Searching for the real Thomas Clarkson (Part 2)

Missed the first part of my quest? Check it out here.

When I found Wilson’s 1990 biography hidden in the vaults of the NSW National Library, I thought I’d found my answer. I requested viewing access, and, since archived books can’t be borrowed, headed into the city as soon as College holidays began. It was a rainy day (perfect for reading) which was just as well, since I find the National Library uncomfortable at the best of times (no bags! only clear water bottles! a nightmare to find anything!)

I read all day, until about 5pm when my brain started glazing over. I took photos of the last chapter and a half, and emerged onto the rain-slicked streets, hungry and somewhat giddy.

A quote from Wilson’s book… and a fascinating insight.

I read the remaining pages on my phone as I ate and felt… disappointed. Wilson’s biography revealed a gripping story, an interesting man, enough pathways for me to conduct further research… but in the end, it read like a collection of facts ending with a plea for Clarkson’s story to be heard – glossing over his faith as much as possible, and at one point even disparaging his beliefs. It was an entirely secular biography.

And it left me determined. Determined to uncover Thomas Clarkson’s faith. Determined to tell the whole story.

But when? Lord, if this is what you would have me do… give me all I need to do it.

Fast-forward to 2020, and thanks to corona I find myself in isolation in a tiny Yorkshire village. I have plenty of time for reading, and you know what? It turns out Wilson’s biography, although out of print, can be got from a UK online second-hand bookstore. By the time it arrives at the terraced house, I’m already reading Thomas Clarkson’s famous essay on my kindle…

It seems when God wants you to do something, he gives you the time. I arrived back in Australia with several weeks free before I could enroll in Bible College. It had, to all outside eyes, been a rather failed attempt at a Sabbatical. To God’s it was an opportunity.

Taking copious notes and underlining I read (alongside time spent researching the era):

  • Ellen Wilson’s biography (again)
  • Earl Leslie Grigg’s biography (thank you National Internet Archive)
  • Thomas Taylor’s ‘sketch’ (thank you Google Books)
  • Alexander Crummell’s eulogy (thank you Kindle)
  • Thomas Clarkson’s A Brief History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (Volume 1 & 2) (Kindle) (spolier: At about 1000 pages, it was not brief!)
  • Thomas Clarkson’s Researches Antediluvian, Patriarchal and Historical etc. (kindle)
  • Thomas Clarkson’s Portrait of Quakerism (Vol. 1-3) (Kindle. Only dipped in and out of this one!)

As I read, and pondered, and basically lived in the 18th Century, I slowly but surely discovered I had more than enough information to write an engaging and spiritually encouraging biography of abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. I also (slowly, but surely) came to know Thomas Clarkson, the man and the Christian, the one who two hundred years ago wrote:

I am desirous above all things to attribute my best endeavors… to the influence of a Superior Power; of Him, I mean,

who gave me a heart to feel

who gave me the courage to begin

and perseverance to proceed.

I am thankful to Him (and this with the deepest feeling of gratitude and humility) for having permitted me to become useful, in any degree, to my fellow creatures.

Thomas clarkson

Getting to know Thomas Clarkson has inspired and encouraged me in so many ways. By writing his biography I hope to make him as relevant and accessible to this generation as he was to his own. I now count him as a friend, and I hope you soon will too.

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