The Slaves' Hero Gets His Own Saviour

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES WALVIN

William Wilberforce: The Life Of The Great Anti-Slave Campaigner by William Hague HarperPress [pounds sterling]25 [pounds sterling]22.50 (0870 165 0870) ooooo

William Wilberforce has had a good press recently.

He is the subject of the film Amazing Grace, his name has been invoked, time and again, in the commemorations of the abolition of the slave trade and in March the Queen laid flowers at his feet in Westminster Abbey.

In the United States he offers a dazzling example, for the evangelical Right, of the triumph of Christian outrage against sinful ways. Yet he has been as unloved on the academic Left as he has been idolised on the religious Right. In William Hague, however, Wilberforce has found a sympathetic, judicious biographer - and Hague has found the ideal sequel to his book on Wilberforce's great friend William Pitt.

Writing about Wilberforce (Wilber to his friends) is a daunting task - not least because of his mountain of letters, speeches and essays - yet Hague has written the best modern study of this remarkable man.

Born into prosperity in Hull, Wilberforce's early intellectual brilliance and social skills marked him out as a man of great promise.He became an MP at 21, and soon after he became determined to bring about a 'reformation of manners' (of the common people) and an end to the Atlantic slave trade.

After 1789 Wilberforce became the parliamentary spokesman for a massive, popular campaign against the slave trade, orchestrated by the Abolition Society.Tens of thousands of people petitioned against the trade, despite the prosperity it generated.

Time and again,Wilberforce's motions for abolition were rebuffed - by haphazard events, by political change, by warfare and by grumpy resistance in the Lords. …