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In Praise of Poverty

In Praise of Poverty: Hannah More Counters Thomas Paine and the Radical Threat

Mona Scheuermann
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    In Praise of Poverty
    Book Description:

    In her own time and in ours, Hannah More (1745-1833) has been seen as a benefactress of the poor, writing and working selflessly to their benefit. Mona Scheuermann argues, however, that More's agenda was not simply to help the poor but to control them, for the upper classes in late eighteenth-century England were terrified that the poor would rise in revolt against Church and King.

    As much social history as literary study,In Praise of Povertyshows that More's writing to the poor specifically is intended to counter the perceived rabble rousing of Thomas Paine and other radicals active in the 1790s. In fact, herVillage Politicswas written by request of the Bishop of London as a direct response to Paine'sRights of Man. The much larger project of the Cheap Repository Tracts followed, and More was still writing in this vein two decades later. Scheuermann effectively, and perhaps controversially, places More in the context of her period's debate about the poor, proving More to be not a defender of the poor but of the conservative upper-class values she so wholeheartedly espoused.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5967-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. One Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    HANNAH MORE had an extraordinarily successful life. She apparently had many physical illnesses, that is true, and we certainly would not envy her that part of her existence. But in all other respects, it seems to me that if one wanted to wish someone well, it would be a considerable kindness to wish her—or him—an existence so replete with personal and public satisfactions as More experienced. She was an intellectual prodigy as a child, and her gifts were appreciated and nurtured by wise and capable parents. Her young girlhood was full of accomplishment and recognition for her poetry...

  6. Two Conservative Contexts Joseph Townsend’s A Dissertation on the Poor Laws
    (pp. 17-36)

    IT IS THE NATURE OF eighteenth-century English fiction to be remarkably mimetic of the real world it purports to fictionalize. The scholar of the novel, looking at the historical record, is forcibly struck by a sense of the familiar. Fanny Burney’s letters, for example, reflect the details of a social world no different from that of her novels; John Howard’s accounts of the horrors of the contemporary prison system record the same details William Godwin depicts inCaleb Williams.The evolution of the Poor Laws in England and the attitudes of the upper classes toward the poor provide one of...

  7. Three Radical Contexts Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man
    (pp. 37-68)

    HANNAH MORE’S POOR PEOPLE, except for a scurvy few, are lovely folks. They respect their betters. They work hard all day and then continue to work by the light of one candle at night. They are heart-warmingly grateful for any help their superiors give them, but they never would demand any aid—and, in fact, should they (unlikely case) ever be offered more than a modicum of help, they would turn it down, for they are totally content with what they have and appreciate their “blessings.” They are, in short, the upper class’s ideal, fantasy poor. Modern readers, as we...

  8. Four “The Pen that Might Work Wonders” The Correspondence of Hannah More
    (pp. 69-106)

    IT HELPS TO HAVE A TIME LINE. More was only thirty-one years old in 1776; perhaps her relative youth explains the general lack of commentary about political issues, especially about the American Revolution. She was forty-four in 1789, certainly of an age to be seriously involved not just with social issues but with their philosophical underpinnings; in her forties, she also was actively involved in the antislavery movement. By 1795, when the first of the Cheap Repository Tracts appeared, she was fifty. This chapter examines the ephemera that precedes and chronologically parallels the creation of the Cheap Repository Tracts, focusing...

  9. Five Two Sides of a Question Hannah More’s Village Politics and Josiah Wedgwood’s Address to the Young Inhabitants of the Pottery
    (pp. 107-134)

    WILLIAM ROBERTS dramatically tells the story of that terrible year, 1792, when “affairs began to wear a very gloomy and threatening aspect in this country. French revolutionary principles seemed to be spreading wide their mischievous influence. Indefatigable pains were taken, not only to agitate and mislead, but to corrupt and poison the minds of the populace, by every artifice that malice could suggest; and such had been the success of these efforts, and of the inflammatory publications by which they were prosecuted, that the perverted feelings and imaginations of men appeared to be propelling them fast into the same abyss...

  10. Six Social and Political Circumstances More’s Cheap Repository Tracts
    (pp. 135-174)

    THE 1793VILLAGE POLITICSis soon followed by the Tracts of the Cheap Repository beginning in March 1795. Jonathan Wordsworth sees the Tracts as a response to Paine’sAge of Reason,¹ but they clearly deal with many of the issues raised inRights of Man,as the “Preface” toVillage Politics: Addressed to All the Mechanics, Journeymen, and Labourers, in Great Britainin the collected edition of 1830 makes clear: “Those who remember the beginning of the French Revolution need not be reminded how much the lower classes of this country were in danger of being infected with the principles which...

  11. Seven Economic Circumstances More’s Cheap Repository Tracts
    (pp. 175-206)

    MOST OF THE CHEAP REPOSITORY TRACTS contain economic as well as moral lessons for the poor; many include advice to the better off about helping the poor to manage their finances. But some of the Tracts, especially those written by More herself, focus on the specifics of getting ahead in terms of the attitude and skills needed by the poor man or woman if he or she is to make significant economic progress. More writes in story after story, beginning withVillage Politics,about the wonderful and reliable help to the poor that the parish system provides for them in times...

  12. Eight Conclusion. The Power of the Printed Word: Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft on Reading
    (pp. 207-228)

    THE EXTRAORDINARY BELIEF in the power of the printed word, especially its danger, that we have remarked in so many aspects of More’s life and work, in her commitment to fighting the pamphlet war against the radicals, in her careful calibration of the amount of education her poor people should have and the kinds of materials to which they should be exposed, seems almost as if it should be sui generis to this one writer, so strong is the impulse. But we know that this is not the case; she begins her pamphlet-writing career, after all, in direct response to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 229-248)
  14. Index
    (pp. 249-256)