It is with great pleasure that we are able to announce the publication on 17 December 2015 of Tessa Whitehouse’s book The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent 1720-1800 (Oxford University Press).
Publisher’s note: ‘Religious dissenters and their literary and social heritage are the principal subjects of this book. At its heart is a group of English men whose activities were local, transcontinental and circum-Atlantic. Drawing on letters, lecture notes, manuscript accounts of academies, and a range of printed texts and paratexts The Textual Culture of English Protestant Dissent 1720-1800 explores the connections between dissent, education, and publishing in the eighteenth century. By considering Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge in relation to their mentors, students, friends, and readers it emphasizes the importance they and their associates attached to personal relationships in their private interactions and in print. It argues that this contributed to a distinctive literary style as well as particular modes of textual production for moderate, orthodox dissenters which reached beyond their own community to address and influence global discourses about education, enlightenment, and history. The book’s focus on ‘textual culture’ foregrounds relationships between forms as well as considering texts as they existed in one form or another. In examining textual culture, this book emphasises adaptation, transformation, fluidity and communality: it approaches the human relationships that make texts (including friendships, reading communities, intellectual exchange and business arrangements) with as much care as the content of the texts themselves. The book demonstrates that models of family and social authorship among Romantic-era dissenters advanced by Michelle Levy, Daniel White and Felicity James were rooted in the domestic culture at earlier academies and in the example of members of the Watts-Doddridge circle.’
By Mark Burden
I am pleased to report that InvenCaP’s initial survey of dissenting records in national and local record offices is now complete. During this early stage of the project it has been important to consider in some detail the relationship between original documents and later copies. As well as locating approximately 250 original church books, registers, and financial account books from the period 1640-1714, we have now compiled an inventory of over 100 significant manuscript copies of these documents. These copies, which currently only include complete or near-complete transcriptions of church books and registers, have often been relied on by historians, and are sometimes assumed to be the earliest documents of their kind. Such confusion must undoubtedly have led to mistakes in genealogies and church chronologies for several centuries, and it seems highly probably that the ideological assumptions of these later copies have also had an impact upon both diachronic and synchronic histories of dissent more broadly. Of equal significance to the Puritan Experience project would be a detailed consideration of the changes in narrative emphasis and structure between each source and its copies. Such changes can manifest themselves in the reordering and retitling of material, as well as in the rewording of key documents; more subtly, the changed function of information within a document can be affected by the identity and orthographic choices of the scribe, the quality of the paper and binding, and the slippage between autograph signatures and copies.
Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – Church Books and their Copies
By Mark Burden
On 27 December 1821 the dissenting antiquarian Benjamin Hanbury supplemented his recent transcription of the eighteenth-century register of Isaac Watts’s church with a description of the original manuscript. This source text had been placed into his hands in a ‘mutilated state’, having been ‘lately bought for waste paper’; indeed, Hanbury feared that the ‘major part of the original MS. is therefore entirely lost’, although ‘what is here preserved must be exceedingly valuable to the inquirer into Church History among the Dissenters’. Few historians of early eighteenth-century British dissent would now deny the importance of such a large collection of records relating to Watts’s church, not least since the original text appears to contain interlineations by the prominent dissenting academy tutor Samuel Morton Savage. We may also share Hanbury’s regret at the lost leaves and mutilated state of the manuscript, although incompleteness, messiness, and imperfection can often be seen as interesting if not positively virtuous characteristics of a document.
Perhaps Hanbury’s remarks should also encourage us to reconsider our preconceptions about the nature of dissenting church books, registers, and records. Later Stuart dissenters certainly used the term ‘church book’ in several different ways. In a general sense, it meant a writing book owned by the church, or bought for the church – this is the sense given by a note from a manuscript formerly belonging to Slapton Baptist Church: ‘Memorandum this Church book was dellivered to Thomas Lovell Aprill the 4 1705’. Although this book does contain a few early notes on church acts and members scribbled into the back of the volume, the main series of memoranda prior to 1705 are receipts recorded by one of the church officers, ‘Jos: Goodman’. The early Baptist church books, then, could often function as financial accounts, often scribbled into small octavo volumes, rather than the hefty folios which grew in popularity as the eighteenth century progressed.
Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – What is a Dissenting Church Book?