Poem addressed to Mary Steele by Hannah More, 1786

Sylvia, forgive thy daring Friend,

And do not take it ill

That her presuming hand has plucked

A wreath from Danebury Hill.

Yet tho’ I much admire the gifts

Thy genius can impart,

Far rather, Sylvia, would I steal

One virtue from thy Heart!

And who, fair Sylvia, do you think

Could blame the moral theft?

One virtue you could scarcely miss,

You’d have so many left.

*the Author gathered a branch of juniper on Danebury Hill wch she presented to my amiable Friend with ye above lines

Text: Attwater Papers, acc. 76, II.A.5; also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 3, p. 169. A date located beneath the title has been marked through, but it appears to be ‘Septr 11 1786’. The poem is in Jane Attwater’s hand. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a dramatist, poet, novelist, and popular religious writer and Sunday school philanthropist from Bristol and later Cowslip Green, near Wrington, Somerset. This poem appears in The Autobiography of William Jay, ed. George Redford and John Angell James (London, 2nd ed., 1855), p. 346. Jay (who was probably working with the same manuscript of the poem preserved by Jane Attwater) states that the poem was meant for the ‘celebrated and pious Miss Steele, of Broughton, Hampshire, during her visit, and after they had walked to Danebury Hill, an ancient camp … Miss Steele having written a poem entitled “Danebury”, Mrs. More gathered there a sprig of juniper, for which she thus apologized through the above poem’. Jay’s note is slightly ambiguous; his reference to Danebury would suggest that he was familiar with the work of Mary Steele, but his use of ‘celebrated’ led most of his readers to believe that he was referring to Anne Steele. Reeves reaches the same conclusion (Pursuing the Muses, p. 137, n. 32). It seems, however, given Jay’s intimate acquaintance with the Attwater and Head families (late in life he married the daughter of Marianna Attwater Head and preached the latter’s funeral sermon in 1832) that he was well aware that Danebury was composed by Mary Steele. It also seems likely that, given the date of the poem, he would have known that Anne Steele had died eight years prior to its composition, and that, given Anne’s poor health for most of her latter years, she would not have climbed Danebury Hill with anyone, not even the ‘celebrated’ Hannah More. If he is referring to Mary Steele, then his use of ‘celebrated’ suggests that her poetry was not completely unknown in the West Country by the 1840s.