78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
A beacon of light,
This review is from: William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner (Hardcover)
"A beacon of light which the passing of two centuries has scarcely dimmed". This is Hague's concluding assessment of Wilberforce. This fine biography should keep that light blazing. I think it will probably be the definitive biography of the great abolitionist for quite some time to come. Hague writes well and keeps one's attention throughout a long book. He is masterful at setting the historical scene. No doubt his previous biography of Wilberforce's friend Pitt was a great help in researching the period. One is given a real feel for a very different world where only men of means could afford to enter politics for getting elected, except to a rotten borough, could mean huge expense. It was a time when party allegiance was not so well developed and Wilberforce maintained his independence as a member of parliament for Yorkshire. He was a friend of Pitt but opposed him over the war with France as he opposed a later government over Queen Caroline. Hague does not fall into the trap of judging an historic figure by more modern criteria. Contemporary critics of Wilberforce disliked his social conservatism. His radicalism was aimed at stopping an evil trade not promoting cause of the poor close to home.Hague explains it. Wilberforce would give no support to those who would be socially disruptive and those applauding the French Revolution. His detestation of what had happened in France, Hague rightly identifies as Wilberforce's opposition to all things against religion.
One expects Hague to be good on the politics of Wilberforce's life but I was pleasantly surprised by his understanding of his subject's Evangelical faith. Christian faith we know transformed Wilberforce from a pleasure seeking young man into an ardent reformer. It was the motivation in all his subsequent life. As well as abolition it also moved him to seek the opening of India to Christian missions. Hague seems to have a sympathetic understanding of Wilberforce's Christianity as well as a great appreciation of his political achievements. here was an MP who was most diligent in his duties though he never held an office of state. There is also admiration for the personal character of his subject. He was a man who made friends, was hugely charitable and a loving husband and father. Here was a notable orator and a man of wit, welcome at the tables of the great and the good. His character was indeed that of a joyful Christian as Piper writes in his short biography. He died impoverished by his own personal charity and the foolishness of his eldest son. He declined ennoblement and wanted a quiet burial place but was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey for his contemporaries judged him to be great as well as good.