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Concluding Thoughts - Hacking Abolition (8)


It is important to understand More’s poetry through her published poetics, with a return to her writing about her own writing. 

More attributes her success with readers in large part to “a disposition in the public mind to encourage, in these days of alarm, attack, and agitation, any productions of which the tendency is favourable to good order and Christian morals” (Complete Works 17). More’s “poetry was essentially a medium of teaching and information rather than exploration” (“More’s Public Voice” 48) in a world bombarded with information and political opinion more accessible than ever. 

The presses that printed the newspapers and penny tracts were to the eighteenth-century world of ideas what Twitter is to the contemporary world: a platform through which ideas were not only weaponized, but could pass quickly, titillate, convince, attract and repel.

Elite critics deplored the “promiscuous mixing” of ideas the proliferation of the presses encouraged, which allowed for “unrestrained argument” so that “class differences were forgotten” (Hochschild 218).  Myers asserts that  “More was the first to try her hand at [such] interclass communication between England’s ‘two nations’” (267). 

Rather than despise an exchange of ideas between classes, More seized the opportunity and rode this “tide in the affairs of men” to consciously and in typical self-effacing habit “throw all [her] weight, though that weight be small” (Complete Works 18).

As her treatment of Yamba illustrates, More’s intervention into the public discourse was multi-pronged.  It is also multi-layered, and like the social order from which she operated, with the King at the top, the fashionable class below him and the middle class underneath, her writing, while targeted at women and at saints, reached out to the poor and to sinners, but was ultimately meant for God.

In an 1801 advertisement for the Tales for the Common People, More described her plan with the Cheap Repository: “to improve the habits, and raise the principles of the common people, at a time when their dangers and temptations, moral and political [are] multiplied beyond the example of any former period” (Complete Works 190).

More could see that even readers required a balanced diet: “This hunger after novelty, by the way, is an instrument of inconceivable importance placed by Providence in the hands of every writer; and should strike him forcibly with the duty of turning this sharp appetite to good account, by appeasing it with sound and wholesome aliment” (Complete Works 18).

If hungry for novelty, then for More, readers were also literarily promiscuous. In her re-publication of works for the 1801 collection, More signals her belief not only in satisfying but shaping the appetites of readers who demand new work, all the while using social capital to sell books and win souls.  In today’s marketing parlance, More fished where the fish were, but did more than sell books, she also “fish[ed] for people” (Matthew 4:19).

For More, there were no guarantees for a wide readership, no matter what earlier successes she gained to her name and so she was careful to “use that popularity wisely” by seizing her “little season of fugitive renown” (Complete Works 18) to circulate her work in order to reach as wide an audience possible.

For More, while temporal concerns are of great consequence, the eternal far outweighs all other concerns, and therefore, her post-abolition imagination, that “somewhere in-between,” is not a tangible place one can occupy as on a mount like Oreb or even mount Sinai, but belongs on “Mount Zion...the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22). 

For all her sentiment for slaves and concerns for those who experience the great evil of destroyed familial bonds, a critique of More’s intervention into the social discourse of her day through her abolition writing is that, ultimately, her concerns transubstantiate; they relocate the temporal concerns by projecting them into a discourse of the abstract and eternal. In other words, More’s abolition writing is not very practical. 

While she is concerned with the bonds and bondages of black and female bodies on earth, her eagerness to imagine and locate them in “Realms above” ultimately undermines her attention to urgent realities in the here and now.

This blog series has explored the backdrop against which More wrote her abolitionist work through close reading of passages from Slavery, Yamba and “The White Slave Trade” in order to highlight ways More aimed to mobilize emotional and evangelical sentiment among women readers to infuse the abolition movement with energy and shape opinions about slavery.

Contemporary scholars and abolitionists look to More with both veneration or denigration, sometimes citing the same biographical or literary data as evidence for their claims. 

Revisiting her work is, therefore, a productive endeavour.  Her publishing tactics, which include her strategy to deploy literature through popular and accessible media, remains useful as a case study even today.  Furthermore, her literary hybridization of sentimental verse with targeted social activism are generative nodes of exploration within antislavery discourse.

While More ultimately attends to the spiritual imperatives of her evangelicalism, her emphasis on real injustices that mark and mar bodies, language and family bonds is an important literary intervention. 

It is a literary intervention that humanizes the ugly reality of slavery and prevents the discourse from becoming a mere economic or political abstraction.

At very least, in More we read a measured voice who spoke with humility and clarity in “days of alarm, attack, and agitation,” a tone needed more and more in the contemporary world of social discourse.  

 

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Hacking Abolition is a blog series that derives lessons from the original abolition movement that worked tirelessly to bring an end to the transatlantic slave trade. The series begins with a close look at the life and writing of Hannah More and is an adaptation of Andrew's work for his MA Thesis in English and Transitional Justice at Western University entitled, "Bonds and Bondage: Intimacies and Enslavement in Hannah More’s Abolition Writing."

The aim of the series is to explore and discover successful tactics champions of faith and abolition employed in the past and consider ways we might learn from them for the pressing work of abolition in the present.

For a full bibliography of my research and further reading on More's life, visit this page.

About Andrew Kooman: Andrew is a Canadian writer and producer. His work has been published and viewed around the world and translated into more than 10 languages. Andrew strives to tell powerful stories that make real-world impact.  { Learn More }

 

Works Cited (in this post)

Demers, Patricia. “Hannah More’s Public Voice in Georgian Britain.”  Women, Morality and Advice Literature Manuscripts and Rare Printed Works of Hannah More (1745-1833)  and her Circle, Clark Library, Los Angeles, www.ampltd.co.uk/collections_az/Women-More-1/editorial-introduction.aspx. Accessed 18 July 2018.

Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

More, Hannah. The Complete Works of Hannah More, vol. 3, T. Cadell, Strand 1830, https://archive.org/details/workshannahmore42moregoog/ Accessed 18 July 2018. 

Myers, Mitzi.  “Hannah More’s Tracts for the Times: Social Fiction and Female Ideology.”  Fetter'd Or Free?: British Women Novelists, 1670-1815, edited by Mary A. Schofield and Cecilia Macheski. Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, 1986.

The New Revised Standard Harper Study Version. Edited by Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Zondervan Publishing House, 1990.

 

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash


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