Dr Johnson's Bible

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A pocket New Testament printed by Evan Tyler in Edinburgh in 1647.

This tiny book published 'By The King's command' is an official recognition of a new way of reading the Bible. The point is the size. The previous official translations of the Bible had been printed in quarto or folio size with large print designed to be read in churches. A three inch book was small enough to fit in a coat pocket. It was intended not for a congregation to listen to on Sundays, but for an individual to carry round and read every day.

An inscription in this book records that it was once 'the pocket companion of Johnson'. Almost every Easter Samuel Johnson resolved to 'read the Bible over in the year', and there is a good chance that this is the Bible he read.

Tyndale had published the first pocket sized Bible in 1526 so that 'even the boy that driveth the plough' could read it. Tyndales's Bibles were burnt (only three survive) but his idea remained. Whether this particular Bible was read by Dr Johnson or by Tyndale's ploughboy (or even by both), the worn cover and thumbed pages are concrete evidence of a book that has moved out of the church to become a personal companion.

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