Green Leaf Press Quarterly Newsletter, July 2010
In this issue you get a review of a very significant book: William Wilberforce (The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner), William Hague, 2007, Hard Cover, 582 pages, Harcourt Books, $35.00.
William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was one of the most important people in Great Britain in the latter part of the 18th and the first part of the 19th centuries. At the turn of age 20 he became an evangelical Christian. He began a career in Parliament that was to continue for 50 years. As he read and understood the Bible, he began to question whether he should continue in a career in politics. John Newton, the former slave ship captain turned Anglican priest, encouraged Wilberforce to serve the Lord with a career in the Parliament. After months of agonizing struggle as to the direction of his life, Wilberforce found himself at peace serving in Parliament from Hull, his home Borough. Later on he would be elected from the more prestigious York district, and serve as their delegate for the greater part of his time in Parliament. He was noted for a great singing voice, congeniality, sympathy for others, and for a masterful speaking presence on the floor of Parliament.
While Wilberforce always accepted the social structures of his time, and was living in an age far removed from the idealistic notions of eliminating poverty which would animate later generations of politicians, he had always had a powerful sense of the duty owed by higher to lower classes. (page 300)
In their early twenties, Wilberforce and William Pitt, who was to become Prime Minister, became fast friends. Pitt served as Prime Minister (1783-1801; 1804-1806) with one of the longest tenures in English history. Wilberforce was fiercely independent and unpredictable as to which side he would take on many issues. He would support Pitt as much as he could, but when his conscience or judgment indicated otherwise, he would be on the opposite side. Some of Wilberforce’s speeches before Parliament would be in dramatic contrast to the position of the Pitt government, and their friendship was severely strained a few times, yet it lasted through them all. William Hague is also the author of William Pitt the Younger.
Hague has done a remarkable work with this biography. He deals with Wilberforce’s deep and uncompromising faith in Christ in a fair and evenhanded way. Hague is presently a member of Parliament, with an impressive understanding of the political backgrounds of Great Britain for the last two centuries. The Bibliography of the book is supportive and consistent with the careful study that is so evident in reading the book. The heart rending and gripping story of Wilberforce’s effort to secure the outlawing of the slave trade in the British Empire is at the heart of this book.
[23 February 1807] Yet on this night there was one crucial difference, and everyone present knew it. The Bill would be passed, not merely by a small margin but by a huge one; not then passed into oblivion but this time enacted within a few weeks as the law of His Majesty’s Kingdom and all of his Islands, Colonies, Dominions, and Territories. A nation which had transported over three million Africans across the Atlantic and invested vast sums in doing so would, from 1 May that year, outlaw such a trade and declare any vessel fitted out for it to be forfeit. The Royal Navy, the most powerful on earth, which had henceforth protected that trade, would from that day enforce its annihilation. (From the Prologue)
The book is almost 600 pages in length, including the introductory parts. But it is well worth the effort to read every page. The author is exceptional in many ways: in his objectivity, in his understanding of the political processes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Great Britain, and in his magnificent use of the English language. It is a wonderfully interesting, heroic, inspiring, and captivating story. Wilberforce is one of the great politicians and Christians of the ages. His spiritual struggles remind those of us who believe in Jesus Christ that we are ships under repair. The growth process can be surprising and challenging. Yet, for all the agonizing struggle going on inside him, the reality in the eyes of other people was that an ever stronger and more principled man was steadily succeeding in applying his ideals. (Page 209)
Wilberforce was nurtured in both Anglican and Methodist Christian ideals as a child. But seems not to have reckoned with Christianity until about age eighteen. Thanks to the Methodists in his family, he had heard the preaching of both George Whitfield and John Newton by the time he was nine years of age. The unavoidable conflict between his rather superficial view of life and the teachings of the Bible was bound to produce an intellectual and emotional upheaval that, in his case, lasted for about eighteen months. He drew great spiritual strength from his teacher, Joseph Milner, who was to become his spiritual advisor for many years. Pitt was a man of strong moral convictions, whose Christianity appears to have been nominal at best, but who fully supported Wilberforce in the herculean struggle with the slave trade. It was in the company of the Clapham Sect, composed of eleven members that he found fellow Christian evangelicals who became an impressive mutual source of strength to one another. These were people of wealth and important positions in England. Among them was his aunt Hannah More, one of the most prolific and widely read writers in her time in the British Isles.
Why read this book? 1. It fills in an important section of history, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the presidency of Andrew Jackson in America, that may have been overlooked by many of us. 2. It is a very good read. Hague has done a remarkable job. Along with a great deal of contemporary history, it broadens our understanding of Christianity in the British Isles in that period. 3. Although Wilberforce struggled with bad eyesight and a physically weak body—he was an amazing man and an inspiration and challenge to many of us in our walk with Christ. The book contains forty-seven photographs and illustrations of Wilberforce, his friends, important people of his day, and of places that were familiar to him.
Green Leaf Press has a number of copies of this book on hand. It is hard cover. The retail price is $35.00. with the 35% discount on our price, the cost to you will be $22.75 and includes free shipping. Please E-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone us (626-281-7221) if you would like a copy.
Foster H. Shannon, President
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