on 5 March 2007
Tomkins' book follows an increasing number of biographies of William Wilberforce, Pollock's book being considered the first best of its kind. Here Tomkins attempts to update the view of Wilberforce from a generally secular viewpoint, bringing in many observations and connections about his life. The book is generally well-balanced, with Wilberforce's apparent slow pace being explained in terms of the political situation at the time, especially the French revolution and its ensuing war, and the poverty of industrial Britons. The radicalism shown by many of his contemporaries would not have played well in parliament, which was generally not too worried about public opinion. The more cautious approach was more likely to succeed. A useful introduction and worthwhile additions - SHW
on 16 July 2007
Tompkin's has written a sympathetic biography of the great reformer but the author shows a better understanding of Wiberforce's Christianity than he does of his conservatism. I think that the author is in danger of judging Wilberforce by 21st century standards over his opposition to trades unions, support of fewer of civil liberties in the face of threatened French invasion and the persecution of the promoters of atheistic books. Wilberforce's campaign to abolish the slave trade is the major theme of the book as it was the dominating thing in his life. But this history would be improved by the inclusion of a brief chronology or time line, putting Wilberforce's campaign and life in the world historic context of the time which included the American and French revolutions as well as the rise and fall of Napoleon. Wilberforce turned down all office and advancement including a peerage. He was ever a man of principle not party, a great philanthropist and saint whose perseverance was a greater gift than his oratory.
on 20 June 2010
I wanted to read up on Wilberforce after watching (and enjoying, in spite of a few doubts) the rather hagiographic 2007 film "Amazing Grace" and this excellent little book provides just the antithesis that I was looking for. As Tomkins makes clear, Wilberforce was a very complex character. Always generous, jovial and honest he was also before "seeing the light" reform-minded and tolerant. But after being "born again" he became bigoted in religious matters and socially and economically reactionary. Yet without his conversion he would never have achieved his great mission, for he then acquired the utter dedication to doing what he believed to be right that kept him perservering for decades in spite of the lukewarm support from Pitt and the downright opposition of the House of Lords.
on 12 March 2015
This is a well-written brief biography of the great man. It's a very easy read and a good introduction. Some aspects are covered quite quickly but then it is one-third of the length of the William Hague book for example. It's let down by some basic general knowledge errors however - e.g. Jamaica was not seized from the Dutch, the Prussians did not take part in the battle of Austerlitz. And one minor gripe, the use of fashionable phrases such as "regime change" and "spin". Pitt was aiming to restore the French monarchy, why not say so instead of saying he was aiming for "regime change"?
on 23 October 2009
Although not a very long book it encompasses a large period of time, the frustration on behalf of the abolitionists must have been immense. Two things that struck me were; firstly how unrepresentative MPs were of the population with seats being bought, and secondly how the slaves were never considered to be human so the bad treatment they suffered was not perceived to be a problem. Wilberforce was not a saint but his conviction through his obvious strong faith brought about the cessation of this awful trade.
The book is reasonably easy to read and I with no intellectual or political background understood it and would recommend it to anyone interested in Wilberforce and the politics of that time.