Hanway’s Rhetorical Learning

face of a prisoner

In a work first published in 1756, Jonas Hanway set forth “thoughts on public love, in thirty-two letters to two ladies.”^ Here public love meant considering the causes of death, public debt, and the tyranny of fashion from the perspective of public welfare. The book also included an essay tracing the public-welfare consequences of tea drinking. Hanway concluded that the net social value of tea-drinking was highly negative. He thus advocated replacing expenditure on tea with expenditure on public works.

Among many other points, Hanway argued that tea-drinking reduces women’s beauty. Regarding the latter, Samuel Johnson, writing in The Literary Magazine a review of Hanway’s essay, retorted:

That there is less beauty in the present race of females, than in those who entered the world with us, all of us are inclined to think, on whom beauty has ceased to smile; but our fathers and grandfathers made the same complaint before us; and our posterity will still find beauties irresistibly powerful.^

Perhaps women tea-drinkers may have been concerned about the effects that Hanway described and irritated by a perceived slight to their attractiveness. Samuel Johnson rose to their defense.

While Hanway’s book is completely incoherent in modern literary and publishing categories, its literary economics apparently were relatively good. The book attracted the attention of Samuel Johnson, a prominent critic, received at least two notices in The Literary Magazine, and was published in at least two editions. It seems to have been consciously written to get attention from both women and men readers. It probably succeeded in doing so.

Hanway gained influence on public policy with a rather different form of book. Hanway’s Solitude in Imprisonment was a polemical essay, rather than letters to ladies. It addressed penal policy. Almost all the persons participating in late-eighteenth-century public discussions of penal policy were male. A key figure in Solitude in Imprisonment is the female prostitute.^ High-status men in eighteenth-century England had considerable freedom to hire prostitutes personally. Solicitude for the social reform of prostitutes was at the same time a highly valued position among elite men and women of that time.

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