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To Edify and Delight - Sermons of Gilbert White

gilbert white



To Edify and Delight: Introducing the Sermons of Gilbert White of Selborne (2011), 224 pages – by Louis Coulson, with a Preface by Paul Foster, and drawings by Marion Eastgate

Lovers of White’s Natural History of Selborne (1789) have often been bemused by White’s ‘other life’ - as a clergyman; in fact, the puzzlement has been such that little attention has ever been given to this aspect of his career. Now, for the very first time, all his extant sermons (thirty-eight in all) have been tracked down and carefully studied by Louis Coulson, himself a clergyman and lover of the natural world. The outcome of Coulson’s work is the present volume, which gives a chronological account of White’s ‘religious’ life, with large extracts from the sermons.


Detailed Description

The title to the volume, ‘To Edify and Delight’ is taken from a letter to White from his lifelong friend, John Mulso, who did so much in the 1770s and 1780s to encourage White to publish his natural history. Writing to White in August 1747 from Sunbury-on-Thames, where he was priest, Mulso urges him to complete his Orders as a clergyman, come to Sunbury and ‘bring a Discourse [sermon], which if it is like your common [daily conversation], will both edify and delight’. And that is exactly what Coulson himself achieves in this important addition to White studies. As Coulson remarks, the volume is not only the very first to explore White’s sermons, but also provides us with the first sustained opportunity to listen to White ‘from his pulpit’ and hence understand more of the character of, as Mulso remarked, this ‘paradoxical’ man.*

Further, it is Coulson’s volume that enables us to understand, in ways previously hidden, the depth of White’s religious convictions and the authority with which he preached. Indeed, it is only now that we can see the merit in the application to White’s character of that ‘paradoxical’: that in itself is a notable accomplishment, for it launches our understanding of White into new territory that will take much work to integrate into a fresh synthesis. Previous notions of the charm and appeal of the Selborne naturalist will now have to be radically revised. The University of Chichester, in publishing this volume, is delighted to have contributed to a new chapter in White studies.

* The volume also includes an appendix which gives a consolidated chart of the places White preached: of especial interest is his choice of sermon for particular religious seasons; and details about location – which embraced Bristol, Clifton, Oxford (a University Sermon), as well as various venues in London.