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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XI. Letter-Writers

§ 15. Hannah More as a Letter-Writer in youth and middle age

Hannah More’s life was a remarkable one, and her fame as an author, at one time considerable, was kept alive until near the middle of the nineteenth century. It is at present nearly dead and is not likely to revive. But her correspondence is most undeservedly neglected, for she was a good letter-writer, and her accounts of the doings of the intellectual world are of great interest, and worthy to be read after Fanny Burney and Mrs. Thrale. We have full information respecting the doings of Johnson’s circle from different points of view; but there is much fresh information in Hannah More’s letters. Boswell was offended with the young lady and is often spiteful in his remarks about her. The story of the value of her flattery has been made too much of, for there is plenty of evidence that Johnson highly esteemed the character of Hannah More. Sally More was a lively writer and she gives a vivid picture of her sister’s intercourse with Johnson in 1775.

  • We drank tea at Sir Joshua’s with Dr. Johnson. Hannah is certainly a great favourite. She was placed next him, and they had the entire conversation to themselves. They were both in remarkably high spirits; it was certainly her lucky night! I have never heard her say so many good things. The old genius was extremely jocular, and the young one very pleasant.
  • The scene had changed when Hannah More met Johnson at Oxford, in the year of his death, at dinner in the lodge at Pembroke. She wrote home:

  • Who do you think is my principal cicerone at Oxford? Only Dr. Johnson, and we do so gallant it about! You cannot imagine with what delight he showed me every part of his own college.… When we came into the Common room, we spied a fine large print of Johnson, framed and hung up that very morning with this motto: “And is not Johnson ours, himself a host?” Under which stared you in the face “From Miss More’s Sensibility.” This little incident amused us;—but alas! Johnson looks very ill indeed—spiritless and wan. However he made an effort to be cheerful and I exerted myself much to make him so.
  • The triumphant entrance into the great London world by Hannah More, a young Bristol schoolmistress, is difficult to account for except on the grounds of her remarkable abilities. An agreeable young lady of seven and twenty, fresh from the provinces, who gained at once the cordial friendship not only of Garrick, Reynolds, Johnson and Horace Walpole but of Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu and the literary ladies of the day, and who became herself one of the leaders of the Blue Stockings, must have been a woman very much out of the common. When Hannah More came first to London, she visited Reynolds, whose sister promised to introduce her to Johnson. She then met Garrick, who was first interested in her because of some intelligent criticism of his acting which he had seen. He and his wife became Hannah’s dearest friends, and, on hearing of Mrs. Garrick’s death, Hannah More wrote to a friend (21 October, 1822):

  • I spent above twenty winters under her roof, and gratefully remember not only their personal kindness, but my first introduction through them into a society remarkable for rank, literature and talents.
  • She kept up her correspondence with her distinguished London friends; but most of them had died before she had arrived at middle age. We then notice a considerable change in the subjects of her correspondence, and her letters are occupied with the progress of some of the great movements in which she was interested. Wilberforce was a constant correspondent, and he found her a warm helper in the anti-slavery cause. When she and her sisters gave up their school at Bristol and retired on a competence, she devoted all her time to philanthropic purposes. This is not the place for dealing with the subjects of her voluminous writings, and they are only referred to here as an indication of the more serious character of the later correspondence.