Monday, 2 July 2012

The Clapham Sect: Family and Friends

I am now in West Michigan, enjoying the cooler weather and time with my extended family. While at North Carolina, I had the chance to finish reading Anne Stott's latest book, Wilberforce: Family and Friends. I think that the book is misnamed. The title should be, The Clapham Sect: Family and Friends, since it evenly distributes information on the Wilberforces, the Thorntons, the Stephens, the Macaulays, and Hannah More.

The book is interesting, but must not be mistaken as light reading. It is in many ways a more detailed and technical work than her previous book on Hannah More. The narrative gets bogged down in its details at times, and bounces around in terms of dates. I also had trouble keeping track of the extensive names and connections among the Clapham Sect. These negative features, however, do not detract from the book's significant strengths. I was fascinated by the story that Stott constructed about the children of the Clapham Sect. William Wilberforce Jr. is especially interesting in that he seemed to be openly defiant to his father's evangelical faith. Junior was reportedly mischievous and viewed as a bad influence by the Thorntons, who wanted to guard their children from him. The final chapters of the book provided interesting material on the legacy of the Clapham Sect and what happened religiously with the second and third generation, many of whom veered away from the religion of their parents. All this to say, I would categorize the book as a true monograph that should not be read by a lay audience. I was therefore surprised to see the book sold at chain bookstores, such as Waterstone's and Blackwell's in Britain.

For any scholar who wishes to avoid a hagiographic depiction of Wilberforce and/or the Clapham Sect, Wilberforce: Family and Friends will be required reading since it offers an extensive report on this interesting network of early nineteenth-century evangelicals.

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