The Wilberforce Library
The Wilberforce Library is on display to the public for the first time. It belonged to William Wilberforce and his sons, Samuel and Robert, and was kept at various homes of Wilberforce in London, including the famous Oval Library that William Pitt designed in Battersea Rise, Clapham. It was broken up in the early 20th century and we do not know how many books there were in total.
A family past time
Wilberforce enjoyed reading and shared his love of books with his family. There are many stories of Wilberforce reading aloud to his wife and sons. Wilberforce gave many books to his friends and family, not simply for an enjoyable read but to help them lead a 'good Christian life'. Wilberforce published his own book, 'A Practical View' of Christianity in 1797, which was reprinted many times during his lifetime.
William's sons, Samuel, Robert, and Henry inherited his love of books. Many books in the library were owned by the rest of the family, including his wife, Barbara, who shared his passion for reading. Only one book that we know was owned by her is in the collection; a poetry book given to Barbara by Wilberforce on their wedding day.
The library covers a wide range of subjects, and reflects Wilberforce's interest in religion, literature and people from different cultures and countries. The main book that helped Wilberforce in his religious conversion was Philip Doddridge's, 'The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul', and Wilberforce also had a biography of Doddridge in his collection. Wilberforce had many travel books and was fascinated by other people's cultures, underlining paragraphs he found interesting. His library also included books relevant to his political role, and although he opposed the French Revolution there is a copy of 'Defence of the French Revolution' amongst his books, evidence that Wilberforce often liked to study both sides of an argument. As a supporter of the monarchy, it is no surprise to find books on British Kings and government, though surprisingly there are no books on Slavery to be found in the collection.
Wilberforce's letters and journal
Wilberforce House Museum has over 200 letters written by William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was an enthusiastic reader and writer all his life despite having bad eyesight. Most of the letters are from William to his family, friends and Thomas Fowell Buxton, who took over the parliamentary campaign to end slavery after Wilberforce retired.
Wilberforce's journal is also on display with his library and dates from 1814-1823. Wilberforce used his journal to record his thoughts and feelings on his personal and political life. In March 1819 Wilberforce disapproved of his eldest son, William's friends and wrote: 'His soft nature makes him the sport of his companions, all the wicked and idle naturally attach themselves like dust'. Reading the journal and letters we understand William Wilberforce better on a personal level, as a loving husband and father. They also give a unique insight into his opinions in Parliament, and his constant battle with ill health.
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