If we were to judge of Hannah More’s writings by their popularity, and the undoubted effects which they produced, or by the testimony which men of approved talents and discernment have borne to their value, we should place her in the very first rank of eighteenth century writers. ’Her style and manner are confessedly superior to those of any moral writer of the age.’ She is ’one of the most illustrious females that ever was in the world. ’One of the most truly Evangelical divines of this whole age, perhaps almost of any age not apostolic.’ Bishop Porteus actually recommended her writings both in a sermon and in a charge. A feeling of disappointment will probably be raised in most readers who turn from these extravagant eulogies to the works themselves. They are full of somewhat vapid truisms, and their style is too ornate for the present age. Like so many writers of her day, she wrote Johnsonese rather than English. She loved long words, and amplified where she should have compressed. However, it is an ungracious task to criticise one who did good work in her time. After all, the truest test of the merits of a writer who wrote with the single object that Hannah More did, is the effect she produced. Her writings were once readable and very influential. If the virtue now appears to have gone out of them, we may be thankful that it lasted so long as it was needed.
To conclude this long chapter. If any think that the picture here drawn of the leaders of the Evangelical Revival is too highly coloured, and that in this, as in all human efforts, frailties and mistakes might be discovered in abundance, the writer can only reply that he has not knowingly concealed any infirmities to which these good men were subject, though he frankly admits that he has touched upon them lightly and reluctantly. He feels that they were the salt of the earth in their day; that their disinterestedness, their moral courage in braving obloquy and unpopularity, their purity of life, the spirituality of their teaching, and the world of practical good they did among a neglected people, render them worthy of the deepest respect. It would have been an ungracious task ruthlessly to lay bare and to descant upon their weaknesses. That was done mercilessly by their contemporaries and those of the next generation. There is more need now to redress the balance by giving due weight to their many excellences.
It seems all the more necessary to bring out into full prominence their claims upon the admiration of posterity, because they have scarcely done justice to themselves in the writings they have left behind them. They were not, as they have been represented, a set of amiable and well-meaning but weak and illiterate fanatics. But their forte no doubt lay more in preaching and in practical work than in writing.