Bible in Massachuset
- ink and paper
4to (7 1/2 x 5 5/8 in.; 190 x 142 mm). Initial blank leaf, General Title in English, Dedication A3-4, List of Books A5v, Text of OT; New Testament title in Algonquin dated 1661, Text of NT, Metrical Psalms, leaf of rules for Christian living in Algonquin, includes the three blanks A1, Xx4, and final N3; light browning in quires A, Aa, Dd-Ee, Qq, Yy, Ddd, Eee, I, a few tiny marginal dampstains, but generally a very clean crisp copy. Contemporary English dark-blue morocco, double-fillet border, triple-fillet central panel with gilt fleurons at four corners, gilt-ruled spine, gilt-stamped title on spine, dentelles, edges gilt, remains of silk ties; corners torn, joints cracked, a few scratches on covers. In a red morocco drop-box, gilt-stamped Tonner monogram.
In 1646 Eliot began missionary work among the Massachuset Indian people and quickly gained a facility with their Natick language. Supported by the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Eliot began a phonetic translation of the Scriptures into Natick, which had previously not had a written language. The Corporation supplied a printing press for the work, as well as a new set of metal type to print the text. The type font required extra examples of the letters "k" and "q", as well as a totally new character that Eliot devised for a particular Natick pronunciaton. With Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson working the press, set up in Cambridge, the New Testament was completed in 1661 and the Old in 1663, when the full book was bound and distributed.
"Twenty copies of the complete book were sent at once to England" (D & M), for presentation to the Commissioners, and were probably bound in this standard dark blue morocco gilt. The Ashurst — Allan — Brinley — Cutter — Ellsworth Eliot Jr copy (sold at Christie's, 19 December 1986) had the same content and binding as the present copy. When the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had its charter revived in 1661, Robert Boyle was appointed president. As a founding member of the Royal Society, he would have been in close contact with William Cavendish (1617-1684), also a founder of the RS.
This is the issue which Pilling describes as the "Third Variety" with this combination of title pages and contents, characteristic of the twenty copies sent to England.
The work "constitutes the earliest example in history of the translation and printing of the entire Bible in a new language as a means of evangelization" (D & M). The cornerstone of any Americana collection.