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More, Hannahfree


More, Hannahfree

  • S. J. Skedd

Hannah More (1745–1833)

by John Opie, 1786

More, Hannah (1745–1833), writer and philanthropist, was born on 2 February 1745 at Fishponds, in the parish of Stapleton, a couple of miles north of Bristol, the fourth of the five daughters of Jacob More (1700–1783), schoolmaster, and Mary, the daughter of John Grace, a farmer at nearby Stoke. Her father was born at Thorpe Hall, Harleston, Norfolk, and educated at Norwich grammar school, where he excelled in classics. Despite the powerful influence of his mother's Presbyterian piety and principles Jacob More adopted the high-church Anglicanism of his father's side of the family, and was destined for a career in the church when his prospects were dashed by losing a lawsuit with a cousin over an inheritance. After working for the excise in Bristol his friendship with Norborne Berkeley, later fourth Baron de Botetourt, led to his appointment as master of the free school at Fishponds, where he settled, married, and brought up his family.

Hannah and her sisters

Hannah More grew up in a loving, intellectual, and predominately female environment. A precocious child and the acknowledged genius of the family, she displayed a quick-witted cleverness and passion for learning which were nurtured not only by her scholarly father, who taught her Latin and mathematics, but also by her mother and sisters. Hannah and her four sisters, Mary (1738–1813), Elizabeth (Betty; 1740–1816), Sarah (Sally; 1743–1819), and her beloved younger sister, Martha (Patty; 1747–1819), were educated so as to earn a living for themselves, and ran a boarding-school for girls. To this end Mary was sent to a French school in Bristol and each week shared her lessons with her younger sisters, so that Hannah gained an early fluency in the language. Entranced by the stories of John Dryden told by her nurse, who had lived in the poet's household, Hannah, according to family tradition, started scribbling down stories and verses almost as soon as she could write, and read them aloud to entertain Patty. At twelve she became a pupil, together with Sarah and Martha, at the girls' boarding-school that her father set up at 6 Trinity Street in Bristol for Mary and Elizabeth More to run; her parents also moved to Bristol and opened a school for boys up the road, at Stony Hill. In addition to taking lessons in French, Italian, and Spanish from visiting masters, Hannah made good progress in her Latin under James Newton, of Bristol Baptist Academy, but her mathematical studies were halted when her father feared that her proficiency would mark her out as a female pedant. By her late teens she was teaching at the school, which in 1767 moved to a purpose-built house in Park Street; there it remained until her sisters retired in 1789. The success of the More sisters' school ensured that the women became highly respected figures in Bristol society, and Hannah's developing literary talents attracted the attention of family friends and future patrons, such as their neighbour the Revd James Stonhouse, Ann Lovell Gwatkin (whose daughter was at the school), Josiah Tucker, dean of Gloucester, and Elizabeth Somerset, fifth duchess of Beaufort. Her most valuable emotional mainstay was her sisters' love and friendship, sustained by constant correspondence while they were apart, and throughout their lives she benefited from their guidance, encouragement, and praise.

In her late teens Hannah More composed her first significant work, a pastoral verse drama for schoolgirls entitled The Search after Happiness, published in Bristol in 1762, in which she expresses her views on women's education and role in society. Speeches from archetypal female characters such as the fashionable Euphelia, the bookish Cleora, and the lazy Laurinda describe the various unhappinesses arising from a mistaken education, and it is left to the wise Urania to counsel her sex to cultivate the domestic virtues and to be 'Fearful of Fame, unwilling to be known' (H. More, The Search after Happiness, 1773, 1.277). The play was performed at the Mores' school and, once republished in London in 1773, was eagerly bought by the public; over 10,000 copies had been sold by the mid-1780s and a twelfth edition appeared in 1800. More's desire to provide suitably moral material for her pupils to act led her to write five short dramas based on Old Testament stories, later published as Sacred Dramas (1782). Keen to improve her knowledge of the stage, she frequented the King Street theatre in Bath, often accompanied by her pupils, and by 1774 had freely translated, from the Italian, Metastasio's play Attilio Regolo, the heroic tragedy of the Roman general Marcus Attilius Regulus.

In 1767 More accepted a proposal of marriage from William Turner, of Belmont House, Wraxall, whom she knew through young cousins of his who were pupils at the sisters' school. She exchanged her teaching duties for preparation for her future as the wife of a wealthy country gentleman; she advised Turner on landscaping the gardens at Belmont, now part of the Tyntesfield estates (National Trust). However, Turner, who was twenty years her senior, proved a nervous and uncertain fiancé and postponed their wedding three times; on the first occasion he allegedly jilted her at the altar. Patient and forgiving, More, after listening to her concerned family and friends, finally broke off their engagement in 1773, apparently triggering a nervous breakdown. Little is known of the relationship of More and Turner, and less of their feelings for each other, but this was almost certainly More's only serious romantic attachment. Soon afterwards she resolved never to marry, and refused several subsequent proposals, including one from the poet John Langhorne. Turner sought to make amends for his inconstancy by offering her an annuity to enable her to pursue a literary career. Having at first declined she was at length persuaded to accept a smaller annuity of £200 through a trust set up by her friend Stonhouse. By overcoming her scruples she gained both financial security and independence.

Bluestocking and dramatist

In the winter of 1773–4 More, together with Sarah and Martha, made the first of thirty-five consecutive annual visits to London. An initial recommendation of her literary talents from Stonhouse and Ann Lovell Gwatkin ensured that within the space of ten days she had met David and Eva Garrick, Elizabeth Montagu, and Joshua Reynolds, who in turn introduced her to Dr Johnson and Edmund Burke. Back in Bristol she contributed to Burke's successful campaign to be elected MP for the city in September 1774 by ghosting some of his letters to the local press and writing verses singing his praises. Her second visit to London, early in 1775, secured her place in literary circles when she was invited to her first bluestocking party, at Elizabeth Montagu's house in Hill Street. When Johnson asked her opinion on a recent play More overcame her diffidence in front of so many 'luminaries' by characteristically reasoning 'it a less evil to dissent from the opinion of a fellow creature, than to tell a falsity', and 'ventured to give her sentiments'; Johnson agreed with her and, her critical credentials established, she never looked back (W. Roberts, 1.52–3). She quickly forged lifelong friendships not only with Montagu and Johnson but also with Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Hester Chapone, and Elizabeth Vesey. She enthusiastically joined in the endless mutual flattery indulged in by members of the bluestocking circle; she and Johnson competed to see who could 'pepper the highest' (ibid., 1.54), yet on another occasion he mockingly reprimanded her, 'Consider with yourself what your flattery is worth, before you bestow it so freely' (J. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. P. Rogers, 1980, 1328). As a second-generation bluestocking More was the ideal chronicler of their talents in her poem The Bas Bleu, or, Conversation (1784), written in 1782, in which she hailed virtuous conversation as:

The noblest commerce of mankind,Whose precious merchandise is MIND!


More's reputation for lionizing the London literati might be regarded as shameless sycophancy were it not for the fact that she was busy making a name for herself. She had earned Johnson's good opinion of her literary merit when she showed him two ballads, Sir Eldred of the Bower and The Bleeding Rock, published by Cadell in 1776. Her passion for drama was nurtured by Garrick, her favourite actor and increasingly her close friend and mentor, who put on her first play, The Inflexible Captive (a reworking of her Metastasio translation), at the Theatre Royal in Bath in April 1775. The encouraging audience notwithstanding, she resisted Garrick's suggestion to transfer the play to the London stage and instead began writing a new play, Percy. This was a tragic tale, set in the borders in the twelfth century, of two lovers whose happiness was doomed by the feud between the Douglas and Northumberland families. Despite its static nature and stilted dialogue Percy met with a rapturous reception at Covent Garden in December 1777. After attending the first and second nights More wrote home all of a flutter at its success, even with the critics. In keeping with her conviction that the theatre could have a powerful moral influence what pleased her most was the audience's reaction: 'One tear is worth a thousand hands [applause], and I had the satisfaction to see even the men shed them in abundance' (W. Roberts, 1.125). She made nearly £600 from the rights (the first edition of nearly 4000 sold out within weeks) and, to her barely concealed delight, her authorship of the season's hit became an open secret. Her celebrity was marked by requests for her to sit for her portrait from Daniel Gardiner (1778), Frances Reynolds (1780), and John Opie (1786; commissioned by Elizabeth Montagu), and she was depicted as Melpomene, the tragic muse, in Richard Samuel's The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain (NPG), which was exhibited in 1779. Reynolds considered her the embodiment of all the muses and fondly christened her Nine, a nickname that was taken up by Garrick. To add to her honours she was in 1782 elected a fellow of the Académie des Arts, Sciences et Belles Lettres in Rouen.

More confirmed her bluestocking credentials by seeking to promote a fellow woman writer, Anna Yearsley, nicknamed the Bristol Milkwoman. On hearing that Yearsley, a destitute labourer's wife with a young family, was a talented poet More expertly exploited her literary and aristocratic connections to canvass subscriptions for a volume of her verses. Published in 1785, Yearsley's Poems, on Several Occasions generated profits of about £600 that More and Elizabeth Montagu placed in a trust to protect Yearsley's earnings from her allegedly feckless husband. More's good intentions were coloured by her paternalist attitudes towards the lower classes, and she expressed her hope that 'all these honours will not turn her head, and indispose her for her humble occupations' (W. Roberts, 1.332). Her pride wounded, Yearsley demanded access to her earnings and acrimoniously accused More and Montagu of stealing her money. The trust was rapidly wound up and, unlike Montagu, who was incensed by Yearsley's 'open and notorious ingratitude' (ibid., 1.387), More refused to trade insults or to respond to Yearsley's increasingly public accusations. The controversy added to More's disillusionment with the literary world. Ever since Garrick's death in January 1779 she had lost her appetite for the glittering London scene, and this was compounded by the theatrical failure in the summer of her third and final play, The Fatal Falsehood, which played for only a few nights. Furthermore she was embarrassed by Hannah Cowley's public accusation that she had plagiarized Cowley's tragedy Albina, a charge that she categorically refuted in the St James' Chronicle. Although a second edition of The Fatal Falsehood appeared in 1780, her publisher Thomas Cadell advised More that she was 'too good a Christian for an author' (W. Roberts, 1.172).

Writing for women

The experience that More had gained as a teacher at her sisters' school provided the material for Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies, published anonymously in 1777. The eight essays dealt with many of the favourite topics of moralists—such as dissipation, conversation, sentimental connections, education, and religion—and also addressed a subject close to More's bluestocking heart: 'Miscellaneous thoughts on wit'. In the introduction she counselled her sex to succeed as women rather than to aspire as men, and throughout the essays she upheld sexual difference, both in terms of natural abilities and of social roles. In declaring that women excelled in tasks that did not demand a strong intellect she argued against her own literary pursuits, for she wrote that women:

may cultivate the roles of imagination, and the valuable fruits of morals and criticism; but the steeps of Parnassus few, comparatively, have attempted to scale with success … The lofty Epic, the pointed Satire, and the more daring and successful flights of the Tragic Muse, seem reserved for the bold adventurers of the other sex.

pp. 6–7

Convinced of the reciprocal relationship between female education and conduct, she called for greater attention to be paid to the intellectual, sentimental, and religious education of girls, and described female conduct as 'one of the principal hinges on which the great machine of human society turns' (p. 19).

By the time when More wrote her definitive work on women's education, twenty-two years later, she was a household name. As a consequence of her celebrity as a woman writer copies of her Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (2 vols., 1799) rushed off the shelves; seven editions were printed in the first year alone. In her review of her contemporary attitudes towards female education she criticized both Jean-Jacques Rousseau's doctrine of sensibility, which turned women into creatures of mere sentiment, and Mary Wollstonecraft's belief in female rights, which encouraged women to adopt an aggressive independence; she proposed that women should be educated neither as Circassians nor as Amazons but as Christians. At the heart of her educational ideas lay the evangelical conviction that children were tainted with mankind's original sin and so should be considered 'as beings who bring into the world a corrupt nature and evil dispositions, which it should be great end of education to rectify' (vol. 1, p. 57). Notwithstanding the apparent pessimism of such beliefs she rejoiced at the situation of her sex in the Britain of the 1790s and called on her fellow women to take advantage, as she had, of these blessings.

The logical progression of More's view that women's education and conduct determined the moral state of a nation was that the education of a female monarch, who was the ultimate moral exemplar, was the most important concern to a moralist. She therefore addressed Princess Charlotte, who was second in line to the throne, in her third work on female education, Hints towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess (2 vols., 1805). Despairing of the immoral conduct of the prince of Wales and fearful of a return of George III's incapacitating illness, More, in common with her fellow evangelicals, viewed the young princess as the saviour of the nation. She outlined a curriculum suitable for a future monarch that was rich in classical and English history, Christian theology, and the nature of royal duties. This highly specific conduct book was not her final word of advice to her sex, for her only novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809), succeeds more as a treatise on female manners and education than as a work of fiction. Coelebs is essentially a parable about marriage that More specifically wrote for 'the subscribers to the circulating library' as an alternative to the romantic novels usually on offer at 'that mart of mischief' (W. Roberts, 3.322). Charles, a young bachelor (hence the title, Coelebs) of independent fortune, meets countless young women who prove themselves to be unsuitable as his wife and, after much guidance from his late father's friend Mr Stanley, an evangelical, about the qualities and character of the ideal wife, he meets and marries the personification of female virtue, Lucilla Stanley, the eldest daughter of his mentor. Despite poor reviews Coelebs was More's most successful work to date and sold 'ten large impressions in the first six months', ample compensation, as she commented, for the adverse critical reception.

'Saint Hannah'

Throughout her life More steadfastly adhered to the orthodox trinitarian doctrines and episcopalian structure of the Church of England, yet in the 1780s her faith was both energized and transformed by evangelicalism. Accustomed to the Christian observance of her family circle in Bristol and of her favourite friends in London, she viewed with increasing dismay the irreligion of the fashionable world. On an early visit to London she was reprimanded by one of her oldest Christian mentors, Stonhouse, for dining out on a Sunday, and thereafter she consciously tried to avoid social situations that compromised her faith. Furthermore she sought out new acquaintances who shared her religious outlook and who became close friends and correspondents, such as the philanthropical Countess Spencer, the educational author Sarah Trimmer, and John Newton, rector of St Mary Woolnoth. Newton's Cardiphonia, or, The Utterance of the Heart (1780) had deeply impressed her—'it is full of vital, experimental religion' (W. Roberts, 1.189)—and he became perhaps her most important spiritual counsellor. Together with her influential backers in the Anglican hierarchy, namely Robert Lowth, Josiah Tucker, George Horne, and Beilby Porteus, these friends urged her to use her talents and connections to further two evangelically inspired campaigns: abolition of slavery and reformation of manners. Although she spent less time in London and more at her retreat at Cowslip Green, Somerset, where she had built a cottage in 1784, the next decade saw her acquire a national reputation.

In 1776 More had met Charles and Margaret Middleton, whose home at Teston, Kent, became the headquarters of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the late 1780s. More's correspondence documents how she and her fellow abolitionists canvassed MPs by letter and in person. At one dinner party in April 1789 she was showing the company Thomas Clarkson's cross-section of a slave ship when she was interrupted by the arrival of John Tarleton, a leading Liverpool slave trader and opponent of the bill to regulate the trade; fearing a row, she 'popped the book out of sight, snapped the string of my eloquence, and was mute at once' (W. Roberts, 2.152). Newton's eye-witness accounts of the inhumanities of the west African slave trade doubtless inspired her poetical contribution to the campaign, Slavery, which she wrote in great haste in January 1788 to maximize publicity for William Wilberforce's bill. In the poem she declared that the nation was shamed and compromised by its participation in the slave trade and challenged her countrymen and -women to abandon such hypocrisy:

Shall Britain, where the soul of Freedom reignsForge chains for others she herself disdains?

ll. 251–2Wilberforce, whom she met in autumn 1787, became a firm friend and a valued correspondent. More continued to champion the cause throughout the long struggle to secure parliamentary abolition of both the trade and slavery itself; she subscribed to the African Institution, which replaced the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, and in the later 1820s she was nominated to the committee of the Female Anti-Slavery Society at Clifton in Bristol.

More's disenchantment with the prevailing manners and morals of London society motivated her repeated attempts to reform the behaviour and beliefs of the fashionable and aristocratic world. The respect and reputation in élite circles that she had earned in the 1770s could be exploited to good effect. This was well understood by John Wesley, who remarked: 'Tell her to live in the world; there is the sphere of her usefulness' (Jones, Hannah More, 103), for unlike the clergy she could guarantee a favourable hearing in the drawing-rooms of the upper classes. She endeavoured to set an example in her personal conduct by keeping the sabbath, avoiding card parties, and introducing religious topics and sentiments into general conversation. In addition she followed Bishop Horne's advice to write 'for the benefit of the great and the gay' (W. Roberts, 2.37), and in 1788 published anonymously Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society. It proved phenomenally popular: the second edition sold out in six days, the third in four hours, and an eighth edition appeared in 1790. In admonishing the upper classes More made clear her belief in a hierarchical and deferential society and argued that a reformation of manners could be achieved only if the leaders of society reformed themselves. She renewed her mission to the great in An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790), which went to a fifth edition. Despite their success, symbolized by their favourable reception at court, these two works were unpalatable reading in some quarters; Hester Thrale reported that the effigy of the killjoy More was burnt by pupils at Westminster School. Newton's assurance to her in September 1791 that 'your sex and your character afford you a peculiar protection' (ibid., 272) proved to be only half true: by taking full advantage of the moral authority accorded to her sex More was criticized for her unfeminine behaviour in speaking out so publicly. Depressed and demoralized by the political situation at home and abroad in the 1790s, she became less convinced that her exhortations to the great were having any effect. In 1795 she wrote to a friend, 'I think I have done with the aristocracy', and concentrated instead on her duties to 'her poor barbarians' (ibid., 455).


More's 'poor barbarians' were the parishioners of several parishes in the Mendips in Somerset, for whom she was attempting to provide educational and religious succour. In August 1789 Wilberforce stayed with her at Cowslip Green, and on visiting the nearby village of Cheddar he and More were appalled to find 'incredible multitudes of poor, plunged in an excess of vice, poverty, and ignorance beyond what one would suppose possible in a civilized and Christian country' (W. Roberts, 2.178). Encouraged by Wilberforce, More and her sisters resolved on a plan to alleviate their ignorance and hardship by setting up schools where the children of the poor would be taught to read. Following the pattern set by the charity schools of Robert Raikes and Sarah Trimmer, Hannah and Martha More rented a house at Cheddar and engaged teachers to instruct the children in reading the Bible and the catechism. More was adamant that the poor should not be taught writing, as it would encourage them to be dissatisfied with their lowly situation; over twenty years later she strongly criticized the National Society for teaching their school pupils the three Rs.

The school at Cheddar quickly attracted 300 pupils, and the sisters proceeded to set up a second school, at Shipham; within a decade they were running twelve schools scattered across the Mendips. In keeping with their objective 'to train up the lower classes to habits of industry and virtue' the sisters also started evening classes for adults, weekday classes for girls to learn how to sew, knit, and spin, and a number of women's friendly societies, where the virtues of cleanliness, decency, and Christian behaviour were inculcated. From 1791 annual picnics were organized for the schools and societies, rewards for good conduct were handed out, and incentives of gingerbread or 1d. were offered to the children for regular attendance at church. From May to December, Hannah and Martha More visited and inspected the schools in turn each Sunday, but the work of maintaining them occupied most of their energies during the week. More's four sisters retired from the boarding-school at Christmas 1789, handing over the business to Selina Mills, the future wife of Zachary Macaulay, and thereafter divided their time between Cowslip Green and Bath, where they had bought a house in Great Pulteney Street; all five sisters moved into a large house, Barley Wood, at Wrington, Somerset, in 1801.

More received warm praise for her energetic philanthropy from her evangelical friends, and even Horace Walpole paid tribute to his friend's extraordinary achievements. At the same time as he teased her for her 'cruelty of making the poor spend so much time in reading books, and depriving them of their pleasures on Sundays' he wrote:

How I admire the activity of your zeal and perseverance! Should a new church ever be built, I hope in a side chapel there will be an altar dedicated to Saint Hannah, Virgin and Martyr; and that your pen, worn to the bone, will be enclosed in a golden reliquaire, and preserved on the shrine.

Walpole, Corr., 31.398

In setting up her charity schools More encountered considerable hostility from local farmers and landowners, who feared that schooling would make their labourers 'lazy and useless' (W. Roberts, 2.207); she had to draw on all her canvassing skills to persuade them to support the venture. The most public opposition, however, came from several of the local clergy, who suspected, quite correctly, that her philanthropy called into question their pastoral care; by contrast the local bishop, Dr Charles Moss, gave her steadfast support throughout. She was shocked to discover the extent of clerical absenteeism: there was no resident curate in any of the thirteen neighbouring parishes, and in Cheddar one clergyman 'rode over, three miles from Wells, to preach once a Sunday, but no weekly duty was done, or sick persons visited; and children were often buried without any formal funeral service' (ibid., 2.301). Determined not to ignore 'so wide-spread an evil' on her doorstep, she introduced sermons often 'of the most awakening sort' and scriptural readings into the schools and evening classes, which attracted accusations of Methodism (ibid., 2.213, 303). Whereas some locals signalled their dislike of her methodistical measures by breaking a few windows in the schools, local clergymen vented their disapproval in a full-blown religious controversy of national significance: the Blagdon controversy of 1800–03. In 1800 Thomas Bere, curate of Blagdon, published a stinging attack on More's school at Blagdon, accusing the schoolmaster of holding Methodist meetings in the evenings, encouraging extempore prayer, and undermining the authority of the ordained clergy. High-church clerics such as Charles Daubeny seized the opportunity to denounce More for fostering schism, Methodism, and Jacobinism at her schools, and two local clergymen—Edward Spencer of Wells, and William Shaw, rector of Chelvey (using the pseudonym of the Revd Sir Archibald Macsarcasm)—wrote scurrilous attacks on the 'She-Bishop'. Angry at the accusation that she was endangering the Church of England and anxious to clear herself, More wrote a long self-justificatory letter in 1802 to the new bishop of Bath and Wells, Dr Richard Beadon, who came to her defence. However, mauled by the abuse and suffering worsening health, she backed down and closed Blagdon School, primarily in order to protect the reputation of her other schools. 'Battered, hacked, scalped, tomahawked' (Jones, Hannah More, 185), she may have won a moral victory over the Blagdon affair but her character, charitable works, and faith were vilified on a scale perhaps unprecedented for a woman; as she wrote to Beadon, 'my conduct' has been attacked 'with a wantonness of cruelty which, in civilized places, few persons, especially of my sex, have been called to suffer' (W. Roberts, 3.123).

'Bishop in petticoats'

Hannah More's role as moral guardian of the nation became increasingly politicized as a consequence of the French Revolution. Horrified as much by the atheism as by the political radicalism of the revolutionaries, she denounced their attack on revealed religion in her Remarks on the speech of M. Dupont, made in the National Convention of France, on the subjects of religion and public education (1793), having waited in vain 'for our bishops and clergy to take some notice of them' (W. Roberts, 3.360). Tellingly Bishop Porteus insisted that she add her name to the publication in order to maximize its public impact; three editions appeared that year. Porteus also encouraged her to write the tracts for which she is best-known. To counter the revolutionary politics circulating in cheap editions of Tom Paine's Rights of Man she 'scribbled' Village politics: addressed to all the mechanics, journeymen, and day labourers, in Great Britain (1792) by 'Will Chip, a country carpenter', in which Paine's political ideals are ridiculed in a dialogue between a blacksmith and a mason. She was hesitant about writing such an overtly political work, yet the threat of revolution and war impelled her to write dozens of similarly loyalist, moral, and Christian tales specifically for the lower classes that were published anonymously as Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–8). A total of 114 tracts, including some by Sarah and Martha More, were sold for ½d. or 1d. every month from 1795 to 1798, funded by subscriptions, and distributed by booksellers and pedlars across the country; Hannah wrote forty-nine tracts and masterminded the whole operation. Sales were enormous: within four months 700,000 had been sold, within a year over 2 million. They were mainly bought by the middling and upper classes to distribute to the poor but they also found a ready market in the United States, and Bishop Porteus sent large quantities to Sierra Leone and the West Indies. Though their influence on their intended audience cannot be measured the Cheap Repository Tracts certainly 'established themselves as the safe reading' (Jones, Hannah More, 145) of the poor and paved the way for the work of the Religious Tract Society, founded in 1799.

During the final years of the Napoleonic wars More published three works that showed a more reflective side to her religious writing. Practical Piety, or, The Influence of the Religion of the Heart on the Conduct of the Life (1811; 12th edn, 1821) and Christian Morals (2 vols., 1813) pleaded the cause of a Christian life to the middle and upper classes, a familiar message but one that still appealed to the public, for both books were repeatedly reprinted. The death of her eldest sister, Mary, on 18 April 1813, led More to seek spiritual consolation by immersing herself in scripture; she indulged herself by writing the biographical Essay on the Character and Practical Writings of St Paul (1815), which she believed would be her last work. She predicted that her attempt at such a major biblical subject would be considered presumptuous and anticipated criticism from 'two classes of enemies, the very high Calvinists, and what is called the very high Church party' (W. Roberts, 3.430). Since the 1780s More's theological views had been those of the evangelical party, as demonstrated by her involvement with the Clapham Sect, a group of Anglican evangelicals centred on Battersea Rise, the Clapham home of the banker Henry Thornton, yet she continued to deplore the religious factions that divided both the Church of England and the Christian church in general. Despite her hostility towards Calvinists and Methodists, however, her reading and acquaintance were far from confined to the established church, and her evangelical piety aligned her with dissent as much as with Anglicanism.

More willingly re-entered the realm of public controversy in 1817, once again to do battle with home-grown political and religious radicalism. The economic hardships suffered by the poor in the years following the peace of 1815 had stimulated a new appetite for radical literature, typified by the 'twopenny trash' of William Cobbett's Political Register. More was urged by her evangelical friends in government to contribute to The Anti-Cobbett, or, The Weekly Patriotic Register in 1817, to recast her old tracts (Village Politics was reprinted as Village Disputants), and to compose new ones, including The Loyal Subject's Political Creed, thereby earning Cobbett's derisive nickname of the ‘old bishop in petticoats’. In her final didactic work, Moral Sketches of Prevailing Opinions and Manners, Foreign and Domestic (1819), she was at her most conservative and patriotic in championing the politics, religion, and manners of Britain in contrast with those of France, and indeed with the rest of Europe.

Final years, death, and reputation

The last twenty years of More's life were dominated by ill health and loss. She nursed her beloved sisters through successive illnesses and provided unstinting spiritual comfort as they approached their deaths. Left alone at Barley Wood following Martha's death, on 14 September 1819, she succumbed to a series of serious illnesses through the following decade. During her phases of good health she was rarely without company, for her friends and fans flocked to visit and entertain her to such an extent that she had to insist on limiting their visits to certain days in the week. Friends were the chief pleasure of her life since she found herself deeply out of sympathy with the politics and literature of the time. She had recognized that she had become more reactionary in her old age as early as 1820, when she wrote, 'These turbulent times make one sad. I am sick of that liberty which I used so to prize' (W. Roberts, 4.160). Marianne Thornton recalled how More humorously named her two cats Passive Obedience and Non-resistance, and More proved a determined opponent of both Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. Plagued by her unmanageable servants and confined to her room by growing infirmity, she was persuaded to leave Barley Wood in 1828 and move to Clifton, where she could be cared for by her friends, and where she died, aged eighty-eight, on 7 September 1833. Her mind wandered in the weeks before her death, yet she continued to profess her absolute trust in Christ, her redeemer; she spoke for the last time, calling out 'JOY!', on the day before she died. On 13 September she was buried next to her sisters in the graveyard of All Saints' at Wrington. She left about £30,000, most of which she bequeathed to charities and religious societies. In his funeral sermon her curate and subsequent biographer Henry Thompson quoted from Coelebs to describe her guiding principle in life: 'If it be absurd to expect perfection, it is not unreasonable to expect consistency' (H. Thompson, The Christian an Example, 1833, 7).

The life and works of Hannah More were praised in countless obituaries and lauded at length in William Roberts's Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs Hannah More (4 vols., 1834). Roberts's pompous and reverential tone led W. H. Prescott to comment that 'Hannah More has been done to death by her friend Roberts' (Jones, Hannah More, 229). A string of nineteenth-century biographies, including one by the high-churchwoman Charlotte M. Yonge, kept her name alive, but her high reputation was gradually worn away by accusations of vanity, worldliness, and religious hypocrisy. Furthermore her arch-conservative and paternalist views on education, the poor, and women's role in society quickly dated as the political tide turned against her, and have ensured that she remained an unfashionable subject of study for much of the twentieth century. The literary merit of her prose and verse works has been dismissed, even by her most thorough biographer to date, M. G. Jones, who described their 'literary value' as 'negligible' (Jones, Hannah More, x), and Norma Clarke has rightly commented that Anna Yearsley's poetry has been more studied in recent years than More's own. However, historical re-evaluation in the 1990s of her political and religious writings has demonstrated that More 'cannot be seen as merely the reactionary antithesis of Mary Wollstonecraft' (Stott, Patriotism and providence, 39), and, long taken for granted, she is being recognized as a unique public figure in late Georgian Britain.

More's overt display of her evangelical faith has led to her being characterized as smug and self-righteous, yet, as her spiritual diary reveals, she was acutely conscious of her unworthiness before God. She was ever thankful for her conversion and reacted with a shudder to the death of the irreligious John Wilkes:

awful event! talents how abused! Lord, who hath made me to differ; but for thy grace, I might have blasphemed thee like him. In early youth I read Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau &c. I am a monument of mercy, not to have made a shipwreck of my faith.

W. Roberts, 3.56

Quite disingenuously she often commented that she took little account of public opinion; in 1795 she wrote, 'I have not myself any vain curiosity to know what people at large think of me; but if there is any one over whom their good opinion may give me useful influence, I think it of importance' (ibid., 2.454). In fact she was shrewdly aware of the power that she had acquired through her phenomenally popular works, even though she perpetually referred to herself as a weak instrument of God. 'Usefulness'—the justification of all her writing and her philanthropy—allowed her to break the boundaries of gender and class and to assume a moral, religious, and political authority that was unprecedented for a middle-class woman of the period. The same motivation to further the work of the Lord made her one of the most prolific British woman writers before the Victorian age, for her collected works run to eleven volumes. It also drove her to broadcast her views to the country when asked by her publisher to write a tribute to the late George III, even though she was struck down by illness. On her sickbed she secretly 'began to scribble', despite 'a high fever, with my pulse above a hundred, without having formed one idea', and by the following day had sent fourteen pages to Cadell. 'I got well scolded, but I loved the king, and was carried through by a sort of affectionate impulse; so it stands as a preface to the seventh edition of her Moral Sketches' (ibid., 4.154). Such devotion to her public duty as a Christian writer, mixed with a due sense of her own importance, characterized the life and mission of Hannah More.


  • W. Roberts, Memoirs of the life and correspondence of Hannah More, 3rd edn, 4 vols. (1835)
  • M. G. Jones, Hannah More (1952)
  • A. Stott, Hannah More: the first Victorian (2003)
  • H. Thompson, Life of Hannah More with notices of her sisters (1838)
  • Mendip annals, or, A narrative of the charitable labours of Hannah and Martha More in their neighbourhood, ed. A. Roberts (1859)
  • Letters of Hannah More to Zachary Macaulay, ed. A. Roberts (1860)
  • G. H. Spinney, ‘Cheap repository tracts: Hazard and Marshall edition’, The Library, ser. 4, 20 (1939), 295–340
  • A. Stott, ‘Patriotism and providence: the politics of Hannah More’, in K. Gleadle and S. Richardson, Women in British politics, 1760–1860: the power of the petticoat (2000), 39–55
  • A. Stott, ‘Hannah More and the Blagdon controversy, 1799–1802’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 51 (2000), 319–46
  • S. Skedd, ‘The education of women in Hanoverian Britain, c.1760–1820’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1997
  • M. A. Hopkins, Hannah More and her circle (1947)
  • S. Pederson, ‘Hannah More meets Simple Simon: tracts, chapbooks and popular culture in late eighteenth-century England’, Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), 84–113
  • S. Harcstark Myers, The bluestocking circle: women, friendship, and the life of the mind in eighteenth-century England (1990)
  • N. Clarke, Dr Johnson's women (2000)
  • R. Hole, introduction, in Selected writings of Hannah More, ed. R. Hole (1996)
  • M. G. Jones, The charity school movement (1964)
  • E. Kowaleski-Wallace, Their fathers' daughters: Hannah More, Maria Edgeworth, and patriarchal complicity (1991)
  • C. Midgley, Women against slavery: the British campaigns, 1780–1870 (1992)
  • will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1822, fols. 366r–369v


  • BL, letters to C. Hoare, RP 140 [copies]
  • BL, letters to Frances Reynolds, RP 186 [copies]
  • BL, corresp., mainly with Lady Olivia Sparrow, Egerton MS 1965
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Dr Carrick
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Charles Ogilvie
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with William Wilberforce
  • Christ Church Oxf., archives, letters to Cadell and Davies
  • CKS, letters to the bishop of Lincoln
  • CUL, corresp. with Thornton family
  • CUL, letters to Marianne Thornton
  • Hunt. L., letters to Zachary Macaulay
  • Hunt. L., letters to Elizabeth Montagu
  • NRA, priv. coll., corresp. with Maria, duchess of Gloucester, and Princess Sophia of Gloucester
  • NRA, priv. coll., corresp. with Felicia Horne
  • St Deiniol's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, letters to Anne Gladstone
  • V&A NAL, letters to David Garrick


  • R. Samuel, group portrait, oils, 1778 (Portraits in the characters of the muses in the Temple of Apollo), NPG
  • J. Opie, portrait, 1786, Girton Cam. [see illus.]
  • pencil drawing, 1805, NPG
  • E. Scriven, stipple, pubd 1814 (after J. Slater), BM, NPG
  • H. W. Pickersgill, oils, exh. 1822, NPG
  • W. H. Worthington, line engraving, pubd 1824 (after H. W. Pickersgill), NPG
  • A. Edouart, silhouette, 1827, NPG
  • A. Edouart, silhouette, 1831, Scot. NPG
  • J. Godby, stipple (after E. Bird), BM, NPG; repro. in Contemporary portraits (1809)
  • J. Heath, stipple and line engraving (after J. Opie), BM; repro. in The works of Horatio Walpole, 5 vols. (1798)
  • J. Jackson, pencil drawing, BM
  • H. Raeburn, oils (of More?), Louvre, Paris
  • F. Reynolds, oils, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
  • E. Scriven, stipple (after F. Reynolds), NPG

Wealth at Death

approximately £30,000

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Huntington Library, San Marino, California
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Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
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British Museum, London
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