Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

thing for his livelihood, and he was glad to accept a situation as clerk in the large brewery of Truman and Hanbury, and with a prospect of partnership after three years' probation. It may be useful to you to remember, that what Sir T. F. Buxton became in circumstances of wealth and property in after years, was the result of his own exertions. Had he been an idle man of business, he would never have been a rich and successful one. The secret of his success in business, as in other more important matters, was a 'wholeness' of mind, a fixedness of purpose. Whatever his hand found to do, he did it with his might. There, again, is an example for young persons. An old schoolmaster used to say “a boy that plays well, works well,' and there is sound truth in this assertion. • I could brew,' said Sir F. Buxton, 'one hour, do mathematics the next, and shoot the next, and each with my whole soul.'

So, if

you have a Latin verb to learn, think only of that verb, and hard as it may be, you will conquer it. If your time for lessons be over, don't go into the garden or into the play-ground, dreaming and lounging, but in the time for play, jump, leap, run, play ball, and each with your might.

The first subject of philanthropy to which Mr. Buxton's mind was turned, was that of benefiting the poor Spitalfields weavers. The winter of 1816 was severe one, and the silk trade had sunk to so low an ebb, that many workmen were thrown out of employment, and the misery and starvation in that part of London was extreme. A large meeting was held at the Mansion-house, and the speech which Mr. Buxton made on this occasion was so much admired, that letters of sympathy and congratulation poured in on all sides, and the papers everywhere reported it with high terms of admiration. The spirit of benevolence, once aroused, could not be idle.

Passing by Newgate one day, his heart was touched by the remembrance of the sufferings within its gloomy walls. Mrs. Fry, his sisterin-law, had already made some efforts there, and 'why should not I be doing my part? ' said the energetic Buxton. A visit with his sister to four poor creatures about to be executed, brought forth this remark• The sight was sufficient for that day, and made me long that my life may not pass uselessly away.'

About three years before this time, however, a great change had oome over Mr. Buxton : his heart was already fixed,' and he walked no longer as a child of the world.

In 1811 he had been induced to attend the ministry of the Rev. Josiah Pratt, in Wheeler Chapel, Spitalfields, and to the preaching of that good man he attributed his first real acquaintance with the doctrines of Christianity. Thirty years after, in writing to Mr. Pratt, he said, “Whatever I have done in my life for Africa, the seeds of it were sown in Wheeler-street Chapel.' Soon after this important change, a change which you know the Bible describes as passing from death unto life,' he was attacked by so severe an illness as to be brought to the brink of the grave. In reference to his feelings at that time, he wrote to a friend, “No one action of my life presented itself with any sort of consolation. “I know that my Redeemer liveth," was the sentiment uppermost in my mind.' In religion, you will not be surprised to hear that Mr. Buxton was, as in all else, a sincere and earnest man. His was a religion which he carried into every-day life.

In 1818, Buxton was chosen member of Parliament for Weymouth, and when you are older, you will be better able to understand, than you are at present, the particulars of his life as a statesman. But I must tell you a little of what he was permitted to achieve, and, above all, the manner in which he pursued his Parliamentary course. His son-in-law, Mr. Johnstone, relates that for some years Mr. Buxton was associated with a select band of members, who made it their habit, on every night when they had to attend the house, to meet together for the enjoyment of confidential intercourse on the subjects before them, and for reading the Scriptures, with prayer. Well might Buxton be never weary in well-doing' if he armed himself thus against opposition and discouragement.

The subject of slavery in which, as I have already told you, his young heart was early interested by his mother, was that to which he directed his principal attention at this time, and to abolish which he strove with his accustomed ardour.

He used to relate of his youthful impressions about this matter, that when a thoughtless boy, he had often laughed at a conscientious sister of his, who would never eat slave-grown sugar. “Yet,' he says, “ her refusal to do so made me think.' In 1807, some years before Mr. Buxton had taken his seat in Parliament, the slave-trade had been declared unlawful, after a twenty years' struggle on the part of Wilberforce, Clarkson, and other friends of freedom; but long after the slave-trade bad been abolished, slavery continued to exist in our British colonies.

Although no fresh slaves had been imported, as in time past, from Africa to Jamaica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and other of the West India Isles, British slavery still remained there, because the blacks already on the islands were still in bondage; and their children being also born in bondage, there seemed to be no end in prospect for this great evil. What is slavery, do you ask?

I wish I could stay to paint some of its horrors, as Buxton or Wilberforee would have done. Slavery,' said Mr. Buxton, ‘is labour extorted by force ; wages are not given, but their place is supplied by the whip. Thus would he usually point to the injustice, rather than the cruelty of slavery, calling it by its true name, robbery, for the slaveholder claims as property that which belongs only to God, and deprives man of the liberty which his Maker has made his birthright. The whip, indeed, was but one of its attendant evils: a scanty supply of food and clothing; a withholding of the rights of education, and, so far as possible, of religious instruction; a Sabbath's rest denied; a day's labour of nineteen hours under a vertical sun, during barvest, and fourteen and a half for the remainder of the year, enforced; and all this under drivers armed with the cruel whip. This is a glance at slavery ; and it was to emancipate the Negroes from such a state that Buxton lived and laboured.

6

There was one circumstance which appears to have been instrumental in quickening his zeal at this time ; it was the urgent request of his beloved sister-in-law, Priscilla Gurney. She was lying on her death-bed, at Cromer Hall; and when within a few days of the close of her life, she sent a message to her brother, earnestly desiring to speak with him on a subject of great importancė. But as he drew near her bed to listen, power failed; she was convulsed with a violent fit of coughing, and unable to say a word more on the subject so near her heart, than the poor dear slaves !'

He understood the earnestness of her almost silent appeal, and the request was not made in vain; but it was a work of cruel discouragement, of toil, and of time. In 1823, the work was begun, but not till 1834 was it perfected. The 1st of August was the day assigned by Parliament for the termination of slavery in the colonies.

It was on this 1st of August, the wedding-day of his eldest daughter, Priscilla, who had been his faithful and sympathizing fellowlabourer for many years, that Buxton wrote thus :—*The bride is gone; everything has passed off to admiration; and there is not a slave in the British colonies.'*

Of course there were many dismal prophecies both from the enemies of emancipation, and even from its half-hearted friends. Riots were predicted, revenge, murder, drunkenness on the part of the freed blacks, on the day when first they should draw the breath of freedom; and you may readily believe, with what anxiety Fowell Buxton awaited the news from the different islands of the manner in which the 1st of August passed.

He was at Northrepps Hall when, on the 10th of the following September, a large packet of letters came in from the colonies. He felt that he must open them alone; so he carried them with him into one of the shady retreats of those solemn and beautiful woods, and, with no other sound in his ear than the melody of the wood birds, and no witness of his emotion than the eye which seeth in secret, he opened his sealed papers and read. It was, indeed, an account to make the good man's heart swell with joy and gratitude.

How do you suppose the black population throughout the colonies spent Friday, the 1st of August, 1834? I will tell you. In the evening of the 31st of July the churches and chapels in the islands were thrown open, and the slaves crowded in to await the hour of midnight. When that hour drew nigh, they fell on their knees, and, hushed in silent

prayer, each listened for the stroke of the clock; and when twelve sounded from the church-tower they sprang to their feet, for they were free-all free. No confusion, no intoxication, no bloodshed, and on the following Monday they all returned to work—to work as free men, and to be paid for their labour.

If I were writing you a history of slavery, instead of telling you of the slave's great friend, I might say much more. I could tell you of the clouds and discouragements that came over the prospect, not in consequence of the abolition of that bad system, but from the evil passions

Sec Life of Buxton.

and the covetousness of the masters, who still tried to oppress the poor negro, and to subject him to all manner of vexatious regulations and laws. But the abolitionists worked on, and to the very close of life the claims of Africa were uppermost in the constant heart of Fowell Buxton.

Perhaps I have kept you longer than you desire amidst the scenes of his public life-scenes of which, after all, you may read in works already printed. We will look 'now at the good man at home ; for he loved home. How beautifully in his letters from London does he often refer to that spot. How playful and tender are his letters to his children, and his references to their pleasures and their studies.

Yet he had known deep sorrow there. In one of the prettiest little village churchyards that you can picture, a very favourite walk with us children when we lived at Northrepps, I can remember.a memorial to a sorrow, which I used to marvel, child though I was, had not broken the great man's heart. It was a quiet summer's evening when I first saw that monument, and I should like to sketch you the church and its surrounding scenery, as it was then. The approach to it through a grassy drive, with high, luxuriantly-clad banks on either side, and skirted by fine plantations, is very beautiful ; and there alone -its old grey walls covered with ivy, and half of it standing isolated from the other half in ruin and decay—there was Overstrand church. From almost every little mound you might see the distant ocean, and many beautiful and touching memorials to the simple villagers are inscribed on the old tombstones; but the most touching of all, so expressive in its very simplicity, is the little slab which bears the names of one son, a boy of ten, and of three young daughters, cut off within five weeks, the one of an inflammatory disorder, the others in consequence of measles and hooping-cough. That Eheu, Eheu! (Alas, Alas !) the only expression of the father's grief, has made me weep many a time in my young days. It seemed so like a voice of lament to me sounding amidst the old ivy-covered ruins, that . Eheu, Eheu!' Ten years after the deaths which nearly made the Buxton nursery vacant, they were called upon to part with the second surviving son, a lad of great promise.

' He was a child,' says Mrs. Fry, “who in no common degree lived in the love and fear of the Lord, cheerful, industrious,clever, very agreeable, and of a sweet person. He used to awaken much interest in our minds as he passed us in the low carriage, talking in his particularly sweet and musical voice to his mother or father, who accompanied him; the latter, with his powerful and manly frame, and his deep tones, so tenderly watching and shielding the dying boy; and even then there was that in his father's eye that seemed to express, · Eheu, Eheu.' Of this son Henry, Mr. Buxton, in writing to a friend, says, “As a little child leans upon his mother, so our dear Henry leans upon

his Saviour. He is truly walking in the valley of the shadow of death, and as truly fears no evil.' He died when the leaves of the old Hall woods had faded and fallen, on the 18th of November, when scarcely seventeen; VOL. II.

оо

It was

and in a retired spot in this same Overstrand church, we used to read his epitaph, written by his fond father

• IIere lies the wreck, the spirit wings her flight,
The ransomed spirit, to the realms above,
Ranges unfettered through the fields of light,
Rests in the bosom of eternal love.
Beholds the unnumbered host of angel powers,
Who round Jehovah's throne their anthems sing;
And joins that kindred band, those lovely flowers

Cut down and withered in their early spring.' But that church has other associations with Fowell Buxton. there that during his sojourn at Northrepps, he was accustomed to attend on the worship of God, Sabbath by Sabbath, and I have no pleasanter remembrances of bim than in that little simple village congregation. It was not a handsome edifice certainly, and it was a very small one.

The people generally sat in the body of the building ; but in a small neat gallery, where was the organ and choir of villageschool children all dressed alike, and clean and neat in person, with the rough blue-jacketed sailors, sat the family from the Hall and Cottage, the latter consisting of Mr. Buxton's beloved sister, Sarah, and her cousin, Miss Gurney. The scene is now before me, especially upon one occasion, when I sat near the object of my childish admiration, almost of hero worship-his tall, manly figure, his face of deep, almost painful thought, but of the most compassionate benevolence. I have never seen a portrait that has done that expression justice. It was not so much mere benignity of feeling that those lines denoted; it was a look of good will to man, and a determination to do kindly as well as to feel kindly to his fellow-creatures. It was, I used to fancy, as a child (for I have scarcely seen him in later years), a sad expression, and both there and at the Friends' meeting, where, too, I have occasionally seen him, he sighed often and deeply; but little did I know the weight of cares which oppressed his heart for Africa. I always thought of the · Eheu, Eheu,' in the chancel below. Then the tones of that voice ! as they were heard in the responses of the service ! or when reading, as was his custom, the simple hymn of praise which was to be sung. There are certain hymns which to this hour recall that fine voice of Buxton to my remembrance; that voice to which greyhaired statesmen had listened, and which enemy and friend could never fail to admire when raised in the senate-house on behalf of the sons of Africa-could never have sounded so well as when it read, with reverential awe, such words as these in God's house of prayer,

Come, let us join our cheerful songs,

With angels round the throne.' No doubt as he read and as he sang he remembered his son Harry, his child Fowell, and his three infant daughters.

I have told you of his sighs and of his solemn air; but, oh! he could smile--and such a smile it was! The little child on whom it rested would never surely forget it; it was like a silent blessing. For Fowell Buxton loved little children he could not as a good man and Christian

« PreviousContinue »