Tuesday 10 December 2019

A Tyrant and a Demon

It's a pleasure to welcome Lucienne Boyce, author of Death Makes No Distinction, for a tale of two women from different worlds.


A Tyrant and A Demon

In Death Makes No Distinction one of the subjects I was particularly interested in was the relationship between the rich and poor. One of the ways I explored this was by looking at the relationship between two fictitious women writers – Louise Parmeter, a bluestocking who had been mistress to the Prince of Wales – and Agnes Taylor, her protégée. 

Their relationship is inspired by the story of Hannah More and Ann Yearsley. Both women were born in Bristol. Hannah More (1745–1833) was brought up in comfortable surroundings. Her father, a school teacher, encouraged her to pursue a wider education than that usually allowed to girls. He taught her Latin, and she also learned French, Italian, and Spanish – though he did draw the line at too much mathematics, which was not considered appropriate for a girl. 

After her wealthy fiancé, William Turner, jilted Hannah, he compensated her by settling an annuity on her which gave her financial security and independence. She became a renowned playwright who moved in bluestocking circles, counting Dr Johnson, David Garrick and Elizabeth Montagu amongst her friends. She also befriended William Wilberforce and supported his campaign against slavery. 

Unlike Louise Parmeter in Death Makes No Distinction, however, she was strict in her own morals – and in the standards she set for others. She wrote several books exhorting women to lead virtuous and Christian lives. She later turned her moralising and evangelical attention to the working classes, setting up charity schools for poor children and lecturing the poor on their duties in a series of tracts.

Ann Yearsley (née Cromartie) (c1753–1806) was also born in Bristol. Her mother was a milkwoman, and it was from her that Ann learned to read and write. Nothing is known about her father. She married a labourer, John Yearsley, and they had six (some sources say seven) children. In 1784, the family was destitute and living in a stable in Clifton. A Mr Vaughan rescued them from near-starvation. Ann then worked as a milkwoman, selling milk from pails she carried about the streets. Hannah More and her sisters were running a school on Park Street at the time and it was their cook who showed Hannah some of Ann’s poetry. Hannah was so impressed she took Ann under her wing, taught her grammar and spelling, and collected subscribers to fund the publication of a book of poems. 

Ann Yearsley (British Library on Flickr, No Known Copyright Restrictions)

However, it was not More’s intention that Ann should give up selling milk. She was very careful to ensure, as she pointed out in her introduction to Ann’s Poems, on Several Occasions, published in 1785:

“It is not intended to place her in such a state of independence as might seduce her to devote her time to the idleness of Poetry….as a wife and mother, she has duties to fill, the smallest of which is of more value than the finest verses she can write: but as it has pleased God to give her these talents, may they not be made an instrument to mend her situation, if we published a small volume of her Poems…?...if I did not think her heart was rightly turned, I should be afraid of proposing such a measure, lest…by exciting her vanity, [it should] indispose her for the laborious employments of her humble condition…” 

Hannah More, A Prefatory Letter to Mrs Montague. By a Friend, Bristol, 20 October 1784 

The power structure was very clear: Hannah was Ann’s patron and Ann must know her place. And to keep her control over the poet known as Lactilla, More tied up the profits from her writing in a trust fund to which neither Ann nor John had access, and only doled out so much money as she thought was appropriate. Worse, Hannah would not return Ann’s manuscript poems to her, and told her they had been burned at the printers. 

When Ann protested, Hannah accused her of being insane or drunk. It was a painful situation for both women, with Hannah More disappointed by what she saw as the working woman’s ingratitude, and Ann infuriated by Hannah’s attempt to control her. 

But Ann was in the unusual position of being able to tell her own story. In 1787 she published her version of the quarrel, claiming she had been rushed into signing the Deed of Trust: 

“I had not time to peruse [the deed of trust], nor take a copy; and from the rapidity with which this circumstance was conducted, I feared to ask it…My feelings were all struck at – I felt as a mother deemed unworthy the tuition or care of her family…Even the interest was not allowed me, but on the capricious terms, that she should lay it out as she thought proper…”

Ann Yearsley, To the noble and generous subscribers, who so liberally patronized a book of poems, published under the auspices of Miss H More, of Park-Street, Bristol, the following narrative is most humbly addressed, in Poems on Various Subjects, 1787. 

The two women parted company, Ann found a new patron, Frederick Augustus Hervey, the earl of Bristol, and the trust funds were later made over to her. She used some of the money to set up a circulating library in Hotwells, Bristol. She published more poems, a play and a historical novel. After the death of her husband in 1803, she moved to Melksham, where she died in 1806. 

In spite of all Hannah More had done for Ann Yearsley, she ended up being accused of being a “tyrant”. As for Ann, from being Hannah’s “meritorious woman” she changed into a “Demon”. For Hannah and Ann, it was a sad end to a relationship that, as Yearsley suggested, could never develop into true friendship because of its deep-rooted inequalities. The same tensions underpin dealings between Louise Parmeter and Agnes Taylor in Death Makes No Distinction – but it’s up to Bow Street Runner Dan Foster to decide if they have any connection with Louise’s murder.  


Twitter: @LucienneWrite
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Buying Links:
Death Makes No Distinction is available in paperback and ebook.

For more information see my website. 

1 comment:

Lucienne Boyce said...

Thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog!