printers. The offer which he did accept was that of Gabriel Goodman, by then Dean of Westminster, and it was in the deanery beside Westminster Abbey that he stayed to work for a whole year:
I used to re-read what I had translated in his [Goodman's] company and he was so prompt in his help to me, aiding me greatly with his labour and counsel. Also he loaned me a large number of his books and allowed me to use the rest of them freely. During the course of the year during which the book was in the press, he gave me lodgings with the most generous permission of the members of the Chapter.
The Chapter, of course, were the rest of the clergy of the Abbey. It is hardly surprising that Morgan should have given a copy of his Bible on 20 November 1588 to the library of Westminster Abbey, and there it is preserved to this day.

Westminster Abbey, where Gabriel Goodman was dean. Engraved by the Brothers Buck, ca. 1740.

Figure 30. Westminster Abbey, where Gabriel Goodman was dean. Engraved by the Brothers Buck, ca. 1740.

The remarks about Whitgift are a help to understand how this expensive edition was paid for. Professor Glanmor Williams believes that it was Whitgift himself who paid the printing costs. But why were Whitgift and his associates, such as Gabriel Goodman, so anxious to publish a Welsh Bible in 1588?

Professor Williams's suggestion is that it was connected to the affair of John Penry. Penry, a native of Llangamarch in Breconshire, had come to London and become a convinced Puritan, and as such was the author of a number of pamphlets of burning evangelical zeal, attacking the bishops mercilessly. Whitgift may have been deeply hurt by Penry's attacks. Some of Penry's pamphlets were specifically about Wales, which he said was a disgraceful example of the neglect of the Elizabethan bishops, Whitgift among them. Penry fled to Scotland, but returned, and having been caught, was found guilty in an unfairly conducted trial, and Whitgift having signed his death warrant, he was executed in 1593.

The year 1587, when Whitgift and Goodman brought Morgan to London to see the Bible through the press, was a difficult and dangerous year for Elizabeth's régime, a time of plotting against the Queen, the time of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and the time of a threatened Spanish invasion. How strong was Catholicism in Wales? It is not known, but in or around 1586-7 Welsh Catholics had printed on a secret press in a cave on the Little Orme in Caernarfonshire, a book of Catholic propaganda, Y Drych Cristionogawl. It was in 1587 that Penry published An Aequity of an Humble Supplication, lambasting the indifference of the bishops to the state of Wales. These things considered, is it not reasonable to see that Whitgift was sorely anxious for a translation of the Bible into Welsh?

What Morgan's own motives were can best be judged by his Latin preface. First of all he thanks the Queen for her permission to translate the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, a decision supported by Parliament. The Welsh people were daily becoming more familiar with English by being able to compare the two languages, hearing both in the churches. More important than that was to present the Welsh with the truth. Until recently only a few, he said, had been able to preach in Welsh since they did not have the right vocabulary for the unfamiliar phrases of the Bible. Men could not distinguish between the Scriptures and that which was merely interpretation or commentary upon them, because all the text was in a foreign tongue. The Bible had to be translated into Welsh, the Old Testament entirely, and the New Testament had to be revised.

Some might argue, he said, that it was more important to persuade the Welsh to learn English than to bother to translate the Bible into Welsh, but one must argue that this was a neglect of the truth – such men ignored religion in their zeal for uniformity. ‘In the meantime the people of God will die of hunger for His Word.' Harmony in religion was more important than harmony in language. Failing to provide a Bible in Welsh would in any case do very little to make the Welsh learn English.

It is intriguing to see William Morgan rehearsing the arguments in this way, putting them up and then shooting them down, probably because he felt the need to defend himself. In his book Deffyniad Ffydd in 1595, Maurice Kyffin mentions one Welsh cleric in an eisteddfod who had said that it was not right to print any Welsh book, because every Welshman should be forced at once to learn English and that no good could come from printing a Welsh Bible. Kyffin protested in a famous phrase – 'Could the Devil himself have put it better?' It has already been shown how stubborn William Morgan could become when faced with the hostility of arrogant squires, and now the same kind of stubborn determination was needed as he dealt with the enemies of his translation in Church and State.

What then are his virtues as a translator? He was a scholar quite able to cope with the original texts since he had been trained by an expert, Antoine Chevallier. Second, he had a wonderful command of the Welsh of the bards. Third, he knew how to find the exact Welsh word for nearly all Hebrew words, at the same time being able to convey the flavour of the extremely archaic Hebrew in contemporary language, that is, avoiding excessive archaisms. Last, he was a natural linguist and a writer by instinct – these were the most important things, untaught by anybody, which gave him the flair for dealing with the exceptionally varied contents of the Old Testament and conveying it as great literature.

He knew well that what had spoiled Salesbury's New Testament and Prayer Book in 1567 had been the orthography. John Penry says that hearing the service being read would hurt the ears of any Welshman worth his salt. William Morgan accordingly went back to the traditional orthography of the medieval bards, avoiding most of the Latinisms of Salesbury – one which got through the net was Salesbury's sanctaidd, 'holy' which should have been santaidd. Morgan has the traditional eglwys, avoiding eccles. He avoided many of the colloquial English borrowings in the books of 1567 such as considro, 'consider', (and gave us ystyried), scyrsio, 'scourge', (and gave us fflangellu), or entrio, 'enter', using the longer but more Welsh form myned i mewn. It is odd that Morgan uses some dialect endings such as geirie or minne which were later revised to the more literary geiriau and minnau. His most glaring fault was to use the abnormal Welsh sentence-order as though it were the normal: ‘Jesus wept', for example, is rendered as 'Yr Iesu a wylodd', but the normal word-order in Welsh would be ‘Wylodd yr Iesu'. Despite that lapse, his Welsh is remarkable for its dignity and flexibility, and it became accepted as the basis for modern Welsh.

Salesbury and Davies had wrestled with the problem of the dialect differences of North and South Wales, had tried to please everybody by putting alternatives in the margins. Morgan had lived very little in South Wales but was probably familiar with some of the Welsh prosemanuscripts of the Middle Ages, and these had mostly been written in South Wales, having a southern tang to their language forms. Morgan chose some words from the North and others from the South and stuck to them consistently: llaeth, 'milk', from the South, agoriadau, 'keys', from the North, nain, 'grandmother', from the North, gyda, 'with', from the South.

Perhaps the best way to see the excellence of his Welsh is to compare his version with a version from the Prayer Book of 1567, for the 1567 Book of Common Prayer had included several passages of the Old Testament to be read as lessons. The Twenty-Third Psalm would be a well-known example to examine:
Psalm 23 in the Prayer Book of 1567

Yr Arglwydd [yw] vy-bugeil, ny bydd diffic arnaf.
Ef a bair ym' orphwys mewn porva brydverth, ac am tywys ger llaw dyfredd tawel.
Ef y adver vy eneit, ac am arwein i rhyd llwybrae cyfiawnder er mwyn ei Enw.
A' phe rhodiwn rhyd glyn gwascot angae, nyd ofnaf ddrwc: can y ty vot gyd a mi: dy wialen ath ffon, hwy am diddanant.
Ti arlwyy vort gar vy-bron, yn-gwydd vygwrthnepwyr: ireist vy-pen ac oleo, [a']m phiol a orllenwir.
Sef ddaoni, a' thrugaredd am canlynant oll ddyddiae vy-bywyt, a' phreswiliaf yn hir amser yn-tuy yr Arglwydd.

Psalm 23 in the Bible of 1588
Yr Arglwydd [yw] fy mugail: ni bydd eisieu arnaf.
Efe a bar i'm orwedd mewn porfeudd gwelltoc: efe a'm tywys ger llaw dyfroedd tawel.
Efe a ddychwel fy enaid, ac a'm harwain ar hyd llwybrau cyfiawnder er mwyn ei enw.
A phe rhodiwn ar hyd glynn cyscod angeu nid ofnaf niwed, o herwydd dy [fod] ti gyd â mi: dy wialen, a'th ffon a'm cyssûrant.
Ti a arlwyi fort ger fy mron, yn erbyn fyng-wrthwyneb-wyr: iraist fy mhen ag olew, fy phiol [sydd] lawn.
Daioni, a thrugâredd yn ddiau a'm canlynant oll ddyddiau fy mywyd: a phresswyliaf yn nhŷ'r Arglwydd yn dragywydd.

It is easy to see how inconsistent Salesbury's orthography is – f and v are used for the same sound in various words. His way of dealing with mutations is clumsy, he writes vy-pen, ‘my head', assuming the reader will know that it will be pronounced as fy-mhen. Oleo, ‘oil', is far more Latinized than olew. Otherwise of course it is good, and Salesbury's a'm phiol a orllenwir is closer to ‘my cup runneth over' than Morgan's phrase which simply says ‘my cup is full'.

It was not simply a matter of orthography. Morgan's flair as a writer gave distinction to his translation. If one simply looks at the book of Genesis, at the narrative of Jacob and Esau, the search for Rebeccah as a wife, or above all the story of Joseph and his brethren, Morgan's narrative runs with a suppleness and grace which makes one think they were written yesterday. He could also vary his style with sensitivity: in the famous passages in the book of job where the overpowering majesty of God is made to contrast with the puniness of man, Morgan's Welsh thunders and roars with the rush of mighty waters. Salesbury and Davies and Huet had of course translated the New Testament, but even in his revision of that work, Morgan is able to create a new vocabulary of compound words to express the subtle nuances of the Greek, a language most celebrated for its ability to form compounds to express shades of meanings. He made the Hebrew sound like Welsh, so that in some cases wholly foreign phrases became household phrases in Welsh; and this probably to a greater extent than happened with the English Bible. For example, in the story of King David there is an odd expression used when David awaits a sign of a change in the air which would signal the moment at which to attack his enemies, trwst ym mrig y morwydd, ‘a sound in the tops of the mulberry trees'. Few Welshmen know how mulberry leaves sound, even know what a mulberry bush looks like, and yet Morgan's phrase conveys the rustling of the topmost leaves catching the breeze, so signalling a change of mood, a foreshadowing of some great change, so that the phrase entered Welsh. This is by no means an isolated example.

The cold welcome extended to the publications in 1567 shows that one could not take it for granted that any translation would be accepted as good simply because it was Holy Writ. The Bible of 1588 was immediately welcomed warmly, – it struck the ear as clear, natural and consistent. Morgan himself was not satisfied with the version of the New Testament and for several years worked on a new translation. One of his successors at St. Asaph, Bishop Richard Parry, was responsible for a new edition of the Bible in 1620. He claimed that he had been entirely responsible, but experts are of the opinion that most of the task of revising Morgan's Welsh was done by Parry's brother-in-law Dr. John Davies of Mallwyd. The characteristic of the second edition is that the Welsh has been tidied up, colloquial forms have been eliminated, and that the text is more consistent with the Authorized Version of the English Bible of 1611. The edition of 1620 was the basis for all subsequent editions up to the later twentieth century.

Title-page of the 1620 Bible.

Figure 31. Title-page of the 1620 Bible.

The Bibles of 1588 and especially 1620 were heavy tomes, too heavy to hold in the hands, and suitable for reading only from lecterns in parish churches. The copies of the Prayer Book were smaller and these contained sections of the Bible. Morgan also arranged to be published in London in 1588 a version of the Psalms in an edition which an individual could buy and read. But it is symbolic of all these early Bibles that the copy in Hereford Cathedral Library should be chained to the bookshelf. Only in 1630 was a smaller version produced, the ‘Little Bible' costing five shillings a copy, a popular edition paid for by two Welsh merchants in London, Thomas Myddelton and Rowland Heilyn. That was the start of the process of taking the Bible of William Morgan to the homes of Wales.

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