In the early 1800s, Wales had experienced a revival of faith, and there was a great need for Bibles. The story is told of fifteen-year-old Mary Jones who saved money for six years, then walked twenty-five miles to purchase a Bible in the Welsh language.
To meet the need, on this day in 1804, The British and Foreign Bible Society was formed in London for the purpose of publishing, distributing, and translating the Bible. Frances Rolleston was one of the group of evangelical friends that established the Society. The group was and is known as the Clapham sect and included such well-known personalities as William Wilberforce, Zachary Macauley and Hannah More.
The British and Foreign Bible Society's influence spread all over the world. The Society inspired others. Within ten years of its establishment, sixty-nine other Bible organizations had formed.
Frances Rolleston made use of the Bible Society herself, as we read in a letter written when 81 years of age. She requested a Danish New Testament be sent to her.
I am again reading Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography 1797-1887 by E. M. Forster (1956) and recommend it to anyone wanting to better understand the circle Frances Rolleston moved in.
E. M. Forster (writer of A Passage to India) based his book on family papers, which is why it gives such a good insider look at Marianne Thornton's life. Some of the materials were prepared for Forster by Marianne Thornton in her old age; she was his great aunt.
Marianne Thornton and Frances Rolleston were cousins through their mothers. The house and its guests were familiar to Frances. The biography gives many intimate views of William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Henry Thornton, and others of the "Clapham Sect" Frances associated with. I'm only disappointed that she is not mentioned in the book, but then, she was only one of many in that circle.
7 September 1833, Hanna More, writer and social reformer, died. She was a woman who had two careers. Frances Rolleston was one of her many admirers.
Hannah's first career was as a writer, poet and playwright. Her play, Percy, was staged successfully by David Garrick. She was one of the Bluestockings, a group of literary intellectual women.
In her forties, Hannah became more serious in her outlook, and her writing reflected it. In association with William Wilberforce and Zachary Maccaulay, she became a strong opponent of the slave trade.
Through Wilberforce, Hannah was made aware of the desperate needs of the poor in the Mendip area, and by 1800 she had opened twelve schools there. This was her second career, and it was through this connection with the Clapham Sect that Frances Rolleston would have become acquainted with Hannah. Twenty-four years later Frances started her own first school.
In 1834, two years after Hannah's passing, William Roberts published the first two volumes of the four-volume Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More. This was followed by a one-volume Life by Henry Thompson, a good friend of Frances, and she wrote to him to say, "Every body will read your neat, polished, and condensed one volume, instead of the four,—valuable but unreadable memoirs." To her friend Irons she wrote, "Have you seen Henry Thompson's "Life of Hannah More?"—a capital hit, and raising her far above the impression left by the lengthy affair of Roberts."
Many years later, Frances told Henry Thompson that his Life of Hannah More should be reprinted. Such was the impression that Hannah More left on those who knew her.
Today in 1833 William Wilberforce died. He worked many years to have the British slave trade outlawed, finally seeing success in 1807, and then more years to end slavery itself. He died days after learning that that piece of legislation was sure to succeed.
Of course, Wilberforce did not do this singlehandedly. Frances Rolleston was one of those recruited into the cause in 1826 by "a deputation of influential Quakeresses" because, they told her, the gentlemen would not stir. The anti-slavery people were told that they could do nothing, that Parliament disregarded petitions. But the overwhelming number collected could not be disregarded.
Remember, they did not have the Internet or even the telephone. Every petition signer had to be contacted by letter or in person. In Sheffield alone, Frances reported, the ladies collected 17,000 men's signatures and 24,000 women's.
Each petition held 150 to 200 signatures. Frances was present when all the petitions were combined into one. The movie Amazing Grace (Bristol Bay Productions 2006 and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 2007) has a climactic scene showing Wilberforce unrolling the combined petitions before Parliament. PG, worth watching.