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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 ministers 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 neighbourhood. He died in 1792, leaving Mrs. Buxton in charge of three sons and two daughters, of whom, the subject of this biography was the eldest. His character was early developed, and comprised, even in boyhood, some of the best qualities of our nature. When at school with Dr. Burney, at Greenwich, he had a task imposed on him by an usher, as a punishment for talking in school hours. This was during the Doctor's absence; and on his return, young Buxton appealed to him, stoutly denying the charge. The usher as stoutly asserted it; but Dr. Burney stopped him, saying, 'I never found the boy tell a lie, and will not disbelieve him now. The love of truth thus early shewn, distinguished him through life. He never lost it, and its influence was conspicuous in every stage of his career, and in each department of action. He was emphatically an honest man, in the largest sense of that word. His friends relied on him with implicit faith, and his bitterest opponents, even when charging him with rashness, fanaticism, obstinacy, and spiritual pride, never ventured to impugn his sincerity. He was greatly indebted to his mother for some of his best qualities. Her influence in the formation of his character was considerable. She was a woman,' he informs us,' of a very vigorous mind, and possessed many of the generous virtues in a very high degree. She was large-minded about everything ; disinterested almost to an excess; careless of difficulty, labor, danger, or expense, in the prosecution of any great object. With these nobler qualities were united some of the imperfections which belong to that species of ardent and resolute character. Mrs. Buxton belonged to the Society of Friends, but does not appear to have made any effort to indoctrinate ner sons with the principles of that body; and they were consequently baptized in infancy, according to the rites of the church of England. At the age of fifteen, having spent eight years at Dr. Burney's, without making any considerable progress in book learning, he persuaded his mother to allow him to remain at home. When no active amusement presented itself, he would sometimes spend whole days in riding about the lanes, on his old pony, with an amusing book in his hand, while graver studies were entirely laid aside. His manners were rough, and a general waywardness of disposition appears at this time to have characterized him. It was, as his biographer remarks, 'a critical time for his character ;' and, happily for himself and for mankind, soft and genial influences were brought to hear on his mind. These arose from his introduction to the family of Mr. Gurney, of Earlham Hall, Norfolk, in 1801. He was then in his sixteenth year, and was charmed by the lively and kindly spirit which pervaded the whole party, (the family consisted of seven daughters and four sons), while he was surprised at find. ing them all, even the younger portion of the family, zealously occupied in self-education, and full of energy in every pursuit, whether of amusement or of knowledge. He was received by Mr. Gurney's family as one of themselves. They appreciated his character, looked through its outward and superficial roughness, and saw the sterling qualities of a masterly though uncultivated mind. “He at once,' says his son, 'joined with them in reading and study, and from this visit may be dated a remarkable change in the whole tone of his character; he received a stimulus, not merely in the acquisition of knowledge, but in the formation of studious habits and intellectual tastes; nor could the same influence fail of extending to the refinement of his disposition and manners.' A characteristic anecdote is recorded of Mr. Gurney, which, being brief, we quote for the amusement of our readers. It is still fresh in the memory of his surviving children, and was borrowed by Hook, in his tale of Gilbert Gurney :
'He was a strict preserver of his game, and accordingly had an intensé repugnance to every thing bordering on poaching. Upon one occasion, when walking in his park, he heard a shot fired in a neighbouring wood- he hurried to the spot, and his naturally placid temper was considerably ruffled on seeing a young officer with a pheasant at his feet, deliberately reloading his gun. As the young man, however, replied to his rather warm expressions by a polite apology, Mr. Gurney's wrath was somewhat allayed; but he could not refrain from asking the intruder what he would do, if he caught a man trespassing on his premises. 'I would ask him in to luncheon,' was the reply. The serenity of this impudence was not to be resisted. Mr. Gurney not only invited him to luncheon, but supplied him with dogs and a gamekeeper, and secured him excellent sport for the remainder of the day.'—p. 10..
In after life, Mr. Buxton was accustomed to refer to his connexion with the family at Earlham, as the most potent circumstance of his early days. I know no blessing,' he remarked, some years afterwards, 'of a temporal nature, (and it is not only temporal,) for which I ought to render so many thanks. It has given a colour to my life. Its influence was most positive, and pregnant with good, at that critical period between school and manhood. They were eager for improvement, I caught the infection. I was resolved to please them; and in the college of Dublin, at a distance from all my friends, and all control, their influence, and the desire to please them, kept me hard at my books, and sweetened the toil they gave. Our readers need scarcely be informed, that one of the sons of this family was the late John Joseph Gurney, of Norwich, and that Mrs. Fry was a daughter. It augured well for the future
character and course of Mr. Buxton, that another of the daughters engaged his affection, and became subsequently his wife. Mr. Buxton expected to inherit considerable property in Ireland, and his mother therefore deemed it advisable that his education should be completed at Dublin. With this view he was placed in the family of Mr. Moore, of Donnybrook, who prepared pupils for the university; and, in October, 1803, he entered Trinity College, as a fellow-commoner. His college life was distinguished by unusual honors; and at its close he was earnestly pressed to offer himself as a candidate for the representation of the University, which, however, he wisely declined. During his residence in Dublin, he labored with great assiduity. His visits to Earlham were now bearing fruit. His habits became fixed, his character matured. He abandoned the loose and desultory style of his former life, and applied himself with characteristic energy to the proper business of the hour. He evidently felt that he had lost much by past remissness, and resolved to make up for it by redoubled exertion. His resolutions were not fruitless. His power of will was great, and it was now happily called into requisition, and was wisely directed. Throughout life he was prompt, and determined. What he resolved on was immediately done. There was no long interval between the season of reflection and of action. Whatever suspense may have marked his judgment before his decision was taken, there was no vacillation afterwards. Unsteadiness was foreign from his nature. To resolve and to act were but different stages of one process, and they invariably followed each other. The vagrant boy of Earl's Colne, who loved fishing and field-sports far better than books, gave no promise of the unwearied and distinguished student of Trinity College. But Earlham had interposed between the two, and its ennobling influences had prepared the way for all that followed. The polish it gave to the outer man was exceeded by the change wrought within. It constituted the transition stage, and was ever regarded with complacency and gratitude. He awoke to a sense of what was due to himself, and the effect is thus described, in a letter to his son, written late in life:–
‘I am very sure that a young man may be very much what he pleases. In my own case it was so. I left school, where I had learnt little or nothing, at about the age of fourteen. I spent the next year at home, learning to hunt and shoot. Then it was that the prospect of going to College opened upon me, and such thoughts as I have expressed in this letter occurred to my mind. I made my resolutions, and I acted up to them : I gave up all desultory reading—I never looked into a novel or a newspaper—I gave up shooting. During the five years I was in Ireland, I had the liberty of going when I pleased to a capital shooting place.