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This article is taken from PN Review 13, Volume 6 Number 5, May - June 1980.

'Habitual Music' Michael Wheeler
THE general response of both clergy and laity to the work of the translators who produced the Revised Version of the Bible in the 1880s was not unlike the response to the New English Bible in the 1960s and 1970s: hopeful expectation as the work went on, followed by disappointment with the published new versions and a somewhat nostalgic defence of the 'old' Bible, the Authorised Version. Some of the current arguments for the Authorised Version and against the latest translations are reminiscent of views put forward a hundred years ago, and I hope that the following brief sketch of certain Victorian responses to the issue of revision will serve as oblique commentary on the concerns of this special issue of PNR. But the major differences between the backgrounds to the debates of the 1880s and the 1970s also demand our attention. Whereas the articulate, highly educated men who argued the case for or against revision in the 1880s could assume that the debate mattered, in an age in which Ruskin's love of what he described as the 'habitual music' of scripture was shared by millions, modern critics of new translations approach the 1980s in the knowledge that biblical literacy has reached the pollster's 'all-time low', that only a minority of their countrymen care what happens to the Bible, old or new, and that even among those who do care there are many who see the issues involved as broadly cultural rather than specifically religious. Today the reading of ...

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