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The Hannah More Project

Computational Analysis, Author Attribution, and the Cheap Repository Tracts of the 18th Century

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Analysis and Conclusions

When our project began, we hoped to contribute probable authorial attribution to one of the fifty-two tracts in the Cheap Repository, which are identified by Anna Blanch as “not signed” or not credited to an author.  Blanch’s work, which builds upon the early twentieth-century bibliographical research done by G.H. Spinney and Emmanuel Green, contends that non-traditional methods of assigning authorship to anonymous works could solve some of these age-old literary mysteries. We chose to try our hand at topic modeling and cluster analysis in hopes that they would reveal patterns and similarities between signed and unsigned tracts. While we acknowledge that there are limitations with the utilization of both topic modeling and cluster analysis for finding conclusive authorial attribution, our results suggest a probable connection between two unsigned tracts. Specifically, the unsigned tracts “The History of Mary Wood” and “The History of Charles Jones, the Footman,” were linked, during cluster analysis experiments, with others known to be authored by More. Patterns were illuminated between the same tracts, and this gave us cause for deeper analysis.  

In her 2002 In Praise of Poverty: Hannah More Counters Thomas Pain and the Radical Threat, Mona Scheuermann argues that much of More’s writing “teach[es]the poor how to make do within their poverty” however, she finds that “a few of the tales illustrate how the poor man or woman, can … actually move up in society, always, of course, without losing sight of the strict moral code that allowed him, or very occasionally her, this success” (136). We find that “Mary Wood” and “Charles Jones” are no exception; indeed, many of lessons and themes inherent to the tracts as described by Scheuermann are repeated in both of these unsigned tracts. 

“Mary Wood” details the story of a corrupted young girl whose lies result in causing her mother to become ill, which leads to her death. This makes Mary regret the lies she told and leads to her own illness and death. While “Charles Jones” is slightly more optimistic as the title character tells the story of his advancement in life by avoiding temptations and following a Christian path, the author juxtaposes Charles’ own fortune in life with that of his elder brother who becomes ill and dies after leading a life of gambling, sex, and drinking. Ultimately, both Mary Wood and Charles’ brother recognize and apologize for their immoral behavior, but they are still punished with death. As a writer, More should never be accused of tip toeing around themes of morality and damnation. 

When we consider the results from our topic modeling experiments, we feel that dominant topics from More’s tracts lie in the topics from group seven (7), a subset whose overarching themes deal with issues of familial ties and religion. Interestingly enough, both “Mary Wood” and “Charles Jones” appear in the top ten works listed in topic seven. Such a finding makes sense because both stories illustrate the effects and consequences of immoral behavior on families. The topics listed like “father,” “mother,” “family,” “friend,” “religion,” and “sin” show the connection between themes of morality and family. 

When considered in the light of More’s writing and biography, a conflation of family, moral improvement, and religion are fit hand-in-glove. “Mary Wood,” “Charles Jones,” and many of the other tracts emphasize that people raised to believe in a Christian God will lead better lives as adults. For example, Charles frequently mentions that his mother taught her children to pray daily. This leads to being better equipped to handle bad situations. In contrast, Mary’s mother raised her well but did not teach her about God, so Mary became prone to lying. The story implies that this led to her mother’s illness and subsequent death. Even the topic “wife” relates to the idea of marriage depicted in both stories. Charles marries an honorable woman, whom he claims has “religious and industrial principles” as well as an “amiable and cheerful temper” (15). This underscores traits that would be desirable in a wife. Whereas Mary learns that a promising young man does not want to marry her, because he has heard that she is a liar. 

More devoted a great deal of her time to helping the poor. Jane Nardin, in her article “Hannah More and the Problem of Poverty,” argues that the author felt great concern over the ravages which poverty had on families. While More was critical of the fact that many religious institutions were either not doing enough to help ease the burden of poverty, or doing nothing at all (Nardin 272), we might read these tracts as More commenting on the shifting state of the domestic realm and expressing concern over the rising middle class. Nardin rightly points out that More believed that inadequate wages, as well as unfair economic conditions placed severe restrictions on the poor’s ability to attain a living wage (273). Yet, in appropriating the notion that anything less than right moral behavior proves fatal, More sends an entirely different message. In other words, rather than scaffolding struggling people, “The History of Mary Wood” and “The History of Charles Jones, the Footman” attempt to concern readers more with the often problematic reliance upon religion. For, by leaning on religious intuitions for moral guidance, More binds her readers to the very people she felt did little good for the poor.

Suggestions for further reading:

Demers, Patricia. The World of Hannah More. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996. Print.

Ford, Charles Howard. Hannah More: A Critical Biography. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. Print.

Nardin, Jane. “Hannah More and the Problem of Poverty.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43.3 (2001): 267–284. Web.

Scheuermann, Mona. In Praise of Poverty: Hannah More Counters Thomas Pain and the Radical Threat. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002. Print.

Smith, Nicholas D. The Literary Manuscripts and Letters of Hannah More. Burlington: Ashgate, 2008. Print.

Stott, Anne. Hannah More: The First Victorian. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

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Posted on 29 October 2013, 6:12 pm by Melissa Filbeck  |  Permalink

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Posted on 29 October 2013, 6:13 pm by Melissa Filbeck  |  Permalink

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