Her law of kindness

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Hannah More, one of the founders of the English Sunday School Movement in 1780, was one of the most remarkable women of her century. She was born in 1745 at Stapleton, near Bristol, of cultured scholarly parents. By the time she was in her teens she was a well-versed, attractive young lady of strong religious views, courted and flattered by suitors. Yet she turned from the idea of marriage in order to follow the social and philanthropic work to which her life was dedicated.

The suitor who pleased her most was the one who, failing to win her hand in marriage, nonetheless won her esteem with the only gift acceptable to her - money to further the work for the underprivileged children of her neighborhood.

Hannah had four sisters, three older than herself. When the eldest Miss More was 21 she opened a boarding school at Bristol. Hannah, whose sisters had taught her to read before she was four years old, now had the opportunity to put into practice her views on education and to try to pass along to others her scholarship. She loved nature, adored poetry, and passionately wanted every child she knew to be able to read worthy books.

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Hannah's nurse, before coming to the Mores' household, had lived in the home of the poet Dryden. Hannah eagerly drew from her every scrap of information about the poet and his work. Later she became friendly with some of the great men and women of her day - the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, the famed political orator Edmund Burke, the actor David Garrick, the astronomer Ferguson, the author and social leader Mrs. Elizabeth Montague, and many others.

Hannah More was also an enthusiastic supporter of the antislavery movement. In 1787 she was attracted by the work of Sir William Wilberforce, the leader in England of the agitation against the slave trade.

Hannah was a prolific writer. In 1792 she wrote ''Village Politics'' under the pseudonym ''Will Chip.'' This was followed by ''Cheap Repository Tracts'' ( 1795-98), one of them entitled ''The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain.'' They were telling religious sketches, some illustrated by Bewick, and about two million were published and sold at a half-penny or a penny each.

Some of these sketches are preserved in the Print Department of the British Museum. In the North Library of the museum is a precious book entitled ''The Anti-Slavery Album'' with selections of writings by Hannah More, the poet William Cowper, and others. It includes ''The Sorrows of Yamba, a Negro Woman's Lamentation.''

Of her personal appearance much can be judged from a portrait by Henry William Pickersgill and a silhouette by A. Edouart, both of which are in the National Portrait Gallery, London. They depict much personal charm, and both show her sitting by a table with quill pen in inkwell. She had fair hair and complexion, and brown eyes, and in her dress she was neat and decorous. She was little taken with the tinsel of life and never wore a jewel or trinket. She enjoyed the country and entered into the happiness of young children.

''In her tongue is the law of kindness,'' never a word to offend, or wound, or grieve, but always something constructive and improving. She was ''one who loves her fellow man.'' In her advancing years philanthropists from all parts of the world made pilgrimages to see her.

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