Once fully encoded in TEI, Hannah More's letters will give us valuable insight into patterns of correspondence, the geographic movement of people and their letters, and the writing habits of More and her circle. We also plan to create visualisations of latent information buried in the letters that will emerge once the letters are machine readable.
Already, there are interesting things to learn just from considering basic meta data about the extant letters of More held in collections across the world. The data used below is drawn from Nicholas D. Smith's invaluable resource The Literary Manuscripts and Letters of Hannah More (2008).
This graph shows the number of extant letters written by More across her years of active correspondence. Many of More's letters are currently undated, but their approximate (or exact) time of composition can be deduced from context. As we edit and annotate the letters this data set grows. More's writing habits over the course of her life raise questions about the correlation between her writing and her health, and about her own travel.
It is interesting to look at the annual patterns in More's letter writing. The first part of the year, corresponding (though not necessarily correlating) with the London season tends to see More being slightly less prolific. When the dates of the surviving letters for every year are combined the low letter count each June becomes more pronounced.
More did not like to send letters on a Sunday. She came to believe that to write on the Sabbath was not good religious practice. One can see mention of this in several of her letters - particularly those written on a Sunday. The completed edition of the letters will allow readers to view these "Sabbath breaking" letters together and track her sentiments about them across the years of More's life.
Hannah More had a large circle with whom she corresponded regularly, as well as a constant stream of letters from strangers and slight acquaintances (whom she herself occasionally complained kept her from writing to those closest to her as often as she wished). There were, however, several people for whom a particularly large body of letters survives. These are also the people to whom More often mentions having written in her letters to others. The graph above shows the ten correspondents with the largest number of surviving letters. By far the largest subgroup at the moment, however, is missing from these charts - those for which there is no recorded recipient. This chart will change shape - and perhaps also add and drop names - as we continue to identify more people to whom More wrote.
One interesting piece of extra information that can be deduced from the letters Smith has recorded is the gender of More's circle of correspondents. More was mentor and champion of young men and women alike, took an interest in the welfare and schooling of young people regardless of their gender, and maintained equally active correspondence with important men and women of her day. The chart above shows a slight bias in favour of letters to men in the overall total of surviving letters, but this is accounted for by the prolific nature of her correspondence with her publishers and with William Wilberforce.
Here one can see that the split in gender of the known recipients of More's surviving letters.
More's circle was, of course, not static. It changed and grew. More lived to see many close friends pre-decease her. Her intimacies also changed along with her interests and causes. William Wilberforce was More's friend and correspondent through many years. In the charts above one can see that, while Zachary Macaulay and Olivia Sparrow were both friends to whom More wrote a similar number of letters, the points in her life at which she was in closest correspondence with them necessarily differ. Tracking changes over time in the people to whom More writes, and what she writes to them about will be one of the most interesting side projects of this edition.
As we create more and richer datasets from More's letters we welcome contact from any other scholars who would like to investigate the information inherent in her correspondence in other ways. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to get involved.