Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/More, Hannah

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MORE, Hannah (1745-1833), who was born at Stapleton near Bristol in 1745, may be said to have made three reputations in the course of her long life: first, as a clever verse-writer and witty converser in the circle of Johnson, Reynolds, and Garrick; next, as an animated writer on moral and religious subjects on the Puritanic side; and lastly, as a practical philanthropist. She was the youngest but one of the five daughters of Jacob More, a scion of a landed Norfolk family, who taught a school at Stapleton in Gloucestershire. The sisters established a boarding-school at Bristol in 1767. Hannah's first literary efforts were pastoral plays, suitable for young ladies to act, published in 1773 under the title of A Search after Happiness. Metastasio was one of her literary models; on his opera of Regulus she based a drama, The Inflexible Captive, published in 1774. An annuity from a wealthy admirer set the young lady free for literary pursuits. Some verses on Garrick's Lear led to an acquaintance; Miss More was taken up by the great female Mæcenas, Mrs Montague; and her unaffected enthusiasm, simplicity, vivacity, and wit won the hearts of the whole Johnson set, the great lexicographer himself being especially fascinated. Miss More was petted, complimented, and encouraged to write. Her ballad, Eldred of the Bower, was praised and quoted by the highest living authorities; and she wrote for Garrick the tragedy Percy, which was acted with great success in 1777. Another drama, The Fatal Falsehood, produced in 1779 after Garrick's death, was less successful. In these dramas she borrows from Shakespeare situation, imagery, and phraseology with greater freedom than modern criticism would tolerate; but they are written with great vigour, freshness, and effect. Her Sacred Dramas appeared in 1782. These and the sprightly octosyllabic poems Bas-Bleu and Florio (1786) mark her gradual transition to more serious views of life, which were fully expressed in prose in her Thoughts on the Manners of the Great (1788), and An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790). She had never been overpowered by the flattering reception given her in fashionable society; she had received its attentions with misgivings and reservations, never touching cards, keeping Sunday strictly, and preferring company where she could have serious conversation; and finally, soon after Garrick's death, she set herself against theatre-going under any pretence. There is great uniformity of tone and topic in her ethical books and tracts:—Strictures on Female Education (1799), Hints towards forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805), Cœlebs in Search of a Wife (only nominally a story, 1809), Practical Piety (1811), Christian Morals (1813), Character of St Paul (1815), Moral Sketches (1818). The tone is uniformly animated; the writing fresh and vivacious; her favourite subjects the minor immoralities, the thoughtless self-indulgences and infirmities which are rather indirectly than directly harmful. She was a rapid writer, and her work is consequently discursive and formless; but there was an originality and force in her way of putting commonplace sober sense and piety that fully accounts for her extraordinary popularity. An interesting episode in her literary life was her three year's labour in writing spkited rhymes and prose tales in the Cheap Repository series (1795-1798) to counteract the doctrines of Tom Paine and the influence of the French Revolution. Two millions of these rapid and telling sketches were circulated in one year, teaching the poor in rhetoric of most ingenious homeliness to rely upon the virtues of content, sobriety, humility, industry, reverence for the British constitution, hatred of the French, trust in God and in the kindness of the gentry. Perhaps the noblest testimony to Hannah More s sterling worth was her indefatigable philanthropic work—her long-continued exertions to improve the condition of the children in the benighted districts in the neighbourhood of her country residences at Cowslip Green and Barley Wood. She limited her aims strictly, as a good churchwoman and anti-Revolutionist, to teaching them to read good books and trying to raise their moral tone; but no philanthropist ever laboured at greater self-sacrifice or with purer motives. In her serene old age, philanthropists from all parts of the world made pilgrimages to see the bright and amiable old lady, and she retained all her faculties till within two years of her death, dying at Clifton on 7th September 1833, at the mature age of eighty-seven.