So Many Books, So Little Time: William Wilberforce’s Great Regret

After nearly three decades of marriage to author-historian Kevin Belmonte, I have rather gotten used to sharing my home with numerous houseguests. They stop by to chat about shared interests, to pick Kevin’s brain on some obscure point of historical ephemera, and maybe even read some poetry (mine, theirs, or someone else’s) out loud. Some stay for an overnight, a week, even a month.

But there have been a few visitors that make camp and stay well past what is considered “polite” even for family – the old souls that populate Kevin’s books. They are particularly present while he is in the throes of research and writing. Dozens of such characters have taken up residence for as long as it has taken to get the manuscript past the finish line and on to the publisher.

But there’s one that seems to have moved in permanently: the esteemed abolitionist from Hull, William Wilberforce. Evidence of his residence abounds throughout our home. Happy memories are framed in pictures with modern-day friends and descendants of the reformer, and of course there’s the one with me geeking out with Ioan Gruffudd at the premier of Amazing Grace in New York City. Kevin’s Pollock Award for “William Wilberforce: Hero for Humanity” sits prominently on a shelf in our living room. And the books… so many books!

After rereading the first three chapters of “Hero,” what struck me this time around was how Wilberforce’s great shame at the start of his great change was the time lost that could have been spent … reading. Of all things that could have caused regret about his behavior prior to coming back to Christ, it was that he wasn’t a serious student – that he didn’t read more while he could.

Just take a moment and let that sink in. For those of us here at Literary Life, those naturally inclined to be all about the books, this is AWESOME news. The great man, the Hero for Humanity himself, could not get enough of books. Amen to that.

This makes perfect sense when you consider that his great change began with a book – Philip Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. Wilberforce’s was an intellectual change first, and then followed heart, soul, emotion, strength. And he took pains to nurture his mind thereafter, never going back to his days of dissipation. As indicated in Chapter Three:

Wilberforce read an astonishing variety of books. He took pains to remain well acquainted with works of classical Greek and Roman literature, particularly Horace, Epictetus, and Virgil. He committed long passages of their works to memory, on one occasion proposing to read “at least a hundred lines of Virgil daily—often more.” Moreover, he could read, write, and translate Greek and Latin.

I don’t know about you, but that account puts my lazy literary life to shame. Even as our home is crowded with all manner of quality reading material, I find my soft mind drawn to the easy mystery and modern thriller more than the depth found in the classics. Reacquainting myself with Wilberforce’s life of the mind has made me want to take this area of my life much more seriously.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? I mean, it begins not only in the choices we make about what we read, but even before that with who we let influence such choices. Like Wilberforce’s careful selection of friends would ultimately impact his choice of reading material, so will our own circles influence how we cultivate our minds to the glory of God.

Choose well who you welcome into the home of your mind. Then, as Wilberforce the reader, go fill your pockets to capacity with books overflowing.

John 1: 1-5
In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

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Kelly Belmonte

Fearless communicator, collaborating with the Muses to inspire, create, and illuminate. Program designer and facilitator of structured settings for the creation of beauty, connection, and meaning. Wife, mother, poet, and Chief Muse at All Nine.