I have been immersed in this book for the last week or so. I was given it as a Christmas present, and I must admit when I received it I was a little surprised, and not a little sceptical (William Hague??!) .
Now however, about two-thirds of the way through I am thoroughly enjoying an excellent read. Hague has done a huge amount of research, and presents the story of the man, in the context of the political and ideological backdrop of his age, with remarkable insight and clarity of writing. The way he deals with Wilberforce's faith, is excellent too -in that he seeks to understand Wilberforce in his own terms and to not merely critique the man from without, but also to understand him from within. His discussion of the spiritual and psychological process of conversion is fascinating, as is the use of Wilberforce's diaries to demonstrate the warm-but-driven Puritan spirituality which animated every aspect of his work - from his celebrated campaign against the slave trade, his opposition to war and attempts to curb use of the death penalty - as well as his hostility to revolutionary ideas and trade unions. As one would expect, Hague is especially adept at describing the drama of the parliamentary machinations surrounding the many-decade long fight for abolition of the wicked 'trade in souls.'
Wilberforce's conviction that the spiritual and moral goals he pursued were set before him by God, were brought into sharp focus by the fact that he had a strong sense of accountability before the God who judges - and his frequent bouts of ill health. As such he lived with an urgency of purpose which meant that he tried to relentlessly pursue these goals, with a sense that the time he had in which to achieve them was diminishing.
With fascinating material on early influences, spiritual formation, his relationship with Pitt, social action, personal life, political career - this is an excellent read. While it is thoughtful in its analysis, extensive in its research and referencing, and so well paints the personal narrative onto the times in which they occurred, it does not descend into the mire of obscure academic debates and jargon -but is clearly and accessibly written. It is an excellent place to go if, like me, the film "Amazing Grace" left you full of questions about the man, his faith and the times in which he sought to work outwork it. I didn't expect it to be this good!