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Tessa Whitehouse, The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent 1720-1800

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. xiii + 250 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-871784-3
Sylvia Brown
p. 305-306
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WHITEHOUSE, TESSA. – The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent 1720-1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. xiii + 250 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-871784-3

Texte intégral

1This book is built around two case studies: moderate Dissenters Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge, and the intentionally improving and wide range of texts associated with both. Tessa Whitehouse traces the production and distribution of texts bearing and also burnishing the names of “Doddridge” and “Watts,” from the Dissenting Academies and pedagogical projects which spawned them through to their wider and surprisingly enduring circulation as canonical authors with national and also international reach.

2Whitehouse shows how multiple factors produced the texts associated with Doddridge and Watts, from manuscript lecture notes to expensively-bound and gold-tooled posthumous Works: the desire to preserve, even “revive” Dissent, was but one. Whitehouse unravels the complex web of motives and means that create these books and send them into circulation: ties of friendship and sociability, a common educational formation, a desire to promote an image of Dissent as polite and intellectually generous, the pious intention to memorialize old friends and mentors, commercial interest combined with the disinterested impetus to distribute “good books” as widely as possible, and, finally, simple utility and pragmatism.

3Through the details of these case studies, Whitehouse makes important arguments about the nature of Dissenting textual culture. For instance, even as print was embraced by Dissenting authors as the favoured medium for evangelization and more generally for the improving spread of knowledge, it is striking to see the continued utility of manuscript circulation and scribal publication through the eighteenth and even into the nineteenth century, especially in the Dissenting Academies. Doddridge’s lectures, for instance, continued to be copied by students and tutors, the latter continuously adapting them. Whitehouse argues that this dynamism of text was intended by Doddridge himself as well as by John Jennings, whose lectures he adapted, and is one of the defining features of Dissenting textual culture: “This is a distinctive culture in which models of authorship and literary ownership are flexible and literature is a common resource” (149). The imperative to fix improving texts in print, however, for the purpose of even wider distribution or to produce definitive or authentic editions could collide with this more flexible model of authorship and ownership: a collision well documented and analysed in Whitehouse’s final chapter on “Friendship, Labour, and the Editing of Watts’ and Doddridge’s Posthumous Works.”

4Whitehouse also argues that the culture of moderate Dissent in the eighteenth century looks very like what some historians have taken to be “Enlightenment” culture; namely, commitment to an intellectual community, to “free” discourse and the wide propagation of knowledge (mostly but not exclusively through print), to civility, and to internationalism. Moderate Dissenters like Watts and Doddridge were perhaps the most energetic practitioners of an “Evangelical Enlightenment” that idealized the collaborative and friendly exchange of knowledge, that situated that knowledge within a framework of Christian learning and self-improvement, and that produced a huge volume and variety of writings in the service of spreading Light (at once divine and humane): lectures, family devotional guides, hymns and poems, but also scientific and instructional writing, biographies, and various kinds of encyclopedic compendia. Whitehouse’s book invites us to look for the development of that rich and productive textual culture in the wider field of post-Reformation Puritanism, Nonconformity, and Dissent.

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Référence papier

Sylvia Brown, « Tessa Whitehouse, The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent 1720-1800 », XVII-XVIII, 73 | 2016, 305-306.

Référence électronique

Sylvia Brown, « Tessa Whitehouse, The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent 1720-1800 », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 73 | 2016, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2016, consulté le 24 avril 2017. URL :

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Sylvia Brown

University of Alberta - Department of English

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