A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

Sophia Susannah Taylor (1817-1911)

In 2021 I wrote up a report on how William Burt Pope translated over a dozen works of conservative German biblical scholarship in the 1850s (in his 30s, before publishing his own theological work). It was a brilliant strategic move for a conservative Methodist theologian. Pope essentially invested in building up and making available in English the exact kind of biblical scholarship that he wanted to interact with theologically. GENIUS.

But Pope’s labors were part of a larger movement to make conservative German biblical scholarship available to English readers. Check out David Lincicum’s 2017 article, “Fighting Germans with Germans: Victorian Theological Translations between Anxiety and Influence” (Journal for the History of Modern Theology / Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 2017 24(2): 153-201). Lincicum explores how T&T Clark published many volumes from many scholars; Pope was just one of the translators.

Another translator worth noting: Sophia Susannah Taylor (1817–1911).

Lincicum’s entry on her in Oxford DNB says she translated 23 volumes over the course of 35 years! “Although she has been almost entirely neglected by subsequent scholarship, her productivity marks her as one of the most accomplished translators of theological literature in the Victorian period.”

Her strategy was the same as Pope’s: Get a ton of doctrinally sound, evangelically alive, rigorous German scholarship into the Anglophone world. Oosterzee, Luthardt, Dorner, Lange, Keil, Oehler, Martensen, Sartorius, Delitzsch, etc.

T. Clark, her publisher, counted on her for steady work of high quality. “Sometimes the publisher suggested books for translation, while at other times Taylor herself furnished the proposal.” Apparently they had lively and substantive editorial exchanges over some projects. This is enough evidence to indicate that she was not just a translation machine, but was guided by some theological judgements, operated from some kind of informed construal of contemporary intellectual trends.

“She died, of old age… on 14 January 1911, with no public notice or obituary to note the signal contribution she had rendered through the thankless task of translation to conservative theological scholarship in the latter decades of the nineteenth century.”

Sophia Susannah Taylor, theology translator. As it turns out, I’ve read some of her work over the years, but just now learned her name. All the strategic genius I ascribed to William Burt Pope above belongs also to SST: She understood the times & knew how to take action through steady, solid, self-directed work. Well done.

(I’d show you a picture of her, but I don’t think any exist. One reason I’m posting this on the blog is so I can add more information if it comes my way.)

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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