It was a multifaceted campaign that enlisted preachers, poets, and parliamentarians. And it was a brilliant strategy.
Thus was the 18th century’s Hannah More thrust into the battle for the abolition of slavery in England, along with William Wilberforce, Sir Charles and Margaret Middleton, Rev. James Ramsay, and others. She was one of the poets, and her pen was mighty for the cause.
Whene’er to Afric’s shores I turn my eyes,
Horrors of deepest, deadliest guilt arise;
Though the war against the human atrocities waged on for decades, More was “the mastermind behind some of the abolitionist movement’s most effective campaigns to sway public opinion,” writes Karen Swallow Prior in her recently released Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah MorePoet, Reformer, Abolitionist.
More’s work against the English slave trade didn’t rest solely with her poetry, however. She contributed money to the cause, hosted abolition meetings at her home, received African guests at the school she ran with her sisters, distributed pamphlets, lobbied Parliament, led boycotts of West Indian sugar, and anything else she could think of to advance the cause, even when her efforts seemed to produce little movement toward victory.
“More firmly believed, however, that people ‘must never proportion our exertions to our success, but to our duty,’” Prior wrote.
And again and again, this book outlines the vast efforts of More to exact change in her world. She was a champion of literacy and education, particularly for the lower classes of society, and founded Sunday Schools, which provided basic education–both practical and spiritual–to working class children and their parents on the one day when they were not laboring. More also spoke out for the rights of animals, and through her popular and prodigious writing career, helped women to move into roles of leadership and influence in pre-Victorian England.
At the same time, More was known as an early Evangelical Christian, remaining steeped in the church of England but experiencing her faith as both personal in her life and persuasive in reaching out to others. In all of her efforts to reform society, always at the core was her desire to see people reformed first from within.
To learn how to grow old gracefully is perhaps one of the rarest and most valuable arts which can be taught a woman.
While Prior’s book does introduce readers to the vast accomplishments of More, it also readily acknowledges some of her weaknesses. For instance, More was often bed-ridden and sickly as a result of the stress of public life, and she was motivated by approval from others as much as her own convictions. Also, reading her work out of context, she may appear to be prejudiced toward the uneducated, the working classes, and even women in the upper classes, the very groups she helped elevate in her lifetime.
Though in her lifetime she generally was venerated, within a couple of generations after her death, she also began to be looked on as prudish and simplistic, due in large part to a cultural shift that rejected all things Victorian: duty, family, piety. According to Prior, “Hannah need not have been place on a pedestal to be appreciated. She needed only to be known.”
And now, through Fierce Convictions, I feel I know her well.
She was a woman with virtues and flaws, faith and fears, vision and blind spots. But she was also one whose unique gifts and fierce convictions transformed first her life and subsequently her world and ours.
WORD COUNT: 581
AUTHOR: Karen Swallow Prior
TITLE: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah MorePoet, Reformer, Abolitionist
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to order it from Amazon, or to help celebrate Karen’s book launch, I have a copy of her book to give away in the next few days. Everyone who leaves a comment on this post or signs up to receive my blog in their email inbox through noon on Monday, January 26, will be registered to win. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, January 27, and I will contact the winner privately for shipping information.
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