Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible is curated by Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, and Steven K. Galbraith, Andrew W. Mellon curator of books at the Folger Shakespeare Library, who recently became curator of the Cary Graphics Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology.
We sat down with the curators on the exhibition's opening day, September 23, to get their insights into the exhibition and what they hope visitors will take away from it.
Steve Galbraith: I'd like to humanize the story for visitors. These were real people making great sacrifices—William Tyndale, an earlier Bible translator, lost his life—and it also took hard labor to produce translations. We focus, for example, on John Rainolds, who worked on the King James Bible literally on his deathbed. Then you turn the corner and come to the cultural influence of the King James Bible, and that's all about people, too—the authors, the musicians. It was a challenge to represent that, though, with items from this whole universe of examples.
Hannibal Hamlin: Yes, and how to place those examples within the cases became a question for us, too. We found ourselves putting an image of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a still of Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas in the same case, as well as a rare Folger copy of Handel's Messiah. They're all part of this larger story of the influence of the King James Bible.
Steve Galbraith: Manifold Greatness is also the first project to bring together what our Oxford colleague Helen Moore calls the "Big Three," the three major surviving manuscript records of the translation of the King James Bible.
Hannibal Hamlin: The Big Three! That's the Epistles translation from the Lambeth Palace Library; the translator John Bois's notes (or rather, a very old copy of his notes) of some of the translators' discussions; and an annotated copy of a Bishops' Bible showing the translators' changes from that text.
Steve Galbraith: The Bishops' Bible, with words crossed out and changes made—that really shows you, word by word, the painstaking process of translation that created the King James Bible, and how it all came out of the deep education and training of those translators.
Hannibal Hamlin: The idea of a King James Bible exhibition at the Folger snowballed as we began to work with the Bodleian Library at Oxford and later with the American Library Association on the traveling panel exhibit, and when we applied for the NEH grant. As the project developed, we could see the Folger exhibition would be framed differently, that it would have a longer, broader scope, including America as well as England, and coming up to the present.
Steve Galbraith: That meant we would need to borrow some materials for the later period, in addition to the earlier items that include our own rare Folger holdings. But with the prospect of the traveling panel exhibit, it was exciting to be able to share our Folger expertise and interpretation of the subject so widely. It really struck home to me today when we met with the coordinators from the 40 libraries around the United States that will be showing the traveling panel exhibit. They were just so enthusiastic; they have so many plans for the presentations where they are. I was really overwhelmed that our work in the Folger exhibition here is going to travel to that many places and people.
Hannibal Hamlin: Part of our partnership with the Bodleian included their loans of some very early materials, too. The Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000, the Wycliffite Bible manuscript from the 1380s—I always gravitate toward those in the first case as I walk in.
Steve Galbraith: We wanted to include a nineteenth-century American family Bible and we hadn't found the right one. Then, rather hesitantly, Hannibal mentioned his own family Bible, and (Folger exhibitions manager) Caryn Lazzuri and I loved it.
Hannibal Hamlin: It feels odd, but nice, that my family Bible is in the exhibition. I've been surprised at how interested people are in that—a family Bible of one of the curators. And there's a Capitol Hill connection; my great-great-great-grandfather was Abraham Lincoln's first vice president. We're showing the page with the record of his two marriages. People in the family had looked at the front and the back pages of the Bible before and not seen much of interest. But from working on this exhibition, I knew that there are often records in the middle, between the two Testaments. And that's what I found. I was really happy to see that this existed.