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Hannah More (1745-1833): The Poet & Writer

Hannah Moore

Hannah More was an educator, writer and social reformer. She was also known for her writings on abolition and for encouraging women to join the anti-slavery movement.

She was born in the village of Fishponds near Bristol. Her father was a schoolmaster. In her early years she taught at the school her family had opened with her sisters. At 22 she became engaged to a local landowner, William Turner. The wedding never took place and in compensation, Turner paid her a sum of £200 each year. This allowed her to give up teaching and concentrate on writing.

Hannah was clever and witty. She was a member of a group of intelligent women called the 'Bluestockings'. She wrote poetry and plays but lost enthusiasm for the theatre after her friend David Garrick died. In 1787, she met John Newton and the 'Clapham Sect' (a group of wealthy evangelicals Christians who lived close to Clapham). The group was strongly opposed to the Slave Trade. William Wilberforce was a member of the group and they became firm friends. 

Hannah helped give the abolition movement a public voice with her writings. In 1788, she wrote 'Slavery, a Poem', to coincide with Wilberforce's parliamentary campaign for abolition. The poem dramatically described a mistreated, enslaved female separated from her children and it questioned Britain's role in the Slave Trade. The extracts below are from this poem:

EXTRACT 1

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;

EXTRACT 2

Thy followers only have effac'd the shame
Inscrib'd by SLAVERY on the Christian name.                
Shall Britain, where the soul of freedom reigns,
Forge chains for others she herself disdains?
Forbid it, Heaven! O let the nations know
The liberty she loves she will bestow;
Not to herself the glorious gift confin'd,                
She spreads the blessing wide as humankind;
And, scorning narrow views of time and place,
Bids all be free in earth's extended space.
What page of human annals can record
A deed so bright as human rights restor'd?                
O may that god-like deed, that shining page,
Redeem OUR fame, and consecrate OUR age!
And see, the cherub Mercy from above,
Descending softly, quits the sphere of love!

To hear the extracts read

More also wrote "The Sorrows of Yamba" (or, The Negro Woman's Lamentation) in 1795. 

In 1789, she purchased a small house at Cowslip Green in Somerset. Wilberforce encouraged More to set up a Sunday school in Cheddar, where poor children could be taught to read. Soon she and her sisters had set up similar schools throughout the Mendip villages, despite fierce opposition. 

Throughout her life, she continued to support the cause of abolition. In her old age, people from all parts came to vists the bright, amiable old lady she had become. She spent the last five years of her life at Clifton, often in poor health. Like Wilberforce, she lived just long enough to see the act finally abolishing slavery in the British Empire. She died in September 1833.

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