// ’cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open. //

(Or, the one where I use a lyric from The Greatest Showman as a title when the blog post is actually about an incredible book I’ve just finished that has absolutely nothing to do with P.T. Barnum or the circus.)

~

“The woman who derives her principles from the Bible, and her amusements from intellectual sources, from the beauties of nature, and from active employment and exercise, will not pant for beholders. She is no clamorous beggar for the extorted alms of admiration. She lives on her own stock. She possesses the truest independence. She does not wait for the opinion of the world, to know if she is right; nor for the applause of the world, to know if she is happy.”
–Hannah More, Collected Works (quote included in Fierce Convictions)

In early 2017 (or perhaps late 2016), a book on a shelf at my campus’s Barnes & Noble caught my eye; the cover was beautiful, and the title drew my interest immediately.

IMG_0159

Fierce Convictions. Isn’t that wonderful?

At the time, I couldn’t get the book, because 1.) It cost money, and 2.) I didn’t have time to read it. (Such is the life of a college student.)

Fast forward to this past week, when I decided that the first new book I wanted to read on my new kindle fire would be this biography of a woman whom I’d never heard of but, if the title “poet, reformer, and abolitionist” was any indication, I would come to admire. (And then when this decision was further confirmed by the fact that its author, Karen Swallow Prior, will be the professor of a literature class I’ll be beginning in a week and a half.)

IMG_0155(I had to include a picture of my kindle. Because it is lovely.)

This was one of my best book-related decisions, I’ve found, because Hannah More, though little-known today, is actually an incredibly epic and influential historical figure, and I now want to live out my faith and my calling in much the same way that she did.

Because that’s what she did: she took up her pen, stood steadfastly upon her faith in Christ and the ensuing principles she believed in, and in doing so was able to impact her world at all levels of society. She advocated tirelessly for the education of women and of the poor, the abolition of slavery, and the need for Christianity to be taken seriously by those in her society who called themselves Christians but did not take up their crosses. Her writing reached so many people, and changed quite a few lives– and as she moved into a higher position in society than what she was born into, she used that position to be an influence and light to the many talented and powerful friends she made, rather than squandering it on self-interests as so many others would be inclined to do. So, so much respect for this lady right here.

Interestingly enough, she has written quite a few things which have great relevance even today, over two centuries later.

On women’s rights:

She sought to advance female education in order to fulfill women as women, not to make them like men. “On the whole,” she posed in her 1777 treatise Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies, “is it not better to succeed as women, than to fail as men?… to be good originals, rather than bad imitators?”
–Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions

On politics and morality:

“It should be held as an eternal truth, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right.”
–Hannah More, Collected Works

(CAN I GET AN AMEN??? New favorite quote.)

On young Christians growing up in the faith, but leaving it in adulthood:

“In order to allure” young people to Christianity, she cautioned, “they exhibit false, or faint, or inadequate views of Christianity; and while they represent it, as it really is, as a life of superior happiness and advantage, they conceal its difficulties.” The results might ultimately result in abandonment of the faith: “May it not be partly owing to the want of a due introduction to the knowledge of the real nature and spirit of religion, that so many young Christians, who set out in a fair and flourishing way, decline and wither when they come to perceive the requisitions of experimental Christianity? requisitions which they had not suspected of making any part of the plan; and from which, when they afterwards discover them, they shrink back, as not prepared and hardened for the unexpected contest.”
–Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions

Oh– and she was a creative, too. She wrote poetry and fiction, in addition to the treatises and pamphlets she became so well-known for in her time. Two particularly lovely poems of hers were included in this biography– the first, about a plot of land from her youth that she loved:

Around no noxious plant or flow’ret grows;
But the first daffodil, and earliest rose:
The snow-drop spreads its whitest bosom here,
And golden cowslips grace the vernal year:
Here the pale primrose takes a fairer hue,
And ev’ry violet boasts a brighter blue.
Here builds the wood-lark, here the faithful dove
Laments his lost, or woos his living love.
Secure from harm is ev’ry hallow’d nest,
The spot is sacred where true lovers rest.
To guard the Rock from each malignant sprite,
A troop of guardian spirits watch by night;
Aloft in air each takes his little stand,
The neighb’ring hill is hence call’d Fairy Land.
–Hannah More, Collected Works

And then another, an excerpt from a poem that started as a lighthearted joke with a friend but included a wise (and familiar to us now) caution:

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.
–Hannah More, “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes” (I told y’all it was a joke xD), Collected Works

All of this to say: Hannah More is a kindred spirit in every sense of the word, from the steadfastness and conviction of her faith, the joy and merriment she found in life as she grew more and more in Christ, her power with her pen and great love of reading and beauty, and her desire to use her voice and influence to stand up for what is right and impart change upon the world.

If you want to learn about an extraordinary woman in history who nobody talks about anymore– if you think you can relate to her in any way– if you want to be challenged and inspired and (forgive the pun) convicted– please read this book. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and so would Hannah More herself (probably).

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