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people, respectable, cheerful, hospitable, gay, nothing better or
In 1768, the father of Wilberforce died; the latter inherited a rich patrimony, which was afterward increased. The child, now nine years old, was sent to reside with an uncle, living by turns at Wimbledon and St. James's Place. Here he came within the sphere of earnest piety. His aunt was one of those unnoticed witnesses to the inextinguishable power of vital Christianity, whose light, kindled by the instrumentality of Whitefield, spread a gentle but precious radiance through the spiritual haze of the last century. Under her influence, his mind was roused to a new earnestness, and turned with great force in a religious direction. At the age of twelve he wrote such letters on religious subjects as were afterward deemed by some worthy of publication; and, though this was wisely prevented, we can not err in considering the fact a proof that his boyish intellect was brought into earnest and protracted consideration of religious truth.
This state of matters was abruptly changed. His mother took the alarm. The prospect that her son should become a canting Methodist, was appalling. She immediately recalled him to Yorkshire, and commenced the process of erasing every mark of strong individual character, of softening down into mere insipidity and common-place every trait of personal godliness, which had appeared. He was at once inaugurated in a course of systematic triviality, not to end until it was fatally too late, whose great object was to clothe him in the garb of harmless, respectable frivolity, and leave him at last converted into that aimless worshiper of the hour, that lukewarm trimmer between all—in religion, literature, philosophy, and feelingwhich is, either cold or hot, that weathercock of vacant mode, that all-embracing type of the conventional—a man of the world.
His name threw open to him, on his return from London, every circle of fashion in Hull. Though still so young, he was introduced into all sorts of gay society. At first his lately-gained principles offered a firm opposition. The loud, half-animal life of the hearty, hospitable magnates of Hull contrasted boldly and unfavorably with the religious earnestness of his aunt's spiritual life. The fashion was to have dinner-parties at two and sumptuous suppers at six, the enjoyment having evidently a close and important connection with the eating and drinking. Of card-parties, dancing, and theatergoing, there was no end. In all this, he found at first no pleasure; he turned in aversion from the coarse stimulants of sense, and sighed for the pure and lofty religion he had left. But he was still a mere boy. The kindness universally showered on him could not be received with indifference by his warm and impressible nature; his was the
when new habits can yet be formed, and the process still result in charm; worst of all, he perceived that his sprightliness and musical powers enabled him already to diffuse joy around him. The man who can fascinate society is he who of all others is most subject to its fascination: we can not wonder that the boy Wilberforce soon participated with joyous sympathy in all the merry-making of Hull.
We enter no protest against the healthful gayety of youth. Even in that we here contemplate, there might, in many cases, have been nothing of present culpability or future injurious tendency. The young exuberant strength of boyhood healthfully and rightly prefers the open field to the close schoolroom, the athletic sport or joyous dance to the demure and measured walk. A strong mental endowment will, it is true, in most if not in all cases, evince itself by an element of thoughtfulness in early youth ; but it is ever a circumstance
of evil omen, boding intellectual disease, when the thoughtfulness of boyhood is of power sufficient to overbear its animal vivacity and sportive strength. One thing, however, is ever to be borne in mind, touching amusement and its connection with education; it can not be the whole, but a part; it must derive its zest from being the unstringing of the bow. In the case of Wilberforce, it can not be doubted that it usurped a place by no means its due—a place where its influence was one of almost unmixed evil. And his natural temper and disposition were precisely such as rendered this circumstance dangerous. His mind was of a sensitive, impulsive, lively cast, taking quickly the hue of its environment, and perhaps originally deficient in self-determining strength. To discipline his restless energy, to concentrate his volatile faculties, a firm though kind, a calm and methodic though genial training was required. Instead of this, he was, from early boyhood, the pet of gay circles, where no serious word was spoken, and found himself reaping most abundantly the approbation of his mother, when he flung all earnest thought aside, gave the odds and ends of his time to study, and made it the business of his life to be a dashing, lively, engaging member of fashionable society. That which occupied the formal place of instruction, was the tuition of a clerical gentleman who kept an academy. While residing with him, the main part of Wilberforce's education was what intellectual aliment he could gather at the tables of fox-hunting squires and jovial county gentlemen; and we can conceive the effect upon the now faint religious impressions of the boy, of the spectacle of a man, set apart to preach the Gospel, whose whole life was a gentlemanly sneer at the spirituality of his office. Ere he proceeded to enter the university, which he did when seventeen years of age, every lingering trace of his early earnestness had been effaced; he was in that soft plastic state which is incapable of exerting any reaction whatever upon surrounding influences. In all that related to the external qualities of a young man of fashion, his training had been amply successful. His manners were the happy union of sprightliness, ease, and unaffected kindness; his faculties were acute, his sympathy warm and vivacious, his wit ready and genial; he sung with great grace and sweetness.
Furnished as he was upon entering the university, it is scarce to be wondered at that his sojourn there was well-nigh vacant of good : it were perhaps more correct to say, that it was fertile in evil. Not that it was contaminated by any taint of downright vice: the nature of Wilberforce was always too healthful, too open, free, and sunny, for that; but that the volatility which naturally characterized him, and whose final triumph, promoted by the studied frivolity of his boyhood, might yet have been averted, was here pampered to fresh luxuriance, and left to spread itself fairly over his mind; that the acquisition of the power of sustained and earnest study was fatally neglected; and that the opportunity of that first introduction to the treasuries of the knowledge of the world, which 60 generally determines the extent to which these treasuries are afterward availed of, was lost. At St. John's College, Cambridge, he fell among a set of the most pleasant, good. humored, hearty fellows in the world He had lots of money, of temper, of briskness, of wit; they had free, jovial ways did n't mind telling a good fellow what were his good pointscould study themselves, but could not perceive why a man of fortune should fag—could probably tell a good story, give and take a repartee, appreciate a good song, or sing one-last of all, and without any question, had the best appetite for good wine and Yorkshire pie. And so Wilberforce, whose natural quickness enabled him to figure to sufficient advantage at examinations, left study to the poor and the dull; enough for him to be the center of a joyous and boisterous throng, every good thing he said telling capitally, every face around the board raying forth on him smiles and thankful complacency, the hours dancing cheerfully by, and casting no look behind to remind him that they were gone forever.
“The sick in body call for aid; the sick
Those men of St. John's College, Cambridge, had all the best feelings toward Wilberforce, and seemed to him his truest friends. If you had spoken of him to any of them, you would have heard nothing but affectionate praise, with possibly just the slightest caustic mixture of contemptuous pity; if, in their presence, you had called him a fool, or struck him on the face, a score of tongues or arms had moved to defend him. Yet how well had it been for Wilberforce, had some rough but kind-hearted class-fellow turned upon him, like that class-fellow who saved Paley to British literature, and told him roundly he was a trifling fool; how well for him had his dancing-boots been exchanged for Johnson's gaping shoes, his Yorkshire pie for Heyne's boiled pease.cods! With bitter emphasis would he have agreed to this in latter days, when he looked back on this time with keen anguish, and said, that those who should have seen to his instruction, acted toward him unlike Christian, or even honest men. But such reflections were now far. Fanned by soft adulation, his heart told him he was a clever fellow, who would carry all before him ; for the present, he would sing his song, and shuffle the cards, and enjoy all the pleasure he imparted. So it continued until he approached the season of his majority, and it became proper to choose a vocation for life.