British Abolitionism in Hannah More's "Slavery, A Poem"

Term Paper, 2012

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Hannah More and the British Abolitionism

3. “Slavery, A Poem” and the British Abolitionism
3.1. Abolitionist arguments in the poem
3.2. How the arguments are presented in the poem

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

A quote of Hannah More (1745 - 1833) in a letter to her sister states: “I grieve I did not set about it sooner; as it must now be done in such a hurry… but, good or bad, if it does not come out at the particular moment when the discussion comes on in Parliament, it will not be worth a straw.” (Feldman, 1997, p. 470) This statement is referring to her poem “Slavery, A Poem.” that she wrote in 1788. Reading this quotation one can act on the assumption that the poem and its time of publication served a specific purpose. Knowing that Hannah More was an active member of the British abolitionism and knowing that she wrote the poem for this very reason; we can come to the following study question: In what way is the typical British abolitionism represented in Hannah Mores poem?

In the following, I want to explore in what way the poem serves abolitionist means. On the one hand, we have the abolitionist background of Hannah More and the specifics of her time. On the other hand we have the poem itself, the reasons of its origin and the qualities defining it as abolitionist and specifically political poetry. We intend to roughly examine the characteristics leading to and contained in the poem. For this reason I have divided my analysis into two main sections, each of them having sub-sections. First, I will be looking at Hannah More and the British abolitionism which involves the Methodist influence on abolitionism and its coherence with feminism. Afterwards I will look at the poem and its connection with British abolitionism, including its definition as political, argumentative and abolitionist poem and hence, its approach, structure and rhetorical devices. At last, I will summarize my analysis and draw a conclusion.

2. Hannah More and the British Abolitionism

To define the poem and the purpose of it, we have to look at the life of Hannah More and her involvement in the abolitionist movement. Hannah More was born in 1745 near Bristol, grew up in a well-educated environment and became a teacher in her father’s school. (Ford, 1996, p. 4) Because of a never ending engagement to a local landowner, she got paid a yearly compensation of 200 pounds from him. This allowed her to concentrate solely on writing. (Ford, 1996, p. 16) In 1774 Hannah and two of her sisters undertook a journey to London where they became included in the London society. In these surroundings she became well acquainted with an actor-manager called David Garrick and his wife and some members of the female writer network the “bluestockings”. During this time she started writing plays for the theatre but with little success. Hannah More grew up in the new era called the Victorian period. Prominent in this time was the emerging of sensibility, which had nothing to do with the physical sense of the word but rather the emotional sensibility. Later on this can be traced in many of her poems.

After the death of her father and her best male friend David Gerrick in 1779 she started to put her interest on religious aspects. She built up connections to the so called Clapham Sect, a group of reformers within the Church of England. The members of that community called themselves Evangelical Anglicans and had a lot in common with the Methodist church. Their belief in the people being innately sinful and therefore dependent on God’s will fit Mores’ view on the world. She began to publish pious poetry for the upper class and became a philanthropist, which might be the most obvious sign of her Evangelical conversion. Next to other prominent members, William Wilberforce was a participant of the Evangelical movement, too. After they had become friends, Hannah More joined him and others in the anti-slavery movement which was also a main topic for the Clapham Sect. (Ford 1996: 45-49)

Growing up in Bristol, being one of the foremost slave trading ports, Hannah was no stranger to the slave trade and its procedures. But to the days before she became involved with members of the Clapham sect, she saw it as natural part of the English empire and was oblivious to its inhumanities. She even “portrayed slaveholding favorably in The Inflexible Captive (1774), a tragedy which extolled the self-sacrifice of extreme patriotism.” (Ford, 1996, p. 85) Only after being exposed to the conditions and insights of the slave trade, she became fierce in her course against it.

In the 1780s Great Britain was not the centralized strict monarchic country anymore but had a parliament which paid heed to the opinions and requirements of the wealthy public.Contributing to this fact is a further development of the British society called the coffee house culture. The coffee houses were a result of the slave trade since its dominant beverage was imported from the Americas but it was also the instrument that leads to the protests against slavery. The coffee house replaced the ale house as a public space, opened also to women and was a place to exchange news and debate without any boisterous behavior. In this place politics, news and new writings such as books or poetry were discussed.With the coffee house now being the institution of public reasoning, after some time the thinking emerged that it is not alright to trade with people just because it is profitable. Many people came to the conclusion that the right of freedom decreed in the English law is a natural right and cannot be applied to only one group of people. This is also one of the topics in Hannah Mores “Slavery, A poem.” More helped to give the abolitionist movement a public voice with her writing.In her following years she continued to participate in national debates. Among others she took a conservative stand in the reactions to the French revolution. (Arnold-Baker, 1996, p. 317)

In Great Britain there was also a strong coherence between feminism and abolitionism in which Hannah More took part. The literary female writers’ community was compact and many of these women knew one another. An example for this would be the “bluestockings”. In the years of their participation they had become “a deliberate body, a group that perceived their writing and were perceived themselves, as having a right to intervene in national debates.” (Backscheider, 2005, p. 8)

Most of these women wrote abolitionist verse in one way or another and a lot of them were brought to this course of action by famous abolitionists like Josiah Wedgewood and William Wilberforce. According the author Paula Backscheider the politicalization of the women poet “was the result both of social, patriarchal forces and of the writers’ choices.” (Backscheider, 2005, p. 9) Their poetry was generally associated with morality and moral issues what we can also see in Hannah Mores writings, especially in Slavery, A Poem which can with no doubt be seen as an important contribution to the female freedom of speech. The “bluestockings” was perhaps the most “influential, social, intellectual and literary network” (Turner, 1992, p. 107) at that time and the most distinguished because of the multiplicity of women writers being members. Especially Hannah More recognized the importance of women contributing to political issues. She often calls upon women to devote their time and money “into fruitful and morally uplifting projects.” (Turner, 1992, p. 54)

In her later years Hannah More continued to be active in the anti-slavery movement, the British and Foreign Bible Society and opened her doors to various important people in society, including Elizabeth Fry, Thomas De Quincey or Samuel Taylor Coleridge for example. A large sum of the money she earned was given to charity as well as the sum of near 30,000 pounds at the time of her death. Thus she became and stayed a role-model for generations of female writers and Evangelists who came after her. She was one of the most influential women of her day and died 1833.(Arnold-Baker, 1996, p. 317)


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British Abolitionism in Hannah More's "Slavery, A Poem"
University of Potsdam
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british, abolitionism, hannah, more, slavery, poem
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Peggy Zawadil (Author), 2012, British Abolitionism in Hannah More's "Slavery, A Poem", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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