Variously characterized as an “English writer and philanthropist,” “a British playwright, abolitionist and philanthropist,” “an Evangelical philanthropist,” “an educator, writer and social reformer,” poet Hannah More’s name is one with which I was unfamiliar. A contemporary of John Newton and William Wilberforce (among others) and a woman who mingled with many of London’s literary elite, More lived from 1745 to 1833.
With a recently released biography, author Karen Swallow Prior provides a portrait of Hannah More, a cultural figure who engaged her times and challenged the conventional norms of her time, including prevailing attitudes on slavery. The book is Fierce Convictions with the subtitle The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.
I am indebted to an interview in World Magazine for introducing me to this poet. I’m always intrigued by writers from other eras who have successfully engaged their culture via their calling. Considering the time in which More lived, I am thoroughly impressed with her ability to transcend the usual expectations placed on women.
I’m also astonished I had never heard of (or perhaps not taken note of?) this woman/poet one biographer described as possibly “the most influential woman of her day.” According to some sources, she was never considered a woman of means, she lived a single life, and her primary source of income came from a reluctant fiancé who (after six years of nuptial postponements) opted to give her a monthly stipend instead of marrying her.
As I thought today about the life of this long-ago poet (and subsequently ordered Prior’s book which arrives Tuesday), I was once again reminded how time has passed since the 1800s, but we face similar challenges to those addressed by More in her writings. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned specifically the scourge of abortion in the black community. (Though it’s not just the black community hurt by destruction of innocent human life, their losses are no less gloomy than they were with slavery.)
Imagine having a life-affirming influence in today’s culture … as Hannah More had in her day! It doesn’t have to be through poetry, or writing plays, or rubbing elbows with the glitterati. She also taught school and informally hosted several children in her home to disciple (an old-fashioned but apt description) and thus extend her influence.
For myself, I don’t pretend to enjoy the considerable sphere of influence that More had, but readers of this blog know I frequently use poetry to express my commitment to certain values. The sonnet below is no exception. In More’s time, slavery was seen as a “necessary evil,” a despicable enterprise that had to be tolerated because the British economy (even the world economy) depended upon it!
Almost two hundred years after the Slavery Abolition Act (1833), we tolerate abortion and sanitize it as “a woman’s right to choose.” How long, my friends? How long?