Hannah More (February 2, 1745 - September 7, 1833) was an English religious writer and philanthropist. She can be said to have made three reputations in the course of her long life: as a clever verse-writer and witty talker in the circle of Johnson, Reynolds and Garrick, as a writer on moral and religious subjects on the Puritanic side, and as a practical philanthropist.
Born in 1745 at Stapleton, near Bristol, she was the fourth of five daughters of Jacob More, who, though from a Presbyterian family in Norfolk, had become a member of the English Church, a strong Tory and a schoolmaster at Stapleton in Gloucestershire. Jacob More established a boarding school run by Mary and Elizabeth More, his wife and oldest daughter, at 6 Trinity Street in Bristol. Hannah More became a pupil when she was twelve years old, and taught there in her early adulthood. Her first literary efforts were pastoral plays, suitable for young ladies to act, the first being written in 1762 under the title of The Search after Happiness ; by the mid-1780s over 10,000 copies had been sold. Metastasio was one of her literary models; on his opera of Attilio Regulo she based a drama, The Inflexible Captive .
In 1767 More gave up her share in the school after becoming engaged to William Turner, of Wraxall, Somerset. The wedding never took place, however, and after much reluctance, Hannah More was induced to accept a £200 annuity from Turner. This set her free for literary pursuits, and in the winter of 1773 - 74 she went to London. Some verses that she had written on David Garrick's version of Lear led to an acquaintance with the celebrated actor and playwright; soon More had also met Elizabeth Montagu and Joshua Reynolds. Within a short time More had associated herself with Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke and London's literary elite. Garrick wrote the prologue and epilogue for her tragedy Percy, which was acted with great success at Covent Garden in December 1777.
Another drama, The Fatal Falsehood, produced in 1779 after Garrick's death, was less successful. In 1781 she made the acquaintance of Horace Walpole, and corresponded with him from that time. At Bristol she discovered Ann Yearsley (1753 - 1806), a milkwoman and poet, and raised a considerable sum of money for her benefit. Lactilia, as Yearsley was called, published Poems, on Several Occasions in 1785, earning about £600. More and Montagu held the profits in trust to protect them from Yearsley's husband: Anne Yearsley wished to receive the capital, and made insinuations of stealing against More, forcing her to release the money. These literary and social failures caused More's withdrawal from London's intellectual circles.
Hannah More published Sacred Dramas in 1782 and it rapidly ran through nineteen editions. These and the poems Bas-Bleu and Florio (1786) mark her gradual transition to more serious views of life, which were fully expressed in prose, in her Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788), and An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790). By this point she was intimate with William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay, with whose evangelical views she was in sympathy. She published a poem on Slavery in 1788, and was for many years a friend of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London and a leading abolitionist.
In 1785 she bought a house, at Cowslip Green, near Wrington, in northern Somerset, where she settled down to country life with her sister Martha, and wrote many ethical books and tracts: Strictures on Female Education (1799), Hints towards forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805), Coelebs in Search of a Wife (only nominally a story, 1809), Practical Piety (1811), Christian Morals (1813), Character of St Paul (1815), Moral Sketches (1819). She was a rapid writer, and her work is consequently discursive, animated and formless. The originality and force of More's writings perhaps explains her extraordinary popularity. She also wrote many spirited rhymes and prose tales, the earliest of which was Village Politics, by Will Chip (1792), to counteract the doctrines of Tom Paine and the influence of the French Revolution.
The success of Village Politics induced More to begin the series of Cheap Repository Tracts, which were for three years produced by Hannah and her sisters at the rate of three a month. Perhaps the most famous of these is The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, describing a family of phenomenal frugality and contentment. This was translated into several languages. Two million copies of these rapid and telling sketches were circulated, in one year, teaching the poor in rhetoric of most ingenious homeliness to rely upon the virtues of content, sobriety, humility, industry, reverence for the British Constitution, hatred of the French, trust in God and in the kindness of the gentry.
In the late-1780s Hannah and Martha More conducted philanthropic work in the Mendip area, following encouragement by William Wilberforce who saw the poor conditions of the locals when he visited Cheddar in 1789. She was instrumental in setting up twelve schools by 1800 where reading, the Bible and the catechism — but not writing — were taught to local children. The More sisters met with a good deal of opposition in their works: the farmers thought that education, even to the limited extent of learning to read, would be fatal to agriculture, and the clergy, whose neglect she was making good, accused her of Methodist tendencies. In her old age, philanthropists from all parts made pilgrimages to see the bright and amiable old lady, and she retained all her faculties until within two years of her death. She spent the last five years of her life in Clifton, and died on September 7, 1833. She is buried at All Saints' church, Wrington.