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OF THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
In presenting to the American people a new edition of the works of an authoress, who has so long contributed to their instruction and delight, a few remarks respecting her, can neither be inappropriate nor unacceptable.
Mrs. Hannah More was born in 1745, and is the daughter of a clergyman whose residence was at Hanham, near Bristol. Her love of knowledge early displayed itself, and induced her, after exhausting the slender domestic library, to have recourse to borrowing from her village friends. She removed in the year 1765, with her four sisters, to Bristol, where they jointly conducted a boarding school for young ladies, with great and deserved celebrity. Some of her earliest productions, which were in the dramatic form, owed their existence to a desire of furnishing her pupils with proper poetical recitations. Her talents and virtues gained not only the patronage of men of taste and science, but the firm friendship of some of the most illustrious names which the present age has inscribed on the annals of Great Britain. After continuing for many years in the interesting work of education, the sisters retired to Barley-Wood in Wrington, near Somersetshire, where a beautiful cottage and grounds were arranged and ornamented by their united taste.
By those who attach value to the minutest circumstances connected with genius and piety, we shall be forgiven for adding, that almost every tree in this delightful retreat has been planted by Mrs. H. More's own hand, and that a little cabinet-table, from whence has issued many a sheet for the edification of mankind, is elegantly inlaid with small diamond-shaped pieces of wood, from the trees of her own rearing.
In various works of charity, particularly in the establishment of schools for the poor, these excellent sisters co-operated, bringing to the relief of ignorance and penury, the unwearied energy of congenial spirits. In this hallowed seclusion, the three elder inmates paid the debt of nature, in the order of their birth, each having attained her 75th year; and in the autumn of 1819, the youngest
was taken, at the age of 67, leaving the beloved survivor to pursue a solitary pilgrimage. This utter bereavement of relatives serves to place in stronger relief the consolations of that religion which she has so often recommended to others, while the patient magnanimity which she opposes to the inroads of time, sickness, and sorrow, evince her strength and solace are not of this world. She still continues to exercise hospitality, and to charm by the vivacity of her conversation, the multitude of guests who seek the honour of a personal interview. The youngest visitant finds her condescension of manner suddenly dispelling the awe which her talents had inspired; and the stranger who approaches Barley-Wood, with the thrill of undefined apprehensions, leaves it, cheered by the benevolence of an angel. The following graphic description of her, is from the pen of an American gentleman, who visited her habitation in the spring of 1824.
“Mrs. More is rather short, but otherwise of an usual size, with a face that could never have been handsome, and never other than agreeable. She has the brightest and most intellectual eye that I ever saw in an aged person ; it was as clear, and seemed as fully awake with mind and soul, as if it had but lately opened on a world full of novelty. The whole of her face was strongly characterized by cheerfulness. I had once thought the world was deficient in a knowledge of the means of rendering old age agreeable, and it crossed my mind that I would suggest to Mrs. More, that she might, better than any person, supply this deficiency. But it was better than a volume on this subject to see her. I understood the whole art of making old age peaceful, tranquil, happy, at a glance. It is only to exert our talents in the cause of virtue as she has done, and in age be like her. It was a strong lecture, and I would not forget it.”
In tracing the literary course of this distinguished personage, from her first production, the “Search after Happiness,” to her last, the “ Spirit of Prayer,” embracing a period of nearly half a century, it is impossible not to be impressed with that spirit of benevolence which pervades the whole.
Those who have tasted the sweetness of fame, will best know how to estimate that strength of principle, which led her to renounce the exercise of her dramatic powers, after they had won the fascinating meed of popular applause, from a doubt whether a “ Christian might safely countenance the stage.”
In the perusal of her writings, we are surprised both at their diversity of subject, and compass of thought. That genius must be endowed with no common versatility, which could, with equal ease, mark out the map of tutelage for a princess, or hold, amid the darkness of the mines, a lamp of truth to the miserable colliers; touch the tenderest imagery of the heart in the poem on “Sensibility,” or illustrate the rudiments of a peasant's faith, in the ballad of “ Dan and Jane;" soar into the highest regions of sublimity, following the very “chiefest of the apostles,” or descend with the alphabet of morality, to the comprehension of the “ Postilion,” the “ Poacher,” and the “ Orange Girl.” A mind fitted to range in the departments of fancy, and clothe its conceptions with all the richness of classic allusion, must be eminent in self-control, to humble itself to the petty and painful details which the science of human wretchedness imposes.
But though the works of Mrs. More display, both in plan and style, such unusual variety, a principle of moral unity is prominent in all.
The negative merit of merely doing no evil, with which many of the imaginative writers of the present day are satisfied, has not been sufficient for her, who, in her literary efforts, sought not the praise of men in opposition to the praise of God. In all her tales, whether complicated or simple, she has clearly kept in view the best interests of society, toiling to "give ardour to virtue, and confidence to truth.” In the composition of her characters, Vice is never decorated with that dazzling garniture which captivates the unguarded heart, thus forming associations which Religion must either dispossess or purify.
Some of her best didactic works are devoted peculiarly to the benefit of her own sex, discouraging frivolity of pursuit, and pointing out the latent power which they might exercise to elevate and improve society, without violating that law of subordination which Heaven has enjoined. In regarding the effect, as well as the tendency of her writings, it is not too much to suppose that the civil institutions of her country have profited by that spirit of patriotism, and masculine force of argument, which, fearlessly admonishing nobility of its obligations, and inciting poverty to its duty, has laboured to rectify public opinion, to remove prejudices against just government, and to resolve the safety of a nation into the early and pious nurture of its subjects.
The diffusion of the works of Mrs. More has in some measure
kept pace with their intrinsic value. It may almost be said that their “ speech has gone forth to the ends of the world.” Beside their wide circulation wherever her native tongue is spoken, portions of them have been transfused into the languages of France, Germany, and Ceylon. In this far country of England's planting, they have been extensively and warmly appreciated. They have been incorporated with the elements of a young nation's literature, and blended with the sources of its happiness and glory. Companions of the Bible, they have travelled with the family of the emigrant to our uncultivated wilds, and forest frontiers. There, where the woodman's axe wakens echoes which had slept from creation, the isolated matron is cheered by “ Practical Piety" to her laborious duties, introduces by the evening fireside the “Shepherd of Salisbury Plain” to her delighted household, or marks her babes weep-> ing tender tears at the deliverance of the cradled prophet from the devouring Nile. That spirit of stern republicanism which stood undaunted by the armed host and regalia of Britain, has been moved by the gentle breathings from the shades of Barley-Wood. It could resist the fire, and the tempest, and the earthquake of oppressive power, but not the still small voice of consecrated intellect.
If, as this revered authoress has asserted, “ there is between him who writes, and him who reads, a kind of coalition of interest, a partnership of mental property, a joint stock of tastes and ideas,” how great must be her satisfaction, who, over so wide a field has sown, from life's dawn till its late decline, only seeds of virtue, and gems of that wisdom which turneth the soul to righteousness; to whom many of different kindreds and tongues, might address what she has herself said of an inferior moralist
“ If some faint love of goodness glow in me,
Pure spirit! I first caught that flame from thee.” A blessing the most desirable in this life, most powerful over the destinjes of the next, has been granted her, that influence of mind over mind, which, entering alike the palace and the cottage, silently renders its inmates wiser and better; an influence which will exist when the distinctions of rank and wealth are forgotten, and their proudest monuments moulder into dust.
L. H. S HARTFORD, January 1st, 1827.