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Thursday 12 July 2012

Hannah More (1745-1833)

Hannah More  from Memoirs of the life and correspondence   of Mrs Hannah More by William Roberts (1835)
Hannah More
from Memoirs of the life and correspondence 
of Mrs Hannah More by William Roberts (1835)

Hannah More (2 February 1745 - 7 September 1833) was a bluestocking writer whose moral works were highly influential in her time. She was an evangelical Christian and friend of William Wilberforce and supported the anti-slavery campaign.

Early life and education

Hannah More was born on 2 February 1745 in Stapleton, Gloucestershire. She was the fourth daughter of Jacob More, a Norfolk gentleman who was superintendent of a grammar school in Stapleton.

Hannah and her four sisters were educated at home by their parents. From an early age, Hannah displayed an aptitude for learning that was encouraged by her father who taught her classics and mathematics. She scribbled down stories and verses on scraps of paper as soon as she could write and read them aloud to amuse her youngest sister, Patty.

The Bristol school

More intended his daughters to run their own school and, with this in mind, he sent his eldest daughter to a French school in Bristol. Every week, Mary taught her sisters what she had learnt. The eldest sisters opened a boarding school in Bristol when Hannah was twelve and she was able to benefit from the visiting masters in modern languages and Latin, although her father prevented her from pursuing mathematics further as he did not approve of women’s learning in this field. When she was old enough, Hannah became a teacher at the school.

Hannah’s first serious work, a pastoral drama expressing her views on women’s education called The Search after Happiness, was published in Bristol in 1762 and performed at the school.

Unfulfilled promises and financial independence

In 1767, Hannah received the addresses of William Turner, a man of integrity and fortune, twenty years her senior. Hannah accepted his proposal, but Turner kept on putting off their wedding until, at last, the engagement was broken off by mutual agreement. Turner was anxious to make reparation for Hannah’s disappointed prospects and offered to pay her an annuity in compensation. Although initially she refused, Hannah was eventually persuaded to accept an annuity of £200 through a trust and Turner left her £1000 in his will.

The Bluestockings

In 1773, Hannah went to London, where she was introduced to the Garricks, Elizabeth Montagu, Joshua Reynolds, Dr Johnson and the politician Edmund Burke, through the recommendation of her friend and theological mentor, Reverend James Stonhouse.

David Garrick  from The Life of David Garrick  by Percy Fitzgerald (1868)
David Garrick
from The Life of David Garrick
by Percy Fitzgerald (1868)
When she visited London again in 1775, she was invited to Elizabeth Montagu’s house for a literary gathering – a bluestocking party. Her reputation was quickly established and she formed lasting friendships with a number of the bluestocking circle, Dr Johnson, Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Boscawen, Hester Chapone, Elizabeth Carter and Elizabeth Vesey.

Hannah’s poem, The Bas Bleu or Conversation was written in 1782, in praise of good conversation and she was depicted as one of the nine living muses in a group portrait by Richard Samuel in 1778.

Hannah the dramatist

Hannah’s financial independence enabled her to devote her time to writing. Encouraged by her close friend Garrick, she wrote two plays, The Inflexible Captive (1775) and a tragedy, Percy (1777), both of which were received with much acclaim. A third play, The Fatal Falsehood (1779), however, was a dismal failure, and this, coupled with the death of Garrick, led to a change in direction in her writings.

The Importance of Manners

After Garrick’s death, Hannah became increasingly evangelical in her outlook, influenced by her friends, Lady Middleton and Bishop Porteus. She wrote Sacred Dramas in 1782 and then, in 1788, issued Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society anonymously. The book dwelt on the need to reform the rich in order to help the poor. Some thought that it was written by her evangelical friend, Wilberforce. Both the Importance of Manners and its sequel, An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World, were enthusiastically received by the very people that they criticised.

William Wilberforce  from The Life of William Wilberforce  by Robert and Samuel Wilberforce (1839)
William Wilberforce
from The Life of William Wilberforce
by Robert and Samuel Wilberforce (1839)
Political and moral motivation

Hannah supported and encouraged Wilberforce in both his campaign for moral regeneration and his anti-slavery campaign. She wrote a large number of moral and anti-revolutionary tracts including Village Politics and Cheap Repository Tracts, and a novel, Cœlebs in Search of a Wife (1808).

She also wrote Strictures on Female Education (1799) and Hints towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805), which the Bishop of Exeter gave to the King and Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Princess Charlotte of Wales  - for whom More's Hints (1805) were written  from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
Princess Charlotte of Wales
- for whom More's Hints (1805) were written
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
Controversial moments

Hannah’s life was not without controversy. In 1784, she sought to promote the work of a milk woman whom she had discovered to have literary abilities. In an attempt to save her from squandering her new-found wealth, the principal was invested; the woman grew bitter and caused Hannah considerable grief before forced to hand the matter over to her solicitor.

Hannah More's home in Bath  76 Great Pulteney Street
Hannah More's home in Bath
76 Great Pulteney Street
Later, having retired from the management of the Bristol school, Hannah lived in Bath and at her home, Cowslip Green, near Bristol. The poverty she witnessed in the surrounding area prompted her to establish a school for the poor. But not without opposition from the farmers who did not want an educated workforce and the curate of Blagdon who sought to discredit the Cheddar school.

Plaque outside Hannah More's home in Bath
Plaque outside Hannah More's home in Bath
A woman of influence

Hannah More was a woman of great influence. She was friends with Mrs Delaney and with Lady de Clifford and Lady Charlotte Finch, governesses to the royal family. She visited the Duchess of Gloucester and Hannah's work was much admired by her children, Prince William and Princess Sophia. She corresponded with Horace Walpole and the ex-slave trader John Newton and was close friends with William Wilberforce, dubbing his Clapham home, Noah’s Ark. Through her writings, which were immensely popular, she was able to exert an influence for good on the rich and poor alike.

Ill health and death

Hannah More’s health was never robust and she had to endure the sadness of all her beloved sisters dying before her. In 1828 she moved to Clifton, Bristol, where she died on 7 September 1833, aged 88 years.

Sources used include:
Anon, The Great and the Good (Seeley, Jackson & Halliday, 1855, London)
Pollock, John, Wilberforce (Constable, 1977; Kingsway, 2007, Eastbourne)
Roberts, William, Memoirs of the life and correspondence of Mrs Hannah More (Harper & brothers, 1835, New York)
Skedd, SJ, More, Hannah (1745-1833) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn May 2009, accessed 7 June 2012)

 Photographs © Andrew Knowles -


  1. Charlotte Frost13 July 2012 at 06:19

    I didn't realise how long-lived and influential she was. Welll spotted!

  2. It is sad that someone who was so influential in her time is virtually unheard of today.

  3. Do you know if Hannah More had any connection with Cornwall? Such as through Cornish Methodism?

    1. I don't remember coming across any such connection, but you could try asking Anne Stott, who has written a detailed biography of her. You can contact her via her Twitter account

    2. didn't help

    3. I'm sorry that didn't help. If you think there may be a connection with Cornish Methodism, try contacting the Cornish Studies Library:

  4. i would like to know about the book about the search after happiness

    1. You can read it on Google books - here's the link for you to copy into your browser: