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  • The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent, 1720–1800 by Tessa Whitehouse
  • Timothy Whelan (bio)
The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent, 1720–1800. By Tessa Whitehouse. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2015. xiv + 250 pp. £55. isbn 978 0 19 871784 3.

In The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent, 1720–1800, Tessa Whitehouse argues that a particular group of moderately Calvinistic dissenting educators and ministers used ‘textual, social, and pedagogical means’ to create and perpetuate ‘a reputation for candour, moderation, and learning’ within a dissenting culture striving to separate itself from old seventeenth-century perceptions of narrow-minded, ‘strict Dissenters’ (p. 1). She interrogates this ‘textual culture’ by carefully examining and collating various manuscripts, annotated volumes, and [End Page 461] printed sources pertaining to the history of dissenting academies and some of its key figures during a pivotal period in their history.

Two figures emerge in particular, Philip Doddridge (1702–51) and Isaac Watts (1674–1748), with much of the book focusing on the collaborative and intimate interplay involved in editing and publishing their writings both during their lifetime and posthumously through the assistance, in most cases, of their friends and former students, such as Job Orton, Samuel Clark, Sr. and Jr., Caleb Ashworth, David Jennings, Samuel Palmer, and Andrew Kippis. Dissenting academies, she argues, ‘were sites for social and cultural transmission, for inculcating traditions, and for promoting philosophies and pedagogies which, through print, reached audiences beyond the students for whom the texts were originally intended’ (p. 2). Though the figures in her book represent various denominations within dissent, the main figures are associated with Congregationalism, and all exhibit an ecumenical bent in their attitudes toward other writers and theologians. Whitehouse carefully untangles the collaborative nature of the various texts they produced for use in dissenting academies: borrowing each other’s notes, copying them, adding their own notes to them, publishing and editing them, adding additional notes in margins, and then exchanging these copies among themselves and their students, who in turn made their own copies and additions/alterations, a prolonged process in which texts were handed down from writer to editor to sub-editor, all the while insisting on an authenticity (and enjoying a certain level of freedom) in these scribal publications that rivalled print culture throughout much of the eighteenth century. In so doing, these writers, ministers, and educators, Whitehouse contends, established a ‘tradition within dissent that was learned, sociable, moderate, and orthodox, which was self-sustaining but outward looking and which generously embraced diversity: a tradition which was influenced by and could participate in the polite world of letters’ (p. 9) in eighteenth-century England.

Whitehouse’s impressive research expands the parameters of a number of previous studies that have primarily focused on religious and educational figures from within the established church, often ignoring contributions from dissenters and their distinctive textual culture, both in its separateness and similarity to Addisonian British culture and its emphasis upon polite sociability, religious moderation, and rational enquiry. Her research also complements some recent projects concerning dissenting academies that are now online, including Whitehouse’s earlier work on John Jennings and the encyclopedic Dissenting Academies Project, which houses the most complete array of information on dissenting academies ever assembled. Whitehouse builds as well on studies pertaining to seventeenth-and eighteenth-century textual culture by Brian Young (1998), Jonathan Sheehan (2005), and Jonathan Yeager (2011), and more tangentially on contemporary research related to collaborative writing and manuscript culture, especially among women writers and dissenters, by Melanie Bigold (2013), Amy Culley (2014), and Rachel Adcock (2015).

In the main body of her book, Whitehouse explores several concepts that are the definitive hallmarks of dissenting textual culture: the importance of friendship and epistolary networks among tutors and students in establishing and perpetuating the dissenting academies during the eighteenth century; the importance of polite culture, moderation, sociability, adaptation, and collaborative efforts within the dissenting academy tradition; the practice of copying, editing, and printing [End Page 462] educational works, especially those by Doddridge, as a means of preserving and elevating a learned and cultured dissenting tradition; the role of Isaac Watts in delineating, disseminating, and promoting through...


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