Hannah More brought a wide array of gifts and talents to her work in the church. She was a religious writer, poet and playwright, philanthropist, social reformer, and abolitionist. The Episcopal Church commemorates Hannah More today, September 6.
Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son led captivity captive: Multiply among us faithful witnesses like your servant Hannah More, who will fight for all who are oppressed or held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the glorious liberty that you have promised to all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
More was born in Bristol in 1745 and was raised in the Church of England. She and her four sisters were instructed at home by their father, who was a local school teacher. When the oldest two sisters had reached adulthood, their father established a school for girls and placed them in charge of it. Hannah completed her education there and then taught at the school herself.
Hannah devoted considerable energy to writing even as a child. Her first works were poems plays that were intended to be performed in girls’ schools, such as the one where she taught, with the characters being primarily women. In the 1780s, Hannah became friends with James Oglethorpe, an early abolitionist who was working to abolish the slave trade. Around this time, her writing began to address issues of religious concerns and social reform, particularly the evils of slavery.
She also wrote on a number of other religious topics, with important works such as Practical Piety (1811), Christian Morals (1813), and The Character of St. Paul (1815). Her works were extremely popular in some circles, but reviled in others. In his 1906 work Hannah More Once More, the lawyer and politician Augustine Birrell admits to burying all 19 volumes of her work in his garden in
More was heavily active in philanthropic work, establishing twelve schools for the education of poor children. She also donated money to Bishop Philander Chase for the establishment of Kenyon College, and established a number of Sunday Schools which offered instruction in both literacy and Christianity.
Many of More’s poems drew forceful attention to the evils of slavery and forced the issue into the public gaze. While their literary quality is often not to modern tastes, in their own day they were very influential, and raised awareness of the issue among literary circles who were not otherwise inclined to discussions of public policy and social reform.
This is an excerpt from her poem Slavery:
I see, by more than Fancy’s mirrow shewn,
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 dragg’d by hostile hands,
To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands!
Transmitted miseries, and successive chains,
The sole sad heritage her child obtains!
Ev’n 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 feeling nature broke!
The fibres twisting round a parent’s heart,
Torn from their grasp, and bleeding as they part.
Hold, murderers, hold! not aggravate distress;
Respect the passions you yourselves possess.
Hannah More died in Clifton, near Bristol, on September 7, 1833.
(Hagiography from Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018, Church Publishing.)