Among those grave and erudite divines to whom all the generations which have read the Bible in the English tongue are so greatly indebted, a place is duly assigned to Dr. Richard Kilby. He was a native of Radcliff on the river Wreak, in Liecestershire. He went to Oxford; and when he had been at the University three years, was chosen Fellow of Lincoln College, in 1577. He took orders, and became a preacher of note in the University. In 1590, he was chosen Rector of his College, and made Prebendary of the cathedral church of Lincoln. He was considered so accurate in Hebrew studies, that he was appointed the King’s Professor in that branch of literature. Among the fruits of his studies, he left a commentary on Exodus, chiefly drawn from the writings of the Rabbinical interpreters. He died in the year 1620, at the age of sixty.
These are nearly all the vestiges remaining of him. There is one incident, however, related by “honest Izaak Walton,” in his life of the celebrated Bishop Sanderson. The incident, as described by the amiable angler, is such a fine historical picture of the times, and so apposite to the purpose of this little volume, that it must be given in Walton’s own words.
“I must here stop my reader, and tell him that this Dr. Kilby was a man of so great learning and wisdom, and so excellent a critic in the Hebrew tongue, that he was made professor of it in this University; and was also so perfect a Grecian, that he was by King James appointed to be one of the translators of the Bible; and that this Doctor and Mr. Sanderson had frequent discourses, and loved as father and son. The Doctor was to ride a journey into Derbyshire, and took Mr. Sanderson to bear him company; and they, resting on a Sunday with the Doctor’s friend, and going together to that parish church where they then were, found the young preacher to have no more discretion, than to waste a great part of the hour allotted for his sermon in exceptions against the late translation of several words, (not expecting such a hearer as Dr. Kilby,) and shewed three reasons why a particular word should have been otherwise translated. When evening prayer was ended, the preacher was invited to the Doctor’s friend’s house, where, after some other conference, the Doctor told him, he might have preached more useful doctrine, and not have filled his auditors’ ears with needless exceptions against the late translation; and for that word for which he offered to that poor congregation three reasons why it ought to have been translated as he said, he and others had considered all them, and found thirteen more considerable reasons why it was translated as now printed; and told him, ‘If his friend,’ (then attending him,) ‘should prove guilty of such indiscretion, he should forfeit his favor.’ To which Mr. Sanderson said, ‘He hoped he should not.’ And the preacher was so ingenuous to say, ‘He would not justify himself.’ And so I return to Oxford.”
This digression of honest Izaac’s pen may serve to illustrate the magisterial bearing of the “heads of colleges,” and other great divines of those times; and also, what has now become much rarer, the humility and submissiveness of the younger brethren. It also furnishes an incidental proof of the considerate and patient care with which our venerable Translators studied the verbal accuracy of their work. When we hear young licentiates, green from the seminary, displaying their smatterings of Hebrew and Greek by cavilling in their sermons at the common version, and pompously telling how it out to have been rendered, we cannot but wish that the apparition of Dr. Kilby’s frowning ghost might haunt them. Doubtless the translation is susceptible of improvement in certain places; but this is not a task for every new-fledged graduate; nor can it be very often attempted without shaking the confidence of the common people in our unsurpassed version, and without causing “the trumpet to give an uncertain sound.”