Hannah More

Hannah More (2 February 1745 – 7 September 1833) was an English religious writer and philanthropist, remembered as a poet and playwright in the circle of Johnson, Reynolds and Garrick, as a writer on moral and religious subjects, and as a practical philanthropist. Born in Bristol, she taught at a school established there by her father and began writing plays. She became involved with the London literary elite as a leading Bluestocking member. Her plays and poetry became more evangelical and she joined a group campaigning against the slave trade. In the 1790s she wrote several Cheap Repository Tracts on moral, religious and political topics, for distribution to the literate poor. Meanwhile, she did increasing philanthropic work in the Mendip area, encouraged by William Wilberforce.

Hannah More
Painting by H.W. Pickersgill (1821)
Born(1745-02-02)2 February 1745
Fishponds, Bristol, England
Died7 September 1833(1833-09-07) (aged 88)
Resting placeWrington, Somerset
Known forPoetry

Early life

Born in 1745 at Fishponds in the parish of Stapleton, near Bristol, Hannah More was the fourth of five daughters of Jacob More (1700-1783),[1] a schoolmaster originally from Harleston, Norfolk. He was from a strong Presbyterian family in Norfolk, but had become a member of the Church of England, and originally intended to pursue a career in the Church, but after the disappointment of losing a lawsuit over an estate he had hoped to inherit, he moved to Bristol, where he became an excise officer and was later appointed to teach at the Fishponds free school.

They were a close family and the sisters were first educated by their father, learning Latin and mathematics: Hannah was also taught by her elder sisters, through whom she learned French. Her conversational French was improved by spending time with French prisoners of war in Frenchay during the Seven Years' War.[1] She was keen to learn, and possessed a sharp intellect – she was assiduous in studying, and according to family tradition, began writing at an early age.[2]

In 1758 Jacob established his own girls' boarding school at Trinity Street in Bristol for the elder sisters, Mary and Elizabeth to run, while he and his wife moved to Stony Hill in the city to open a school for boys. Hannah More became a pupil when she was twelve years old, and taught at the school in her early adulthood.[2]

In 1767 More gave up her share in the school after becoming engaged to William Turner of Tyntesfield, Wraxall, Somerset, whom she had met when he began teaching her cousins.[1] After six years the wedding had not taken place. Turner seemed reluctant to name a date and in 1773 the engagement was broken off. It seems that as a consequence, More suffered a nervous breakdown and spent some time recuperating in Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare. As compensation, Hannah More was induced to accept a £200 annuity from Turner. This set her free for literary pursuits, and in the winter of 1773–74 she went to London in the company of her sisters, Sarah and Martha – the first of many such trips she made at yearly intervals. Some verses that she had written on David Garrick's version of King Lear led to an acquaintance with the celebrated actor and playwright.[2]


Hannah More's first literary efforts were pastoral plays, written while she was teaching at the school and suitable for young ladies to act, the first being written in 1762 under the title of The Search after Happiness. By the mid-1780s over 10,000 copies of this had been sold.[3] Metastasio was one of her literary models. She used his opera 'Attilio Regulo as a basis for a drama, The Inflexible Captive.

In London, More attempted to associate herself with the literary elite, including Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds and Edmund Burke. Johnson is quoted as saying to her, "Madam, before you flatter a man so grossly to his face, you should consider whether or not your flattery is worth having." He would later be quoted as calling her "the finest versifatrix in the English language".[1] She also became one of the prominent members of the Bluestocking group of women engaged in polite conversation and literary and intellectual pursuits, attending the salon of Elizabeth Montagu, where she also met and became acquainted with Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Elizabeth Vesey and Hester Chapone, some of whom were to become lifelong friends. She later wrote a witty celebration of her friends and the circle to which they belonged, in her 1782 poem The Bas Bleu, or, Conversation, published in 1784.[2]

Garrick wrote the prologue and epilogue for Hannah More's tragedy Percy, which was acted with success at Covent Garden in December 1777. Percy was revived in 1785 with Sarah Siddons at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. A copy of Percy was found amongst Mozart's possessions in 1791.[1] Another drama, The Fatal Falsehood, produced in 1779 after Garrick's death, was less successful, and as a consequence, she never wrote for the stage again. However a tragedy entitled "The Inflexible Captive" was published in 1818.[4] In 1781 she first met Horace Walpole, man of letters and art historian, and corresponded with him from that time. At Bristol she discovered the poet Ann Yearsley and, when Yearsley became destitute, raised a considerable sum of money for her benefit. Lactilia, as Yearsley was called, published Poems, on Several Occasions in 1785, earning about £600. More and Montagu held the profits in trust to protect them from Yearsley's husband. However, Ann Yearsley wished to receive the capital, and made insinuations of stealing against More, forcing her to release the money. These literary and social failures caused More's withdrawal from London's intellectual circles.[2]

Evangelical moralist

In the 1780s Hannah More became a friend of James Oglethorpe, who had long been concerned with slavery as a moral issue and who was working with Granville Sharp in an early abolitionist capacity.[5] More published Sacred Dramas in 1782 and it rapidly ran through nineteen editions. These and the poems Bas-Bleu and Florio (1786) mark her gradual transition to more serious views of life, which were fully expressed in prose, in her Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788), and An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790). By this point she was intimate with William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay, with whose evangelical views she was in sympathy. She published a poem on Slavery in 1788, and was for many years a friend of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London and a leading abolitionist, who drew her into the group of prominent campaigners against the slave trade such as Wilberforce, Charles Middleton and James Ramsay, based at Teston, Kent.[6]

In 1785 More bought a house at Cowslip Green, near Wrington in northern Somerset, where she settled down to country life with her sister Martha, and wrote many ethical books and tracts: Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799), Hints towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805), Coelebs in Search of a Wife (only nominally a story, 1809), Practical Piety (1811), Christian Morals (1813), Character of St Paul (1815), Moral Sketches (1819). She was a rapid writer, and her work is consequently discursive and animated, but lacking in form. Her extraordinary popularity may be explained by the originality and force of her writings.[6]

On the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, More was not initially worried, but by 1790 she was writing, "I have conceived an utter aversion to liberty according to the present idea of it in France. What a cruel people they are!"[7] When Edmund Burke published his Reflections on the Revolution in France, she praised it for combining "the rhetoric of ancient Gaul" and the "patriot spirit of ancient Rome" with "the deepest political sagacity".[8] Part II of the Rights of Man, Thomas Paine's reply to Burke, appeared in 1792. The government was alarmed by its concern for the poor and its call for world revolution, plus its enormous sales. Porteus visited More and asked her to write something for the lower orders, to counteract Paine.[9] This prompted the pamphlet Village Politics (1792). More wrote that it "is as a vulgar as [the] heart can wish; but it is only designed for the most vulgar class of readers."[10] The pamphlet (published pseudonymously by "Will Chip") consists of a dialogue in plain English between Jack Anvil, the village blacksmith, and Tom Hood, the village mason. After reading Paine, Tom Hood expresses admiration for the French Revolution to Jack Anvil, and speaks in favour of a new constitution based on liberty and the "rights of man". Jack Anvil responds by praising the British constitution and saying that Britain already has "the best laws in the world". He attacks French liberty as murder, French democracy as a tyranny of the majority, French equality as a levelling down of social classes, French philosophy as atheism, and the "rights of man" as "battle, murder and sudden death". The pamphlet finishes with Tom Hood accepting Jack Anvil's conclusion: "While old England is safe I'll glory in her, and pray for her; and when she is in danger I'll fight for her and die for her."[11] Her biographer summed up the pamphlet by calling it "Burke for Beginners".[10]

It was well received: Porteus praised it as "a masterpiece of its kind, supremely excellent, greatly admired at Windsor". Frances Boscawen considered it better than William Paley's pamphlet The British Public's Reasons for Contentment and Richard Owen Cambridge claimed "Swift could not have done it better."[12] More's next anti-Jacobin tract, Remarks on the Speech of M. Dupont, condemned atheism in France. The profits from its sale went to French Catholic priests exiled in England.[13] In 1794 Paine published The Age of Reason, a deist attack on Christianity. Porteus again requested her help in combating Paine's ideas, but she refused, being preoccupied with her charity-school work.[13] However, by the end of the year, More, encouraged by Porteus, decided to embark on her Cheap Repository Tracts, which from 1795 to 1798 were produced at the rate of three a month. In January 1795, More explained to Zachary Macaulay: "Vulgar and indecent penny books were always common, but speculative infidelity brought down to the pockets and capacity of the poor forms a new era in our history. This requires strong counteraction."[14] More's Tracts were a phenomenal success, selling 300,000 copies between March and April 1795, 700,000 by July 1795, and over two million by March 1796.[15] They taught the poor in rhetoric of most ingenious homeliness to rely upon the virtues of content, sobriety, humility, industry, reverence for the British Constitution, hatred of the French, and trust in God and the kindness of the gentry.[6] Perhaps the most famous of these is The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, describing a family of phenomenal frugality and contentment. This was translated into several languages.

She was shocked by the strides made for female education in France, saying "they run to study philosophy, and neglect their families to be present at lectures in anatomy."[1]


In 1785 Hannah More moved to a cottage in rural Somerset, "to escape from the world gradually".[1] The school at Wedmore received strong opposition from the locals, who petitioned the Dean of Wells to remove her.[1]

John Scandrett Harford of Blaise Castle was a prodigious benefactor to More's schools in the 1790s, and More modelled the idealised hero and heroine in Coelebs in Search of Wife (1809) on Mr and Mrs Harford.[1] She refused to read Mary Wollstonecraft's Rights of Women, saying, "So many women are fond of government... because they are not fit for it. To be unstable and capricious is but too characteristic of our sex."[1]

In 1816, More is quoted as saying that "peace with France [is]... a worse evil than war" following the Battle of Waterloo, and refused to allow a French translation of Coelebs.[1] She turned down an honorary membership of the Royal Society of Literature because she considered her "sex alone a disqualification".[1]

In the late 1780s, Hannah and Martha More did philanthropic work in the Mendip area, following encouragement by Wilberforce, who saw the poor conditions of the local people when he visited Cheddar in 1789.[16] She was instrumental in setting up twelve schools by 1800, where reading, the Bible and the catechism were taught to local children. More also donated money to Bishop Philander Chase for the founding of Kenyon College, and a portrait of her hangs there in Peirce Hall.[17]

The More sisters met with a good deal of opposition in their works: the farmers thought that education, even to the limited extent of learning to read, would be fatal to agriculture, and the clergy, whose neglect she was making good, accused her of Methodist tendencies. In her old age, philanthropists from all parts made pilgrimages to see the bright and amiable old lady, and she retained all her faculties until within two years of her death. She spent the last five years of her life in Clifton, and died on 7 September 1833. She is buried at Church of All Saints, Wrington;[6] busts of her and John Locke remain in the south porch.


Several local schools and the Hannah More Academy at Reisterstown, Maryland are named in her honour. Hannah More Primary School was built in Old Market, Bristol in the 1840s.[1] An image of More was used in 2012 on the Bristol Pound local currency.[18] Hannah More Close in Wrington, where Hannah More is buried, is named after her.

More's reputation was not always positive – Augustine Birrell in his 1906 work Hannah More Once More admits to burying all 19 volumes of her work in his garden in disgust.[1]


Letters to, from and about Hannah More are held by Bristol Archives, including one from William Wilberforce (Ref. 28048/C/1/2) (online catalogue).

Larger collections of records relating to Hannah More can also be found at the British Library, Manuscript Collections,[19] Longleat,[20] Newport Central Library,[21] Bodleian Library,[22] Cambridge University: St John's College Library,[23] Victoria and Albert Museum,[24] Bristol Reference Library,[25] Cambridge University Library,[26] The Women's Library,[27] Gloucestershire Archives,[28] and National Museums Liverpool: Maritime Archives and Library.[29]


  1. Crossley Evans, MJ, Hannah More, University of Bristol (Bristol branch of the Historical Association, 1999.
  2. Stephen 1894.
  3. S. J. Skedd, "More, Hannah (1745–1833)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  4. Hannah More, 1818
  5. Wilson, Thomas. The Oglethorpe Plan. Epilogue. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2012.
  6. Chisholm 1911.
  7. M. G. Jones, Hannah More (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), pp. 134–135.
  8. Jones, p. 135.
  9. Jones, pp. 133–134.
  10. Jones, p. 134.
  11. Jones, pp. 135–136.
  12. Jones, p. 136.
  13. Jones, p. 137.
  14. Jones, pp. 140–141.
  15. Jones, p. 142.
  16. Coysh, A.W.; Mason, E.J.; Waite, V. (1977). The Mendips. London: Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 0-7091-6426-2.
  17. Kenyon Hall site: [Retrieved 28 March 2012. Archived 11 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  18. Gosling, Emily (19 September 2012). "Bristol launches local currency". Design Week. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  19. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, British Library Manuscript Collections". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  20. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, Longleat". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  21. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, Newport Central Library". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  22. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, Bodleian Library". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  23. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, St John's College Library, Cambridge". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  24. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  25. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, Bristol Reference Library". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  26. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  27. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, London School of Economics: The Women's Library". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  28. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, Gloucestershire Archives". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  29. "National Archives Discovery catalogue page, National Museums Liverpool: Maritime Archives and Library". Retrieved 1 March 2016.



Primary sources

  • More, Hannah. Works of Hannah More. 2 vols. New York: Harper, 1840.


  • Buckland, Anna Jane. The life of Hannah More. A lady of two centuries. London: Religious Tract Society, 1882, https://archive.org/details/lifeofhannahmore00buck
  • Collingwood, Jeremy and Margaret. Hannah More. Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1990, ISBN 0-7459-1532-9
  • Demers, Patricia. The World of Hannah More. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996, ISBN 0-8131-1978-2
  • Ford, Charles Howard. Hannah More: A Critical Biography. New York: Peter Lang, 1996, ISBN 0-8204-2798-5
  • Harland, Marion. Hannah More. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900.
  • Hopkins, Mary Alden. Hannah More and Her Circle. London: Longmans, 1947.
  • Jones, M. G. Hannah More Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952.
  • Knight, Helen C. Hannah More; or, Life in Hall and Cottage. New York: M. W. Dodd, 1851.
  • Kowaleski-Wallace, Elizabeth. Their Fathers' Daughters: Hannah More, Maria Edgeworth, and Patriarchal Complicity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Meakin, Annette Mary Budgett. Hannah More: A Biographical Study. Published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. 1919
  • Prior, Karen Swallow. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2014, ISBN 978-1-4002-0625-4
  • Roberts, William (ed.). Memoirs of Mrs Hannah More. New York: Harper & Bros., 1836.
  • Stott, Anne. Hannah More: The First Victorian. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-19-924532-0
  • Taylor, Thomas. Memoir of Mrs. Hannah More. London: Joseph Rickerby, 1838.
  • Thompson, Henry. The Life of Hannah More With Notices of Her Sisters. London: T. Cadell, 1838.
  • Yonge, Charlotte. Hannah More. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888.

Other secondary sources

  • Elliott, Dorice Williams (1995). "The Care of the Poor Is Her Profession: Hannah More and Women's Philanthropic Work". Nineteenth-Century Contexts. 19 (2): 179–204. doi:10.1080/08905499508583421. hdl:1808/20908.
  • Kelly, Gary (1987). "Revolution, Reaction, and the Expropriation of Popular Culture: Hannah More's Cheap Repository" (PDF). Man and Nature. 6: 147–59. doi:10.7202/1011875ar.
  • McMillan, Jacqueline. "Hannah More: From Versificatrix to Saint." In Her Hand: Letters of Romantic-Era British Women Writers in New Zealand Collections. Otago Students of Letters. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago, Department of English, 2013. pp. 23–46. Includes five letters and a poem, previously unpublished.
  • Myers, Mitzi. "Hannah More's Tracts for the Times: Social Fiction and Female Ideology." Fetter'd or Free? British Women Novelists, 1670–1815. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski (eds). Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986.
  • Myers, Mitzi (1982). "Reform or Ruin: 'A Revolution in Female Manners'". Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture. 11: 199–216.
  • Nardin, Jane (2001). "Hannah More and the Rhetoric of Educational Reform". Women's History Review. 10 (2): 211–27. doi:10.1080/09612020100200571.
  • Nardin, Jane (2001). "Hannah More and the Problem of Poverty". Texas Studies in Language and Literature. 43 (3): 267–84. doi:10.1353/tsl.2001.0015.
  • Pickering, Samuel (1977). "Hannah More's Coelebs in Search of a Wife and the Respectability of the Novel in the Nineteenth Century". Neuphilologische Mitteilungen. 78: 78–85.
  • Scheuerman, Mona. In Praise of Poverty: Hannah More Counters Thomas Paine and the Radical Threat. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
  • Sutherland, Kathryn. "Hannah More's Counter-Revolutionary Feminism". Revolution in Writing: British Literary Responses to the French Revolution. Kelvin Everest (ed.). Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1991.
  • Vallone, Lynne (1991). "'A Humble Spirit under Correction': Tracts, Hymns, and the Ideology of Evangelical Fiction for Children, 1780–1820". The Lion and the Unicorn. 15 (2): 72–95. doi:10.1353/uni.0.0155.
  • A Comparative Study of Three Anti-Slavery Poems Written by William Blake, Hannah More and Marcus Garvey: Black Stereotyping by Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini for GRAAT On-Line, January 2010.


Papers of Hannah More are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 9/16

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