Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Critical Introduction by Reginald Brimley Johnson
Hannah More (17451833)
[Hannah More, the daughter of a village schoolmaster, was born at Stapylton in 1745. She learnt Latin and a little mathematics from her father, French from her sisters, and Spanish and Italian at a later stage. In 1772 she made the first of the annual visits to London which were continued throughout the greater part of her long and busy life. Here, among those who had the best right to be critical, she seems to have been a favourite from the first. After some epigrams, compliments, and ballads, she wrote a few tragedies. The Sacred Dramas appeared soon after these, and in 1786 Florio and Bas Bleu.
Two years later she began to work vigorously for the abolition of slavery, and was thus brought into contact with a certain religious set of persons who may be considered as the earliest of the Evangelical school, and under this influence she published: Thoughts on the Manners of the Great, 1788; An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World, 1790; Strictures on Female Education, 1799; and Cælebs in search of a Wife, 1809.
She published Remarks on Mr. Duponts Speech, 1794; the Cheap Repository Tracts, 17951798; and Hints towards forming the Character of a Princess, 1805, for the benefit of the Princess Charlotte. Practical Piety followed in 1811; Christian Morals, 1813; Essay on the Character and Writings of St. Paul, 1815; patriotic songs and leaflets, 1817; Moral Sketches, 1819; The Spirit of Prayer, 1835. She spent the last five years of her life at Clifton, where she died in 1833, aged eighty-eight.]
THE DREAM of Hannah Mores childhood was to go to London and see the bishops and the booksellers; her earliest ambition to possess a quire of paper which she might fill with letters of exhortation to sinners and their repentant answers. She regretted the absence of practical precepts in the Waverley novels, and stands herself convicted of some moral intention in almost every one of even her most trifling and artificial productions. She never became a slave to the brilliant society that flattered and caressed her, while its vagaries moved her to righteous indignation. The missionary spirit was strong in her, and she did not possess the artistic sense which had enabled Fanny Burney to look on these things as an irresponsible outsider and turn them to comedy. The chief aim, indeed, of her literary activity, after her apprenticeship with the Bas Bleus, was to expose the fashionable vices and minor everyday irregularities of her generation.
She addressed herself primarily to those persons of rank and fortune who live within the restraints of moral obligation, who acknowledge the truth of the Christian religion, and demanded from them a practice consistent with the creed to which they outwardly subscribed. The combined rigour and spirituality of her teaching offended both the Calvinists and their opponents, though she desired to attack neither, and simply accepted the guidance of the Church in all matters of dogma.
The same didactic aim underlies Cælebs in Search of a Wife, where the novel form served merely to attract such readers as might be frightened away from an essay or disquisition. The plot is of the slightest and clumsily constructed, the principal characters are unreal and painfully priggish, but some of the warnings are drawn with considerable spirit. In the Cheap Repository Series, she wrote expressly for the common people, to counteract the influence of Tom Paine and the French Revolution; teaching industry, sobriety, content, loyalty to duly constituted authorities, and the practice of religion. The arguments used were somewhat crude, and the average British squire was perhaps a little idealised; but she was really intimate with the needs of the poor, and made these publications the instruments of much excellent practical advice.
Hannah Mores style is almost always conventional, and generally careless, but The Cheap Repository Tracts are simple, forcible, and dramatic; and her faults of manner never entirely obscure her natural vigour and good sense. She is animated and fluent, possessing an extensive, though not a pure vocabulary, and some turn for epigram. Her heaviest works are sprinkled with admirable phrases, reflections, and descriptions, as happy as those which make many of her letters so delightful. She was a thoroughly cultivated and charming woman, who could hold her own in the best society of her day, at once observant, sympathetic, and tactful, with a capacity for unfailing enthusiasm.
Her books, now little read, were once immensely popular. They were more harmless than most fiction, less dry than most theology, and attracted notice in her lifetime as the work of a woman of great personal attractions, fearless principle, and indomitable energy.