3 APRIL 1847, Page 14


THOSE who are accustomed to regard public affairs with attention will recollect the name of Knibb, as that of a bold-faced Baptist mis-

sionary in Jamaica, who was accused by the Planters of having caused (though they probably meant fomented) the Negro insurrection of 1831- 32. He may also be remembered as plaintiff in an action for libel against

the John Bull, in February 1840. Should the observer of affairs have extended his reading to serious periodicals, he will know that Knibb was an itinerant star of the first magnitude at humanity and religious gather-

ings ; that in the great campaign which preceded Emancipation, Knibb and Peter Borthwick " met " at Bath for a duello, with the tongue; and that on the final triumph of the Anti-Slavery cause, the Committee paid

Knibb the rather equivocal compliment of presenting him with a bronze

medal. We learn from Mr. Hinton's book that such an estimate as this summary would imply is much below the merit of his hero ; for the

biographer tells us that "Knibb is now regarded as one of the great men of his age " ; and though Mr. Hinton cannot quite make up his mind to consider that Knibb carried Negro Emancipation, yet it is evident that there are faithful to be found who do. The biographer only claims for him a final preUminence. " In England be was by his circumstances directly pitted against the West India body, who fell upon him with their whole strength, and wreaked on him

their bitterest vengeance: against no other individual did they ever wage such

exterminating war; nor was there any one to aid him in his defence against their assault. In the presence of two armies his safety was put to the issue of single

combat; and he conquered. He was nearly as solitary in the conflict he sus- tained in Jamaica as he was in England. No missionaries but those of the Bap- tist Missionary Society ever took the part of the slave, and not all of these. In the perils of the insurrection the Baptist missionaries generally were involved; and ultimately several of his brethren fully sympathized with him. but none took so active a part, none made themselves so obnoxious to Colonial revenge. Prac- tically, he stood alone."

—A fact we should have doubted but for Mr. Hinton's affirmation since, we have a dim remembrance of scribes many and orators many.

There is not much to be added to the facts of William Knibh's life be- yond what is known or might be learned from the public papers, espe- cially of his own sept. He was born at Kettering, in 1803; his father

was a tradesman of that town, and, it is said, "not a professor of reli- gion " ; his mother was pious, and, it would seem, a strong-minded, ac-

tive, and amiable woman. After the common schooling of the place, William was apprenticed to a printer, and subsequently migrated with his master to Bristol. If we could take the statements of the sectarians in their religious "experiences" as literal truths, William Knibb would

seem to have indulged in sin during his teens : but he probably speaks in the style where the hyperbolical passes into the false. In 1821 his

mind " began to be much exercised on the concerns of an eternal world";

in 1822 he formally joined the Baptists, and was baptized according to their form,—for he deemed his Church-of-England christening in in-

fancy invalid. Missionary labour seems to have been an early dream

of William Knibb ; and on the death of Thomas his elder brother, whO went to Jamaica as a teacher or schoolmaster, William was nominated tN

succeed him. This promotion took place in 1824: in October that

year he married, and sailed for Jamaica in November. The facts of his life were henceforth public, or sectariauly official: he died in 1845,

in what may truly be called his Jamaica diocese, for he had several ministers and schools under him, and took upon himself as much as any bishop. His complaint was a fever of the country, brought on by former exertion and undue reliance upon his strength and previous escapes.

The habit of pouring out their religious feelings in private communica- done, prevalent among his sect, the rule that candidates should give some

account of their " experiences" before they are received into fellowships

the necessity of missionaries fully reporting their conduct to their employ- ers, and sometimes of stating their cases when disputes take place or charges are made, collect a much larger amount of biographical informa.- tion respecting popular sectarian ministers than many persons much more eminent. In the instance of William Knibb this plenty exists to a larger amount, perhaps, than usual ; and Mr. Hinton has displayed it at a length which will be uninteresting to the general reader, from the want of really substantial matter, though the class of persons whom the bio- grapher is addressing may not be fatigued with the elaboration.

As a party militant, we think William Knibb much overrated ; as a missionary, we cannot rank him high. He ventured upon no new field of exertion; nor had be any intellectual system or any in- veterate or bigoted superstition to encounter : the Negroes are a good-humoured, credulous race, and easily led by those who will be at the pains to study and humour them. For this duty Knibb was well fitted, and for opposing power where there was no real danger : and if forming congregations and drawing money out of them is a proof of success, he was very successful. His first and most distinguishing characteristic was constitutional confidence. He had an impudence which nothing could daunt ; a vulgar pertinacity and overweening self-opinion not to be deterred ; and probably a keen enough eye as to times and seasons. His courage in bearding the Planters has been highly praised ; but it was rather assurance. Knibb knew very well there was no actual danger as long as he kept within the letter of the law ; that nothing but an ac- cidental outbreak involved risk to life or limb. The Baptist Com- mittee, in common with other missionary bodies, had forbidden the subject of slavery to their ministers, as political. On Knibb's first visit to England he broke through this rule, and it was afterwards dropped. A member of the Committee, who was present, gives this account of the first step.

"At length Knibb stood up; and his words, as near as I can recollect, certainly in substance, were, Myself, my wife, and my children, are entirely dependent on the Baptist Mission; we have landed without a shilling, and may at once be re- duced to penury. But, if it be necessary, I will take them by the hand, and walk barefoot through the kingdom, but what I will make known to the Christians of England what their brethren in Jamaica are suffering.' I believe I was the first to speak after this declaration; and I need not say, I exhorted him to stand by his avowal, and assured him of the sympathy and cooperation of many." It was the certainty of this "sympathy and cooperation of many" which gave confidence to Knibb : he knew he was "all right" either in success or in modern martyrdom. Another admirer, who was with him, gives it as his opinion that he passed the previous night in prayer; we suspect that he had also observed opinion in the day-time. Few better fulfilled the injunction of "watch and pray." Like most others of his stamp, however, he crowed loudest on his own dunghill, and was boldest with a majority at his back. We think his tone was somewhat subdued when he encountered the redoubted "Peter" in their wordy combat it l'ontrance. " When Greek meets Greek," there is, no doubt, caution in both camps.

Among his own persuasion Knibb's reputation for pulpit elo- quence was not great. Mr. Hinton believes that "the impression in this country is that preaching was not his forte, and that the sustained consecutive thought that it requires was not easy to him." His eloquence is praised, but with some drawbacks.


I think, however, that his eloquence, admirable as it was, was liable to one drawback—his epithets were occasionally too strong: that they were so, appeared from the fact -that they generally failed to carry his auditors with them. We used to listen to them with a smile which denoted our astonishment, but not with the full-toned sympathy which it is the triumph of a speaker to secure. One of his great felicities as an orator undoubtedly lay in his having so good a cause, and an unsuspected devotedness to it: before he spoke, the auditory was for the

most part on his side. • • •

" His vocabulary was remarkably copious, but peculiar. His choice and ar- rangement of words, although generally sufficiently correct and often highly feli- citous, was frequently singular, and occasionally inappropriate. A circumstance is known which accounts for this. His vocabulary was not formed by extended study, but by a habit of reading Johnson's Dictionary at meal-times, while em- ployed as a compositor. He is stated to have read the quarto edition three times through, with all the illustrations."

Compared with other preachers of this school, we should have thought Knibb would have been successful. There is often incongruity or jumble in his figures, and little or no matter in proportion to the words ; but how many sermons are there not in this latter predicament ? He had great fluency, much unction ; we confess we like him better on religious than on lay topics; and he was a master of the bitter sweet. He had a low cajolery, which probably was at the bottom of his success with the Negroes; but to the staid, in this country, it looked like "levity." Before his first departure for Jamaica, a "dear friend" wrote him a re- buke ; to which Knibb replies in a counter-attack, unrivalled in its way. "I know that it is well to be faithful; but there is considerable danger, in the eagerness of pursuing this, of forgetting the proper time, and the proper method. Now I think, my dear friend, that you have erred in this latter point; and I men- tion this more particularly because I have heard it asserted, from several quarters, that they feared your manner did not partake sufficiently of modesty, but that it was assuming, especially in your public engagements. This, by those who are not acquainted personally with you, will be traced to a cause from which it does not proceed—your being lifted up by your change of situation; a charge which I have endeavoured to repeL But, while it is necessary to guard against levity, there is a danger of falling into a distant and forbidding manner. "I know that levity is my easy besetting sin. It has often caused me many a bitter pang, and led me mournfully to a throne of grace: but I think that, since I left, a remarkable change has been wrought in my feelings; which I attribute, in a great measure, to the connexion which I have formed with the partner of my "oys and sorrows.

"I think that one great cause of my not paying a sufficient degree of attention to this part of my character, has arisen from my utter detestation of everything formal and assumed. I have heard and seen so much pomposity and distance ob- served by young men when they have become candidates for the ministry, that I have been disgusted, and reminded of the language of Robinson, of Cambridge,—

" •Forget the dunghills where they grew,

And think themselves the Lord knows who.'"

Knibb was no respecter of persons, at least behind their backs. We have seen that his father was not a "professor " of religion. Some years after the old man's death, his pious son indulged himself, in a letter to a brother, in these "family" speculations.

" I often dwell upon the painful thought that very few ffamilies will meet in heaven; and I ask, will ours? We have a mother, a brother, and some of our little ones there; but where is our father? ah, where? The pen refuses to say what conscience knows must be the awful fact. He had his convictions, strong ones—my mother has often told me so—but he stifled them: he drowned his rea- son in the intoxicating fumes of the convivial party; and his conscience became hardened in sin, and he died as the fool dieth. Ah, 'cis bitter, 'tie bitter ! It is an awful thing to trifle with convictions, lest God should say, Let him alone! And where are my beloved brothers? are they all walking in the fear of God? Ab, no! they are kind to me, they love me; but they love not my Jesus."

From this and other passages it might be inferred that Mr. Knibb se- nior was a sad reprobate : perhaps he was only a member of the Church of England ; within which William did not seem to think there was much chance of salvation. Some of his " too strong epithets," applied to her, were—" accursed establishment," "gigantic system of fraud," " levia- than of iniquity." The terms " lie" and " liar " seemed familiar in kis month as household words,—rising upon occasion into "infernal liars."

This volume contains a good deal relating to West Indian topics ; but, from the one-sided view, of very little value, unless for showing beyond all doubt, that the Baptists, or at least Knibb, mischievously in- terfered between the Planter and the free labourer in every economical question, and promoted strife under the guise of religion and love of liberty. The true value of the vol---"P consists in its picture of the man and of his mind, with glimp- le Baptist politics : for, to do the home au- thorities justice, wnen his footing was secured, seems to have

gone beyond them. The marked features are indeed overdone in the Memoir, by the introduction of trifling details and insignificant senti- ments emanating from the saint ; but in many respects Mr. Hinton is a fair and critical biographer,—though he knows so little of the world beyond his own paradise, that he represents " the facetious Thomas Hood " as the editor of the John Bull, confounding him with Theodore Hook I A capital portrait of Knibb is attached to the volume, with a well-defined Mawworm expression : an artist would have softened the character, but the daguerreotype was faithful. The "picture " ex- plains his Tropical unpopularity ; the very sight of "Massa Knibb" must have been enough for a West Indian of the old school.