1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hannah More

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 103 (October 1833) 272-75.



Sept. 7. At her residence in Windsor-terrace, Clifton, in the 88th year of her age, Mrs. Hannah More.

This deservedly celebrated lady was born in 1744, at Stapleton in Gloucestershire. She was one of the five daughters of a schoolmaster, who at the time of her birth kept the charity school at the Fishponds, Stapleton, and afterwards had a private school at Bristol. His means were not sufficiently ample to give his children many of the advantages of education; but this deficiency was supplied by their own talents and perseverance; and the literary abilities of Hannah having been made known to some of the neighhouring gentry, a subscription was formed for establishing her and her sisters in a school of their own.

Her first publication, The Search after Happiness, a pastoral drama, was written when the authoress was eighteen years of age, although not published until 1773, when it was dedicated to Mrs. Gwatkin, of Cornwall, through whose means the Misses More had obtained many pupils from that county and Devonshire. Another of their warmest friends was the Rev. Sir James Stonhouse, Bart. who was a very popular preacher at Bath Abbey church. The establishment proved eminently successful, and for a long series of years stood foremost among the female schools in the West of England.

Miss More's next production was The Inflexible Captive, a Tragedy, printed in 8vo, 1774. It was founded on the story of Regulus, and was acted one night at Both. In the same year she published"Sir Eldred of the Bower, and the Bleeding Rock, two Poetical Tales.

Through the means of Sir James Stonhouse, she was now introduced to Mr. Garrick, and her intimacy is marked by an Ode to Dragon, Mr. Garrick's house dog, which was printed in 4to, 1777. Her Tragedy of Percy, which was her next and best approved dramatic work, was brought forward at Covent Garden. In an advertisement to the printed copies, published in 1778, the authoress acknowledged that some of its early parts were suggested by the French drama of Raoul de Coney.

Her last Tragedy, The Fatal Falsehood, was produced in 1779, but acted for only three nights at Covent Garden. Shortly after, her opinions on public theatres underwent a change; and, as she has herself stated in the preface to the third volume of her works, "she did not consider the stage, in its present state, as becoming the appearance or countenance of a Christian; on which account she thought proper to renounce her dramatic productions, in any other light than as mere poems." It may be added, that her wishes have been fulfilled, for whilst the success of her acted plays was very limited, few dramatic writers have been more successful in obtaining readers; her Sacred Dramas, which were first published in 1782 (with Sensibility, a Poetical Epistle), having always obtained a numerous sale, particularly as a book for schools. The titles of these dramas are Moses in the Bulrushes, David and Goliah, Belshazzar, and Daniel.

In 1785 Miss More wrote a Biographical Preface to the Poems of Ann Yearsley, the Milkwoman, a person by whom she was subsequently treated with singular ingratitude, and which led to some bitter satirical attacks; a collection of the controversy on which would form an octavo volume. In 1786 she published Florio, a tale for fine gentlemen and fine ladies; and The Bas Bleu, or Conversation, two Poems; and in 1786, Slavery, a poem.

Her first prose publication was Thoughts on the importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society, printed in 1788; and followed in 1791 by her Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World, both of which attracted considerable attention.

About the same time she wrote a series of cheap Tales for the Common People, one of the most popular of which was The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain. In 1793 she published Village Politics in 12mo; and after retiring about this period from the school at Bristol to a residence at Mendip, she actively employed herself in establishing schools in that rude mining district. In 1793 she also published, Remarks on the Speech of M. du Pont in the National Convention, on Religion and Education. In 1799 appeared her Strictures on the modern system of Female Education; a work which so greatly confirmed her already high character as a preceptress, that, when the education of the Princess Charlotte of Wales became a subject of serious attention, her advice and assistance was requested by Queen Charlotte. It is said that Bishop Porteus strenuously wished that the Princess's education should be entrusted to Mrs. More; but that, when the latter required that the entire direction of her Royal Highness's studies should be given to her charge, this was thought by those in power to be too great a confidence. They were willing to engage her in a subordinate capacity; but this she declined, and so the negociation ended. Her ideas on the subject were afterwards given to the world under the title of Hints towards forming the Character of a young Princess, two vols. 8vo, 1805.

In 1809 appeared, in two volumes octavo, her Coelebs in search of a Wife; comprehending, Observations on Domestic Habits and Manners, Religion and Morals; and, although among her numerous works several may be more valuable, none was more popular. The title was attractive, and the subject captivating, especially to young persons; and it was seasoned throughout with a happy vein of sarcasm, which enlivened the conveyance of its graver morals. There were no less than ten editions in the course of one year.

Her subsequent productions were: Practical. Piety; or the influence of the Religion of the heart on the conduct of Life, two vols. 1811; Christian Morals, two vols. 1812; Essay on the Character and Writings of St. Paul, two vols. 1815; and, Moral Sketches of prevailing Opinions and Manners, Foreign and Domestic, with reflections on Prayer. The collection of her Works is comprised in eleven volumes octavo.

About 18— Mrs. More took up her residence at Barley Wood in the parish of Wrington, Somersetshire, a spot which she greatly embellished by her taste. When, however, she had for many years been confined to her room, she at length determined to remove to Clifton, and about 1828 sold Barley Wood. The following letter, which was first published by Mr. Jerdan in Fisher's National Portrait Gallery, was written by a visitant of Barley Wood during the winter before Mrs. More quitted it:

"Before we came in sight of the little town of Wrington, we entered an avenue thickly bordered with luxuriant evergreens, which led directly to the cottage of Barley Wood. As we drew nearer to the dwelling, a thick hedge of roses, jessamine, woodbine, and clematis, fringed the smooth and sloping lawn on one side; on the other, laurel and laurestinus were in fall and beautiful verdure: from the shrubbery, the ground ascends, and is well wooded by flowing larch, dark cypress, spreading chesnut, and some lordly forest trees. Amid this melange, rustic seats and temples occasionally peep forth; and two monuments are particularly conspicuous — the one to the memory of Porteus, the other to the memory of Locke. As the latter was an inhabitant of Wrington, Hannah More, with her usual good taste, erected the memorial within sight of his native village.

"I was much struck by the air of affectionate kindness with which the old lady welcomed me to Barley Wood; there was something of courtliness about it, at the same time the courtliness of the vielle cour, which one reads of, but so seldom meets. Her dress was of light green Venetian silk; a yellow, richly embroidered crape shawl enveloped her shoulders; and a pretty net cap, tied under her chin with white satin riband, completed the costume. Her figure is singularly petite, but to have any idea of the expression of her countenance, you must imagine the small withered face of a woman in her 87th year; and, imagine also (shaded, but not obscured, by long and perfectly white eye-lashes) eyes dark, brilliant, and penetrating; sparkling from object to object, with all the fire and energy of youth, and smiling welcome on all around.

"When I first entered the room, Lady S— and her family were there; they soon prepared to depart, but the youngest boy, a fine little fellow of six, looked anxiously in Mrs. More's face, after she had kissed him, and his mamma said, 'You will not forget Mrs. Hannah, my dear, — he shook his head. 'Do not forget me, my dear child,' said the kind old lady, assuming a playful manner — but they say your sex is naturally capricious; there, I will give you another kiss, keep it for my sake, and when you are a man, remember Hannah More.' 'I will,' he replied, 'remember that you loved children.' It was a beautiful compliment.

"After a good deal of conversation on indifferent topics, she commenced show us her curiosities, which are numerous and peculiar: gods, given up by the South Sea Islanders to our missionaries — fragments of Oriental manuscripts — a choice but not numerous, collection of books: chiefly in Italian, English, and French (for she speaks all those languages with equal fluency), and, above all, a large collection of autographs, containing her correspondence with Garrick, Johnson, Burke, Reynolds, Porteus; and manuscripts also in the handwriting of Lord Chesterfield, Chatterton, Addison, Swift, Atterbury, Sir R. Steele, &c. &c.: one that particularly interested me, was a letter from the little Prince Edward to our Queen Elizabeth, written in French.

"'I will now,' she said, 'show you some monuments of the days of in wickedness;' and she produced a play-bill, where 'Miss More's New Tragedy of Percy' was announced, exactly fifty-two years ago! She looked to me, at that moment, as a resurrection from the dead — more particularly when she added, 'Johnson, Burke, Garrick, Reynolds Porteus — all — all the associates of my youth, are gone; nor is there one amongst them, whom I delight in praising more than David Garrick. In his house I made my entrance into life; and a better conducted house I never saw. I never could agree in the latter part of the sentiment,

On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting,

It was only that when he was off he was acting;

and only regret, that this species of acting is not more practised by the world at large. I have never been to a play since his death — I could not bear it.' She told me that it was nine years since she was down stairs; 'but I am like Alexander Selkirk,' she added, laughing, 'monarch of all I survey — every tree on this little domain was planted by my own hands, or under my special direction.' I bade her adieu with regret; for I never had the good fortune to meet with so perfect a relic of a well-spent life. The spirit within was as warm and cheerful as if the blood of eighteen, instead of eighty, circulated in her veins. She is, indeed, a woman who has lived to good purpose."

Few persons have enjoyed a higher degree of public esteem and veneration than Mrs. Hannah More. Early in life she attracted general notice by a brilliant display of literary talent, and was honoured with the intimate acquaintance of many highly eminent individuals, who equally appreciated her amiable qualities and her superior intellect. But, under a deep conviction that to live to the glory of God, and to the good of our fellow-creatures, is the great object of human existence, and the only one which can bring peace at the last she quitted in the prime of her days the bright circles of fashion and literature, and devoted herself to a life of active Christian benevolence, and to the composition of various works, having for their object the religious improvement of mankind. Her practical conduct beautifully exemplified the moral energy of her Christian principles. She was the delight of a widely extended sphere of friends, whom she charmed by her mental powers, edified by her example, and knit closely to her in affection by the warmth and constancy of her friendship. She lived and walked in an atmosphere of love, and it was her delight to do good; the poor for many miles round her felt the influence of her unceasing benevolence, and her numerous schools attested her zeal for the improvement and edification of the rising generation. In these works of faith and charity she was aided for a long course of years by the concurring efforts of four sisters who lived with her, who regarded her with mingled feelings of admiration and affection, and towards whom her conduct was ever marked by the kindest and most endearing consideration. Mrs. Hannah More's last illness was accompanied by feverish delirium; but the blessed influence of Christian habits was strikingly exemplified, even under the decay of extreme old age and its attendant consequences. When a gleam of reason occasionally returned, she broke forth into earnest prayer and devout ejaculation, and invariably met the affectionate attentions of the friends who sedulously watched over her sick-bed, by unceasing and most expressive returns of grateful love. In one of these lucid intervals, she exclaimed, "I not only believe, but I KNOW, that my Redeemer liveth." Sometimes she said, "I am going home," and called upon her favourite sister, Patty, to receive her, "Patty, Patty, I am coming."

The remains of Mrs. Hannah More were removed for interment with those of her sisters, in Wrington church-yard. She wished her funeral should be devoid of public paraphernalia; but in its stead suits of mourning to be given to 15 poor old men of her acquaintance. On passing through Bristol all the bells of the churches tolled; at the entrance of her native parish the scene was imposing. About a mile from Wrington all the gentlemen of the neighbourbood met the procession, and for the last half mile the road on either aide was lined with villagers, chiefly in black, scarcely one without a riband. At the entrance of the village, charity children, amounting to more than 200, with a great number of the clergy in their gowns, headed the procession. Her remains lie near the grave of Locke.

Mrs. More is said to have realized upwards of 30,000 by her writings. Her charitable bequests amount to upwards of 10,000 and are as follow: To the Bristol Infirmary, 1,000 — Anti-Slavery Society, 500 — London Poor Pious Clergy, 500. — London Clerical Education Society, 100 — Moravian Missionary Society, 200; to be partly applied towards the schools or stations at Greenckloof, Gnadenthal, and other Moravian Settlements at the Cape of Good Hope. — Welch College, 400 — Bristol Clerical Education Society, 100 — Hibernian Society, 200 — Reformation Society, 200 — Irish Religious Tract and Book Society, and Irish Scripture Readers' Society 150 each — Burman Mission, and Society for the Conversion of the Jews, 200 each. — For Printing the Scriptures at Serampore, to the Baptist Missionary Society, London Seaman's Bible Society, British Seaman's Bible Society, the Liverpool Seaman's Bible Society, London Missionary Society, and Society for Printing the Hebrew Scriptures, 100 each. — To the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1000. All the foregoing legacies are 3 per Cent. Consols; the following are in sterling money: To the Church Missionary Society, 1,000; 300 of which to be applied towards the Mission among the Syrian Christians at Travancore, near Madras. — To the Society for Educating Clergymen's Daughters, by the Rev. Carus Wilson, 200. — For the Diocese of Ohio, 200 — To the Trustees of the New Church at Mangotsfield, 150 — To and for the purposes, Societies, and Institutions, aftermentioned, viz. For the Bristol Strangers' Friend Society, Bristol Society for the Relief of Small Debtors, Bristol Penitentiary, Bristol Orphan Asylum, Philosophical Institution, London Strangers' Friend Society, Commissioners of Foreign Missions in America, School at Ceylon called Barley Wood, Newfoundland Schools, Distressed Vaudois, Clifton Dispensary, Bristol District for Visiting the Poor, Irish Society, and Sailors' Horne Society, 100 each. — To the purposes, societies, and institutions following, viz.: Christian Knowledge Society, Bristol Misericordia Society, Bristol Samaritan Society, Bristol Temple Infant School, Prayer-Book and Homily Society, London Lock Hospital, London Refuge for the Destitute, Gaelic School, Society for Female Schools in India, Keynsham School, Cheddar School, for Books for Ohio, Bristol and Clifton Female Anti-Slavery Society, Clifton Lying-in Charity, Clifton Infant School, Clifton National, School, Clifton Female Hibernian Society, Temple Poor, and for pews in Temple Church, 504 each. — To the Bristol Harmonia and Edinburgh Sabbath Schools, 19 guineas each. — Shipham Female Club, 50 — Cheddar Female Club, 19 guineas. — Poor Printers' Fund, 19 guineas. — For the Shipham Poor 50 — To the Ministers of Wrington and Cheddar, for their respective Poor, 19 guineas each. — Minister of Nailsea, for the Poor, 5 — To my Old Pensioners at Wrington, 1 each — To the Kildare-place School Society, Dublin, 100 sterling, and 200 three per cent. — The whole of her residuary estate, which it is expected will amount to a considerable sum, to the New Church, in the Out-parish of St. Philip, Bristol.

There are upwards of 200 legacies in the will, amounting to 27,500. The Probate has been taken at under 30.000.