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W. OLIPHANT AND SON, EDINBURGH; D. ROBERTSON, GLASGOW ;
For JULY, 1848.
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ART. I.—Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Bart. With Selections
from his Correspondence. Edited by his Son, Charles Buxton, Esq.
8vo. London: John Murray. The annals of benevolence are amongst the best records of human life. They are full of instruction, and are worthy of diligent study. Other things may be more attractive to the light, the thoughtless, and the sensual, and may continue to engage, as they have hitherto done, a disproportionate share of public notice. The politician and the soldier, the hero of the cabinet and of the field, may secure more attention, and be deemed more important personages. Their history may be more widely known, the narrative of their lives be more generally read, but their deeds are questionable, their characters are complex, and their labors are commonly more productive of mischief than of benefit. Their reputation is for the most part artificial, the growth of ignorance, and of defective morality. It springs from the mental childhood of their compeers, and is perpetually lessening, as the knowledge and virtue of mankind advance. The heroes of a former age are, in many cases, now forgotten, or if remembered, are viewed only as specimens of a class which has been the opprobrium and curse of their race. No doubt there have been noble exceptions. Our own country has supplied many. The world has been bettered by our Alfreds, our Eliots, our Cromwells, and our Somerses, but, taken as a whole, these men have little claim on our admiration or gratitudc.
For the most part, we turn from them with disgust. Their history is the record of great crimes, unredeemed even by the semblance of virtues. Happily for our world, a change is now passing over the judgments of mankind. Things are better estimated than they were. The false glory which has encircled politicians and warriors is on the wane; men are looking to the results of that which challenges their admiration, and are analyzing the motives which prompted its performance. This is as it should be, and whatever of haste, or of partiality, there may be in individual cases, the general result is full of promise. We are, as yet, only in a transition state, but it is something to have emerged from the deep gloom of the past, to have lost our admiration of mere courage combined with military skill, or to have ceased our idolatry for the civil rank, which has too commonly been achieved by artifice, selfishness, or ambition. These are lights which have led astray, and are now, happily, in the course of being eclipsed by the milder and purer effulgence of other luminaries. The human mind has grown out of its childhood. Men are attaining the stature of manhood. Brute force is giving place to moral principle, and the glitter of rank is fading before worth of character, and the influence of virtue.
One illustration of this hopeful progress is supplied in the greater attention given to the records of philanthropy. We do not now refer to that aspect of philanthropy which is distinctively religious. This is by far its highest form, and when seen in purity, commands both confidence and admiration. We allude rather to that other modification of the Divine passion which primarily contemplates the interests of earth, and leaves its traces in the more cheerful homes and happy hearts of human beings. These records have greatly multiplied in recent years, and the fact is honorable to our age and country. The volume before us relates to one department of human life in which such increase has been specially visible, and we do not envy the heart of that man who can review it without exultation. Though the prosperity of Britain is the growth of ages, yet, till about the middle of the last century, a large proportion of our people were coolly subjected to the most terrible wrongs which humanity could bear. The slave-trade made demons of our seamen, and filled the coasts of Africa with murder. The traffic in human flesh was carried on in open day, and its miserable victims-such of them, at least, as lived through the horrors of the middle passage - were deliberately doomed to hopeless slavery. Thousands of respectable people, the humane, the charitable, yea, in some cases, the religious, lived on the gains of this monstrous traffic. They were fed by the bread it produced, and out of the abundance of their ill-gotten store contributed their pittance to the relief of misery at home. At length the voice of Granville Sharpe broke upon the silence, and the clamor that ensued would have terrified a less resolute or virtuous man. He fulfilled his vocation, by purging the English soil of the foul stain of slavery. Clarkson followed, and was worthy of his mission. With a self-devotion, which the early martyrs did not exceed, he addressed himself to the work, and was willing that others should have the honor, if he could but aid the triumph of the good cause. Wilberforce imbibed his spirit, and with winning eloquence, and all the weight of an unstained character, demanded justice at the hands of the imperial parliament. The king and his nobles, senators and merchants, who were as princes, opposed their prayer. But these men persisted for twenty years. Their convictions were based on a sense of duty. They demeaned themselves in the fear of God. They acted as in the great task-master's sight, and returned therefore, again and again, to what their opponents denounced as a quixotic and fanatical design. They were disappointed, they were outvoted. Wits laughed at their folly, the profane jeered at their religion, political associates played them false, and even the minis. ters of religion frequently impugned their motives, and denounced their mission. But they persevered. The religious element gave them firmness and endurance, and no power on earth could stay their course. In 1807 the slave-trade was abolished, and the agents of philanthropy rested from their toil.
Mr. Buxton, whose 'Memoirs' are before us, was a man likeminded, of equal firmness, of sound practical judgment, of unwearied industry, and of most earnest and devout application to the one great theme. He was just such a man as the crisis required, and his position and connexions gave him immense advantage. We had the happiness of occasionally meeting him at the council-board, and though sometimes differing from him in judgment, were deeply impressed with the intense earnestness and religious complexion of his advocacy. We rejoice in the appearance of the present volume. It is written by a son who has evidently been on his guard against the disease of admiration,' to which his near relationship must have inclined him. In some respects it is the model of what a biography, written by a son, should be. The general tone of the volume is admirable. Its style is clear, chaste, and gentlemanly, its spirit is unexceptionable, and the power it evinces is highly creditable to its author's intellect.
Thomas Fowell Buxton was born on the 1st of April, 1786, at Castle Hedingham. His father was a man of kindly disposition, devoted to field sports, and highly popular in his neigh