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2. Memoir of Mrs. Hannah More. By JOHN WATKINS, LL.D. London: Fishers & Jackson. Pp. 72.
3. Mrs. Hannah More. (An article in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, No. XXI.)
THAT the biography of Hannah More was a debt due to the British public,-nay, to the christian and civilized world, who can doubt ?— But who was to undertake the liquidation? For a considerable time before the publication of the first-named of the works before us, the public mind was kept on the alert by announcements, that a life, compiled from documents the most varied, authentic, and interesting, was in course of preparation by a gentleman every way qualified for the undertaking. It may be that expectation was too highly raised; but we believe we are not speaking a mere private opinion, when we say that it has been grievously disappointed. This opinion we may express with the less hesitation, as Mr. Roberts informs us in his preface that "he dismisses the work without any unbecoming anxiety (unbecoming at his time of life) as to the result of his trial before the dispensers of critical justice." It appears that Mrs. Martha More, sister of Mrs. Hannah, had made a large collection of materials for the biography of her illustrious relative, which, had she survived, she would have regularly digested and published. At her death, however, she committed them to the care of her executrixes, sisters to the gentleman who has brought out the " Memoirs and Correspondence." One of these being since deceased, the survivor requested her brother to undertake the destined task. We cannot conceal our regret that a mass of information so considerable and so valuable as Mr. Roberts must have had at VOL. XVII.
command should have been so ill economized. In the whole four stout octavos, there is no appearance of selection nor (excepting chronological) of arrangement. Almost the whole work is occupied with correspondence among which will be found many letters of not the very smallest interest,* much that is highly impertinent to obtrude on the public;† much that a regard for the sanctity of private feeling would have shaded from the gaze of the world. We have said "correspondence," for so Mr. Roberts calls it; but we ought perhaps to retract the word, as (especially where there is some interesting matter in hand, or the subject is hopelessly unintelligible) Mr. R. only treats us with isolated letters. To us he appears to have acted on the following principle; at least he has produced the effect which might, in that case, be supposed to result. According, therefore, to our conjecture, Mr. Roberts plunged both hands into the box containing the precious materials; then, casting on his table all that came up, he determined to publish every line of it,
Such as communications from Mrs. More to her sisters on the merest family and private transactions: e. g. "On Wednesday we had a great dinner at home, for the first time this year, Mrs. Garrick disliking company more and more. The party consisted of the Smelts, the Montagus, the Boyles, the Walsinghams, Mrs. Carter, Mr. Walpole, and Miss Hamilton.** We had a splendid dinner in Stratford-place," &c.-" We spent the evening at Mrs. Vesey's last Thursday," &c. "Sir Charles and Lady Middleton dined here last Tuesday," &c.--All this out of one letter (!) in pp. 403, &c. of Vol. I. It was natural enough in Mrs. More to write it; but what would she have thought of its publication?
+ Especially Mrs. Boscawen's nonsense. Mrs. B. lived at a time when it was thought polite to use bad English and bad French together as a vehicle of (no, we will not say) thought. It is common enough to do the same now, but the practice is at least beginning to be stigmatized in decent society, who are, properly enough, handing it over to those who cannot speak their own tongue. We remember well to have heard, while waiting the arrival of the mail at the door of a London inn, a fellow, probably a member of some mechanic's institute, halloo, "Garsong!" to which the waiter promptly responded, "Toot sweet, Mounseer!"-This is quite enough to fix the proper latitude of Gallomania. In a single letter, which Mr. Roberts inflicts upon us, Mrs. Boscawen talks of "the bonne Vesey," and " a bal royal, at which were present l'élite de la noblesse," and tells us that" the Prince of Wales was there, et en prince, et en bon fils," and that Lord Monboddo was "penétré de son systeme." We are sorry to say that Mrs. More's good nature not only allowed her to tolerate such disgusting affectation, but even, when writing to Mrs. Boscawen, slightly to adopt it.
It surely required great judgment and caution to select for publication letters written by one who could express herself as follows: “ What I want in a letter is the picture of my friend's mind, and the common sense of his life. I want to know what he is saying and doing; I want him to turn out the inside of his heart to me, without disguise, without appearing better than he is; without writing for a character-I have the same feeling in writing to him. My letter is, therefore, worth nothing to an indifferent person, but it is of value to the friend who cares for me."-Vol. I. p. 51. Such a passage might certainly have produced some tremor in Mr. Roberts's hand, as he spread some of the letters which came up in the armfull. In one letter to her sister, Mrs. More mentions a little compliment paid her, which, naturally enough, she thought would gratify her correspondent. She felt, however, uneasy in noticing it, lest she should have the appearance of vanity; and therefore she "seriously insisted" that her sister should "not tell ANY BODY." Will it be believed that Mr. Roberts has actually PUBLISHED the letter containing this private request? He has not only done so, but has even appended a note, in which, with ludicrous ingenuousness, he says, "Her request was complied with; this passage
and to publish nothing beside; except his own few observations by way of uniting the parts. Accordingly, the work has neither connexion nor proportion; it is a clumsy piece of biography in itself, and, what is remarkable, it is next to impossible to extract a good life of Hannah More out of it. Since the biographical work of Bishop Heber's widow, nothing so heavy and ill-digested has appeared in this province of literature; at least, so far as we have opportunity of knowing. It is but fair, however, to say that Mr. Roberts satisfactorily clears himself of all mercenary views, by stating that the profits of the work will be devoted to charitable purposes.
Dr. Watkins's Memoir is prefixed to the very elegant edition of Mrs. More's works lately published by Messrs. Fisher & Jackson, and which we have already noticed in our Number for March last; and is also published separately. It is inferior in accuracy to that of Mr. Roberts; but in spirit, in interest, in conveying a good general idea of Mrs. More's character, it is immeasurably superior. We shall tacitly correct it in the outline of Mrs, More's life which will be expected to accompany this critique. It would, of course in a publication like ours, be impossible to enter at any great length into the subject; in what we shall say, we shall aim at combining the style of Dr. Watkins with the facts of Mr. Roberts; submitting, before publication, our observations to the personal inspection of several intimate friends of Mrs. Moore; to one of whom, indeed, she was known upwards of sixty years.
The writer in Tait's Magazine does not profess to give a memoir of Mrs. More, but only a little rambling chat about her. If self-conceit and ill nature could qualify for the task, he is completely qualified. He talks of having " seen almost every body in England who enjoyed any great reputation for conversational talent;" and he tells us, that, when he was at Wrington, Mrs. Hannah More came to visit him-yes, to visit him!—although he was then staying at a lady's house. The nauseous conceit sticks in the throat like a quinsey-and such a writer as this must have drugged himself into self-complacency with some vile narcotic before he could have believed it. Being myself," he says, a
never was shown to any one"!!! Indeed it is quite obvious, from every part of Mrs. More's writings, that she had a great dread of the publication of her private letters. Yet has Mr. Roberts published a considerable portion of her private journal, and rent the veil that shrouded the interior sanctuary of that exquisite mind. Indeed, Mrs. More herself has pronounced by anticipation as bitter a condemnation of Mr. Roberts's proceeding as was possible, in a letter which he, doubtless under the just guidance of Nemesis, has inserted in p. 100 of his second volume. We give the passage here as a curiosity. Mrs. M. is speaking of Johnson's letters. "They are such letters as ought to have been written, but ought never to have been printed, still they are the true letters of friendship, which are meant to shew kindness rather than wit. Every place to which he was invited, every dose of physic he took, every body who sent to ask how he did, is recorded. * The imprudence
of editors and executors is an additional reason why men of parts should be afraid to die."