Item of the Day: Miss Hannah More (1799)

Excerpted from: Public Characters of 1798-9. A New Edition. Enlarged and Corrected to the 25th of March, 1799. To be continued annually. London: Printed for R. Phillips, No. 71, St. Paul’s Church-Yard; and sold by T. Hurst and J. Wallis, Paternoster-Row; Carpenter and Co. Old Bond-Street; R. H. Westley, Strand; and by all booksellers, 1799. [pp. 476-485]

THE contoversy respecting the intellectual talents of women, as compared with those of men, is nearly brought to an issue, and greatly to the credit of the fair sex. The present age has produced a most brilliant constellation of female worthies, who have not only displayed eminent powers in works of fancy, but have greatly distinguished themselves in the higher branches of composition. Our own country has the honour of enrolling among its literary ornaments many females, to whom the interests of poetry, morality, and the sciences, are greatly indebted. Among celebrated living ladies may, with justice, be mentioned the names of Barbauld, Robinson, Cowley, Smith, Radcliffe, Farren, Piozzi, Seward, Lee, Hays, Inchbald, Cappe, Plumptree, Trimmer, Yearsley, Williams D’Arblay, Bennet, Linwood, Cosway, Kauffman, and Siddons.

The female who is the subject of the present notice is well known to the literary world, by several elegant, ingenious and useful publication. A few particulars respecting her, therefore, will not only be amusing to those who have read her works, but will also be instructive to young persons in the way of example.

Miss Hannah More is the youngest of four maiden sisters, the daughters of a clergyman, distinguished for his classical knowledge, and goodness of heart.

Hannah, who, at an early period of life, discovered a taste for literature, improved her mind during her leisure hours by reading; and soon perused not only the little paternal library, but all the books she could borrow from her friends, in the village of Hanham, near Bristol. The first which fell in her way was the Pamela of Richardson, the humble source of an innumerable offspring; and happy it would have been for the interests of virtue and literature, had the progeny been but as innocent as the parent.

The modesty and attainments of Hannah More, were spoken of with general respect in her native place, and at length acquired her the patronage of many respectable persons. In the mean time her sisters, who being also clever and amiable women, had conducted a little school with great success, were now enabled, in consequence of an encreasing [sic] reputation, to undertake the education of young persons above the situation of those to whose improvement their attention had hitherto been directed. So great, at length, was their celebrity, that several ladies of fortune and discernments prevailed upon them to remove to Bristol, about the year 1765, where they opened a boarding-school in Park-Street. This seminary, in a short time, became the most respectable of its kind in the West of England; and many females of rank received their education there.

Among others, who had the advantage of profiting by the instruction of the Miss Mores’, was the celebrated Mrs. Robinson, well known for her various elegant publications in prose and verse.

Miss H. More, who had removed with the family, had the good fortune of having for a next-door neighbour the Reverend Dr. Stonehouse; who perceiving her merits, distinguished her by his friendship, which he manifested by his instructions and recommendations. Both of these were of the most essential service to her in the cultivation of her literary taste. The doctor was a man of extensive acquaintance, general knowledge, and elegant manners. He condescended not only to examine the occasional effusions of her pen, but also to correct them, and through his hands all her early efforts passed to the press. The first of these was entitled “The Search after Happiness, a Peom,.” which was printed at Bristol under the doctor’s eye; and on its publication in London was so favourably received, as to encourage the author to further exertions of her powers. She next published “Sir Eldred of the Bower, and the Bleeding Rock; a legendary Tale;” which style of writing was become fashionable, through the success of Dr. Goldsmith’s sweet story of Edwin and Angelina.

Miss More now turned her attention to dramatic poetry, and produced a tragedy entitled FATAL FALSEHOOD; which was tolerably well received; but not so much as her PERCY, a tragedy, which met with universal applause. She also wrote another tragedy, called the INFLEXIBLE CAPTIVE; which fell short of the merit of her other dramatic pieces. The success she met with in this way was owing, in a great measure, to the immediate and commanding patronage of Garrick, who entered warmly into her interests through the recommendation of Dr. Stonehouse, with whom he was very intimate.

. . . Miss More has the credit of having drawn Mrs. Yearsley, the celebrated poetical milk-woman, from her obscurity into public notice and favour. When she had discovered this remarkable phenomenon, she immediately began to exert her benevolence, and by her unwearied assiduity procured a liberal subscription to the poems of this child of nature. She also drew up an interesting account of the milk-woman in a letter to Mrs. Montague; which letter, in order to enlarge the subscription, was published in the newspapers and magazines of the day. By the attentions of Miss More, a sum was raised sufficient to place the object of them in a situation more suitable to her genius. But we are sorry to be obliged to add, that a disagreement almost immediately followed the publication of the poems in question, between the author and her patroness; which is said to have been occasioned by the latter’s taking the management of the subscription-money into the hands of herself and some select friends. The motive with which this was done, adds greatly to the credit of Miss More and her friends, as it was no other than a desire to provide permanently for Mrs. Yearsley and her young family. She, however, had a different opinion, and thought it was unjust in them to withhold from her the management of her own property. She went further, and endeavoured to represent her best friend as actuated by unworthy sentiments, the least of which was, that of envy. Some attacks were, in consequence, made upon Miss More in different publications; but, conscious of the purity of her own views, she passed over those invidious attempts to prejudice the public mind against her silence. . . .

N.S.

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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Culture, Eighteenth century, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Women

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