Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More. By William Roberts, Esq. 4 vols. London, 1834.
Had it been possible for any literator, with Mrs. Hannah More's correspondence at his command, to produce an uninteresting work under the title which we have transcribed, we are obliged to confess our belief that the task must have been accomplished by Mr. Roberts. The regard with which Mrs. More honoured him would of itself be a sufficient pledge for the purity of his intentions; and we willingly acknowledge that, in his own part of this bulky book, he has occasionally expressed amiable feelings. But the selection of him for this undertaking appears, on the whole, to have been about as unfortunate as any that could have been thought of. He writes with the facility of a practised turner of periods, but with the confusion and verbosity of one whose brain has been less exercised than his hand. He sees, and therefore describes, few things clearly; nor has he any notion what the things are concerning the history, manners, and deportment of such a person as Hannah More, that her biographer ought to have made it his business to describe. His method of compiling and arranging is so clumsy, that if any one can extract from this book a distinct notion even of the principal events and dates in her life, he must have bestowed more attention on the materials of which it is composed than the editor himself has thought fit to do. If year and month be not written at the top of the sheet, Mr. Roberts never even seems to think of trying to make out the date from the contents: thus, for example, he states it as doubtful whether Hannah's first visit to London was in 1773 or 1774, though a letter printed in vol. i. p. 48, distinctly settles the point in favour of the latter year; while he gives another dateless letter at p. 36, as the first she wrote from London, though that letter is full of the praises of the Journey to the Hebrides, which was not published until January, 1775. We shall not waste space in exposing more of his blunders of this class, though the book swarms with them. A more serious and equally pervading mischief is, that Mr. Roberts takes part with nothing but the peculiar views and prejudices of the religious sect, if it may be so called, to which Mrs. Hannah More, in the later years of her life, lent the distinction of her too exclusive favour. All the earlier, brighter, and we take leave to say by no means the least honourable pages of her history, have accordingly but little interest his eyes; he seems to be throughout in the vein of apologising for her ever having been on terms of intimacy with anybody out of his own little pale; forgetting that her place within that circle was, in no trivial degree, the fruit of the eminence which she had previously attained to without it; unconscious that her power to serve the cause which she ultimately adopted would have been comparatively nothing, had the range of her experience been as limited as that of her biographer's sympathy.
Authoresses, as we had occasion not long ago to show in a tabular form, are, generally speaking, a long-lived race; and Mrs. More offers no exception to the rule. She died September 7th, 1833, in the 89th year of her age; having been born in 1745, at Stapleton, in Gloucestershire, where her father kept a small school. One of Mr. Roberts's correspondents, however, is exceedingly anxious, more so than we should have expected in this quarter, to show that Hannah was come of a gentle race in Norfolk; and we read that her father, Jacob More, had originally been designed for the church, but laid aside this plan of life in consequence of the failure of a lawsuit, by which he was deprived of a landed estate worth in those days £8000 per annum. The lady adds:—
"We who are spared to see the result of this trying dispensation of Providence, must pause to meditate a while on his infinite wisdom and mercy, more particularly when we look at the descendant of the more fortunate cousin, who enjoyed his unjustly gotten wealth but a short time. Death entered his dwelling, and his eldest son soon dissipated all the property, as he lived in the lowest state of profligacy." — p. 9.
This is all we are told of the lawsuit and its results; and we must say it appears to us queer enough, that a lawyer like Mr. Roberts should permit his fair friend to babble thus complacently about "unjustly gotten wealth," which was gotten only in the usual course of the administration of English justice. Moreover, we do not exactly comprehend the lady's logic when she points out an extraordinary and memorable example of divine wisdom and mercy in the termination of the lawsuit against Mr. Jacob More. What she means probably is, that had Jacob got the estate, Hannah would never have written "Coelebs," &c., &c. But none of Hannah's books were written under the pressure of poverty, — when she wrote the best of them she was rich; and we can see no reason why she, though brought up in a wealthy squire's house in place of a poor schoolmaster's, might not have cultivated both religion and literature quite as zealously as she actually did. But the truth is, we feel considerable doubts as to the authenticity of this whole story. When Jacob's lawsuit was decided, if there ever was such a lawsuit, that is to say, before he settled in Gloucestershire, about one hundred and twenty years ago, £8000 was a very large income; it was at the least equal to £16,000 a year now. The family that possessed such property in Norfolk must have been well known, and probably highly connected — yet here is all the trace we find of its very existence — and, to conclude, it would be satisfactory to have one instance besides of the heir to an estate of £16,000, or even £8000 a year, having been "originally designed for the church." Sure we are that when any heir to a large landed estate adopts that profession, it must be under the influence of feelings too powerful to be easily baffled; and we do not understand on what principle a profoundly pious youth who married a farmer's daughter, and sat down for life in a small village school, should have been too lofty to eschew those means of proceeding through the university to holy orders, which the piety of our ancestors placed within the reach of the poorest. One word still more seriously: who doubts that divine Providence overrules the destinies of individuals and of families? But it seems to us that they who, in the spirit of certain sectaries, are constantly ready to point out the specific objects and methods of its operation, are scarcely less presumptuous than the self-elected interpreters of unfulfilled prophecy; and this writer's "Death entered his dwelling, &c." — her now boldly proclaiming that such a visitation was the righteous and correcting sequel of the at worst mistaken verdict of a Norwich jury, A.D. 1720, must be allowed to be worthy of the most pitiable aera of puritanical cant.
It appears that Hannah was wonderfully precocious in her literary attainments. The biographer gravely records that "her nurse, a pious old woman, had lived in the family of Dryden, and the inquisitive mind of the little Hannah was continually prompting her to ask for stories about the Poet!" — p. 14. This was when little Hannah had reached her fourth birth-day. The pious old nurse had probably been a giddy young housemaid when she lived in the family of a man who died fifty years before this time; and how edifying must have been the reminiscences, which, after the lapse of fifty, sixty, or seventy years, rewarded from her lips the enthusiastic inquisitiveness of the little Hannah about "glorious John." What a pity that Mr. Roberts has not deigned to preserve any of them! One would have been enchanted to know on authority the exact quantity of the dose of stewed prunes. But the enthusiasm for Dryden could, after all, have been commendable only in a child. Mr. Roberts produces her as in her mature days denying almost any merit to Dryden's Fables — a judgment in which no doubt the worthy biographer fully concurs.
But "at eight years old her thirst for learning became very conspicuous;" and her father, having hardly any books, would have been at a loss "to satisfy her eager desire to learn the histories of the Greeks and Romans," but for his "very wonderful memory;" and a wonderful memory it must indeed have been, since it "enabled him to relate to her while sitting on his knee, all the striking events which they contained" — in fashion following:—
"He recited to her the speeches of his favourite heroes, first in their original language to gratify her ear with the sound, and then translated them into English; particularly dwelling on the parallels and wise sayings of Plutarch; and these recollections made her afterwards remark, that the conversation of an enlightened parent or preceptor constituted one of the best parts of education!" — p. 12.
Imagine the good schoolmaster spouting, from memory, to a child of eight years, the wise sayings of Solon and Lycurgus in the pure Greek of old Plutarch; and imagine who can that Hannah More had arrived at the recondite dogma about education, which she appears to have taken such pains in enforcing upon the mind of her biographer, in consequence of her grateful recollection of these cabalistical intonations. Parson Adams lecturing Joseph Andrews on the structure of the Choephorae was nothing to this.
We are favoured with a few more anecdotes of Hannah's juvenile years, as (happy omen!) that she used to get astride of a chair, and say she was riding to London "to see bishops and booksellers;" that she hoarded scraps of paper and wrote verses on them, and confessed to her sister that her highest ambition was to have a whole quire to herself, — and so on. At twelve she was sent to Bristol, where her elder sisters had some years before established a boarding-school, and there she soon attracted notice by the quickness of her parts and docility of her temper. Among the persons whose conversation in those early days served to encourage and stimulate her in her intellectual pursuits, the author names Ferguson the astronomer, and the elder Sheridan, both of whom delivered occasional lectures in Bristol, and were naturally in the habit of visiting the Miss More's establishment, but especially Mr. Peach, a linen-draper of the town, of whose abilities and knowledge she was accustomed in after days to speak with admiration. Her biographer adds:—
"He had been the friend of Hume, who had shown his confidence in his judgment, by entrusting to him the correction of his history, in which, he used to say, he had discovered more than two hundred Scotticisms. But for this man, it appears, two years of the life of the historian might have passed into oblivion, which were spent in a merchant's counting-house in Bristol, whence he was dismissed on account of the promptitude of his pen in the correction of the letters intrusted to him to copy. More than twenty years after the death of Mr. Peach, the subject of these Memoirs, being in company with Dr. Percy, then Bishop of Dromore, Mr. Gibbon, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and others, who were conjecturing what might have been the cause of this chasm of two years in the life of Hume (of which the Bishop was then proposing to give a sketch), she was enabled to clear up the mystery, by relating the above anecdote." — vol. i. pp. 16-17.
We are, however, already weary of criticising Mr. Roberts — but there are few tracts in the world better known than David Hume's brief account of his own life, which was published very soon after his death in April, 1776; and it is not likely that Dr. Percy ever dreamt of printing a sketch of Hume's biography during his lifetime. Now in Hume's own narrative, his residence at Bristol is distinctly mentioned — he says that he went thither in 1734, "with recommendations to some of the merchants," but was satisfied "in a few months" that that scene would never suit him. What then comes of Mr. Roberts's grand story of Hannah More enabling Bishop Percy to fill up a chasm of two years in the Life of David Hume? And as to Mr. Peach's correcting the English of Hume's MS. history during this memorable chasm, no one can ever forget Swift's vise saying—
Always pluck a peach,
When within your reach;
but David Hume himself happens also to have told us, that he first conceived the idea of writing history in 1752, that is to say, about seventeen years after he had left Bristol.
Miss More's first publication was the pastoral drama of the "Search after Happiness:" this was in 1762, in the seventeenth year of her age. This well-meant effort had considerable success, more than one who now reads it will easily account for; but Mr. Roberts says nothing of what followed, in a literary way, until, after a lapse of eleven years, we find her in active correspondence with the poet Langhorne, who was rector of Blagdon, not far from Bristol. With him, says our ever-accurate and ever-charitable author,
"a very lively intellectual intercourse was sustained, until a habit of intemperance, in which he had vainly sought relief, under the pressure of domestic calamity, raised a barrier between him and persons of strict behaviour. Some of the letters of this spendthrift of the patrimony of genius, to Miss More, are entertaining, and exhibit a good specimen of his vigorous and vivacious pen. Alas that nature should have so often to deplore the neglect or abuse of her best gifts. But it is Satan's proudest exploit to make the powers of man turn against himself, &c." — vol. i. p. 18.
We are not very well informed as to the particulars of Langborne's life; but we are of opinion that Mr. Roberts has, in this instance, neglected to read the letters published in his own book. His great anxiety is to rescue Hannah. More from the suspicion of holding intercourse with Langhorne after he formed certain coarse habits, here ascribed to his grief at the loss of his wife. Now, his wife died in 1768 — long before the date of any of the letters which this editor has printed. These letters come down to December, 1776. In 1777, the Poet was promoted by a most conscientious prelate, Dr. Moss, to a prebend at Wells and he died early in 1779, just after publishing his "Owen of Carron." What evidence have we here of the decline either of intellect or reputation? Without ascertained facts to go upon, Mr. Roberts should scarcely have stept out of his way to hazard so broad an attack on the memory of Langhorne — an elegant, if not a great writer, and one whose poems are all on the side of virtuous feeling and principle. There seems to be no doubt that he was in some degree — according to the general fashion of his time — a man of what is called a convivial turn — but in intemperance, of all vices, "nemo repente fuit turpssimus;" and we take it, that if (which we much doubt) he ever deserved to be at all gravely talked of as intemperate, he must have been much the same man in this respect in 1777 and 1778, that he had been in 1776, when Hannah More and he were beslobbering each other with gross flatteries in prose and rhyme, as silly and ridiculous as those which formed the staple diet of Mr. Hayley and Miss Seward. The cessation of their correspondence may be sufficiently accounted for by the fact, that by 1777, Hannah More had established herself in the great circles of London, and found more important persons with whom to interchange the commonplaces of literary adulation.
We are sorry to add that we cannot agree with Mr. Roberts, even in the laudatory part of our extract. Langhorne's letters, here printed, seem to us most of them feeble, and some of them by no means over-delicate things. The following specimen will perhaps satisfy our readers — it is from one describing an illness under which the Rector of Blagdon had laboured:—
"General Bile led the whole forces of Rheumatism Bay, Scurvy Island, and Nervous Province, into the very centre and heart of my dominions. I drew up against him a body of Emetic Tartars, under the command of General Ipecacuanha. These fought with uncommon bravery for one whole day and a night, made prodigious havoc of the Biliary forces, and took their general prisoner. A truce was proclaimed for twenty-four hours; when it appearing that a large body of the Biliaries had secreted themselves in the lower parts of the country, I despatched my second battalion, consisting of foreign troops, chiefly of the provinces of Senna, Tamarind, and Crim Tartary, under the command of sub-brigadier General Cathartic, &c. &c. — pp. 25, 26.
—And this was addressed by a widowed gentleman in the prime of life to a young unmarried lady! it must be owned that we have improved in some matters since the days of "Owen of Carron."
Having brought down her correspondence with Langhorne till she was in her thirty-first year, Mr. Roberts remembers that there was a little incident of an earlier period which ought not to have been passed quite "sub silentio;" and he accordingly indulges us with some mysterious paragraphs on a love-affair with one Mr. Turner, a squire of high degree near Bristol, which occurred when Hannah was only a girl of twenty-two. This gentleman had some nieces at the Misses More's school, and they invited the two youngest of their governesses, Patty and Hannah, to spend a vacation with them at his seat, Belmont, where we read "he had carriages and horses" — without which indeed the carriages would have signified little — "and everything to make a visit agreeable."
"The consequence was natural. She was very clever and fascinating, and he was generous and sensible; he became attached, and made his offer, which was accepted. He was a man of large fortune, and she was young and dependent; she quitted her interest in the concern of the school, and was at great expense in preparing and fitting herself out to be the wife of a man of large fortune" — [how graceful this repetition!] "The day was fixed more than once for the marriage; and Mr. Turner each time postponed it. Her sisters and friends interfered, and would not permit her to be so 'treated and trifled with'" — [apt alliteration even here!] "He continued in the wish to marry her; but her friends, after his former conduct, and on other accounts, persevered in keeping up her determination not to renew the engagement.
"At their last conversation together, Mr. T. proposed to settle an annuity upon her, a proposal which was with dignity and firmness rejected, and the intercourse appeared to be absolutely at an end. Let it be recorded, however, in justice to the memory of this gentleman, that his mind was ill at ease till an interview was obtained with Dr. Stonehouse, to whom he declared his intention to secure to Miss More, with whom he had considered his union as certain, an annual sum which might enable her to devote herself to her literary pursuits, and compensate, in some degree, for the robbery he had committed upon her time. Dr. Stonehouse consulted with the friends of the parties, and the consultation terminated in a common opinion that, all things considered, a part of the sum proposed might be accepted without the sacrifice of delicacy or propriety, and the settlement was made without the knowledge of the lady, Dr. Stonehouse consenting to become the agent and trustee. It was not, however, till some time after the affair had been thus concluded, that the consent of Miss More could be obtained by the importunity of her friends.
"The regard and respect of Mr. T. for Miss More was continued through his life; her virtues and excellences were his favourite theme among his intimate friends, and at his death he bequeathed her a thousand pounds" — [a thousand pounds from a man of large fortune!!]
"It has been of importance to rescue this great and generous name from the imputation of inconstancy, or a calculating prudence in an affair in which truth and honour claim to be the rightful arbiters." — vol. i. p. 34.
This appears to us to be a romance of which Crabbe, with the help of Cocker, might have made something. We have no doubt — in spite of those rumours to the contrary which took so preposterous a shape in the table-talk of Lord Byron — that Miss More's part in the transaction was blameless; but she certainly owes little to the dull slipslop with which Mr. Roberts has contrived to overlay — "obscurum per obscurius" — the only page in her history that really demanded elucidation. To say nothing of the rest, he does not even inform us what the annuity from Mr. Turner amounted to, nor whether it was sufficient to enable the young lady finally to give up all connexion with the drudgery of the school.
These doings occurred about 1767. We are next introduced "per saltum" to Miss Hannah on her first debt in the society of London, A.D. 1774. Mr. Roberts, however, takes care to tell us nothing of the immediate circumstances that carried her to the metropolis, or of the friends whom she had there to receive her. All that appears distinctly is, that shortly after her arrival in town, she sent to some friend a description of her sensations on first seeing Garrick play Lear, which by some means reached the hands of the great actor himself, and so pleased him that he sought the acquaintance of the writer, who, "nothing loath," was presently all but domesticated beneath his roof, and through him and his affectionate wife received on terms of cordial kindness into all their wide and splendid circle — including Reynolds, Burke, and Johnson all the dramatis personae, in short, of Boswell. Miss More's lively talents for conversation, coupled with strong sense and good temper, and we must add, a lavish-enough expenditure of flattery, ere long established her as a general favourite in this brilliant society. The foundresses of the Bas Bleu — the Montagues, Carters, Veseys, and Boscawens — welcomed her as a sister spirit. Stimulated in turn by their approbation, and that of better judges than them, she turned to her literature with redoubled energy; and from this time the important part of her personal history may be read with sufficient accuracy, for a long series of years together, in that of a succession of works, all in their season popular — all commendable for moral tone; almost all considerably above mediocrity in point of literary execution; and some of them well worthy to outlive their century.
It would have been interesting to have the minuter particulars of this period of Hannah's career, — the statistics, so to speak, of her earlier authorship. The number of copies printed, and the amount of profits received, ought, if possible, to be set down in every literary biography: the comparison of such things at one period and another often leads to curious and instructive deductions. But to views of this kind the present writer is quite blind; indeed, so little interest does he feel in the merely literary part of his subject, that he has not even enumerated the more important of Mrs. More's works in the order in which they were written. As in the collective edition of 1830 the several pieces are arranged without reference to chronology — it is out of our power to supply these defects on the present occasion. We hope the intelligent bookseller, from whose house all her better treatises issued, will be induced, should another reprint be called for, to affix accurate dates, and such other illustrations as may be properly expected now that his venerable friend is no more. It appears that the tragedy of "Percy," which was brought out with eminent success in 1777, under Garrick's patronage, and with a prologue from his pen, brought her, of theatrical profits, £600, and from Mr. Cadell, for the copyright, £150 more. This, in those days, was a considerable sum to be realized by a single piece; and Cadell published of the first edition, four thousand copies, a then very large impression. These details are almost the only ones of the sort which we meet with in this part of the book.
"Sir Eldred of the Bower," a flimsy enough ballad, in the style then so much in fashion among time admirers of the "Reliques," was the first thing she put forth after her reception into the great world of letters. Johnson, ever a lenient critic to comely young ladies, dropped, or suppressed, his usual contempt for compositions of this school, and instead of treating her to another such stanza as—
I put my hat upon my head,
And walked into the Strand,
And there I met another man
With his hat in his hand,
he condescended to indite a quatrain, which Hannah, accepting it no doubt as a compliment to the authoress rather than her heroine, proudly engrafted on the text of her second edition: here it is — "vuleat quantum":—
My scorn has oft the dart repell'd
Which guileful beauty threw,
But goodness heard and grace beheld
Must every heart subdue.
As we advance from the juvenile "Search after Happiness," to the "Bas Bleu," — an elaborate eulogy on the club so styled — and which Johnson (therein highly extolled) calls, in a letter to Mrs. Thrale, "a great performance," it is easy to trace the progress of both ease and strength in Hannah More's diction and versification. Johnson, in the last year of his life, is said to have told Sir William Forbes, that he considered her as "the best versificatrix in the English language." As most of her poetical pieces are now forgotten, we might, perhaps, amuse our readers by a few specimens of them; but we can hardly afford space enough for the correspondence, which is wholly new. It strikes us that "Percy" is on a par with any tragedy of its day, except "Douglas;" and that if Hannah had persisted, she could scarcely have failed to produce very tolerable plays. The power of her expression in prose was, in her best time, admirable; and there is a great deal of very clever dramatic management in not a few of her Tales. But this field was soon shut to her for ever by the increasing sternness of her religious views. She arrived at the conclusion, that by contributing plays, however pure, to the existing stage, she should be heightening its general attraction as a place of amusement; and considering the English theatre as, on the whole, the most profligate in the literature of the world! (see her Works, vol. ii. p. 130), she made up her mind to abjure it, and all its concerns, for ever. After a little while she could scarcely be persuaded even to witness the representation of her own "Percy." Considering that she owed so much, in every possible way, to the Garricks, continued during twenty years to be domesticated nearly six months of the twelve under that roof, and has borne most touching testimony to the amiable virtues of both the great actor and his wife, it is difficult for us to imagine a more sterling instance of self-love sacrificed to principle, than we have before us in this successful authoress's early and decided secession from the drama. In the collective edition of her Works (vol. ii.) she has inserted an apology for reprinting her tragedies, which includes a dissertation on the tendency of stage amusements, written in her happiest manner. We cannot pretend to go along with her sweeping denunciations of the whole affair; but as to the particulars on which she chiefly enlarges, she must receive the concurrence of every thinking person — certainly of every conscientious parent.
Hannah More, to her honour be it observed, is careful, in this her "Histriomastyx," to distinguish Shakspeare from other writers of the class she is condemning. Her eulogy of him is lofty and eloquent; but the reader perceives that she patronizes, after all, only the Bowdler Edition. If she had ever read Shakspeare in "Bowdler" for herself, which, of course, she had too much wit to do, she would have discovered that the expurgator has excluded only that class of impurities from which, as she justly observes, there is the least likelihood of serious mischief resulting to any pure mind. Whether from innocence or haste, Mr. Bowdler has left the more delicate poison as he found it. But, in truth, the whole notion of a mutilated Othello, or Anthony and Cleopatra — (to say nothing of Falstaff, &c.) — is absurd and ridiculous: hardly less so, we must confess, than that of the amiable young lady who walked into a certain bookseller's shop a few months ago with a blurred and blotted volume of Byron in her bag; and being asked to explain her errand, answered that she had come to treat for the publication of a "Family Don Juan." It seems obvious enough, that the only expurgation which is either necessary or practically useful, is that which every discreet person performs instinctively when called upon to read Shakspeare aloud in a domestic circle.
Mrs. More makes no apology of this kind for the republication of her "Sacred Dramas." These, too, had in their day great popularity, and perhaps they are still not without their share of favour. They appear to us, however, very dull things — so much so that we hardly wonder at Peter Pindar's frequent sarcasms upon
The holy dramas of Miss Hannah More,
Where all the Nine with little Moses snore.
But their literary lead is not the worst. We own that we are obliged to regard them as not entirely above some of the criticism which she herself, in the preface to "Percy," bestowed on the old Mysteries and Moralities; pieces "in which events too solemn for exhibition, and subjects too awful for detail, are brought before the audience with a formal gravity more offensive than levity itself." Not to take specimens of what we must consider as a positively injurious class, let us ask whether any good purpose can be answered by such grotesque caricaturing as we have in her David — who exclaims, on first sight of Goliath,—
But soft! — what unknown prodigy appears?
A moving mountain cased in polished brass!
Or in such Brobdignag swagger as this:—
Gol. By Ashdod's fane, thou ly'st!
Thou insect warrior, since thou dar'st me thus,
Already I behold thy mangled limbs,
Dissever'd each from each, ere long to feed
The fierce blood-snuffing vulture. Mark me well—
Around my spear I'll twist thy shining locks,
And toss in air thy head, all gash'd with wounds,
Thy lip yet quiv'ring with the dire convulsion
Of recent death! — Art thou not terrified? &c. &c.
Miss More's lighter poems, such as "Bonner's Ghost," the "Heroic Epistle to Miss Home," the "Ode to Garrick's Dog Dragon," and so forth, had, as these letters show, a prodigious vogue. Walpole appears to have thought himself honoured by being allowed to print some of them, in the most lavish style of splendour, at the press of Strawberry Hill — in short, they were eminently the fashion. They are now immersed in Lethe — all but a few terse couplets, which have floated down to the existing race on the stream of oral citation, and are now often in the mouths of people who fancy they belong to Swift or Gay. Such are—
He thought the world to him was known,
Whereas he only knew the town.—
In men this blunder still you find,
All think their little set mankind.
Small habits well pursued betimes
May reach the dignity of crimes.—
Every one knows by heart two couplets in her Florio, touching the good old times:—
Love could subsist on slender bounties,
And suitors galloped o'er two counties
The ball's fair partner to behold,
And humbly hope she caught no cold.
But we have wandered too far from the biography, and must return to Hannah as mixing with the literati of the Johnsonian cycle. We already hinted that she was accused of dealing largely in flattery among the established "lions" of the day; and nothing, certainly, can be more fulsome than the style in which the letters now published show her to have bespattered Garrick, Johnson, Mrs. Montagu, and the leading bluestockings. Boswell tells us, that when Johnson complained of her flattering him so grossly that he had been obliged to ask Miss Reynolds to give her a hint on the subject, somebody observed, that she flattered Garrick also; "Aye," said the doctor, "and she is in the right there — first she has the world with her; and, secondly, Garrick rewards her. I can do nothing for her. Let her carry her praise to a better market." — (Croker's edition, vol. iv. p. 152.) And Mrs. Thrale has recorded a surly enough rebuke which the doctor found it necessary to administer directly on a subsequent occasion; viz. — "Consider, madam, what your flattery is worth before you choke me with it." — (Ibid., vol. v. p. 254.) But whoever reads this "Correspondence" will do Hannah More justice on this score, and acquit her of any very serious degree of insincerity. It is obvious that she came from Bristol to London at the age of thirty-one, with all the fresh extatic enthusiasm of a country girl of seventeen; and when, instead of having Johnson pointed out to her as he rolled along the pavement of Fleet Street, and gazing at Garrick from the side boxes, in company with Patty and Sally, and two or three of their little pupils, she found herself at once admitted to the inmost circle of the literary and theatrical magnates, it is not wonderful — we like her all the better for it — that her feelings were apt to overflow in language and gesture rather too warm for the accustomed inhabitants of the temperate zone. Once or twice she seems to have taken Dr. Johnson when he was not in a concatenation accordingly; but he, it is plain, swallowed the dose habitually with a good enough grace, and there is no evidence that Garrick or any of the other patients ever rebelled at all. The doctor appears to have liked Hannah from the first; and we hope Mr. Croker is quite right in discrediting the story of his having ever said, "She did not gain upon him; she was an empty-headed woman." — (Boswell, vol. iii. p. 413.) As for Garrick, in that house she was forthwith christened "The Tenth Muse," and then for shortness, and still more refinedly, "MISS NINE." The flattery which she received was, in fact, so extravagant, that she must have been pebble-hearted not to render what was obviously expected in return. Bishops and Judges shook their ambrosial curls at her footstool, and some of them indited encomiastic twaddle in heathen languages which their "Pia Virgo" could not understand; the great ladies of the blue order were enchanted with the opportunity of mingling condescension with admiration; and Horace Walpole paid his "Saint Hannah," as he called her, the highest compliment in his power, that of so conducting himself towards her on all occasions as to leave her when he expired in the full belief that, though not a Christian in Mr. Roberts's sense of the word, he was as good a Christian as most of the prelates on the bench; and, wonder of wonders! "a wit without malevolence."
Nothing can be more amusingly unsophisticated than some of the humble and affectionate Patty More's letters to the sisterhood left at Bristol; the following passages belong to the very first chapter of Hannah's Life in London:—
"Since I wrote last, Hannah has been introduced by Miss Reynolds to Baretti, and to Edmund Burke (the sublime and beautiful Edmund Burke!) From a large party of literary persons assembled at Sir Joshua's, she received the most encouraging compliments; and the spirit with which she returned them was acknowledged by all present, as Miss Reynolds informed poor us. Miss R. repeats her little poem [Sir Eldred] by heart, with which also the great Johnson is much pleased."
"We have paid another visit to Miss Reynolds. She had sent to engage Dr. Percy (Percy's collection — now you know him), quite a sprightly modern, instead of a rusty antique, as I expected. He was no sooner gone, than the most amiable and obliging of women (Miss Reynolds) ordered the coach, to take us to Dr. Johnson's very own house; yes, Abyssinia's Johnson! Dictionary Johnson! Rambler's, Idler's, and Irene's Johnson! Can you picture to yourselves the palpitation of our hearts as we approached his mansion? Miss Reynolds told the doctor of all our rapturous exclamations on the road. He shook his scientific head at Hannah, and said, 'She was a silly thing.' When our visit was ended, he called for his hat (as it rained), to attend us down a very long entry to our coach, and not Rasselas could have acquitted himself more 'en cavalier.' We are engaged with him at Sir Joshua's, Wednesday evening. What do you think of us? I forgot to mention, that not finding Johnson in his little parlour when we came in, Hannah seated herself in his great chair, hoping to catch a little ray of his genius; when he heard it, he laughed heartily, and told her it was a chair on which he never sat." — pp. 49, 50.
But Patty's enthusiasm is even surpassed by Hannah's — in her account of a visit to Pope's villa.
"I have visited the mansion of the tuneful Alexander. I have rambled through the immortal shades of Twickenham; I have trodden the haunts of the swan of Thames. I could not be honest for the life of me; from the grotto I stole two bits of stone, from the garden a sprig of laurel, and from one of the bed-chambers a pen."
What follows belongs to the next year, 1775, when they again repeated their visit to London. Hannah herself writes:—
"I had yesterday the pleasure of dining in Hill Street, Berkeley Square, at a certain Mrs. Montagu's, a name not totally obscure. The party consisted of herself, Mrs. Carter, Dr. Johnson, Solander, Mrs. Boscawen, Miss Reynolds, and Sir Joshua (the idol of every company), some other persons of high rank and less wit, and your humble servant; a party that would not have disgraced the table of Lelius or of Atticus. I felt myself a worm, the more a worm for the consequence which was given me, by mixing me with such a society; but, as I told Mrs. Boscawen, and with great truth, I had an opportunity of making an experiment of my heart, by which I learnt that I was not envious, for I certainly did not repine at being the meanest person in company." — vol. i. p. 53.
This is from a letter of Sister Patty's, in the next year again, the third of the London excursions:—
"London, 1776. — If a wedding should take place before our return, don't be surprised, — between the mother of Sir Eldred, and the father of my much-loved Irene; nay, Mrs. Montagu says if tender words are the precursors of connubial engagements, we may expect great things; for it is nothing but 'child,' 'little fool,' 'love,' and 'dearest.' After much critical discourse, he turns round to me, and with one of his most amiable looks, which must be seen to form the least idea of it, he says, 'I have heard that you are engaged in the useful and honourable employment of teaching young ladies.' Upon which, with all the same ease, familiarity, and confidence, we should have done had only our own dear Dr. Stonehouse been present, we entered upon the history of our birth, parentage, and education; showing how we were born with more desires than guineas; and how, as years increased our appetites, the cupboard at home began to grow too small to gratify them; and how, with a bottle of water, a bed, and a blanket, we set out to seek our fortunes; and how we found a great house, with nothing in it; and how it was like to remain so, till, looking into our knowledge-boxes, we happened to find a little 'larning,' a good thing when land is gone, or rather none: and so at last, by giving a little of this little 'larning' to those who had less, we got a good store of gold in return; but how, alas! we wanted the wit to keep it. 'I love you both,' cried the inamorato — ' I love you all five — I never was at Bristol — I will come on purpose to see you — what! five women live happily together! — I will come and see you — I have spent a happy evening — I am glad I came — God for ever bless you; you live lives to shame duchesses.' He took his leave with so much warmth and tenderness, we were quite affected at his manner.
"If Hannah's head stands proof against all the adulation and kindness of the great folks here, why then, I will venture to say nothing of this kind will hurt her hereafter.... Two carriages at the door — Mrs. Boscawen and Sir Joshua!" — vol. i p. 67.
In the summer of 1782 Mrs. More spent some time at Oxford, and here again she had the good fortune to meet the Rambler, on a spot where he seems always to have been disposed to show himself in his most agreeable colours:—
"June 13. — Who do you think is my principal Cicerone? Only Dr. Johnson! and we do so gallant it about! You cannot imagine with what delight he showed me every part of his own College. Dr. Adams, the master of Pembroke, had contrived a very pretty piece of gallantry. After dinner Johnson begged to conduct me to see the College, he would let no one show it me but himself, — 'This was my room; this Shenstone's. Here we walked, there we played at cricket.' When we came into the common room, we spied a fine large print of Johnson, framed and hung up that very morning, with this motto, 'And is not Johnson ours, himself a host?' Under which stared you in the face, 'From Miss More's Sensibility.' This little incident amused us; — but, alas! Johnson looks very ill indeed — spiritless and wan. However, he made an effort to be cheerful, and I exerted myself much to make him so." — vol. i. pp. 261, 262.
We cannot quote these interesting lines without expressing the pleasure with which we have lately heard that the space between Pembroke College and Christ Church is about to be cleared and decorated; and suggesting that now is the time to open a subscription for a statue of Johnson to be placed in front of the gate of Pembroke.
In May, 1783, the year before Johnson died, Mrs. More, again domesticated with Mrs. Garrick, thus writes to her sister Sarah:—
"Saturday we had a dinner at home, Mrs. Carter, Miss Hamilton, the Kennicotts, and Dr. Johnson. Poor Johnson exerted himself exceedingly; but he was very ill, and looked so dreadfully that it quite grieved me. He is more mild and complacent than he used to be. His sickness seems to have softened his mind, without having at all weakened it. I was struck with the mild radiance of this setting sun."
Mrs. More never saw him again; nor, though her subsequent correspondence contains many affectionate and respectful allusions to his character, does it afford Mr. Roberts any handle for connecting with her name — by dovetailing into this book — "an anonymous paper found in her desk," in which somebody tells a long and circumstantial story of the Doctor's being converted to a full belief in, and reliance on the propitiation of our Saviour, by the oral admonitions of Mr. Latrobe, and the letters of a young clergyman of the name of Winstanley, who had been, through Sir John Hawkins, introduced to Johnson as of "views and character" particularly suited to serve him in his then condition (vol. i. p. 376). We cannot think it our duty to quote at length this wholly unauthenticated record of what the biographer modestly styles "very interesting particulars not generally known," about the death-bed of Dr. Johnson. We do not doubt that Mr. Roberts meant well when he introduced the paper into his work; but we must be allowed to say, that in so doing he has exhibited a remarkable, and what ought to be a memorable example, of the indiscretion in which authors of his class are apt to indulge when they see or fancy the slightest opportunity of insinuating anything to the disparagement of the rational and immense majority of the religious public in this country, — their faith and their practice. The particulars of Dr. Johnson's last illness are perfectly well known to all the world, except Mr. Roberts, and those whose reading is, like his, confined to the library of a sect. We have a minute account of it, day by day and hour by hour, from the pens of the friends who watched, with affectionate reverence, over the closing scene of this great and good man. We have the full narrative of Sir John Hawkins, and the diary of one of the two well known and eminently respectable clergymen of the church, who attended him daily. We have the diary of Mr. Windham, and that of Mr. Windham's servant; and whatever his physician Dr. Brocklesby had to tell, he also has freely told. Now all Mr. Latrobe's part in the affair was, that he called at Dr. Johnson's three days before his death, but did not see the doctor. (See "Croker's Boswell," vol. v. p. 322.) Mr. Croker's annihilation of the Christian Observer's edition of the romance about Mr. Latrobe is complete and perfect; and as to the story of Mr. Winstanley, it is enough to say that no such person is named, either by Sir John Hawkins, or in any other of the accounts of Johnson's Life hitherto published. The whole of this circumstantial narrative is, therefore, a dream, a blunder, or more probably a bungling piece of quackery — a "pious fraud." In any view, this attempt to persuade us that Dr. Johnson's mind was not made up as to the great fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion, until it was enforced on him in extremis by sectarian or methodistical zeal, cannot redound to the credit of Mr. Roberts's understanding. If he had condescended to peruse the Doctor's own "Prayers and Meditations," he would have found him to have been, as far back as his religious feelings can be traced, fully convinced of the propitiatory sacrifice. In the prayer on his birthday in 1738, transcribed by himself thirty years afterwards, he expressly states his hope of salvation to be "through the satisfaction of Jesus Christ." And in this faith as he had lived, so undoubtedly he died. Almost his last words to Dr. Brocklesby were to recommend Dr. Clarke's sermons, "because they are the fullest on the Atonement."
There is, we repeat, not the shadow of reason for believing that Mrs. More attached any importance to the contents of the anonymous sheet in question. Had she placed credence in the document, she would, no doubt, have taken some opportunity of publishing it, in the course of her own constant intercourse with the booksellers. But enough of Dr. Johnson.
This book renders important service to the memory of Garrick, in whom the light frothy vanity, almost inseparable from his professional place and character, appears to have been combined with many solid and admirable virtues. The household of this first of players seems to have been, in every respect, that of a gentleman and a Christian; and we only regret that Mrs. More should have brought her parting eulogy to what we must consider as a trivial and almost ludicrous conclusion. She winds up her praises of her "warm, steady, disinterested friend" by bearing testimony to the memorable facts, that she "never saw a card in his house," nor met, "save once, a brother-actor at his table!"
There is something very touching in this account of Mrs. Garrick's behaviour the day after his funeral—
"On Wednesday night we came to the Adeiphi — to this house! She bore it with great tranquillity; but what was my surprise to see her go alone into the chamber and bed, in which he had died that day fortnight! She had a delight in it beyond expression. I asked her the next day how she went through it? She told me very well; that she first prayed with great composure, then went and kissed the dear bed, and got into it with a sad pleasure."
After the lapse of a month, she writes from her friend's villa at Hampton:—
"February, 1779. — We have been at this sweet, and once cheerful, place near a week. Alas! it has lost its perfume, yet it is in great beauty; the weather is fine, the verdure charming; 'and could we pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,' all would appear as beautiful as it used to do. Our first entrance was sad enough. Dragon looked as he used to do, and ran up to meet his master. Poor Mrs. Garrick went and shut herself up for half an hour. Not a sigh escapes our poor friend that she can restrain. When I expressed my surprise at her self-command, she answered, 'Groans and complaints are very well for those who are to mourn for a little while, but a sorrow that is to last for life, will not be violent and romantic.'"
A year later Hannah thus writes again from Hampton—
"Poor Mrs. Garrick is a greater recluse than ever, and has quite a horror at the thoughts of mixing in the world again. On her wedding day she went to the abbey, where she staid a good while; and she said she had been to spend the morning on her husband's grave: where, for the future, she should always pass her wedding days. Yet she seems cheerful, and never indulges the least melancholy in company."
Mrs. More's letters abound in wise and witty remarks on all sorts of subjects, out of which it would be easy for its to select an amusing and interesting chapter of Ana. Let a few specimens suffice:—
"Poetry is like brown bread; those who make it at home, never approve of what they meet with elsewhere."
"Pope is the eternal embellisher of common sense, common life, and just thinking: every line is a maxim or a portrait."
"Bristol is as bad as London, without being as good."
"I used to wonder why people should be so fond of the company of their physician, till I recollected that he is the only person with whom one dares talk continually of oneself, without interruption, contradiction, or censure."
In 1789, the day after Hannah witnessed the king's procession to return thanks for his recovery at St. Paul's, she says,—
"It is sometimes diverting, though sad, to see how party triumphs over probity. I was on Saturday at a very great dinner at Lord Somers's, and could find out the party principles of each one of the company, only by his saying how the king looked, and what degree of attention he gave to the service."
Of one of what we may call the sentimental class of preachers she well says,—
"I think he very injuriously prefers complexional feeling to those right actions which are performed by people of a sober character, purely from a sense of duty. Is not this setting the virtues of the constitution above the Christian graces, and preferring that goodness which proceeds from a kindly combination of the elements, to the difficult exertion of religious principle? I do not scruple to say that such divinity revolts me. Sensibility appears to me to be neither good nor evil in itself, but in its application. Under the influence of Christian principle it makes saints and martyrs; ill directed or uncontrolled it is a snare, and the source of every temptation; besides, as people cannot get it if it is not given them, to descant on it seems to me as idle as to recommend people to have black eyes, or fair complexions."
And, to conclude, here are her shrewd strictures on what was, even in her days, a besetting sin of the novelists:—
"That shameful fashion which our writers of this class have adopted from the French, of choosing married persons for the hero or heroine, adorning them with all the graces and accomplishments which can fascinate the fancy, bringing them into the most dangerous situations, embellished with the most pernicious descriptions, and making them commit the grossest crimes under the mask of sentiment, and with the apology of irresistible passion, or unsuitable alliance, or some other equally false and corrupt motive: this, I doubt not, has been one grand and leading cause of the corruption of principle which has lately so peculiarly disgraced our courts of justice, and made it almost dangerous for a lady of delicacy to look over a newspaper, for fear of having her eyes offended with one of those disgusting trials."
She has some pleasantries which we think do her not less honour in their own way. The following excellent satire upon Frenchified English was addressed to Horace Walpole, and entitled "A Letter from a Lady to her Friend, in the Reign of George the Fifth:"—
"Alamode Castle, June 20, 1840. — Dear Madam, — I no sooner found myself here than I visited my new apartment, which is composed of five pieces; the small room which gives upon the garden is practised through the great one, and there is no other issue. As I was quite exceeded with fatigue, I had no sooner made my toilette than I let myself fall on a bed of repose, where sleep came to surprise me.
"My lord and I are in the intention to make good cheer, and a great expense; and this country is in possession to furnish wherewithal to amuse oneself. All that England has of illustrious, all that youth has of amiable, or beauty of ravishing, sees itself in this quarter. Render yourself here then, my friend, and you shall find assembled all that there is of best, whether for letters, whether for birth.
"Yesterday I did my possible to give to eat: the dinner was of the last perfection, and the wines left nothing to desire. The repast was seasoned with a thousand rejoicing sallies, full of salt and agreement, and one more brilliant than another. Lady Frances charmed me as for the first time; she is made to paint, has a great air, and has infinitely of expression in her physiognomy; her manners have as much of natural, as her figure has of interesting.
"I had prayed Lady B. to be of this dinner, as I had heard nothing but good of her, but I am now disabused on her subject: she is past her first youth, has very little instruction, is inconsequent, and subject to caution; but having evaded with one of her pretenders, her reputation has been committed by the bad faith of a friend, on whose fidelity she reposed herself; she is therefore fallen into devotion, goes no more to spectacles, and play is defended at her house. Though she affects a mortal serious, I observed that her eyes were of intelligence with those of Sir James, near whom I had taken care to plant myself, though this is always a sacrifice with costs. Sir James is a great sayer of nothings; it is a spoilt mind; full of fatuity and pretension; his conversation is a tissue of impertinences, and the bad tone which reigns at present has put the last hand to his defects. He makes but little case of his word, but as he lends himself to whatever is proposed of amusing, the women all throw themselves at his head. Adieu."
No one can rise from the perusal of the letters which have furnished its with these extracts, without being satisfied that Hannah More must have been a delightful addition to the society of London. But Mr. Roberts tells us, and the letters themselves confirm his statement, that even before Garrick died she had begun to suspect that the gay world was taking too strong a hold on her affections, and to revolve the possibility of realizing the vision of her earliest childhood, and building for herself, in some sequestered village, "a cottage too low for a clock." In the year 1786 she effected this long-cherished purpose, and Cowslip Green received her — a very tiny dwelling, with a pretty garden, at no great distance from Bristol, where her exemplary sisters were still labouring in their vocation. In due season these ladies satisfied their modest desires as to worldly wealth, and shared Hannah's retirement during the summer months, while she, in turn, joined them in the winter in a house which they built for themselves in Pulteney Street, Bath. In after time, they gave up both Cowslip Green and Bath, and erected a large and comfortable house at Barley Grove — a property of some extent; which they purchased and improved; but from the day that the school was given up, the existence of the whole sisterhood appears to have flowed on in one uniform current of peace and contentment, diversified only by new appearances of Hannah as an authoress, and the ups and downs which she and the others met with in the prosecution of a most brave and humane experiment — namely, their zealous effort to extend the blessings of education and religion among the inhabitants of certain villages, situated in a wild country some eight or ten miles from their abode, who, from a concurrence of unhappy local and temporary circumstances, had been left in a state of ignorance hardly conceivable at the present day.
It would be idle in us to dwell here on works so well known as the "Thoughts on the Manners of the Great," the "Essay on the Religion of the Fashionable World," and so on, which finally established Miss More's name as a great moral writer, possessing a masterly command over the resources of our language, and devoting a keen wit and a lively fancy to the best and noblest of purposes. She seems to us to have, even at an early period, attached an undue importance to many things, and to have, in the end, seriously abridged her own field of usefulness by the needless severity of her attacks on trifles. It is, for instance, quite melancholy to find her expending a solemn diatribe on the blasphemy of a newspaper paragraph which mentioned the "ascension" of a balloon. These were sad weaknesses — but that, in spite of them all, she was the instrument of very great good to English society, high as well as low, who dares to dispute? How many have thanked God for the hour that first made them acquainted with the writings of Hannah More!
Whenever she visited London in her middle life, she took up her residence under the roof of Mrs. Garrick, who had now almost entirely withdrawn from mixed society; and her friends of the giddy world and the blue world appear to have gradually given place to such honoured names as Beilby Porteus, Kennicott, Horne, and Shute Barrington. It is, in many points of view, to be regretted, that her habitual residence near Bristol prevented her from seeing such friends as these so often as she and they would have desired; for the consequence certainly was, that she gradually connected herself more and more closely with persons far inferior to her and them in intellectual rank, and at length came to be, not without some show of reason, regarded by the public at large as too much the adherent of a prejudiced and rather uncharitable party in the religious republic.
The genuine liberality of her heart and conduct was never better exemplified than in the whole affair of her intercourse with Ann Yearsley, "the Bristol milkwoman," whose story has recently been recalled from oblivion by Mr. Southey's Essay on the Uneducated Poets. The popularity of that elegant work renders it needless for us to go into the details of the case on the present occasion. She was warned on the threshold by her friend Mrs. Montague, in these striking and beautiful words:—
"I am surprised and charmed with your account of the poetical milkwoman; but I beg of you to inform yourself, as much as you can, of her temper, disposition, and moral character. It has sometimes happened to me, that, by an endeavour to encourage talents and cherish virtue, by driving from them the terrifying spectre of pale poverty, I have introduced a legion of little demons: vanity, luxury, idleness, and pride, have entered the cottage the moment poverty vanished."
Miss More, however, persisted; and, by her own ardent efforts, and the assistance of her friends, soon rescued "Lactilla" from all her pecuniary distresses. The sad result we need not dwell upon. No long time has elapsed before we find Hannah thus terminating a letter to Mrs. Montague:—
"I am come to the postscript, without having found courage to tell you what I am sure you will hear with pain, at least it gives me infinite pain to write it — I mean the most open and notorious ingratitude of our milkwoman. There is hardly a species of slander the poor unhappy creature does not propagate against me, in the most public manner, because I have called her a milkwoman, and because I have placed the money in the funds, instead of letting her spend it. I confess my weakness — it goes to my heart, not for my own sake, but for the sake of our common nature; so much for my inward feelings: as to my active resentment, I am trying to get a place for her husband, and am endeavouring to make up the sum I have raised for her to five hundred pounds. Do not let this harden your heart or mine against any future object. 'Fate bene per voi' is a beautiful maxim."
The milkwoman presently put her slander into a printed shape and Mrs. Montague, on reading the libel, found one thing for which Mrs. More's letter had not prepared her: here is her comment:—
"Mrs. Yearsley's conceit that you can envy her talents gives me comfort, for as it convinces me she is mad, I build upon it a hope that she is not guilty in the All-seeing eye."
The last allusion Mrs. More herself makes to the behaviour of "Lactilla" is on the occasion of a second publication of hers, in which the admirable patroness was again, after a lapse of two years, maligned and insulted with a cool bitterness that may well be called diabolical — and it is in these words — she is addressing Horace Walpole: — "Do, dear Sir, join me in sincere compassion, without one atom of resentment. If I wanted to punish an enemy, it should be by fastening on him the trouble of constantly hating somebody." (vol. ii. p. 81.)
We think no one who has read a recent tract entitled "Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott, by the Ettrick Shepherd," can be at a loss for a tolerably complete parallel to the whole of this story of Hannah More and the Bristol Milkwoman. The unbounded benevolence on the side of the superior, and the festering vanity and jealousy of the inferior, at length bursting into open outrage against every good feeling and every rule of common decency, are alike in both cases: with this small difference in favour of the milkwoman, that she did not keep silence until the object of her envious spleen was no more; and with this difference also in favour of Hannah, that she was thus enabled to assert her own dignity — as who doubts Sir Walter would, under similar circumstances, have done? — by the tranquillity of a compassionate forgiveness.
The second and third of these volumes are chiefly occupied with details about the Sunday and other schools established at Cheddar and elsewhere by Hannah and Martha More. In September, 1796, the former says, "I think our various schools and societies consist of about sixteen or seventeen hundred." Some of these were fifteen miles from their residence; and the devotion of the sisters to this wide-spread scheme of benevolence was such, that it may be said to have occupied them for many years as completely as any worldly profession occupies the most diligent and successful individual. Such conduct is above all praise. It is only to be regretted that Mr. Roberts has not followed up the most interesting series of letters in which this part of Mrs. More's history is conveyed, by something like a clear statement of the ultimate result of her exertions. He exposes, very properly, the noxious interference with which, from very small motives, a curate of one of her parishes thwarted and perplexed her; and all that he says about the conduct of the then Bishop of Bath and Wells, who on every occasion supported and countenanced the sisterhood, is satisfactory to the mind; but we are left in the dark as to the great practical question in how far the scheme realized in the issue Hannah More's fervent anticipations; and another scarcely less important, namely, whether the machinery she had arranged was found to be at all effective when advancing years and other circumstances made it impossible for her and her sister to continue their own daily labours in its superintendence. That much good was done it is, however, impossible for us to doubt; and we transcribe this account of the funeral of one of their humble assistants, as in itself a sufficient testimony.
"Cheddar, August 18, 1795. — We have just deposited the remains of our excellent Mrs. Baber, to mingle with her kindred dust. Who else has ever been so attended, so followed to the grave? Of the hundreds who attended, all had some tokens of mourning in their dress. All the black gowns in the village were exhibited, and those who had none had some broad, some little bits, of narrow black ribbon, such as their few spare pence could provide. The house, the garden, and place before the door were full. But how shall I describe it? Not one single voice or step was heard — their very silence was dreadful; but it was not the least affecting part to see their poor little ragged pocket-handkerchiefs, not half sufficient to dry their tears — some had none; and those tears that did not fall to the ground, they wiped off with some part of their dress. Though the stones were rugged, you did not hear one single footstep. The undertaker from Bristol wept like a child, and confessed, that, without emolument, it was worth going a hundred miles to see such a sight. I forgot to mention, the children sobbed a suitable hymn over the grave. Here was no boisterous, hysterical grief, for the departed had taught them how to select suitable texts for such occasions, and when to apply the promises of Scripture. I think almost tears enough were shed to lay the dust."
It is well known that Mrs. More, among other good works, gave a powerful support to the old constitution of these realms by various political tracts, in prose and verse, which she put forth during the revolutionary war. It is impossible to read the letters in which she adverts to the internal danger of her country at that period, without applying her language to the still more alarming condition of England at the present day. What a true picture is the following:—
"Bath, happy Bath, is as gay as if there were no war, nor sin, nor misery in the world! We run about all the morning, lamenting the calamities of the times, anticipating our ruin, and regretting the general dissipation; and every night we are running into every excess, to a degree unknown in calmer times. Yet it is the fashion to affect to be religious, and to show it by inveighing against the wickedness of France!"
As to the revolutionary rulers of France themselves, we are sorry to say her indignant denunciation of them is exactly what, if she had now been among us, she could not have hesitated to utter concerning some of our own Reformers.
"Judgment, memory, comparison, combination, and deduction, afford human sagacity but slender assistance in its endeavours to develope their future plans. We have not even the data of consistent wickedness on which to build rational conclusions. Their measures, though visibly connected by uniform depravity, are yet so surprisingly diversified by interfering absurdities, — such is their incredible eccentricity, that it is hardly extravagant to affirm that improbability is become rather an additional reason for expecting any given event to take place." — Remarks on the Speech of M. Dupont.
But we must now prepare to shut these volumes. The sisterhood drop away from before us one by one, and the sterling sense and worth of every one of them are successively exhibited in the most touching manner in the details of a Christian death-bed. We have been dealing largely in quotation, but we are sure every reader will thank us for transcribing a page out of the correspondence of the late venerable Bishop of Limerick, just published, in which his lordship gives an account of a visit which he paid at Barley Wood in September, 1817, shortly after the death of Sarah More.
"Feeling, as they do very deeply, the sad breach made in their circle, they are wisely, cheerfully, and piously submissive to this appointment of Providence; and neither their talents nor vivacity are in the least subdued. Patty is suffering, with exemplary patience, the most excruciating pain; not a murmur escapes, though, at night especially, groans and cries are inevitably extorted; and, the moment after the paroxysm, she is ready to resume, with full interest and animation, whatever may have been the subject of conversation. Hannah is still herself: she took Charles Foster and me a drive to Brockley Combe; in the course of which, her anecdotes, her wit, her powers of criticism, and her admirable talent of recitation, had ample scope. On the whole, though not unmingled with melancholy, the impression of this visit to Barley Wood is predominantly agreeable, — I might, indeed, use a stronger word: differences of opinion there do, it cannot be denied, exist; but they are differences, on their part, largely the growth of circumstances; differences, too, which will vanish before the earliest beams of eternity: I parted with them, as noble creatures, whom, in this world, I never might again behold; and while I felt some pangs, which I would not willingly have relinquished, it was with deep comfort that I looked forward in hope to an hereafter, when we might meet without any of those drawbacks, in some shape or other, inseparable, perhaps, from the intercourse of mortals." — Bishop Jebb's Letters, vol. ii. pp. 333, 4.
Our readers can hardly need to be reminded of the painful interest with which all orders of people heard, about 1828, rumours that pecuniary distresses were likely to trouble the closing period of Mrs. More's life. Her establishment at Barley Wood had got into sad confusion after the death of her sister Martha, who had through life been the manager of their domestic details, — dishonest and dissolute servants had wasted her substance, — and for a season it was doubtful whether enough remained to secure her the comforts to which she had been accustomed. In the end, however, it turned out that, though she must consent once more to change her place of residence, there would be no necessity for altering, in any essential respect, the style of her household economy. She removed to Clifton; and there, as has been already mentioned, she at last "quietly and placidly ceased to breathe" in the September of last year. The account of her latter days, contributed to Mr. Roberts's book by her friend and physician, Dr. Carrick, is so interesting, that we would willingly extract it entire; but we can only give these fragments:—
"From the time Mrs. More removed to Clifton, her health was never otherwise than in a very uncertain and precarious state, and she seldom continued beyond a few days exempt from some attack of greater or less severity....
"To the friends and admirers of Mrs. Hannah More, it was painful during her latter years to see those great and brilliant talents, which had justly raised her to the highest pinnacle of celebrity, descending to the level of more ordinary persons. Yet there was this consoling circumstance in the case of this admirable woman; that while the grand and vigorous qualities of her mind submitted to decay, the good, the kind, the beneficent, suffered no diminution not. abatement, to the last moment of consciousness. Age, which of necessity shrinks and impairs the bodily powers, generally blunts sensibility, and narrows the social virtues. The soul which in youth, and in the prime of life, teemed with every liberal and benevolent quality, is not unfrequently observed to grow cold and insensible, parsimonious, and even avaricious, when sinking into the grave. With this remarkable woman it was signally the reverse. Her beneficent qualities not only suffered no abatement, but expanded with her years.
"So long as her intellectual faculties remained but moderately impaired, her wonted cheerfulness and playfulness of disposition did not forsake her; and at no period of her declining life did an impatient or querulous expression escape her lips, even in moments of painful suffering.
"It seems worthy of remark, that as it pleased the Almighty to protect this distinguished woman to a very advanced period of life, from the infirmities of temper, which often tend to render age both unamiable and unhappy, so it likewise accorded with his goodness to spare her from many of those bodily infirmities, which usually accompany length of years. To the very last her eye was not dim: she could read with ease, and without spectacles, the smallest print. Her hearing was almost unimpaired; and until very near the close of life, her features were not shrunk, nor winkled, nor uncomely, and her person retained to a considerable degree its wonted appearance, as at a much earlier period. Even to the last, her death-bed was attended with few of the pains and infirmities which are almost inseparable from sinking nature." — vol. iv. p. 299-304.
Our respect, nay, veneration for the memory of Mrs. More, who perhaps did as much real good in her generation as any woman that ever held the pen, has, whatever Mr. Roberts may think, made us lenient critics of his part in this work. We now leave him with respect for his motives and intentions; with regret for that narrowness of mind and feeling, which it is, we presume, too late to expand; and with a simple expression of our hope that, at some future period, the valuable letters embodied in these volumes may be printed by themselves. We are not aware that Mr. Roberts's connecting narrative has given us any one fact which is not stated in the text of the correspondence, either following or preceding the page where he has chosen to make it the subject of his circumlocutory prose.