Now a grown man—that is to say, a comparatively unimpressionable man—that is again to say, a man past the age when to enjoy the Bible is priceless—has probably found out somehow that the word prophet does not (in spite of vulgar usage) mean ’a man who predicts.’ He has experienced too many prophets of that kind— especially since 1914—and he respects Isaiah too much to rank Isaiah among them. He has been in love, belike; he has read the Song of Solomon: he very much doubts if, on the evidence, Solomon was the kind of lover to have written that Song, and he is quite certain that when the lover sings to his beloved:
Thy two breasts are like two young roes
that are twins. Thy
neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools
in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
—he knows, I say, that this is not a description of the Church and her graces, as the chapter-heading audaciously asserts. But he is lazy; too lazy even to commend the Revised Version for striking Solomon out of the Bible, calling the poem The Song of Songs, omitting the absurd chapter-headings, and printing the poetry as poetry ought to be printed. The old-fashioned arrangement was good enough for him. Or he goes to church on Christmas Day and listens to a first lesson, of which the old translators made nonsense, and, in two passages at least, stark nonsense. But, again, the old nonsense is good enough for him; soothing in fact. He is not even quite sure that the Bible, looking like any other book, ought to be put in the hands of the young.
In all this I think he is wrong. I am sure he is wrong if our contention be right, that the English Bible should be studied by us all for its poetry and its wonderful language as well as for its religion—the religion and the poetry being in fact inseparable. For then, in Euripides’ phrase, we should clothe the Bible in a dress through which its beauty might best shine.
If you ask me How? I answer—first begging you to bear in mind that we are planning the form of the book for our purpose, and that other forms will be used for other purposes—that we should start with the simplest alterations, such as these:
(1) The books should be re-arranged in their right order, so far as this can be ascertained (and much of it has been ascertained). I am told, and I can well believe, that this would at a stroke clear away a mass of confusion in strictly Biblical criticism. But that is not my business. I know that it would immensely help our literary study.
(2) I should print the prose continuously, as prose is ordinarily and properly printed: and the poetry in verse lines, as poetry is ordinarily and properly printed. And I should print each on a page of one column, with none but the necessary notes and references, and these so arranged that they did not tease and distract the eye.