William Hogarth's "Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism, A Medley" satirized George Whitefield, a leader of Britain's Methodist movement "famous for his preaching in America, which was a significant part of the First Great Awakening movement of Christian revivals. He has been called by some historians 'the first modern celebrity,'" according to Wikipedia, which asserts that "Whitefield's legacy is still felt in America, where he is remembered as one of the first to preach to the enslaved." Fun local fact: "The Old South Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts -- that's where our sis and bro live . . . gotta go check it out next time we're up there -- was built for the evangelist's use, and before dying Whitefield requested to be buried under the pulpit of this church, where his tomb remains to this day." (Hogarth etching and engraving, 1796).
"It's not a political issue, it's a moral issue," said Al Gore with a straight face last night re his Oscar-winning
science fiction movie documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth." We didn't watch live, of course, but caught a few highlights during news coverage throughout the day and were struck by the evengelical hysteria of the crowd, glowing with religious fervor and nodding their heads in devout agreement as the Goracle spoke the Word.
Audience swoons as
Al Gore takes the microphone at last night's Academy Awards to proclaim cooling in our timea Methodist minister takes the podium at "a camp meeting, or religious revival in America, from a sketch taken on the spot" c. 1839 during America's Second Great Awakening. (Watercolor by J. Maze Burbank, Old Dartmouth Historical Society-New Bedford Whaling Museum)
Now enter stage right Walden Media's -- the folks who brought us Narnia -- latest History-Channeloid film (movie?), "Amazing Grace," which we'd first heard of last week via an email from our dear friends at the Humane Society of America:
"Amazing Grace," a film biography of William WIlberforce, anti-slavery crusader and co-founder of the world's oldest anti-cruelty society, captures Wilberforce's deep devotion to animals and his determination to end the cruelty and suffering imposed upon them in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The film comes out exactly 200 years after Wilberforce's 20-year fight to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire ended, with the passage of the Foreign Slave Trade Act in 1807. As the filmmakers point out, however, many of the social problems Wilberforce sought to address, including cruelty to animals, are still with us.
We were the first on our block to view it, catching the very first showing just after noon on Friday at the Revere Showcase Cinema. Our first response was underwhelmed -- we were, perhaps unfairly, comparing what we thought was a certain perfunctoriness of the script to Robert Bolt's work on "Lawrence of Arabia" -- but we loved "Amazing Grace" for its superb British production values, cast, direction and such. The dramatized Parliamentary debates were -- as any afficionado/a of "Prime Minister's Questions" on C-Span well knows -- to die for. 'Wanted to be able to view it at our leisure at home on the History Channel. Then came some excellent reviews, our favorites from Betsy of Betsy's Page and then from S.T. Karnick at National Review:
1. Betsy: If you like an intelligent movie that teaches you something about history that you may not have known, this is the movie for you. The movie tells the story of William Wilberforce's long battle to get a bill though Parliament to ban the slave trade. While the movie gives us an education about the nobility of Wilberforce's character and his determination to end this terrible commerce in human souls, it is also a great film about politics. You'll see how the coalition that Wilberforce led had to fight to muster public opinion against a trade that was, in many ways, the backbone of 18th century England's economy. This is great political drama.
2. Karnick: Adding further interest is the film’s intelligent and comprehensible depiction of the politics of the time -- and its implications for other eras. The conservatives of the time, of course, are those who will not even consider any alteration to the institution of slavery. Their concern (one that seemed valid then but was proven entirely illusory immediately after abolition) is that such a basic change will bring vast social disorder, poverty, and catastrophic defeat in an imminent war with the French.
The radicals, represented by Clarkson, are too impatient to accept gradual change. They want an immediate transformation of English society such that the entire aristocracy will be thrown out immediately, as is happening in France.
The liberals, Wilberforce, and his allies, want change but recognize that they must find a way to do it such that both liberty and order will be maximized. A more perfect illustration of the essence of classical liberalism would be difficult to imagine. In an important and impassioned scene, Clarkson argues with Wilberforce about the need for immediate, radical change on the order of the French Revolution. Wilberforce points out that prudence and justice require that things be done in an orderly way. Ultimately, both the radicals and the conservatives come to see things Wilberforce’s way — or at least give in to it.
Then we started to worry. If Al Gore and his Oscars audience may be fairly compared to Whitefield and his parishioners as satirized by Hogarth (image top of post) -- and the Methodists, Quakers and others who followed him and carried the torch to victory in ending the slave trade and slavery itself in the British Empire -- may Al Gore be on to something? We don't think so, as his sermons, unlike Whitefield's, are based upon willful lies and half truths. But you never know.