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A Study of the King James Version of the Bible

Lecture 4
THE Bible is a book-making book. It is literature which provokes literature.
It would be a pleasure to survey the whole field of literature in the broadest sense
and to note the creative power of the King James version; but that is manifestly
impossible here. Certain limitations must be frankly made. Leave on one side,
therefore; the immense body of purely religious literature, sermons, expositions,
commentaries, which, of course, are the direct product of the Bible. No book ever
caused so much discussion about itself and its teaching. That is because it deals
with the fundamental human interest, religion. It still remains true that the largest
single department of substantial books from our English presses is in the realm
of religion, and after the purely recreative literature they are probably most widely
read. Yet, they are not what we mean at this time by the literary result of the
English Bible.
Leave on one side also the very large body of political and historical writing.
Much of it shows Bible influence. In the nature of the case, any historian of the
past three hundred years must often refer to and quote from the English Bible,
and must note its influence. An entire study could be devoted to the influence of
the English Bible on Green or Bancroft or Freeman or Prescott--its influence on
their matter and their manner. Another could be given to its influence on political
writing and speaking. No great orator of the day would fail us of material, and the
great political papers and orations of the past would only widen the field. Yet
while some of this political and historical writing is recognized as literature, most
of it can be left out of our thought just now.
It may aid in the limiting of the field to accept what Dean Stanley said in another
connection: "By literature, I mean those great works that rise above professional
or commonplace uses and take possession of the mind of a whole nation or a
whole age."[1] This is one of the matters which we all understand until we begin
to define it; we know what we mean until some one asks us.
[1] Thoughts that Breathe.
The literature of which we are thinking in this narrower sense is in the sphere of
art rather than in the sphere of distinct achievement. De Quincey's division is
familiar: the literature of knowledge, and the literature of power. The function of
the first is to teach; the function of the second is to move. Professor Dowden
points out that between the two lies a third field, the literature of criticism. It seeks
both to teach and to move. Our concern is chiefly with De Quincey's second field-
-the literature of power. In the first field, the literature of knowledge, must lie all