Hannah More.

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The complete works of
Hannah More

Hannah More

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When the veil of mortality descends upon splendid genius, that has been long de-
voted to the instruction and best interests of mankind, the noblest monument that
can be erected to commemorate its worth and perpetuate its usefulness, is the col-
lection of those productions which, when separately published, delighted and edified
the world.

No writer of the past or present age has equalled Hannah More in the appli-
cation of great talents to the improvement of society, through all its distinctions,
from the humblest to the most exalted station in life. Her works have, indeed, in
a very striking manner, and to an extraordinary extent, given a new and most im-
portant feature to the moral character of the nation she adorned. They have dif-
fused vital religion, in faith and practice, over districts where its mere external
form was before scarcely to be seen ; and, what is still more deserving of admiration,
this accomplished lady, by the power of her reasoning, and the elegance of her
compositions, has succeeded, if the phrase may be permitted, in rendering piety
fiishionable and^popular, where even the name of religion was, and that at no very
distant period, treated with indifference, if not with absolute contempt.

Afler establishing her claim to the highest station in the temple of poetical fame,
Hannah More resolved to consecrate her talents wholly to His service from
whom she had received them. This determination she carried into efiect ; and
inconceivably great.and extensive were the benefits it produced. When licentious
principles began to be promulgated with industrious zeal, and to threaten the foun-
dations of all moral and social order, then did this Christian heroine, armed in the
panoply of truth, appear foremost to oppose the inroads of the enemies of righte-
ousness. The success was unexampled. The tracts which, with uncommon
celerity and admirable judgment, came from her fertile pen, operated like a charm,
in confirming the wavering, and appalling the evil mind.

The venerable Bishop Porte us, in a charge delivered to the clergy of his
diocess in 1798, having noticed the exertions made by different pious writers to ex-
cite the spirit of religion, says, ** To these it would now be injustice not to add the
^ name of another highly approved author, Mrs. Hannah More ; whose extraordi-
nary and versatile talents can equally accommodate themselves to the cottage and
* the palace ; who, while she is difiusing among the lower orders of the people an
>. infinity of little religious tracts, calculated to reform and comfort them in this world,
' ' And to save them in the next, is at the same time applying all the powers of a vigorous
and highly cuKivated mind to the instruction, improvement, and high delight of the
; most exalted of her own sex. I allude more particularly to her last work, on female
> education, which presents to the reader such a fund of good sense, of wholesome
* counsel, of sagacious observation, of knowledge of the world and of the female
heart, of high-toned morality, and genuine Christian piety ; and all this enlivened
with such brilliancy of wit, such richness of imagery, such variety and felicity of

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allusion, such neatness and elegance of diction, as are not, I conceive, easily to be
found so combined and blended together in any other work in the English language.
Of the above-mentioned little tracts, no less than two millions were sold in the first
year ; and they contributed, I am persuaded, very essentially to counteract the
poison of those impious and immoral pamphlets, which were dispersed over the
kingdom in such numbers by societies of infidels and disafiected persons."

The popularity of Mrs. More's writings, never sensibly diminished, even by the
vast increase of excellent and highly esteemed works in eveiy department of liter-
ature by which the last twen^ years have been distinguished, has been revived to
au extent, perhaps, even greater than they achieved b the early period of their ex-
istence, by the recent publication of the admirable memoirs of her life and corre-
spondence, prepared with so much %kill and judgment by her chosen biographer and
literary executor, Mr. Roberts ;' a work upon which the strongest language of ap-
proving crilicism has been and still is bestowed by the highest authorities, both in
this country and in England. The general acceptation with which those volumes
were received, would have encouraged the publishers to follow (hem with an edition
of Mrs. More!8 writings, even had they not been repeatedly advised and ui]ged to
the undertaking, not only by firiends and in private, but by the almost united voice
of the press throughout the Union. Had they not assumed it, with these induce-
ments, they would have considered themselves as in some measure neglecting a duty,
standing as they do in the light of caterers for the literary gratification of the public,*
whose wishes and opinions they are bound to respect, at least, if not implicitly
to follow.

It is hoped and believed that the present collectioD, which contains aU the wri-
tings of that eminent lady, in a convenient as well as handsome form, and is published
at a very moderate price, will be received with a degree of favour not less cordial and
extensive than that whkeh was and still is accorded to the memoirs. To adopt the
words of a religious periodical of high cbanlcter, used in speaking of those vol-
umes, it may be asserted that ** it will please the superficial, improve die intelli-
gent, and receive the hearty commendation of the serious reader. The young and
the old, the lively and the sedate, will derive fixMn it pleasure and profit"

The publishers cannot refirain from quoting the following just and happy expres-
sions, firom another publication devoted to the interests of religion. ** But the view
of her influence upon mankind will be exceedingly iniperfect, unless we take into the
estimate the whole number of individuals who faAve derived already, and will here-
after derive fi:om her writings, the purest principles of religion, philosophy, and vhlue.
These can never be numbered, but they may safely be put down at millions. Now
if all these readers gain but a single important suggestion, are incited to practise a
single virtue, or to refiiun firom a single vice-— if but one in ten is made wiser or
better by her publications, how immeasurable is the good effected by her mind !"

** A soul thus active, spread out upon so wide a range of objects, impressing its
o^ beauties and breathing its own spirit upon such myriads of kindred beings,
demonstrates its •wn immortality, and proclaims in the history of the worid the ex-
hilarating truth, that the united acquisitions of piety, intellect, and virtue, centring
their q)erations on that which is immortal, possess a grandeur which renders the con-
quests of pride and power insignificant as empty bubbles, and is more substantially
glorious than the gorgeous enchantments of imperial magnificence."

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WoATKFXR objectkms m&j be urged against the literary character of tha proeeot day, it most
howeTer be allowed to exhibit an erident improvement in some material points. It is for in-
stance, no new observation, that vanity and flattery are now less generaUy ostensible even in the
most indifferent aathors than they were formerly in some of the best The most self^ufficient
writer is%t length driven, by the prevailing sense of propriety, to be contented with thinking
himself the prime genios of the age ; but he seldom ventures to tell you that he thinks sa Va-
nity is compelled to acquire or to assume a better taste.

That spirit of independence also, which has in many respects impressed so mischievous a
•tamp on the public character, has perhaps helped to correct the style of prefaces and dedications.
Literary patronage is so much sham of tts beamst that it can no longer enlighten bodies which
are in themselves opake ; so much abridged of its power that it cannot force into notice a work
which is not able to recommend itself The &vour of an individual no longer boasts that buoyant
quality which enables that to swim which by its own nature is disposed to sink. The influence
of an Augustus, or a Louis Quatorze, of a MsBcenas, a Dorset, a Halifax, could not now pro-
eure readers, much less could it compel admirers for the panegyrist, if the panegyrist himself^
oould command admiration on no better ground than the authority of the patron. The once di-
fatted preface is shrunk into plain apology or simple exposition. The long and lofly dedication
(generally speaking) dwindled into a sober expression of respect for public virtue, a concise tri
bute of aflection to private friendship, or an acknowledgment for personal obligation. It is no
lon^r necessary for the dependant to be profane in order to be grateful. No more are all the
divme attributes snatched fVom their rightful possessor, and impiously appropriated by the needy
writer to the opulent patron. He still makes indeed the eubgium of his protector, but not his
apotheosis. The vainest poet of our days dare not venture, Uke him who has however so glo-
riously accomplished his own prediction, to say, in so many words, that his own work is more
tMime than the royal heights of pyramids. Nor whatever secret compact he may make for his
duration, does he openly undertake to promise for his verse, that it shall flow coequal with the
rictrs and survive the established forms of the religion of his country. The most venal poetic pa.
rasite no longer assures his protector, with * unhappy Dryden,* that mankind can no more sub-
sist without Ate poetry (the earl of Middle8ex*s poetry !) than the world can subsist without the
daily course of Divine Providence. And it is but justice to the more sober spirit of living litera-
ture to observe, that our modesty would revolt (putting oqr sense and our religion out of the
'question) were a modem poet to offer even an imperial patron to pick and choose his lodging
among the constellations ; or, as some author has expressed it on a similar occasion, ' to ask what
^ATtment of the zodiack he would be pleased to occopj.*

So &r at least our taste is reformed. And may we not venture to hope, from the affinity which
■hoold subsist between correct judgment and unadulterated principle, that our ideas of truth and
manly integrity are improved also t

But it is time that I confine myself to the more immediate objects of the present address, in
which, in avoiding the exploded evil I have been reprobating, I would not affectedly run into the
opposite, and perhaps prevailing extreme.

It may not, it is presumed, be thought necessary to apologise for the publication of this collcc-
tioo, by enumerating all the reasons which produced it. * Desire of friends,* is now become a
proverbial satire ; the poet is driven from that once creditable refuge, behind which an unfounded
eagerness to appear in print used to shelter itself; and is obliged to abandon the untenable forts
and fastnesses of this last citadel of afiectation. Dr. Johnson's sarcasm upon one plea will applj
to all, and put to flight the whole hackneyed train of false excuses — * If the book were not writ.
tea to be printed, I presume it was printed to be read.*

ThfMe scattercid pieces, besides that they had been suffered to pass through successive editions,
with little or no correction, were in their original appearance, of all shapes and sizes, and utterly
unreducable to any companionable, form. Several new pieces are here added, and most of the old
ones considerably altered and enlarged.

I should blush to produce so many slight productions of my early youth, did I not find reason
111 be still more ashamed, that afler a period of so many years the progress will be found to hav«
been so inconsiderable, and the diflbrdnce so little apparent- iqitized by GoOQIC'


If I should presame to suggest as an apology for having still persisted to publish, that of the
latter productions, usefulness has been more invariably the object; whereas in many of the
earlier, amusement was more obviously proposed ; if I were inclined to palliate my presumption
by pleading

That not in Fancy's maze I wander*d long;

it might be retorted that the implied plea, in favour of the latter publications, exhibits no sure
p.-oofof humility in this instance than in the other. That, if in the first it was no evidence of
the modesty of the writer to fancy she could amuse, in the last it furnishes little proof of the
modesty of the woman to fancy that she can instruct Now to amuse, or to instruct, or both, is
so undeniably the intention of all who obtrude their works on the public, that no preliminary
apology, no prefatory humiliation can quite do away the charge of a certain consciousnes of talents
which is implied in the very undertaking. The author professes his inability but he produces
his book ; and by the publication itself controverts his own avowal of alleged incapacity. It is
to little purpose that the words are disparaging while the deed is assuming. Nor will that pro-
fession of self-abasement be much regarded, which is contradicted by an act that supposes self-

If however there is too seldom found in the writer of the book, all the humility which the pre-
face announces, he may be allowed to plead on humility, which is at least comparative. On this
ground may I be permitted to declare, that at no period of my life did I ever feel such unfeigned
diffidence at the individual appearance of even the slightest pamphlet (the slenderness^f whose
dimensions might carry some excuse for the small proportion of profit or pleasure it conveyed)
as I now feel at sending this, perhaps too voluminous, collection into the world. This self-distrust
may naturally be accounted for, by reflecting that this publication is deliberately made, not only
at a time of life when I otlght best to know my own faults, and the fkulta of my writings ; but
is made also at such a distance from the moment in which the several pieces were first struck
out, that the mind has had time to cool from the hurry and heat of composition ; the judgment
has had leisure to operate, and it is the effect of that operation to rectify false notions and to cor
rect rash conclusions. The critic, even of his own works, grows honest, if not acute at the end
of twenty years. The image, which he had fancied glowed so brightly when it came fresh from
the furnace, time has quuenched ; the spirits which he thought fixed and essential, have evapo.
■rated ; many of the ideas which he imposed not only on his reader, but on himself, for originals,
more reading and more observation compel him to restore to their owners. And having detected,
from the perusal of abler works, either plagiarisms in his own, of which he was not aware, or
coincidences which will pass for plagiarisms ; and blending with the new judgment of the critic,
the old indignation of the poet, who of us in this case is not angry with those who have said our
good things before tis 7 We not only discover that what we thought we had invented we have
only remembered ; but wo find also that what we had believed to bs perfect is full of defects ; in
that which we had conceived to be pure gold, we discover much tinsel. For the revision, as was
observed above, is made at a period when the eye is brought by a due remoteness into that just
position which gives a citar and distinct view of things ; a remoteness which disperses * the illu-
sions of vision,* scatters the mists of vanity, reduces objects to tlieir natural size, restores them
to their exact shape, makes them appear to the sight, such as they are in themselves, and such
as perhaps they have long appeared to all except the author.

That I have added to the mass of general knowledge by one original idea, or to the stock of
virtue by one original sentiment, I do not presume to hope. But 3iat I have laboured assidu-
ously to make that kind of knowledge which is most indispensable to common life, familiar to
the unlearned, and acceptable to the young ; that I have laboured to inculcate into both, the love .
and practice of that virtue of which they had before derived the principles from higher sources,
I will not deny to have attempted.

To what is called learning I have neverhad any pretension. Life and manners have been the
objects of my unwearied observation, and .f very kind of study and habit has more or less recom-
mended itself to my mind, as it had more or less reference to these objects. Considering this
world as a scene of much action, and of little comparative knowledge ; not as a stage for exhibi-
tion, or a retreat for speculation, but as a field on which the business which is to determine the
concerns of eternity is to be transacted ; as a place of low regard as an end ; but of unspeakable
importance as a means ; a scene of short experiment, but lasting responsibility ; I have been con-
tented to pursue myself, and to present to others (to my own sex chiefly) those truths, which, if
obvious and familiar, are yet practical, and of general application : things which if of little show,
are vet of some use ; and which, if their separate value be not great, yet their aggregate im« .
portancc is not inconsiderable. I have pursued, not that which demands skill, and ensures re.
nown, but

That which before us lies in daily life.

If I have been favoured with a measure of success, which has as much exceeded my expccta
tion as my desert, I ascribe it partly to a disposition in the public mind to encourage, in these
days of alarm, attack, and agitation, any productions of which the tendency is favourable to good
order and Christian morals, even though the merit of the execution by no means keeps pace with
that of the principle. In some instances I trust I have written seasonably when I have not been
able to write well. Several pieces perhaps of small value in themselves have helped to supply in

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i in&riof de^^ree the exigence of the moment ; and have had Jie advantage, not of foperaed
ing the necessity, or the appearance, of abler writings, but of exciting abler writers ; who, seeing
how little I had been able to say on topics apon which much might & said, have more than sup.
pU^ my deficiencios by filling up what I had only superficially sketched out On that which had
only a temporary use, I do not aspire to build a lasting reputation.

In the progress ef ages, and afler the gradual accumulation of literary productions, the humat
mind — I speak not of the scholar, or the philosopher, but of the multitude — the human mind
Alhenian in this one propensity, the detire to hear and to tell tome new things will reject, or over
look, or grow weary even of the standard works of the most established authors; while it wiJ)
peruse with Interest the current volume or popular pamphlet of the day. This hunger after no-
velty, by the way, is an instrument of inconceivable importimce placed by Providence iu the
hands of every writer ; and should strike him forcibly with the duty of turning this sharp appe-
tite to good account, by appeasing it with sound and wholesome alimenL It is not perhaps
that the work in actiial eirculation is comparable to many works which are neglected ; but it is
iiev. And let the fortunate author militant, of moderate abilities, who is banquetting on his
transient, and perhaps accidental popularity, use that popularity wisely ; and, bearing in mine
that he himself must expect to be neglected in his turn, let him thankfully seize his little season of
fugitive renown ; let him devote his ephemeral importance, conscientiously to throw into the com
mon stock his quota of harmless pleasure or of moral profit Let him unaffectedly rate his humble,
but not unuseful kbours, at their just price, nor despondingly conotnde tl^t he has written al.
together in vain, though he do not see a publie revolution of manners succeed, as he had perhaps
too fondly flattered himself, to the publication of his book. Let him not despair, if, though ho
have had many readers, he has had but few converts. Nor let him on the other hand be elated
by a celebrity which he may owe more to his novelty than to his genius, more to a happy combi.
nation in the circumstances of the times, than to his own skill or care; — and most of all. to his
having diligently observed, that

Tbere is a tide in the affairs of men ;

and to his having, accordingly, launched his bark at the favourable flow.

The well intentioned and well principled author, who has uniformly thrown all his weight,
though that weight be but small, mto the right scale, may have contributed his fair proportion
to that great work of reformation, which will, I trust, unless a total subversion of manners should
take place, be always carrying on in the world ; but which the joint concurrence of the wisdom

Online LibraryHannah MoreThe complete works of Hannah More → online text (page 1 of 135)