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Guillaume de Félice - Early Life (1803-1827)

Born Guillaume (William) Adam de Félice in Otterberg, little is known about his early childhood, except that he had much to live up to. His father Bernard was cautious to motivate him and not let him waste his youth as he had done, so sent him to work aged 15 as a banker until he enrolled in university.

Coming from an aristocratic and wealthy family, Guillaume was guaranteed the best education of the day, and so in 1821, at the age of 18, he was offered a place in the family tradition, to study Theology at the Academy of Strasbourg in the Alsace of Eastern France.

There, Bernard still made him earn his keep, and he did as such by contributing to political and literary journals such as “Le Courrier Littéraire” [The Literary Courier]. Languages not being a problem having grown up in Germany, and speaking French at home with his parents, Guillaume translated Bretschneider’s book “Jean Calvin et l’Eglise de Genève” [John Calvin and the Church of Geneva] into French.

Guillaume proved a brilliant student. In his first year, his article “Dithyrambe sur les Grecs” [A Dithyramb on the Greeks] was published in 1822 to some acclaim. In his final year, he had two other works published, the first a joint project with another fellow student Franz J. Schuback “Wesen und Wirken der Bibelgesellschaften” [The Nature and Work of Bible societies], a subject that would stay with him for the rest of his life. The second, however, was his first real recognition in the outside world of academia, the prize-winning entry for a competition on a dissertation “Sur l'esprit et le but de l'Institution Biblique” [On the spirit and purpose of the Biblical Institution], commissioned by the Committee of the Protestant Bible Society of Paris from their general meeting of April 16, 1823.

Félice’s work was received a rapturous review in the prestigious “Revue Encylopédic” [Encyclopaedic Review] of January 1824, an annual journal displaying the year’s “most remarkable productions in the sciences, arts and literature”. Moreover, the stunning review was by Charles Coquerel, a then notable protestant theologian and later member of the National Assembly of France. He describes it sufficiently: “This is not a mere academic note, but a complete and very remarkable book. I do not know anything better written on the great and important question of Bible societies… I have followed Mr. Félice with the greatest interest, in his historical and moral discussions on the political influence of the Holy Books.

Guillaume graduated in 1825 aged 22, moving onto Lausanne to complete his theological training and, in the family tradition, join the Church. It was here he wrote “Propositìons théologiques sur le dogme des Anges” [Propositions on the theological dogma of Angels].

 Guillaume was consecrated in 1827, and posted to Bolbec, a majority-protestant town in Normandy.

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