|Died||7 September 1833 (aged 88)|
Clifton, Bristol, England
|Resting place||Wrington, Somerset, England|
|Occupation||Poet ∙ Playwright ∙ Author ∙ Educator|
|Known for||Poetry ∙ Drama ∙ Philanthropy|
Hannah More (2 February 1745 – 7 September 1833) was an English religious writer and philanthropist, remembered as a poet and playwright in the circle of Johnson, Reynolds and Garrick, as a writer on moral and religious subjects, and as a practical philanthropist. Born in Bristol, she taught at a school founded there by her father and began writing plays. She became involved with the London literary elite and was a leading Bluestocking member. Her later plays and poetry became more evangelical, and she joined a group campaigning against the slave trade. In the 1790s she wrote several Cheap Repository Tracts on moral, religious, and political topics for distribution to the literate poor (famously a riposte to Thomas Paine's Rights of Man). Meanwhile, she broadened her links with schools that she and her sister Martha had founded in rural Somerset. These modelled her strictures on the education of the poor, permitting a limited reading ability but no writing.
Born in 1745 at Fishponds in the parish of Stapleton, near Bristol, Hannah More was the fourth of five daughters of Jacob More (1700–1783), a schoolmaster originally from Harleston, Norfolk. He was from a strong Presbyterian family in Norfolk, but had joined the Church of England and originally intended to pursue a clerical career, but after the disappointment of losing a lawsuit over an estate he had hoped to inherit he moved to Bristol, where he became an excise officer and later taught at the Fishponds free school.
The sisters were first educated by their father, learning Latin and mathematics. Hannah was also taught by her elder sisters, through whom she learned French. Her conversational French was improved by spending time with French prisoners of war in Frenchay during the Seven Years' War. She was an assiduous student with a sharp intellect, and according to family tradition, began writing at an early age.
In 1758 Jacob established a girls' boarding school at Trinity Street in Bristol for the elder sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, to run, while he and his wife moved to Stony Hill in the city to open a school for boys. Hannah More became a pupil when she was twelve years old and taught at the school in early adulthood.
In 1767 More gave up her share in the school on becoming engaged to William Turner of the Belmont Estate, Wraxall, Somerset, whom she had met when he began teaching her cousins. After six years the wedding had not taken place. Turner seemed reluctant to name a date and in 1773 the engagement was broken off. It seems that as a result, More suffered a nervous breakdown and spent some time recuperating in Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare. Hannah More was induced to accept a £200 annuity from Turner as compensation. This freed her for literary pursuits, and in the winter of 1773–1774 she went to London with her sisters, Sarah and Martha – the first of many such trips at yearly intervals. Some verses that she had written on David Garrick's version of King Lear led to an acquaintance with him.
More's first literary efforts were pastoral plays written while she was still teaching and suitable for young ladies to act. The first was The Search after Happiness, written in 1762. By the mid-1780s over 10,000 copies of this had been sold. Among her literary models was Metastasio whose opera Attilio Regulo she used as a basis for a drama, The Inflexible Captive.
In London, More sought to associate herself with the literary elite, including Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds and Edmund Burke. Johnson is quoted as saying to her, "Madam, before you flatter a man so grossly to his face, you should consider whether or not your flattery is worth having." He would later be quoted as calling her "the finest versifatrix in the English language". Meanwhile she became a prominent member of the Bluestocking group of women engaged in polite conversation and literary and intellectual pursuits. She attended the salon of Elizabeth Montagu, where she became acquainted with Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Elizabeth Vesey and Hester Chapone, some of whom would be lifelong friends. In 1782 she wrote a witty verse celebration of her friends and the circle to which they belonged, The Bas Bleu, or, Conversation, published in 1784.
Garrick wrote a prologue and epilogue for Hannah More's tragedy Percy, which was shown successfully at Covent Garden in December 1777 and revived in 1785 with Sarah Siddons at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. A copy of Percy was found amongst Mozart's possessions in 1791. Another drama, The Fatal Falsehood, produced in 1779 after Garrick's death, was less successful, and she never wrote for the stage again. However, a tragedy entitled The Inflexible Captive was published in 1818. In 1781 she first met Horace Walpole and corresponded with him from that time onwards. At Bristol she discovered the poet Ann Yearsley. When Yearsley became destitute, More raised a considerable sum of money for her benefit. Lactilla, as Yearsley was known, published Poems, on Several Occasions in 1785, earning about £600. More and Montagu held the profits in trust to protect them from Yearsley's husband. However, Ann Yearsley wished to receive the capital and made insinuations of stealing against More, forcing her to release it. These literary and social failures lay behind More's withdrawal from London intellectual circles.
In the 1780s Hannah More became a friend of James Oglethorpe, who had long been concerned with slavery as a moral issue and who was working with Granville Sharp as an early abolitionist. More published Sacred Dramas in 1782, which rapidly ran through 19 editions. These and the poems Bas-Bleu and Florio (1786) mark her gradual transition to more serious views, expressed in prose in her Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788) and An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790). By this time she was close to William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay, sympathising with their evangelical views. She published a poem, Slavery, in 1788. For many years she was a friend of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London and a leading abolitionist, who drew her into a group of campaigners against the slave trade that included Wilberforce, Charles Middleton and also James Ramsay, based at Teston in Kent.
In 1785 More bought a house at Cowslip Green, near Wrington in northern Somerset, where she settled into country life with her sister Martha, and wrote several ethical books and tracts: Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799), Hints towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805), Coelebs in Search of a Wife (only nominally a story, 1809), Practical Piety (1811), Christian Morals (1813), Character of St Paul (1815) and Moral Sketches (1819). She was a rapid writer and her work, though discursive and animated, was deficient in form. Her popularity may be explained by the originality and force of her subject-matter.
The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 did not worry More initially, but by 1790 she was writing, "I have conceived an utter aversion to liberty according to the present idea of it in France. What a cruel people they are!" She praised Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France for combining "the rhetoric of ancient Gaul" and the "patriot spirit of ancient Rome" with "the deepest political sagacity". Part II of the Rights of Man, Thomas Paine's reply to Burke, appeared in 1792. The government was alarmed by its concern for the poor and its call for world revolution, coupled with enormous sales. Porteus visited More and asked her to write something for the lower orders, to counteract Paine. This prompted the pamphlet Village Politics (1792). More called it "as vulgar as [the] heart can wish; but it is only designed for the most vulgar class of readers." The pamphlet (published pseudonymously as by "Will Chip") consists of a dialogue in plain English between Jack Anvil, a village blacksmith, and Tom Hood, a village mason. After reading Paine, Tom Hood expresses admiration for the French Revolution to Jack Anvil and speaks in favour of a new constitution based on liberty and the "rights of man". Jack Anvil responds by praising the British constitution and saying that Britain already has "the best laws in the world". He attacks French liberty as murder, French democracy as tyranny of the majority, French equality as a levelling down of social classes, French philosophy as atheism, and the "rights of man" as "battle, murder and sudden death". Tom Hood finally accepts Jack Anvil's conclusion: "While old England is safe I'll glory in her, and pray for her; and when she is in danger I'll fight for her and die for her."
More's biographer summed up the pamphlet against Paine as "Burke for Beginners". It was well received: Porteus praised it as "a masterpiece of its kind, supremely excellent, greatly admired at Windsor". Frances Boscawen considered it better than William Paley's The British Public's Reasons for Contentment and Richard Owen Cambridge claimed "Swift could not have done it better." More's next anti-Jacobin tract, Remarks on the Speech of M. Dupont, condemned atheism in France. Its profits were assigned to French Catholic priests exiled in England.
These two pamphlets attracted attention and approbation from the Association for the Discountenancing of Vice, an evangelical publishing society founded in Dublin in 1792. The membership wrote to her in June 1793 congratulating her on her publications and inviting her to become an honorary member. In accepting, More asked the Association to send her "two or three printed papers explaining the nature of the Association as perhaps I may use them to advantage with a friend or two, distinguished for their piety and active zeal."
In 1794, when Paine published The Age of Reason, a deist attack on Christianity, Porteus again requested More's help in combating Paine's ideas, but she declined, being preoccupied with her charity-school work. However, by the end of the year, More, encouraged by Porteus, decided to embark on a series of Cheap Repository Tracts, three of which appeared every month from 1795 to 1798. In January 1795, More explained to Zachary Macaulay: "Vulgar and indecent penny books were always common, but speculative infidelity brought down to the pockets and capacity of the poor forms a new era in our history. This requires strong counteraction." Her publishing scheme was developed from the ideas of the Association for discountenancing vice, though written in a more "readable and entertaining a style".
Her tracts successfully sold 300,000 copies between March and April 1795, 700,000 by July 1795, and over two million by March 1796. They urged the poor in rhetoric of ingenious homeliness to rely on the virtues of contentment, sobriety, humility, industry, reverence for the British Constitution, hatred of the French, and trust in God and the kindness of the gentry. Perhaps the most famous is The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, describing a family of phenomenal frugality and contentment. This was translated into several languages. She also invited the Association for the Discountenancing of Vice to reprint her tracts in Ireland, which they did with singular success, issuing more than 230 editions of 52 titles.
More was shocked by the strides made for female education in France, saying, "They run to study philosophy, and neglect their families to be present at lectures in anatomy."
Intending "to escape from the world gradually", More moved in 1802 to Wrington in rural Somerset, where she had built a comfortable house and laid out a garden. She remained, however, active with the several Somerset schools for the destitute that she and her sister Martha had established from the 1780s, with Wilberforce's encouragement. More modelled the idealised hero and heroine in Coelebs in Search of Wife (1809) on the schools' prodigious benefactors: John and Louisa Harford of Blaise Castle.
The schools taught the Bible and the catechism on Sundays and during the week "such coarse works as may fit them for servants." For the poor, More declared, "I allow of no writing": they were not to be "made scholars and philosophers." There was local opposition: Church of England vicars suspected her of advancing Methodism, and landowners saw even rudimentary literacy as a step above the children's proper station. At Wedmore, the Dean of Wells was petitioned to have More removed from school.
More refused to read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). While many women may be "fond of government", they are not, she believed, "fit for it": "To be unstable and capricious is but too characteristic of our sex." More turned down honorary membership of the Royal Society of Literature, considering her "sex alone a disqualification".
Those who heeded Wollstonecraft's call to embrace the liberty without which women could "neither possess virtue or happiness", or who read with equal ardour the pedagogy of Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Elizabeth Hamilton saw More much as Wollstonecraft had seen Burke in her earlier Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790): as a writer with a "mortal antipathy to reason". Having encountered Hannah More and her sisters in Bath and discussed their schools and other good works, Jane Greg reported to her friend Martha McTier in Belfast that she found their "minds crippled in an astonishing degree". McTier prided herself that in her school for poor girls her pupils "do not gabble over the testament only" and that she had those who "can read Fox and Pitt".
More in 1820 donated money to Philander Chase, the first Episcopal Bishop of Ohio for the foundation there of Kenyon College. A portrait of More hangs in the college's Peirce Hall.
In Hannan More's last years, philanthropists from all parts made pilgrimages to Wrington, and after 1828 to Clifton, where she died on 7 September 1833. More left about £30,000, chiefly in legacies to charitable institutions and religious societies. The residue of the estate was to go to a new Church of St Philip and St Jacob in Bristol. She was buried beside her sisters at the Church of All Saints, Wrington, which has a bust of her in the south porch, beside one of the local son John Locke. 
Several local schools and St. Michael's Church (Reisterstown, Maryland) are named in More's honour. Hannah More Primary School was built in Old Market, Bristol, in the 1840s. More's image appeared in 2012 on the Bristol Pound local currency. The street where she was buried in Wrington has been named Hannah More Close.
However, the Liberal politician Augustine Birrell, in his 1906 work Hannah More Once More, claimed to have buried all 19 volumes of Moore's works in his garden in disgust.
Letters to, from and about Hannah More are held by Bristol Archives, including one from William Wilberforce (Ref. 28048/C/1/2) (online catalogue).
Records relating to Hannah More appear at the British Library, Manuscript Collections, Longleat, Newport Central Library, Bodleian Library, Cambridge University: St John's College Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bristol Reference Library, Cambridge University Library, The Women's Library, Gloucestershire Archives, and National Museums Liverpool: Maritime Archives and Library.