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Saturday, 19 November 2011


Louisa Salter, a first cousin of my great grandfather’s, spent her life surrounded by new editions of the Bible, or rather by men driven to produce more accessible versions of it.

Her uncle the biblical scholar William Augustus Salter, my great great grandfather, worked with the Religious Tract Society to produce the Annotated Paragraph Bible – which as the name implies introduced paragraphs and footnotes to the King James translation to make it more readable by the ordinary man and woman. And her husband’s legacy was The New Testament in Modern Speech, a translation from the Greek into nineteenth century English which has regularly been reprinted since its publication in 1903.

The New Testament in Modern Speech, published 1903,
translated from the Greek by Richard Francis Weymouth

Louisa married Richard Francis Weymouth in 1892 when she was already 49 years old. Like so many daughters of her times, she had been obliged by convention to remain unmarried well into adulthood, caring for her widowed mother. She shared this duty with her only sister Charlotte Amelia Salter; Charlotte’s early death in 1871, and that of their mother only a few months later, must have been cruel blows.

Richard Weymouth was considerably older than Louisa – aged 70 at the time of this, his second marriage. He was a lay Baptist biblical scholar, having been educated like Louisa’s uncle William at the nonconformist-funded University of London. Richard returned to the university as a Fellow in 1869 and taught there until his retirement in 1886. During this time he also edited the Resultant Greek Testament, a standardised form of the original Greek text of the New Testament agreed by a consensus of leading biblical scholars of the day, from which he would prepare his modern-speech translation.

The Resultant Greek Testament, published in 1892,
edited by Richard Francis Weymouth

He and Louisa enjoyed ten years together before he died in 1902 – the Weymouth New Testament, as his translation is now known, was published posthumously. Its success after his death will at least have helped to provide for Louisa in her own old age. One of the executors of her own will in 1917 was her late husband’s secretary Rev Ernest Hampden-Cook, who had prepared Richard’s manuscript for publication. Ernest had obviously become a family friend. Keeping in touch with him must have eased Louisa's sense of loss after Richard's death.

Ernest had published his own volume of biblical criticism, The Christ Has Come, in 1891, the year before Louisa and Richard were married. His book took a strong preterist stance on biblical interpretation – that is, the view that much of the Bible, particularly the books of Daniel and Revelations, contain prophecies which were fulfilled in the first century AD.

The Christ Has Come, published in 1891,
written by Rev Ernest Hampden-Cook

Weymouth’s New Testament has also been cited in support of a preterist viewpoint, central to which was a second coming of Christ in AD 70 and the promise of a third coming yet to happen. It is tempting to imagine that a lonely Louisa, losing in the space of a few months the last two members of her immediate family, turned to the possibility of a third coming of Christ for spiritual comfort in a time of despair. She would not have been the first or last spinster of the parish to long for future happiness in any form. If she did, then (whatever the truth behind preterism) that comfort brought her belated joy in the form of her husband.

Louisa should not be confused with her first cousin also called Louisa Salter, her uncle William’s daughter, who married William Windle Pilkington the St Helens glass magnate.

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