The secret diaries of William Wilberforce

Historian article

By John Coffey, published 11th November 2021

The secret diaries of William Wilberforce

John Coffey shows us what insights can be gained from the diaries of leading abolitionist, William Wilberforce.

The diary is a distinctively modern genre... In English, the first diaries date from the Tudor era, but it is in the seventeenth century that the trickle becomes a flood. Alongside the famous diaries of Samuel Pepys, we have numerous others: religious diaries, parliamentary diaries, scientific diaries, women’s diaries. By the Georgian era, the diary or journal (the terms were often interchangeable) was a well-established form. Among the most celebrated are the Methodist journals of John Wesley and the Grasmere journal of Dorothy Wordsworth.

William Wilberforce, the parliamentary leader of British abolitionism, kept his own voluminous diaries and journals, but they have remained, for the most part, unpublished and hidden from view...

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