Why William Maldon taught himself to read
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!