Saturday, 30 November 2013

William Wilberforce

I have recently enjoyed reading a few biographies.  One interesting one was on William Wilberforce by Stephen Tomkins.  When I read a biography I write a list of strengths and weaknesses of the subject at the back of the book.  As well as his opposition to slavery Wilberforce was involved in the setting up of the R.S.P.C.A. and he was personally very generous.  One strength I want to mention is the way that he treated his servants.  Tomkins explains
The family's entourage of servants grew ever greater, not out of a love for grandness, but because Wilberforce could never dismiss anyone for mere incompetence.  Marianne Thornton described his house as 'thronged with servants who are all lame or impotent or blind, or kept from charity'; one would 'hear a chorus of bells all day which nobody answers.'  'Provided the servants have faith,' concluded the poet Southey after seeing them in inaction, 'good works are not to be expected of them.'
Yet Wilberforce had weaknesses.  Tompkins explains
... he did real damage with the part he played in outlawing unions, introducing imprisonments without trial, reducing freedom of speech and assembly, and the individual prosecutions carried out by the Society for the Suppression of Vice; the fact that he used his moral capital as the hero of abolition to do so makes it all the more bitter.  To be sure, the scale of such injury is dwarfed by his achievements in stopping 40,000 Africans a year being made slaves of the British, but it does not diminish his achievements to ask how the same man could be responsible for both.

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