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In preparing the First Volume of the Commentary On Isaiah, many attempts were made, but without success, to procure the French Translation. After much fruitless labor, and some expense, a copy of that rare work, which happens to be in the possession of the Parker Society, has been kindly lent to the Translator, who takes this opportunity of conveying his warmest thanks for this favor. The references in the foot-notes of the present and future Volumes will give some idea of the assistance derived from that source. But it has also supplied materials for a history, more complete than we could formerly give, of this Commentary, and of the forms in which it was successively brought before the public.
Various scribes, on some occasions, united their efforts to obtain a perfect record of what had been uttered by the Reformer in his private Lessons, as they were called, which he delivered to students of theology. But, in the present instance, we are indebted almost exclusively to the earnest, judicious, and unwearied labors of one man, Mr. Nicolas Des Gallars, a minister of Geneva, from whose notes, after having been revised by the Author, the first Latin edition was printed in 1550. He appears to have executed, under the Author’s eye, a French Translation, which came forth almost simultaneously with the Latin copy, and enjoyed the advantage of being known to be well authenticated. After the lapse of several years, Calvin availed himself of a season of leisure for re-writing this Commentary, added more than a third to its original size, 11 See page 17. and made such extensive alterations, that he ventured to call it “a new work.” 22 See Com. On Isaiah, vol. 1, p. 16. It bears the date of 15th January 1559. The third edition, which is dated 1583, lays claim to still greater accuracy; for it professes to have received corrections from the Author’s Manuscript.
While the Commentary was thus extensively circulated, 33 See page 15. the benefits of it were chiefly confined to those who were acquainted with the Latin language; for even the French reader was left to struggle with all the imperfections which belonged to the first edition. At least, it was only eleven years before the last mentioned date, and eight years after the Author’s death, that a new French translation appeared, which was printed at Geneva by Francois Perrin, in 1572. There is reason to believe that the first French translation would be treated by the second translator with great deference, and that he would scarcely consider himself to be at liberty to depart from it, except for the purpose of introducing the extensive alterations and additions which had been made to the original work. Let us hope that some future editor, having obtained access to copies now slumbering in the shelves of our continental neighbors, or perhaps of our own countrymen, will enjoy the satisfaction of collating the earlier and later editions in both languages, and will be enabled to reveal the steps by which this valuable Commentary passed from the first rough notes of the labourious scribe to the form which was imparted to it by the fastidious corrections of the Author.
This Volume contains an “Address to the Readers” by Nicolas des Gallars, Latinized Gallasius, (which appears to have been prefixed to his French translation of the Commentary,) his Epistolary Dedication of the Latin edition of 1583 to a learned author and eminent printer, John Crispin, and a short “Address to the Readers” by the latest French translator, all of which, it is hoped, will be perused with deep interest. The relation in which Gallars stood to Calvin, and to his published writings, has thrown around him many pleasing associations; and his style, both Latin and French, displays such judgment, and taste, and scholarship, as justifies the marked preference given to him by the Reformer, and assures the reader that the responsible office which he held could not have been committed to abler hands.
The Notes added to these Volumes shew that it is the aim of the Calvin Society not only to give exact Translations, but to aid the investigation of dark passages by the labors of modern critics. Among the works which have been consulted with greatest advantage may be named “The Prophecies of Isaiah, Earlier and Later, by Joseph Addison Alexander, Professor in the Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey,” an exceedingly valuable addition to the stores of exegetical theology, and not a little enhanced by the care with which the learned editor, Dr. Eadie, has superintended the British edition. Yet we are again and again constrained to remark the extent to which the critical researches of our own age have been anticipated by the sagacity of the Reformer, to whom our greatest men delight in acknowledging their obligations. “Calvin,” says Professor Alexander, “still towers above all interpreters in large commanding views of revelation, in its whole connection, with extraordinary insight into the logical relations of a passage, even where its individual expressions were not fully understood. These qualities, together with his fixed belief of fundamental doctrines, his eminent soundness of judgment, and his freedom from all tendency to paradox, pedantic affectation, or fanciful conceit, place him more completely on a level with the very best interpreters of our day than almost any intervening writer.”
Auchterarder, 3d September, 1851.
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