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Why William Maldon taught himself to read

January 24, 2012

It is hard not to be moved by the story of William Maldon, an illiterate living in the reign of Henry VIII who decided to learn to read English so that he could have direct access to the Christian Scriptures.  You can read his story in Alfred W. Pollard’s Records of the English Bible:  The Documents relating to the Translation and Publication of the Bible in English, 1525-1611.

Thomas More famously teased Tyndale for the deficiencies of his vocabulary (Tyndale had to invent a fair amount of language in his translation) by saying “all England list now to go to school with Tyndale to learn English.”  Maldon was one who did “go to school with Tyndale.”

At age 15, Maldon’s experience as he wrote down a short time later (modernized spelling):

Divers poor men in the town of Chelmsford in the county of Essex where my father dwelt and I born and with him brought up, the said poor men bought the New Testament of Jesus Christ and on Sundays did sit reading in lower end of church, and many would flock about them to hear their reading, then I came among the said readers to hear them reading of that glad and sweet tidings of the gospel, then my father seeing this that I listened to them every Sunday, then came he and sought me among them, and brought me away from the hearing of them, and would have me to say the Latin matins with him, the which grieved me very much, and thus did fetch me away divers times, then I see I could not be in rest, then thought I, I will learn to read English, and then I will have the New Testament and read thereon myself, and then had I learned of an English primer as far as patris sapientia and then on Sundays I plied my English primer, the Maytide following I and my father’s apprentice, Thomas Jeffary laid our money together, and bought the New Testament in English, and hid it in our bedstraw and so exercised it at convenient times.

What a time – when an illiterate youth would secretly teach himself to read, because he was so excited by Tyndale’s translation!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2012 1:16 pm

    Didn’t know William Maldon or his story, our story, until your post. Am moved. Thanks.

  2. January 24, 2012 2:02 pm

    I didn’t know it either, and Chelmsford is my home town. Would that today the youth of the town would gather in the mediaeval Cathedral (which was then the main town church, probably the one William is referring to) and spontaneously study the Bible!

    Nearly a century later, but perhaps as part of a continuous tradition from Maldon’s time, the Puritan Thomas Hooker was a lecturer at that same Cathedral, but was expelled, and ended up in America and founding the state of Connecticut.

  3. January 24, 2012 3:43 pm

    Kurk and Peter —

    I was moved — the writing is so simple and honest. I have to say that it really shakes up my worldview, since we are in an era and place where translations are numerous to the point of overabundance. Just imagine the effort required to teach oneself to read at age 15; and then to save one’s pennies with a friend to buy a New Testament.

    Thomas Hooker — that’s an interesting story, but I’ll have to make it into another post.

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