Ep 9: Hannah More

In our third biographical episode, we introduce you to a woman whose name you should know, but you have probably never heard of: Hannah More. Ashley and Mandy discuss how a broken engagement changed the course of one woman’s life. Then we explain why boycotting sugar was a political act in the eighteenth century. We also chat about a novel which features a hero in search of a wife and why it was a nineteenth-century best-seller. Then we talk about childhood nicknames and what we would name our imaginary pet cats because, of course, this all ties into church history.

Scripture References (ESV)

1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 John 1:5; Genesis 1; Psalm 25: 8; Luke 2:10; Matthew 5:14-16

 Featured Women of the Church  

Hannah More (1745-1833): After achieving literary success in London as a writer and playwright, Hannah turned her attentions to her personal faith and the welfare of others. In addition to her work as an abolitionist, Hannah sought to reform society through writing educational literature, religious tracts, and political pamphlets. At Hannah’s funeral, the officiating ministerquoted from her famous novel Coelebs in Search of a Wife “to describe her guiding principle in life: 'If it be absurd to expect perfection, it is not unreasonable to expect consistency'” (Skedd). 

 Mary (1738–1813), Elizabeth (Betty; 1740–1816), Sarah (Sally; 1743–1819), and her beloved younger sister, Martha (Patty; 1747–1819): Hannah More’s four sisters. Together, these women opened a boarding school for girls in Bristol, England. Eventually, the More sisters were able to sell their school and retire to their cottage in Cowslip Green, Somerset where they devoted much of their time to philanthropic work. Even after Hannah became a famous literary celebrity, she remained incredibly close with her sisters, especially “Patty.” 

Lady Margaret Middleton (1730-1792): As the daughter of an upper-class British family, her parents expected her to marry a suitor of their choosing. But Margaret defied her parents and married the man of her choice, even though it meant losing her fortune. Considered one of the most “accomplished women of her time,” she used her connections and considerable influence to push for the first bills for abolition in British Parliament (qtd. in Rendell 45). 

Lady Elizabeth Bouverie: Margaret’s wealthy childhood friend, who owned Teston House (later Barham Court). Like Margaret, she was devout and considered it her Christian duty to support various philanthropies in her parish. Hannah More would write of those who lived at Teston: “Nothing can exceed the goodness of the inhabitants whose lives are spent in acts of beneficence…such an enchanted Country, such Books! Such nightingales! Such Roses! Then within doors such goodness, such Charity, such Piety! I hope it is catching and that I shall bring away some of the odour of sanctity about me” (qtd. in Brown).

Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810): In addition to raising twelve children, she was a celebrated writer and expert on children’s education. While deeply conservative, Sarah believed that women should speak out in favor of abolition and wrote abolitionist literature to further the aims of the movement. 

Quoteworthy

Hannah More: “Christianity is a broad basis. Bible Christianity is what I love . . . a Christianity practical and pure, which teaches holiness, humility, repentance and faith in Christ; and which after summing up all the Evangelical graces, declares that the greatest of these is charity” (qtd. in Prior 155).

Hannah More: “The mischief arises not from our living in the world but from the world living in us; occupying our hearts, and monopolizing our affections. Action is the life of virtue, and the world is the theatre of action” (qtd. in Brown 384).

Selection from Hannah More’s poem “Slavery”: Whene’er to Afric’s shores I turn my eyes,//Horrors of deepest, deadliest guilt arise;//I see, by more than Fancy’s mirror shown,//The burning village, and the blazing town://See the dire victim torn from social life,//The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!//She, wretch forlorn! is dragged by hostile hands,//To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands://Transmitted miseries, and successive chains,//The sole sad heritage her child obtains.//E’en this last wretched boon their foes deny,//To weep together, or together die.//By felon hands, by one relentless stroke,//See the fond links of Nature broke!//The fibres twisting round a parent’s heart,//Torn from their grasp, and bleeding as they part.

Jane Austen on Hannah More’s novel Coelebs in Search of a Wife: “My disinclination for the novel before was affected, but now it is real; I do not like the Evangelicals. Of course, I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people, but till I do, I dislike it.”  

On Hannah More’s broken engagement with William Turner: “Perhaps guilt-ridden over his poor treatment of Hannah, Turner offered his former fiancé 200 pounds per year to support her as a professional writer, which gave her financial security and independence. Throughout the rest of his life, Turner deeply admired Hannah. Karen Swallow Prior says it best when she notes that, ‘Upon his death, Turner’s bequest included one thousand pounds for the almost–Mrs. Turner, the final seal of his continued love and respect for the woman who would not be his or any man’s but would be bestowed to the world’ (Prior 38).”

Dates to Remember

1788: The year that Hannah More published her anti-slavery poem “Slavery.” 

1792: When the “progress through Parliament of Bills opposing slavery had become bogged down, a brilliant and successful grassroots campaign was launched to boycott West Indian sugar – to hit the plantation owners where it hurt most, i.e. in their pockets. This was perhaps the first time that consumer power had been tried. Housewives simply refused to buy sugar from the West Indies. They either went without – or followed the call to use sugar grown in plantations in the East Indies where slaves were not used as labour. Some 300,000 households adopted the boycott – and credit for that must go to the women in those households, since they were the ones who actually bought the food to be consumed by their families. The result has been estimated as a 30 per cent drop in consumption of Caribbean sugar, and manufacturers leapt on the bandwagon by producing sugar dispensers with the words ‘East India Sugar – not made by Slaves’” (Rendell 106-107).

1809: When Hannah More published Coelebs in Search of a Wife. “Coelebs” means “single” in Latin. The novel follows the courtship adventures of a wealthy bachelor named Charles. Trying to counteract the frivolous novels of her day, Hannah was very intentional in making her views on education, manners, and religion clear. Although, critics often felt that it read more like one of her educational treatises, the novel was a runaway hit. 

Terms to Know

Blue Stocking Circle: Dr. Swallow Prior defines this eighteenth-century group as “A society of literary women who were learned and witty and wrote a great deal.” 

Sunday Schools: Schools created for boys and girls from the working class to receive an education, which focused on literacy and writing. Since working- class children typically had Sundays off from work, this was the only day of the week that they could receive some type of formal schooling. Often, the Bible was the core of the Sunday School curriculum.  

Scripture Memory

 James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

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Ashley’s Sources

Rendell, Mike. Trailblazing Women of The Georgian Era: The Eighteenth-Century Struggle For Female Success In A Man's World. Pen & Sword History, 2018.

Skedd, S.J. "More, Hannah (1745–1833), writer and philanthropist." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 25 September 2014. https://www-oxforddnb-com.

Prior, Karen Swallow. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Nelson Books, 2014. Also see Ep 6: Context Chat with Dr. Karen Swallow Prior.

Eger, Elizabeth. “Bluestocking Feminism and Writing in Context.” Bluestocking Feminism Vol. 1.  Ed. Elizabeth Eger. Pickering & Chatto, 1999. ix, xi, x, xiii.

Brown, Christopher Leslie. Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Metaxas, Eric. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. Harper San Francisco, 2007.

Stott, Anne. Hannah More : The First Victorian. Oxford University Press, 2003.

More, Hannah. Coelebs in Search of a Wife, edited by Patricia Demers. Broadview, 2007.

Demers, Patricia. “Introduction.” Coelebs in Search of a Wife. by Hannah More. Broadview, 2007.

Crossley Evans, MJ, Hannah More, University of Bristol, 1999.

Pink, A.W. Attributes of God.

The Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689. Edited by Peter Masters. The Wakeman Trust, 2008.

Mackie, Tim. “What are the Gospels?” The Bible Project.

Piper, John. “What is the Christian Gospel?” Desiring God.

Wilkin, Jen. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character. Crossway, 2018.

Hannah More Portrait, NPG UK 412.

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