Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More [Book Review]

fierce-convictions-hardback“What Wilberforce was among men, Hannah More was among women.”

I am very excited to share a great read with you-Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More-Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior.

The Poet: Hannah wrote in a time that women writers were snubbed and looked at disdainfully. She overcome this as her writings were esteemed by many well-known male peers. In addition to poetry she authored plays, pamphlets and published the first “Cheap Repository Tracts” with the financial backing of William Wilberforce. These tracts were an alternative for the newly literate poor, that Hannah would also have a hand in establishing, they offered “religion, thrift and morality” instead of the folk tales and superstition that filled many of the cheap street literature.  In her last years she would write devotional material. “Practical Piety” being the most well-known. Her writings challenged the status quo thinking that accepted slavery and the misuse of the poor. John Newton wrote in a letter to her:

“You could easily write what would procure you more general applause; but it is a singular privilege to have a consecrated pen, and to be able and willing to devote our talents to the cause of God and religion.”

The Reformer-In an era where formal education for women was still be questioned as to whether it was needed or not, Hannah and her sisters opened a School for Young Ladies that would teach “French, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Needlework.”  In the 1780s Hannah would be exposed to the writings of John Newton. Upon meeting him, he challenged her “to devote her life to promoting spiritual education and reformation across British society.” This she would do through establishing what was called Sunday Schools for the poor children in villages that had no access to education because of the labor forced upon them. Again this would be with the backing of her close friend William Wilberforce. Children learned scripture among other basic rote skills. She also began women’s societies for the impoverished women in the villages.

The Abolitionist-In the late 1780s Hannah’s passion was stirred for the fight against slavery. She would carry pamphlets  around that told the horrors of slavery and share them with everyone she could. She wrote the poem “Slavery” in 1788. Prior writes:

The battle against slavery was, in many ways, led by the poets-and other writers and artists-who expanded their country’s moral imagination so it might as last see horrors too grave for the rational mind to grasp.”

Hannah’s poem continued to influence even into the next century being credited to inspiring missionaries like David Livingstone.

She had a forty-seven year friendship with Wilberforce. They died within weeks of each other. He before seeing his dream of the slaves being set free and hers just weeks after seeing the his dream become reality.

There is much more material in this very in-depth biography that I highly recommend. Reading about Hannah’s life kindled my desire to write about what matters-Christ-and helped me realize there is power in a consecrated pen.

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