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Hannah More and Wikipedia

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The entry for Hannah More on Wikipedia is a complete copy and paste job from the learned article on her by S. J. Skedd that appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Wikipedia stresses the fact that she was a social reformer and gives the example of her being against the slave trade. It is highly misleading to describe More as a "social reformer". Except for the case of the slave trade, she was a reactionary. Even before slavery was abolished in the British Empire she said: "These turbulent times make one sad. I am sick of that liberty which I used so to prize" (1820). For example, here are two passages from S. J. Skedd's article that Wikipedia appears to have missed:

In August 1789 Wilberforce stayed with her at Cowslip Green, and on visiting the nearby village of Cheddar he and More were appalled to find ‘incredible multitudes of poor, plunged in an excess of vice, poverty, and ignorance beyond what one would suppose possible in a civilized and Christian country’ (W. Roberts, 2.178). Encouraged by Wilberforce, More and her sisters resolved on a plan to alleviate their ignorance and hardship by setting up schools where the children of the poor would be taught to read. Following the pattern set by the charity schools of Robert Raikes and Sarah Trimmer, Hannah and Martha More rented a house at Cheddar and engaged teachers to instruct the children in reading the Bible and the catechism. More was adamant that the poor should not be taught writing, as it would encourage them to be dissatisfied with their lowly situation; over twenty years later she strongly criticized the National Society for teaching their school pupils the three Rs.

Hannah More's role as moral guardian of the nation became increasingly politicized as a consequence of the French Revolution. Horrified as much by the atheism as by the political radicalism of the revolutionaries, she denounced their attack on revealed religion in her Remarks on the speech of M. Dupont, made in the National Convention of France, on the subjects of religion and public education (1793), having waited in vain ‘for our bishops and clergy to take some notice of them’ (W. Roberts, 3.360). Tellingly Bishop Porteus insisted that she add her name to the publication in order to maximize its public impact; three editions appeared that year. Porteus also encouraged her to write the tracts for which she is best-known. To counter the revolutionary politics circulating in cheap editions of Tom Paine's Rights of Man she ‘scribbled’ Village politics: addressed to all the mechanics, journeymen, and day labourers, in Great Britain (1792) by ‘Will Chip, a country carpenter’, in which Paine's political ideals are ridiculed in a dialogue between a blacksmith and a mason. She was hesitant about writing such an overtly political work, yet the threat of revolution and war impelled her to write dozens of similarly loyalist, moral, and Christian tales specifically for the lower classes that were published anonymously as Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–8). A total of 114 tracts, including some by Sarah and Martha More, were sold for ½d. or 1d. every month from 1795 to 1798, funded by subscriptions, and distributed by booksellers and pedlars across the country; Hannah wrote forty-nine tracts and masterminded the whole operation. Sales were enormous: within four months 700,000 had been sold, within a year over 2 million. They were mainly bought by the middling and upper classes to distribute to the poor but they also found a ready market in the United States, and Bishop Porteus sent large quantities to Sierra Leone and the West Indies. Though their influence on their intended audience cannot be measured the Cheap Repository Tracts certainly ‘established themselves as the safe reading’ (Jones, Hannah More, 145) of the poor and paved the way for the work of the Religious Tract Society, founded in 1799.

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