Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


July 17, 2008

Dalton column: The Bard of Ballard Vale

In the 1950s, Steven T. Byington was an old man with a long, white beard. He was of medium height but seemed taller because he was thin. He wore sneakers but never a hat when he walked back and forth from his home in Ballard Vale to Memorial Hall Library. He made this walk often, summer or winter, and over his shoulder he carried a sack for books. He would politely decline an offer of a ride, although he wouldn't hesitate to stop and chat along the way.

He was known as the "Bard of Ballard Vale."

("Ballard Vale" is more commonly called "Ballardvale" today, but I'll refer to it the way Mr. Byington did.)

He was a remarkable, unusual man, and his front page obituary was in the Townsman on Oct. 17, 1957, exactly one year after the Townsman carried a front page story about him titled, "Steven Byington — Man of Letters — Has a Problem."

The problem was that he had been unable to find a publisher for his translation of the Bible into modern English.

He had finished the translation in 1943, after working on it for 60 years. There were other translations, but he believed they were not done with the accuracy of his and that they were uninspiring.

The Townsman story was a good one, perhaps a little whimsical, but very respectful of this man whom people liked. Yes, he was a bit eccentric, but no one doubted that Byington had a brilliant mind and a thorough knowledge of the Bible.

But the story in the paper and Mr. Byington's obituary were not complete. There was much more to him than being an old man looking for a publisher.

In his youth, and perhaps later, he was an anarchist of such note that you can still go online and read about him. He was not a bomb-throwing anarchist of the sort popularized by the newspaper accounts of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. His style of anarchy, called "individualist anarchism," was more like the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau.

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