« PreviousContinue »
“Our province is virtue and religion, life and manners; the science of improving the temper and making the heart better. This is the field assigned us to cultivate."— Bishop Butler's Sermon Upon the Ignorance of Man.'
HANNAH MORE. GRANGER, in his · Biographical History of England' (vol. i. p. 288), quoting from Holland's 'Heroologia,' mentions that “ the Rev. Mr. John More of Norwich, one of the worthiest clergymen in the reign of Elizabeth, gave the best reason that could be given for wearing the longest and largest beard of any Englishman of his time, uamely, that no act of his life might be unworthy of the gravity of his appearance.” Whether Jacob More could claim kindred with this sage of venerable aspect does not appear, but he also was a Norfolk man, a descendant of the Presbyterian family of the Mores of Harleston. He received the education of a scholar, and his prospects in life being marred by the adverse decision of a lawsuit he left his native county, and, after having acted for some time in the capacity of a supervisor of excise at Bristol, obtained the mastership of the Free School at Fishponds, a hamlet
of the parish of Stapleton, in the county of Gloucester, and soon afterwards espoused Mary Grace, the daughter of a respectable farmer in that vicinity, who was, like himself, remarkable for religious principles, sound sense, prudent management, and attachment to the Church of England. Five daughters were the issue of this marriage-Mary, born in 1738; Elizabeth, born in 1740; Sarah, born in 1743; Hannah, born on the 2nd of February, 1745; and Martha, born in 1749: the hamlet of Fishponds being the native place of the sisterhood. The father educated all his daughters with a view to their future occupation as schoolmistresses. They all had strong minds, sagacious intellects, and superior capacities for the acquisition of knowledge. Mary was distinguished for a rigid adherence to the dictates of right reason, and for indomitable strength of will : Elizabeth was of a more compliant nature, prudent, reserved, and possessing a peculiar faculty for orderly and methodical domestic management: Sarah was full of enterprise and of vivacious and joyous spirits, evincing also considerable talents for literature: Martha had the best abilities of the four sisters, and combined in herself the chief excellencies of their several characters ; indefatigable and cheerful activity was her distinctive attribute.
Hannah More's precocity of mind was extraordinary: listening to the lessons which were taught to her elder sisters, she learned them for herself without apparent effort, and made rhymes at four years old. Her nurse had formerly lived in the family of Dryden the poet, and Hannah took great delight in hearing stories related of his sayings and doings. From her father's recital she learned, instead of fairy tales, the most striking incidents of Grecian and Roman history, anecdotes from Plutarch's Lives, and many of that philosopher's wise axioms.
The advantage of being a younger child enabled her to imbibe with facility all the atoms of information floating in the healthy, moral atmosphere of her home. Literary ambition manifested itself with the earliest exercise of reason, and prevailed even in her sports ; her favourite amusement being to make fictitious journeys to London upon a chair, in order to converse with bishops and booksellers, the earliest idols of her imagination. Her father instructed her in the Latin language, and in the elements of mathematics, until alarmed at her progress, lest she should become that dreaded monster a learned woman, he ceased for a while to act as her preceptor, and could with difficulty be persuaded by his less prejudiced wife to allow the eager child to pursue her studious course. The wish to teach as well as to learn was early evinced by Hannah More; and no sooner had she acquired the art of penmanship than she seized upon all the scraps of paper that fell in her way and covered them with moral essays, verses, and letters of admonition to supposititious culprits.
Mary More was sent at stated intervals to a French school at Bristol, four miles off, where she steadily applied herself to make the best of her advantages, and day by day, or week by week, carried home what she learned, and used the intermediate hours in imparting a knowledge of the French language to her sisters. The society of several French officers, prisoners of war on parole, who occasionally visited Mr. More’s dinner-table, afforded the sisters still further opportunities of attaining fluency in French conversation.
The superior abilities, religious principles, and excellent conduct of these five sisters attracted the notice and secured the esteem of the chief persons resident in their neighbourhood, and it is probable that pecuniary assistance was proffered and accepted to assist the enterprising girls in the establishment of a boarding-school. In 1757, Mary More, being then nineteen years of age, took a house in Trinitystreet, Bristol, and, with her sisters Elizabeth and Sarah as coadjutors, and Hannah and Martha as pupils for a time, commenced the most successful career in the records of feminine school-keeping. At this important era of Hannah More's existence she had attained the age of twelve years : she sedulously availed herself of the instructions of masters in the Italian and Spanish languages, and in other accomplishments, and pursued with avidity every possible means of mental and moral self-improvement. One of the first books which attracted her mind was “The Spectator, that beacon of literary taste and social directory of Englishwomen. An odd volume of Richardson's 'Pamela,' met with by accident, is also supposed to have excited her early interest for fictitious narrative.
A linendraper named Peach, who had made the acquaintance of David Hume, during that eminent writer's two years' residence in Bristol, and was subsequently ertrusted with the task of striking out the Scotticisms in the first edition of his history, became the critical guide of Hannah More's English studies; and to him she ever acknowledged herself to be indebted for the inculcation of just principles of composition and the formation of a correct literary style.
Years passed on, the school prospered, and Hannah and Martha More rose from the pupils' forms to the place of teachers and part-proprietors of the establishment.
Hannah's knowledge of the physical sciences was chiefly derived from James Ferguson. He was in the habit of lecturing at Bristol upon astronomy and mechanics. The Miss Mores admired his wonderful abilities, and the energy with which he imparted the scientific truths wrought out and acquired by his self-taught mind. Hannah took especial pleasure in his instructive conversation, and be, discerning her taste and acumen, submitted all his subsequent writings to her criticism before publication.
In the year 1763, Mr. Sheridan delivered at Bristol a course of lectures upon rhetoric: Hannah More, then seventeen years of age, enchanted with a new opportunity of personal improvement, addressed to him a copy of complimentary verses. Acquaintance ensued, and Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan and their highly-gifted son, Richard Brinsley, were soon added permanently to the number of her friends. To the lessons in elocution then and subsequently received from Mr. Sheridan it is probable that both Sarah and Hannah More were indebted for the remarkable elegance with which they read aloud. The powers of Hannah in recitation were also admirable.
It was then the custom in female boarding-schools to have plays occasionally represented, in which the sentiments and manners were frequently incongruous with the delicate proprieties belonging to the pupils who performed them. Like most other clever women, Hannah More had in early life a strong predilection for dramatic exhibitions ; she cherished the belief that the stage might be made a powerful instrument in effecting the moral improvement of society, and the didactic spirit of her family and occupation was strong within her. Obeying these impulses she wrote, in the year 1763, when only eighteen years of age, The Search after Happiness, a Pastoral Drama for Young Ladies.'
“The Search after Happiness' acquired extensive circulation in manuscript, and spread far and wide the fame of the author and the reputation of the school, which the