Friday, July 24, 2020

New Book: Stunt on Tregelles

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Timothy C.F. Stunt, The Life and Times of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles: A Forgotten Scholar (Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World; Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). ISBN: 978-3-030-32265-6

With this biography of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, a great evangelical textual critic of the nineteenth century, Timothy C.F. Stunt has completed a work for which he has collected information for some sixty years. We are all in his debt for the clarity and well-documented supply of information about the life and times of Tregelles which I enjoyed reading earlier this week. I especially learnt a lot about Tregelles’ early life, his work in the Iron Foundry, and his contributions to various Concordances and lexical tools in his early years. Although Tregelles’ work on the text of the Greek New Testament has an ongoing and important role in the story, we are also introduced to his early life, his relationship with the early Plymouth Brethren, and his views on and relationships with others, his theology – with chapters on his views of Roman Catholicism and his doctrine of Scripture. Some of these relationships were tense and strained, for example his relationship with Tischendorf, strained by a spirit of competition, or his relationship with Samuel Davidson, strained by divergent theological convictions – both of these are well described here (although not exhaustively in either case). Other relationships were a constant support, especially that of his wife, Sarah Anna, but also his patron B.W. Newton, and scholarly friends in Cambridge (especially Hort, but also Westcott and others). We get a feel for the range of Stunt’s interests in Tregelles in the blurb on the back:
This book sheds light on the career of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, and in doing so touches on numerous aspects of nineteenth-century British and European religious history. Several recent scholars have celebrated the 200th anniversary of the German textual critic Tischendorf but Tregelles, his contemporary English rival, has been neglected, despite his achievements being comparable. In addition to his decisive contribution to Biblical textual scholarship, this study of Tregelles’ career sheds light on developments among Quakers in the period, and Tregelles’s enthusiastic involvement with the early nineteenth-century Welsh literary renaissance usefully supplements recent studies on Iolo Morganwg. The early career of Tregelles also gives valuable fresh detail to the origins of the Plymouth Brethren, (in both England and Italy) the study of whose early history has become more extensive over the last twenty years. The whole of Tregelles’s career therefore illuminates neglected aspects of Victorian religious life. [Publisher website]
The picture which emerges is one of a pious and careful scholar, more-or-less a self-educated man excluded from the intellectual life of the English Universities of Oxford and Cambridge because of his religious convictions (and his family’s financial situation), and determined to do his own careful academic work despite disdain from some of his Christian brethren who didn’t see the need for such careful work with manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. As Stunt writes in the preface ‘the principle concern in Tregelles’ life was the original Greek text of the New Testament (p. x). Stunt’s own strengths are in the history of the brethren, and the primary sources for the life and letters of Tregelles, not, as he himself is clear, in the textual transmission of the Greek New Testament. So occasionally I was craving a bit more in the way of the intellectual history of Tregelles’ edition (composition, distribution, subscriptions, reception, etc.) – there is more work which could profitably build on this framework. I also was a bit surprised not to hear anything about Tregelles as a hymn writer (see here). We are also introduced to some of the features of his eschatological views, but the overall shape and distinctiveness is not made clear.

The Tyndale House Greek New Testament gets a brief look in as built upon the starting point of Tregelles’ text (cf. also Dirk’s contribution here), as does one of our current writer’s contributions to this blog on some discoveries in the Wren Library. Something has gone a little awry in the type-setting of the final chapter, the Epilogue.

The book concludes with the publication of a good number of unpublished letters, a list of archival material consulted, a bibliography (including 48 books and articles authored by S.P. Tregelles), and a full index to chase up particular points.

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