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WILBERFORCE ; AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PHILANTHROPY.
WILLIAM WILBERFORCE was born in Hull, in August, 1759. The auspices of his birth were in important respects favorable; a first glance reveals no exception or abatement to their happiness. Of a wealthy and ancient family, he opened his eyes on a life-path paved by affluence, and thick-strewn with the flowers of indulgence. Every influence around him was of comfort and kindness; wherever his young eye fell, it met a smile. And his own nature was such as to make him peculiarly susceptive of the delights around. He was, it is true, a tender and delicate child, small for his age, and in no respect of promising appearance; but there was in his heart an irrepressible fountain of kind and guileless vivacity, his voice was of sweet silvery tone, he was gentle and considerate in his ways; altogether, he was a brisk, mild-spirited, fascinating little thing, who could center in himself every ray of kindness and comfort, and enhance their personal enjoyment by radiating them out on all around him. All this was well; perhaps a happier sphere could scarce be imagined: yet we can not pronounce it in the highest sense auspicious, because there was wanting in it any high presiding influence of character. The boy's eye could rest on no clear, earnest light of godliness, burning in his father's house; his parents were conventionally excellent
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 tritmer 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
age 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 health fully 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
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 so 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, goodhumored, hearty fellows in the world He had lots of money, of temper, of briskness, of wit; they had free, jovial waysdid 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 ex