1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hannah More

Sara Coleridge to Emily Trevenen, August 1834; Coleridge, Memoir and Letters (1874) 77-79.



You speak of Mrs. Hannah More. I have seen abundant extracts from her Remains, and I think I could not read them through if I were to meet with them. I fear you will think I want a duly disciplined mind, when I confess that her writings are not to my taste. I remember once disputing on this subject with a young chaplain, who affirmed that Mrs. Hannah More was the greatest female writer of the age. "Whom," he asked, "did I think superior?" I mentioned a score of authoresses whose names my opponent had never even heard before. I should not now dispute doggedly with a divine in a stagecoach, but years of discretion have not made me alter my opinion I then not very discreetly expressed, of the disproportion between Mrs. More's celebrity and her literary genius, as compared with that of many other female writers whose fame had not extended to the Asiatic islands. I can not see in her productions aught comparable to the imaginative vigor of Mrs. J. Baillie, the eloquence and (for a woman) the profundity of Madame de Stael, the brilliancy of Mrs. Hemans (though I think her overrated), the pleasant, broad comedy of Miss Burney and Miss Ferrier, the melancholy tenderness of Miss Bowles, the pathos of Inchbald and Opie, the masterly sketching of Miss Edgeworth (who, like Hogarth, paints manners as they grow out of morals, and not merely as they are modified and tinctured by fashion); the strong and touching, but sometimes coarse pictures of Miss Martineau, who has some highly interesting sketches of childhood in humble life; and last, not least, the delicate mirth, the gently hinted satire, the feminine, decorous humor of Jane Austen, who, if not the greatest, is surely the most faultless of female novelists. My Uncle Southey and my father had an equally high opinion of her merits.... I must add that Mrs. More's steady devotion to the cause of piety and good morals added the stamp of respectability to her works, which was a deserved passport to their reception; though such a passport can not enable any production to keep its hold on the general mind if it is not characterized by power as well as good intention.