by Maria Edgeworth
With an Introduction by Anne Thackeray Ritchie
[Note: The body of this novel contains a lot of footnotes and many references to the Glossary at the end. The footnotes (which are sometimes quite long) have been inserted in square brackets near to the point where they were referred to by suffix in the original text. The entries in the Glossary have been numbered, instead of being listed with a page number as they were in the printed book; they are also referenced with a note in square brackets near the point where there was a suffix in the original.
Italics have been replaced by capitals.
The pound sterling symbol has been replaced by 'L'.
This text and the Introduction were taken from an edition published by Macmillan and Co. in 1895.]
The story of the Edgeworth Family, if it were properly told, should be as long as the ARABIAN NIGHTS themselves; the thousand and one cheerful intelligent members of the circle, the amusing friends and relations, the charming surroundings, the cheerful hospitable home, all go to make up an almost unique history of a county family of great parts and no little character. The Edgeworths were people of good means and position, and their rental, we are told, amounted to nearly L3000 a year. At one time there was some talk of a peerage for Mr. Edgeworth, but he was considered too independent for a peerage.
The family tradition seems to have been unconventional and spirited always. There are records still extant in the present Mr. Edgeworth's possession,—papers of most wonderful vitality for parchment,—where you may read passionate remonstrances and adjurations from great-grandfathers to great-great-grandfathers, and where great-great-grandmothers rush into the discussion with vehement spelling and remonstrance, and make matters no better by their interference. I never read more passionately eloquent letters and appeals. There are also records of a pleasanter nature; merrymakings, and festive preparations, and 12s. 6d. for a pair of silk stockings for Miss Margaret Edgeworth to dance in, carefully entered into the family budget. All the people whose portraits are hanging up, beruffled, dignified, calm, and periwigged, on the old walls of Edgeworthstown certainly had extraordinarily strong impressions, and gave eloquent expression to them. I don't think people could feel quite so strongly now about their own affairs as they did then; there are so many printed emotions, so many public events, that private details cannot seem quite as important. Edgeworths of those days were farther away from the world than they are now, dwelling in the plains of Longford, which as yet were not crossed by iron rails. The family seems to have made little of distances, and to have ridden and posted to and fro from Dublin to Edgeworthstown in storm and sunshine.
When Messrs. Macmillan asked me to write a preface to this new edition of Miss Edgeworth's stories I thought I should like to see the place where she had lived so long and where she had written so much, and so it happened that being in Ireland early this year, my daughter and I found ourselves driving up to Broadstone Station one morning in time for the early train to Edgeworthstown. As we got out of our cab we asked the driver what the fare should be. 'Sure the fare is half a crown,' said he, 'and if you wish to give me more, I could keep it for myself!'
The train was starting and we bought our papers to beguile the road. 'Will you have a Home Rule paper or one of them others?' said the newsboy, with such a droll emphasis that we couldn't help laughing. 'Give me one of each,' said I; then he laughed, as no English newsboy would have done. . . . We went along in the car with a sad couple of people out of a hospital, compatriots of our own, who had been settled ten years in Ireland, and were longing to be away. The poor things were past consolation, dull, despairing, ingrained English, sick and suffering and yearning for Brixton, just as other aliens long for their native hills and moors. We travelled along together all that spring morning by the blossoming hedges, and triumphal arches of flowering May; the hills were very far away, but the lovely lights and scents were all about and made our journey charming. Maynooth was a fragrant vision as we flew past, of vast gardens wall-enclosed, of stately buildings. The whole line of railway was sweet with the May flowers, and with the pungent and refreshing scent of the turf-bogs. The air was so clear and so limpid that we could see for miles, and short-sighted eyes needed no glasses to admire with. Here and there a turf cabin, now and then a lake placidly reflecting the sky. The country seemed given over to silence, the light sped unheeded across the delicate browns and greens of the bog-fields; or lay on the sweet wonderful green of the meadows. One dazzling field we saw full of dancing circles of little fairy pigs with curly tails. Everything was homelike but NOT England, there was something of France, something of Italy in the sky; in the fanciful tints upon the land and sea, in the vastness of the picture, in the happy sadness and calm content which is so difficult to describe or to account for. Finally we reached our journey's end. It gave one a real emotion to see EDGEWORTHSTOWN written up on the board before us, and to realise that we were following in the steps of those giants who had passed before us. The master of Edgeworthstown kindly met us and drove us to his home through the outlying village, shaded with its sycamores, underneath which pretty cows were browsing the grass. We passed the Roman Catholic Church, the great iron crucifix standing in the churchyard. Then the horses turned in at the gate of the park, and there rose the old home, so exactly like what one expected it, that I felt as if I had been there before in some other phase of existence.
It is certainly a tradition in the family to welcome travellers! I thought of the various memoirs I had read, of the travellers arriving from the North and the South and the West; of Scott and Lockhart, of Pictet, of the Ticknors, of the many visitants who had come up in turn; whether it is the year 14, or the year 94, the hospitable doors open kindly to admit them. There were the French windows reaching to the ground, through which Maria used to pass on her way to gather her roses; there was the porch where Walter Scott had stood; there grew the quaint old-fashioned bushes with the great pink peonies in flower, by those railings which still divide the park from the meadows beyond; there spread the branches of the century-old trees. Only last winter they told us the storms came and swept away a grove of Beeches that were known in all the country round, but how much of shade, of flower, still remain! The noble Hawthorn of stately growth, the pine-trees (there should be NAMES for trees, as there are for rocks or ancient strongholds). Mr. Edgeworth showed us the oak from Jerusalem, the grove of cypress and sycamore where the beautiful depths of ground ivy are floating upon the DEBRIS, and soften the gnarled roots, while they flood the rising banks with green.
Mr. and Mrs. Edgeworth brought us into the house. The ways go upstairs and downstairs, by winding passages and side gates; a pretty domed staircase starts from the central hall, where stands that old clock-case which Maria wound up when she was over eighty years old. To the right and to the left along the passages were rooms opening from one into another. I could imagine Sir Walter's kind eyes looking upon the scene, and Wordsworth coming down the stairs, and their friendly entertainer making all happy, and all welcome in turn; and their hostess, the widowed Mrs. Edgeworth, responding and sympathising with each. We saw the corner by the fire where Maria wrote; we saw her table with its pretty curves standing in its place in the deep casements. Miss Edgeworth's own room is a tiny little room above looking out on the back garden. This little closet opens from a larger one, and then by a narrow flight of stairs leads to a suite of ground-floor chambers, following one from another, lined with bookcases and looking on the gardens. What a strange fellow-feeling with the past it gave one to stand staring at the old books, with their paper backs and old-fashioned covers, at the gray boards, which were the liveries of literature in those early days; at the first editions, with their inscriptions in the author's handwriting, or in Maria's pretty caligraphy. There was the PIRATE in its original volumes, and Mackintosh's MEMOIRS, and Mrs. Barbauld's ESSAYS, and Descartes's ESSAYS, that Arthur Hallam liked to read; Hallam's CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY, and Rogers's POEMS, were there all inscribed and dedicated. Not less interesting were the piles of Magazines that had been sent from America. I never knew before how many Magazines existed even those early days; we took some down at hazard and read names, dates, and initials. . . . Storied urn and monumental bust do not bring back the past as do the books which belong to it. Storied urns are in churches and stone niches, far removed from the lives of which they speak; books seem a part of our daily life, and are like the sound of a voice just outside the door. Here they were, as they had been read by her, stored away by her hands, and still safely preserved, bringing back the past with, as it were, a cheerful encouraging greeting to the present. Other relics there are of course, but, as I say, none which touch one so vividly. There is her silver ink-stand, the little table her father left her on which she wrote (it had belonged to his mother before him). There is also a curious trophy—a table which was sent to her from Edinburgh, ornamented by promiscuous views of Italy, curiously inappropriate to her genius; but not so the inscription, which is quoted from Sir Walter Scott's Preface to his Collected Edition, and which may as well be quoted here: 'WITHOUT BEING SO PRESUMPTUOUS AS TO HOPE TO EMULATE THE RICH HUMOUR, THE PATHETIC TENDERNESS, AND ADMIRABLE TRUTH WHICH PERVADE THE WORKS OF MY ACCOMPLISHED FRIEND,' Sir Walter wrote, I FELT THAT SOMETHING MIGHT BE ATTEMPTED FOR MY OWN COUNTRY OF THE SAME KIND AS THAT WHICH MISS EDGEWORTH SO FORTUNATELY ACHIEVED FOR IRELAND.'
In the MEMOIRS of Miss Edgeworth there is a pretty account of her sudden burst of feeling when this passage so unexpected, and so deeply felt by her, was read out by one of her sisters, at a time when Maria lay weak and recovering from illness in Edgeworthstown.
Our host took us that day, among other pleasant things, for a marvellous and delightful flight on a jaunting car, to see something of the country. We sped through storms and sunshine, by open moors and fields, and then by villages and little churches, by farms where the pigs were standing at the doors to be fed, by pretty trim cottages. The lights came and went; as the mist lifted we could see the exquisite colours, the green, the dazzling sweet lights on the meadows, playing upon the meadow-sweet and elder bushes; at last we came to the lovely glades of Carriglass. It seemed to me that we had reached an enchanted forest amid this green sweet tangle of ivy, of flowering summer trees, of immemorial oaks and sycamores.
A squirrel was darting up the branches of a beautiful spreading beech-tree, a whole army of rabbits were flashing with silver tails into the brushwood; swallows, blackbirds, peacock-butterflies, dragonflies on the wing, a mighty sylvan life was roaming in this lovely orderly wilderness.
The great Irish kitchen garden, belonging to the house, with its seven miles of wall, was also not unlike a part of a fairy tale. Its owner, Mr. Lefroy, told me that Miss Edgeworth had been constantly there. She was a great friend of Judge Lefroy. As a boy he remembered her driving up to the house and running up through the great drawing-room doors to greet the Judge.
Miss Edgeworth certainly lived in a fair surrounding, and, with Sophia Western, must have gone along the way of life heralded by sweetest things, by the song of birds, by the gold radiance of the buttercups, by the varied shadows of those beautiful trees under which the cows gently tread the grass. English does not seem exactly the language in which to write of Ireland, with its sylvan wonders of natural beauty. Madame de Sevigne's descriptions of her woods came to my mind. It is not a place which delights one by its actual sensual beauty, as Italy does; it is not as in England, where a thousand associations link one to every scene and aspect—Ireland seems to me to contain some unique and most impersonal charm, which is quite unwritable.
All that evening we sat talking with our hosts round the fire (for it was cold enough for a fire), and I remembered that in Miss Edgeworth's MEMOIRS it was described how the snow lay upon the ground and upon the land, when the family came home in June to take possession of Edgeworthstown.
As I put out my candle in the spacious guest-chamber I wondered which of its past inhabitants I should wish to see standing in the middle of the room. I must confess that the thought of the beautiful Honora filled me with alarm, and if Miss Seward had walked in in her pearls and satin robe I should have fled for my life. As I lay there experimentalising upon my own emotions I found that after all, natural simple people do not frighten one whether dead or alive. The thought of them is ever welcome; it is the artificial people who are sometimes one thing, sometimes another, and who form themselves on the weaknesses and fancies of those among whom they live, who are really terrifying.
The shadow of the bird's wing flitted across the window of my bedroom, and the sun was shining next morning when I awoke. I could see the cows, foot deep in the grass under the hawthorns. After breakfast we went out into the grounds and through an arched doorway into the kitchen garden. It might have been some corner of Italy or the South of France; the square tower of the granary rose high against the blue, the gray walls were hung with messy fruit trees, pigeons were darting and flapping their wings, gardeners were at work, the very vegetables were growing luxuriant and romantic and edged by thick borders of violet pansy; crossing the courtyard, we came into the village street, also orderly and white-washed. The soft limpid air made all things into pictures, into Turners, into Titians. A Murillo-like boy, with dark eyes, was leaning against a wall, with his shadow, watching us go by; strange old women, with draperies round their heads, were coming out of their houses. We passed the Post-Office, the village shops, with their names, the Monaghans and Gerahtys, such as we find again in Miss Edgeworth's novels. We heard the local politics discussed over the counter with a certain aptness and directness which struck me very much. We passed the boarding-house, which was not without its history—a long low building erected by Mr. and Miss Edgeworth for a school, where the Sandfords and Mertons of those days were to be brought up together: a sort of foreshadowing of the High Schools of the present. Mr. Edgeworth was, as we know, the very spirit of progress, though his experiment did not answer at the time. At the end of the village street, where two roads divide, we noticed a gap in the decent roadway—a pile of ruins in a garden. A tumble-down cottage, and beyond the cottage, a falling shed, on the thatched roof of which a hen was clucking and scraping. These cottages Mr. Edgeworth had, after long difficulty, bought up and condemned as unfit for human habitation. The plans had been considered, the orders given to build new cottages in their place, which were to be let to the old tenants at the old rent, but the last remaining inhabitant absolutely refused to leave; we saw an old woman in a hood slowly crossing the road, and carrying a pail for water; no threats or inducements would move her, not even the sight of a neat little house, white-washed and painted, and all ready for her to step into. Her present rent was 10d. a week, Mr. Edgeworth told me, and she had been letting the tumble-down shed to a large family for 1s. 4d. This sub-let was forcibly put an end to, but the landlady still stops there, and there she will stay until the roof tumbles down upon her head. The old creature passed on through the sunshine, a decrepit, picturesque figure carrying her pail to the stream, defying all the laws of progress and political economy and civilisation in her feebleness and determination.
Most of the women came to their doors to see us go by. They all looked as old as the hills—some dropt curtseys, others threw up their arms in benediction. From a cottage farther up the road issued a strange, shy old creature, looking like a bundle of hay, walking on bare legs. She came up with a pinch of snuff, and a shake of the hand; she was of the family of the man who had once saved Edgeworthstown from being destroyed by the rebels. 'Sure it was not her father,' said old Peggy,' it was her grandfather did it!' So she explained, but it was hard to believe that such an old, old creature had ever had a grandfather in the memory of man.
The glebe lands lie beyond the village. They reach as far as the church on its high plateau, from which you can see the Wicklow Hills on a fine day, and the lovely shifting of the lights of the landscape. The remains of the great pew of the Edgeworth family, with its carved canopy of wood, is still a feature in the bare church from which so much has been swept away. The names of the fathers are written on the chancel walls, and a few medallions of daughters and sisters also. In the churchyard, among green elder bushes and tall upspringing grasses, is the square monument erected to Mr. Edgeworth and his family; and as we stood there the quiet place was crossed and recrossed by swallows with their beating crescent wings.
Whatever one may think of Mr. Edgeworth's literary manipulations and of his influence upon his daughter's writings, one cannot but respect the sincere and cordial understanding which bound these two people together, and realise the added interest in life, in its machinery and evolutions, which Maria owed to her father's active intelligence. Her own gift, I think, must have been one for perceiving through the minds of others, and for realising the value of what they in turn reflected; one is struck again and again by the odd mixture of intuition, and of absolute matter of fact which one finds in her writings.
It is difficult to realise, when one reads the memoirs of human beings who loved and hated, and laughed and scolded, and wanted things and did without them, very much as we do ourselves, that though they thought as we do and felt as we do (only, as I have said, with greater vehemence), they didn't LOOK like us at all; and Mr. Edgeworth, the father of Maria Edgeworth, the 'gay gallant,' the impetuous, ingenious, energetic gentleman, sat writing with powdered hair and a queue, with tights and buckles, bolt upright in a stiff chair, while his family, also bequeued and becurled and bekerchiefed, were gathered round him in a group, composedly attentive to his explanations, as he points to the roll upon the table, or reads from his many MSS. and notebooks, for their edification.
To have four wives and twenty-two children, to have invented so many machines, engines, and curricles, steeples and telegraph posts, is more than commonly falls to the lot of one ordinary man, but such we know was Mr. Edgeworth's history told by his own lips.
I received by chance an old newspaper the other day, dated the 23rd July 1779. It is called the LONDON PACKET, and its news, told with long s's and pretty curly italics, thrills one even now as one looks over the four short pages. The leading article is entitled 'Striking Instance of the PERFIDY of France.' It is true the grievance goes back to Louis XIV., but the leader is written with plenty of spirit and present indignation. Then comes news from America and the lists of New Councillors elected:
'Artemus Ward, Francis Dana, Oliver Prescott, Samuel Baker, while a very suitable sermon on the occasion is preached by the Rev. Mr. Stillman of Boston.' How familiar the names all sound! Then the thanks of the Members of Congress are given to 'General Lee, Colonel Moultrie, and the officers and soldiers under their command who on the 28th of June last Repulsed with so much Valour the attack that was made that day on the State of South Carolina by the fleet and army of his Britannic Majesty.'
There is an irresistible spirit of old-world pigtail decorum and dash about it all. We read of our 'grand fleet' waiting at Corunna for the Spanish; of 80,000 men on the coast of Brittany supposed to be ready for an invasion of England; of the Prince of Conde playing at cards, with Northumberland House itself for stakes (Northumberland House which he is INTENDING to take). We read the list of Lottery Prizes, of the L1000 and L500 tickets; of the pressing want of seamen for His Majesty's Navy, and how the gentlemen of Ireland are subscribers to a bounty fund. Then comes the narrative of James Caton of Bristol, who writes to complain that while transacting his business on the Bristol Exchange he is violently seized by a pressgang, with oaths and imprecations. Mr. Farr, attempting to speak to him, is told by the Lieutenant that if he does not keep off he will be shot with a pistol. Mr. Caton is violently carried off, locked up in a horrible stinking room, prevented from seeing his friends; after a day or two he is forced on board a tender, where Mr. Tripp, a midshipman, behaves with humanity, but the Captain and Lieutenant outvie each other in brutality; Captain Hamilton behaving as an 'enraged partisan.' Poor Mr. Caton is released at last by the exertions of Mr. Edmund Burke, of Mr. Farr, and another devoted friend, who travel post-haste to London to obtain a Habeas Corpus, so that he is able to write indignantly and safe from his own home to the LONDON PACKET to describe his providential escape. The little sheet gives one a vivid impression of that daily life in 1779, when Miss Edgeworth must have been a little girl of twelve years old, at school at Mrs. Lataffiere's, and learning to write in her beautiful handwriting. It was a time of great events. The world is fighting, armies marching and counter-marching, and countries rapidly changing hands. Miss Seward is inditing her elegant descriptions for the use of her admiring circle. But already the circle is dwindling! Mr. Day has parted from Sabrina. The well-known episodes of Lichfield gaieties and love-makings are over. Poor Major Andre has been exiled from England and rejected by Honora. The beautiful Honora, whose "blending charms of mind and person" are celebrated by one adoring lover after another, has married Mr. Edgeworth. She has known happiness, and the devoted affection of an adoring husband, and the admiring love of her little step-daughter, all this had been hers; and now all this is coming to an end, and the poor lady lying on her death-bed imploring her husband to marry her sister Elizabeth. Accordingly Mr. Edgeworth married Elizabeth Sneyd in 1780, which was also the year of poor Andre's death.
There is a little oval picture at the National Gallery in Dublin, the photograph of a sketch at Edgeworthstown House, which gives one a very good impression of the family as it must have appeared in the reigns of King George and the third Mrs. Edgeworth. The father in his powder and frills sits at the table with intelligent, well-informed finger showing some place upon a map. He is an agreeable-looking youngish man; Mrs. Edgeworth, his third wife, is looking over his shoulder; she has marked features, beautiful eyes, she holds a child upon her knee, and one can see the likeness in her to her step-daughter Honora, who stands just behind her and leans against the chair. A large globe appropriately stands in the background. The grown-up ladies alternate with small children. Miss Edgeworth herself, sitting opposite to her father, is the most prominent figure in the group. She wears a broad leghorn hat, a frizzed coiffure, and folded kerchief; she has a sprightly, somewhat French appearance, with a marked nose of the RETROUSSE order. I had so often heard that she was plain that to see this fashionable and agreeable figure was a pleasant surprise.
Miss Edgeworth seems to be about four-and-twenty in the sketch; she was born in 1767; she must have been eleven in 1778, when Mr. Edgeworth finally came over to Ireland to settle on his own estate, and among his own people. He had been obliged some years before to leave Edgeworthstown on account of Mrs. Honora Edgeworth's health; he now returned in patriarchal fashion with Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth, his third wife, with his children by his first, second, and third marriages, and with two sisters-in-law who had made their home in his family. For thirty-five years he continued to live on in the pretty old home which he now adapted to his large family, and which, notwithstanding Miss Edgeworth's objections, would have seemed so well fitted for its various requirements. The daughter's description of his life there, of his work among his tenants, of his paternal and spirited rule, is vivid and interesting. When the present owner of Edgeworthstown talked to us of his grandfather, one felt that, with all his eccentricities, he must have been a man of a far-seeing mind and observation. Mr. Erroles Edgeworth said that he was himself still reaping the benefit of his grandfather's admirable organisation and arrangements on the estate, and that when people all around met with endless difficulties and complications, he had scarcely known any. Would that there had been more Mr. Edgeworths in Ireland!
Whatever business he had to do, his daughter tells us, was done in the midst of his family. Maria copied his letters of business and helped him to receive his rents. 'On most Irish estates,' says Miss Edgeworth, 'there is, or there was, a personage commonly called a driver,—a person who drives and impounds cattle for rent and arrears.' The drivers are, alas! from time to time too necessary in collecting Irish rents. Mr. Edgeworth desired that none of his tenants should pay rent to any one but himself; thus taking away subordinate interference, he became individually acquainted with his tenantry. He also made himself acquainted with the different value of land on his estate. In every case where the tenant had improved the land his claim to preference over every new proposer was admitted. The mere plea, 'I have been on your Honour's estate so many years,' was disregarded. 'Nor was it advantageous that each son,' says Miss Edgeworth, 'of the original tenant should live on his subdivided little potato garden without further exertion of mind or body.' Further on she continues: 'Not being in want of ready money, my father was not obliged to let his land to the highest bidder. He could afford to have good tenants.' In the old leases claims of duty-fowl, of duty-work, of man or beast had been inserted. Mr. Edgeworth was one of the first to abolish them. The only clause he continued in every lease was the alienation fine, which was to protect the landlord and to prevent a set of middlemen from taking land at a reasonable rent, and letting it immediately at the highest possible price. His indulgence as to the time he allowed for the payment of rent was unusually great, but beyond the half year the tenants knew his strictness so well, that they rarely ventured to go into arrears, and never did so with impunity. 'To his character as a good landlord,' she continues, 'was added that he was a real gentleman; this phrase comprises a good deal in the opinion of the lower Irish.' There is one very curious paragraph in which Miss Edgeworth describes how her father knew how to make use of the tenants' prejudices, putting forward his wishes rather than his convictions. 'It would be impossible for me,' says his daughter, 'without ostentation to give any of the proofs I might record of my father's liberality. Long after they were forgotten by himself, they were remembered by the warm-hearted people among whom he lived.'
Mr. Edgeworth was one of those people born to get their own way. Every one seems to have felt the influence of his strong character. It was not only with his family and his friends that he held his own—the tenants and the poor people rallied to his command. To be sure, it sounds like some old Irish legend to be told that Mr. Edgeworth had so loud a voice that it could be heard a mile off, and that his steward, who lived in a lodge at that distance from the house, could hear him calling from the drawing-room window, and would come up for orders.
In 1778, says Miss Edgeworth retrospectively, when England was despatching her armies all over the world, she had no troops to spare for the defence of Ireland then threatened with a French invasion; and the principal nobility and gentry embodied themselves volunteers for the defence of the country. The Duke of Leinster and Lord Charlemont were at the head of the 'corps which in perfect order and good discipline rendered their country respectable.' The friends of Ireland, profiting by England's growing consideration for the sister country, now obtained for her great benefits for which they had long been striving, and Mr. Grattan moved an address to the throne asserting the legislative independence of Ireland. The address passed the House, and, as his daughter tells us, Mr. Edgeworth immediately published a pamphlet. Miss Edgeworth continues as follows, describing his excellent course of action: 'My father honestly and unostentatiously used his utmost endeavours to obliterate all that could tend to perpetuate ill-will in the country. Among the lower classes in his neighbourhood he endeavoured to discourage that spirit of recrimination and retaliation which the lower Irish are too prone to cherish. They are such acute observers that there is no deceiving them as to the state of the real feeling of their superiors. They know the signs of what passes within with more certainty than any physiognomist, and it was soon seen by all those who had any connection with him that my father was sincere in his disdain of vengeance.' Further on, describing his political feelings, she says that on the subject of the Union in parliamentary phrase he had not then been able to make up his mind. She describes with some pride his first speech in the Irish House at two o'clock in the morning, when the wearied members were scarcely awake to hear it, and when some of the outstretched members were aroused by their neighbours to listen to him! 'When people perceived that it was not a set speech,' says Miss Edgeworth, 'they became interested.' He stated his doubts just as they had occurred as he threw them by turn into each scale. After giving many reasons in favour of what appeared to be the advantages of the Union, he unexpectedly gave his vote against it, because he said he had been convinced by what he had heard one night, that the Union was decidedly against the wishes of the majority of men of sense and property in the nation. He added (and surely Mr. Edgeworth's opinion should go for something still) that if he should be convinced that the opinions of the country changed, his vote would be in its favour.
His biographer tells us that Mr. Edgeworth was much complimented on his speech by BOTH sides, by those for whom he voted, and also by those who found that the best arguments on the other side of the question had been undoubtedly made by him. It is a somewhat complicated statement and state of feeling to follow; to the faithful daughter nothing is impossible where her father is concerned. This vote, I believe, cost Mr. Edgeworth his peerage. 'When it was known that he had voted against the Union he became suddenly the idol of those who would previously have stoned him,' says his devoted biographer. It must not, however, be forgotten that Mr. Edgeworth had refused an offer of L3000 for his seat for two or three weeks, during that momentous period when every vote was of importance. Mr. Pitt, they say, spent over L2,000,000 in carrying the measure which he deemed so necessary.
As a rule people's books appeal first to one's imagination, and then after a time, if the books are good books and alive, not stuffed dummies and reproductions, one begins to divine the writers themselves, hidden away in their pages, and wrapped up in their hot-press sheets of paper; and so it happened by chance that a printed letter once written by Maria Edgeworth to Mrs. Barbauld set the present reader wondering about these two familiar names, and trying to realise the human beings which they each represented. Since those days Miss Edgeworth has become a personage more vivid and interesting than any of her characters, more familiar even than 'Simple Susan' or 'Rosamond of the Purple Jar.' She has seemed little by little to grow into a friend, as the writer has learnt to know her more and more intimately, has visited the home of that home-loving woman, has held in her hands the delightful Family Memoirs, has seen the horizons, so to speak, of Maria Edgeworth's long life. [Now published and edited by Mr. Hare (Nov. 1894).] Several histories of Miss Edgeworth have been lately published in England. Miss Zimmern and Miss Oliver in America have each written, and the present writer has written, and various memoirs and letters have appeared in different magazines and papers with allusions and descriptions all more or less interesting. One can but admire the spirit which animated that whole existence; the cheerful, kindly, multiplied interest Maria Edgeworth took in the world outside, as well as in the wellbeing of all those around her. Generations, changes, new families, new experiences, none of these overwhelmed her. She seemed to move in a crowd, a cheerful, orderly crowd, keeping in tune and heart with its thousand claims; with strength and calmness of mind to bear multiplied sorrows and a variety of care with courage, and an ever-reviving gift of spirited interest. Her history is almost unique in its curious relationships; its changes of step-mothers, its warm family ties, its grasp of certain facts which belong to all time rather than to the hour itself. Miss Edgeworth lived for over eighty years, busy, beneficent, modest, and intelligent to the last. When she died she was mourned as unmarried women of eighty are not often mourned.
The present owner of Edgeworthstown told us that he could just remember her, lying dead upon her bed, and her face upon the pillow, and the sorrowful tears of the household; and how he and the other little children were carried off by a weeping aunt into the woods, to comfort and distract them on the funeral day. He also told us of an incident prior to this event which should not be overlooked. How he himself, being caught red-handed, at the age of four or thereabouts, with his hands in a box of sugar-plums, had immediately confessed the awful fact that he had been about to eat them, and he was brought then and there before his Aunt Maria for sentence. She at once decided that he had behaved Nobly in speaking the truth, and that he must be rewarded in kind for his praiseworthy conduct, and be allowed to keep the sugar-plums!
This little story after half a century certainly gives one pleasure still to recall, and proves, I think, that cakes may be enjoyed long after they have been eaten, and also that there is a great deal to be said for justice with lollipops in the scale. But what would Rosamond's parents have thought of such a decision? One shudders to think of their disapproval, or of that of dear impossible Mr. Thomas Day, with his trials and experiments of melted sealing-wax upon little girls' bare arms, and his glasses of tar-water so inflexibly administered. Miss Edgeworth, who suffered from her eyes, recalls how Mr. Day used to bring the dose, the horrible tar-water, every morning with a 'Drink this, Miss Maria!' and how she dared not resist, though she thought she saw something of kindness and pity beneath all his apparent severity.
Severity was the order of those times. The reign of sugar-plums had scarcely begun. It was not, as now, only ignorance and fanaticism that encouraged the giving of pain, it was the universal custom. People were still hanged for stealing, women were still burnt—so we have been assured—in St. Stephen's Green; though, it is true, they were considerately strangled first. Children were bullied and tortured with the kindest intentions; even Maria Edgeworth at her fashionable school was stretched in a sort of machine to make her grow; Mr. Day, as we know, to please the lady of his affections, passed eight hours a day in the stocks in order to turn out his knock-knees. One feels that a generation of ladies and gentlemen who submitted to such inflictions surely belonged to a race of heroes and heroines, and that, if the times were difficult and trying, the people also were stronger to endure them, and must have been much better fitted with nerves than we are.
Miss Edgeworth's life has been so often told that I will not attempt to recapitulate the story at any length. She well deserved her reputation. Her thoughts were good, her English was good, her stories had the charm of sincerity, and her audience of children was a genuine audience, less likely to be carried away by fashion than more advanced critics might be. There is a curious matter-of-fact element in all she wrote, combined with extraordinary quickness and cleverness; and it must be remembered, in trying to measure her place in literature, that in her day the whole great school of English philosophical romance was in its cradle; George Eliot was not in existence; my father was born in the year in which THE ABSENTEE was published. Sir Walter Scott has told us that it was Miss Edgeworth's writing which first suggested to him the idea of writing about Scotland and its national life. Tourgenieff in the same way says that it was after reading her books on Ireland that he began to write of his own country and of Russian peasants as he did. Miss Edgeworth was the creator of her own special world of fiction, though the active Mr. Edgeworth crossed the t's and dotted the i's, interpolated, expurgated, to his own and Maria's satisfaction. She was essentially a modest woman; she gratefully accepted his criticism and emendations. Mr. Clark Russell quotes Sydney Smith, who declared that Mr. Edgeworth must have written or burst. 'A discharge of ink was an evacuation absolutely necessary to avoid fatal and plethoric congestion.' The only wonder is that, considering all they went through, his daughter's stories survived to tell their tale, and to tell it so well, with directness and conviction, that best of salt in any literary work. A letter Maria wrote to her cousin will be remembered. 'I beg, dear Sophy,' she says, 'that you will not call my stories by the sublime name of my works; I shall else be ashamed when the little mouse comes forth.'
Maria's correspondence is delightful, and conveys us right away into that bygone age. The figures rapidly move across her scene, talking and unconsciously describing themselves as they go; you see them all through the eyes of the observant little lady. She did not go very deep; she seems to me to have made kindly acquaintance with some, to have admired others with artless enthusiasm. I don't think she troubled herself much about complication of feeling; she liked people to make repartees, or to invent machines, to pay their bills, and to do their duty in a commonplace and cheerfully stoical fashion. But then Maria Edgeworth certainly did not belong to our modern schools, sipping the emetic goblet to give flavour to daily events, nor to that still more alarming and spreading clique of DEGENERES who insist upon administering such doses to others to relieve the tedium of the road of life.
Perhaps we in our time scarcely do justice to Miss Edgeworth's extraordinary cleverness and brightness of apprehension. There is more fun than humour in her work, and those were the days of good rollicking jokes and laughter. Details change so quickly that it is almost impossible to grasp entirely the aims and intentions of a whole set of people just a little different from ourselves in every single thing; who held their heads differently, who pointed their toes differently, who addressed each other in a language just a little unlike our own. The very meanings of the words shift from one generation to another, and we are perhaps more really in harmony with our great-great-grandfathers than with the more immediate generations.
Her society was charming, so every one agrees; and her acquaintance with all the most remarkable men of her time must not be forgotten, nor the genuine regard with which she inspired all who came across her path.
'In external appearance she is quite the fairy of our nursery tale, the WHIPPETY STOURIE, if you remember such a sprite, who came flying through the window to work all sorts of marvels,' writes Sir Walter. 'I will never believe but what she has a wand in her pocket, and pulls it out to conjure a little before she begins those very striking pictures of manners.'
Among others Sir William Hamilton has left a pleasing description of Miss Edgeworth. 'If you would study and admire her as she deserves, you must see her at home,' says he, 'and hear her talk. She knows an infinite number of anecdotes about interesting places and persons, which she tells extremely well, and never except when they arise naturally out of the subject. . . . To crown her merits, she seemed to take a prodigious fancy to me, and promised to be at home, and made me promise to be at Edgeworthstown for a fortnight some time next vacation.' We owe to him also an amusing sketch of some other collateral members of the family; the fine animated old lady, who immediately gets him to explain the reason why a concave mirror inverts while a convex mirror leaves them erect; the young ladies, one of whom was particularly anxious to persuade him that the roundness of the planets was produced by friction, perhaps by their being shaken together like marbles in a bag.
There is also an interesting letter from Sir W. Hamilton at Edgeworthstown on 23rd September 1829. Wordsworth is also staying there. 'After some persuasion Francis and I succeed in engaging Mr. Wordsworth in many very interesting conversations. Miss Edgeworth has had for some time a very serious illness, but she was able to join us for dinner the day that I arrived, and she exhibited in her conversations with Mr. Wordsworth a good deal of her usual brilliancy; she also engaged Mr. Marshall in some long conversations upon Ireland, and even Mr. Marshall's son, whose talent for silence seems to be so very profound, was thawed a little on Monday evening, and discussed after tea the formation of the solar system. Miss Edgeworth tells me that she is at last employed in writing for the public after a long interval, but does not expect to have her work soon ready for publication.' [There is a curious criticism of Miss Edgeworth by Robert Hall, the great preacher, which should not be passed over. 'As to her style,' he says, 'she is simple and elegant, content to convey her thoughts in their most plain and natural form, that is indeed the perfection of style. . . . In point of tendency,' he continues, 'I should class her books among the most irreligious I ever read. . . . She does not attack religion nor inveigh against it, but makes it appear unnecessary by exhibiting perfect virtue without it. . . . No works ever produced so bad an effect on my own mind as hers.']
Besides Wordsworth and Sir William Hamilton and Mr. Marshall, we presently come to Sir John Herschell. 'I saw your admirable friend Miss Edgeworth lately in town,' he writes to Hamilton; 'she is a most warm admirer of yours, and praise such as hers is what any man might be proud of.' Later on Miss Edgeworth, corresponding with Sir W. Hamilton, tells him she is ill and forbidden to write, or even to think. This is what she thinks of THINKING: 'I am glad to see that the severe sciences do not destroy the energy and grace of the imagination, but only chasten it and impart their philosophical influence.'
Certain events are remembered and mourned for generations, so there are others, happy and interesting in themselves, which must continue to give satisfaction long after they are over, and long after those concerned in them have passed away. And certainly among things pleasant to remember is the story of Sir Walter Scott's visit to Ireland in July 1825, when he received so warm a greeting from the country and spent those happy hours with Miss Edgeworth at Edgeworthstown. Fortunately for us, Lockhart was one of the party. Anne Scott, and Walter the soldier, and Jane Scott the bride, were also travelling in Sir Walter's train. The reception which Ireland gave Sir Walter was a warm-hearted ovation. 'It would be endless to enumerate the distinguished persons who, morning after morning, crowded to his levee in St. Stephen's Green,' says Lockhart, and he quotes an old saying of Sir Robert Peel's, 'that Sir Walter's reception in the High Street of Edinburgh is 1822 was the first thing that gave him (Peel) a notion of the electric shock of a nation's gratitude.' 'I doubt if even that scene surpassed what I myself witnessed,' continues the biographer, 'when Sir Walter returned down Dame Street after inspecting the Castle of Dublin.'
From ovations to friendship it was Sir Walter's inclination to turn. On the 1st August he came to Edgeworthstown, accompanied by his family. 'We remained there for several days, making excursions to Loch Oel, etc. Mr. Lovell Edgeworth had his classical mansion filled every evening with a succession of distinguished friends. Here, above all, we had the opportunity of seeing in what universal respect and comfort a gentleman's family may live in that country, provided only they live there habitually and do their duty. . . . Here we found neither mud hovels nor naked peasantry, but snug cottages and smiling faces all about. . . . Here too we pleased ourselves with recognising some of the sweetest features in Goldsmith's picture of "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain."' Oliver Goldsmith received his education at this very school of Edgeworthstown, and Pallas More, the little hamlet where the author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD first saw the light, is still, as it was then, the property of the Edgeworths.
So Scott came to visit his little friend, and the giant was cheered and made welcome by her charming hospitality. It was a last gleam of sunshine in that noble life. We instinctively feel how happy they all were in each other's good company. We can almost overhear some of their talk, as they walk together under the shade of the trees of the park. One can imagine him laughing in his delightful hearty way, half joking, half caressing. Lockhart had used some phrase (it is Lockhart who tells us the story) which conveyed the impression that he suspects poets and novelists of looking at life and at the world chiefly as materials for art. 'A soft and pensive shade came over Scott's face. "I fear you have some very young ideas in your head," he says. "God help us, what a poor world this would be if that were the true doctrine! I have read books enough, and observed and conversed with enough eminent minds in my time, but I assure you I have heard higher sentiments from the lips of poor uneducated men and women, exerting the spirit of severe yet gentle heroism, or speaking their simple thoughts, than I ever met with out of the pages of the Bible. We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling unless we have taught ourselves to consider everything as moonshine compared with the education of the heart,"' said the great teacher. 'Maria did not listen to this without some water in her eyes,—her tears are always ready when a generous string is touched,—but she brushed them gaily aside, and said, "You see how it is: Dean Swift said he had written his books in order that people should learn to treat him like a great lord; Sir Walter writes his in order that he might be able to treat his people as a great lord ought to do."'
Years and years afterwards Edward Fitzgerald stayed at Edgeworthstown, and he also carries us there in one of his letters. He had been at college with Mr. Frank Edgeworth, who had succeeded to the estate, and had now in 1828 come to stay with him. The host had been called away, but the guest describes his many hostesses: 'Edgeworth's mother, aged seventy-four; his sister, the great Maria, aged seventy-two; and another cousin or something. All these people were pleasant and kind, the house pleasant, the grounds ditto, a good library, so here I am quite at home, but surely must go to England soon.' One can imagine Fitzgerald sitting in the library with his back to the window and writing his letters and reading his thirty-two sets of novels, while the rain is steadily pouring outside, and the Great Authoress (so he writes her down) as busy as a bee sitting by chattering and making a catalogue of her books. 'We talk about Walter Scott, whom she adores, and are merry all day long,' he says. 'When I began this letter I thought I had something to say, but I believe the truth was I had nothing to do.'
Two years later Mr. Fitzgerald is again there and writing to Frederick Tennyson: 'I set sail from Dublin to-morrow night, bearing the heartfelt regrets of all the people of Ireland with me.' Then comes a flash of his kind searching lantern: 'I had a pleasant week with Edgeworth. He farms and is a justice, and goes to sleep on the sofa of evenings. At odd moments he looks into Spinoza and Petrarch. People respect him very much in these parts.' Edward Fitzgerald seems to have had a great regard for his host; the more he knows him the more he cares for him; he describes him 'firing away about the odes of Pindar.' They fired noble broadsides those men of the early Victorian times, and when we listen we still seem to hear their echoes rolling into the far distance. Mr. Fitzgerald ends his letter with a foreboding too soon to be realised: 'Old Miss Edgeworth is wearing away. She has a capital bright soul, which even now shines quite youthfully through her faded carcase.' It was in May 1849 that Maria Edgeworth went to her rest. She died almost suddenly, with no long suffering, in the arms of her faithful friend and step-mother.
NOTES ON 'CASTLE RACKRENT'
In 1799, When Maria was in London, she and her father went to call upon Mr. Johnson, the bookseller, who was then imprisoned in the King's Bench for a publication which was considered to be treasonable, and they probably then and there arranged with him for the publication of CASTLE RACKRENT, for in January 1800, writing to her cousin, Miss Ruxton, Maria says, 'Will you tell me what means you have of getting parcels from London to Arundel, because I wish to send my aunt a few popular tales. . . . We have begged Johnson to send CASTLE RACKRENT, and hope it has reached you. DO NOT MENTION THAT IT IS OURS.'
The second edition of CASTLE RACKRENT came out with Miss Edgeworth's name to it in 1811. 'Its success was so triumphant,' Mrs. Edgeworth writes,'that some one—I heard his name at the time, but do not now remember it—not only asserted that he was the author, but actually took the trouble to copy out several chapters with corrections and erasions as if it was his original manuscript.'
It was when Miss Edgeworth first came to Ireland,—so she tells one of her correspondents,—that she met the original Thady of CASTLE RACKRENT. His character struck her very much, and the story came into her mind. She purposely added to the agent's age so as to give time for the events to happen.
Honest Thady tells the story; you can almost hear his voice, and see him as he stands: 'I wear a long greatcoat winter and summer, which is very handy, as I never put my arms into the sleeves; they are as good as new, though come Holantide next I've had it these seven years: it holds on by a single button round my neck, cloak fashion. To look at me, you would hardly think "Poor Thady" was the father of Attorney Quirk; he is a high gentleman, and never minds what poor Thady says, and having better than fifteen hundred a year landed estate, looks down upon honest Thady; but I wash my hands of his doings, and as I have lived, so will I die, true and loyal to the family. The family of Rackrents is, I am proud to say, one of the most ancient in the kingdom.' And then he gives the history of the Rackrents, beginning with Sir Patrick, who could sit out the best man in Ireland, let alone the three kingdoms itself, and who fitted up the chicken-house to accommodate his friends when they honoured him unexpectedly with their company. There was 'such a fine whillaluh at Sir Patrick's funeral, you might have heard it to the farthest end of the county, and happy the man who could get but a sight of the hearse.' Then came Sir Murtagh, who used to boast that he had a law-suit for every letter in the alphabet. 'He dug up a fairy-mount against my advice,' says Thady, 'and had no luck afterwards. . . . Sir Murtagh in his passion broke a blood-vessel, and all the law in the land could do nothing in that case. . . . My lady had a fine jointure settled upon her, and took herself away, to the great joy of the tenantry. I never said anything one way or the other,' says Thady, 'whilst she was part of the family, but got up to see her go at three o'clock in the morning. "It's a fine morning, honest Thady," says she; "good-bye to ye," and into the carriage she stepped, without a word more, good or bad, or even half-a-crown, but I made my bow, and stood to see her safe out of sight for the sake of the family.'
How marvellously vivid it all is! every word tells as the generations pass before us. The very spirit of romantic Irish fidelity is incarnate in Thady. Jason Quirk represents the feline element, which also belongs to our extraordinary Celtic race. The little volume contains the history of a nation. It is a masterpiece which Miss Edgeworth has never surpassed. It is almost provoking to have so many details of other and less interesting stories, such as EARLY LESSONS, A KNAPSACK, THE PRUSSIAN VASE, etc., and to hear so little of these two books by which she will be best remembered.
The Prevailing taste of the public for anecdote has been censured and ridiculed by critics who aspire to the character of superior wisdom; but if we consider it in a proper point of view, this taste is an incontestable proof of the good sense and profoundly philosophic temper of the present times. Of the numbers who study, or at least who read history, how few derive any advantage from their labours! The heroes of history are so decked out by the fine fancy of the professed historian; they talk in such measured prose, and act from such sublime or such diabolical motives, that few have sufficient taste, wickedness, or heroism, to sympathise in their fate. Besides, there is much uncertainty even in the best authenticated ancient or modern histories; and that love of truth, which in some minds is innate and immutable, necessarily leads to a love of secret memoirs and private anecdotes. We cannot judge either of the feelings or of the characters of men with perfect accuracy, from their actions or their appearance in public; it is from their careless conversations, their half-finished sentences, that we may hope with the greatest probability of success to discover their real characters. The life of a great or of a little man written by himself, the familiar letters, the diary of any individual published by his friends or by his enemies, after his decease, are esteemed important literary curiosities. We are surely justified, in this eager desire, to collect the most minute facts relative to the domestic lives, not only of the great and good, but even of the worthless and insignificant, since it is only by a comparison of their actual happiness or misery in the privacy of domestic life that we can form a just estimate of the real reward of virtue, or the real punishment of vice. That the great are not as happy as they seem, that the external circumstances of fortune and rank do not constitute felicity, is asserted by every moralist: the historian can seldom, consistently with his dignity, pause to illustrate this truth; it is therefore to the biographer we must have recourse. After we have beheld splendid characters playing their parts on the great theatre of the world, with all the advantages of stage effect and decoration, we anxiously beg to be admitted behind the scenes, that we may take a nearer view of the actors and actresses.
Some may perhaps imagine that the value of biography depends upon the judgment and taste of the biographer; but on the contrary it may be maintained, that the merits of a biographer are inversely as the extent of his intellectual powers and of his literary talents. A plain unvarnished tale is preferable to the most highly ornamented narrative. Where we see that a man has the power, we may naturally suspect that he has the will to deceive us; and those who are used to literary manufacture know how much is often sacrificed to the rounding of a period, or the pointing of an antithesis.
That the ignorant may have their prejudices as well as the learned cannot be disputed; but we see and despise vulgar errors: we never bow to the authority of him who has no great name to sanction his absurdities. The partiality which blinds a biographer to the defects of his hero, in proportion as it is gross, ceases to be dangerous; but if it be concealed by the appearance of candour, which men of great abilities best know how to assume, it endangers our judgment sometimes, and sometimes our morals. If her Grace the Duchess of Newcastle, instead of penning her lord's elaborate eulogium, had undertaken to write the life of Savage, we should not have been in any danger of mistaking an idle, ungrateful libertine for a man of genius and virtue. The talents of a biographer are often fatal to his reader. For these reasons the public often judiciously countenance those who, without sagacity to discriminate character, without elegance of style to relieve the tediousness of narrative, without enlargement of mind to draw any conclusions from the facts they relate, simply pour forth anecdotes, and retail conversations, with all the minute prolixity of a gossip in a country town.
The author of the following Memoirs has upon these grounds fair claims to the public favour and attention; he was an illiterate old steward, whose partiality to THE FAMILY, in which he was bred and born, must be obvious to the reader. He tells the history of the Rackrent family in his vernacular idiom, and in the full confidence that Sir Patrick, Sir Murtagh, Sir Kit, and Sir Condy Rackrent's affairs will be as interesting to all the world as they were to himself. Those who were acquainted with the manners of a certain class of the gentry of Ireland some years ago, will want no evidence of the truth of honest Thady's narrative; to those who are totally unacquainted with Ireland, the following Memoirs will perhaps be scarcely intelligible, or probably they may appear perfectly incredible. For the information of the IGNORANT English reader, a few notes have been subjoined by the editor, and he had it once in contemplation to translate the language of Thady into plain English; but Thady's idiom is incapable of translation, and, besides, the authenticity of his story would have been more exposed to doubt if it were not told in his own characteristic manner. Several years ago he related to the editor the history of the Rackrent family, and it was with some difficulty that he was persuaded to have it committed to writing; however, his feelings for 'THE HONOUR OF THE FAMILY,' as he expressed himself, prevailed over his habitual laziness, and he at length completed the narrative which is now laid before the public.
The editor hopes his readers will observe that these are 'tales of other times;' that the manners depicted in the following pages are not those of the present age; the race of the Rackrents has long since been extinct in Ireland; and the drunken Sir Patrick, the litigious Sir Murtagh, the fighting Sir Kit, and the slovenly Sir Condy, are characters which could no more be met with at present in Ireland, than Squire Western or Parson Trulliber in England. There is a time when individuals can bear to be rallied for their past follies and absurdities, after they have acquired new habits and a new consciousness. Nations, as well as individuals, gradually lose attachment to their identity, and the present generation is amused, rather than offended, by the ridicule that is thrown upon its ancestors.
Probably we shall soon have it in our power, in a hundred instances, to verify the truth of these observations.
When Ireland loses her identity by an union with Great Britain, she will look back, with a smile of good-humoured complacency, on the Sir Kits and Sir Condys of her former existence.
MONDAY MORNING [See GLOSSARY 1].
Having, out of friendship for the family, upon whose estate, praised be Heaven! I and mine have lived rent-free time out of mind, voluntarily undertaken to publish the MEMOIRS OF THE RACKRENT FAMILY, I think it my duty to say a few words, in the first place, concerning myself. My real name is Thady Quirk, though in the family I have always been known by no other than 'Honest Thady,' afterward, in the time of Sir Murtagh, deceased, I remember to hear them calling me 'Old. Thady,' and now I've come to 'Poor Thady'; for I wear a long greatcoat winter and summer, which is very handy, as I never put my arms into the sleeves; they are as good as new, though come Holantide next I've had it these seven years: it holds on by a single button round my neck, cloak fashion.
[The cloak, or mantle, as described by Thady, is of high antiquity. Spenser, in his VIEW OF THE STATE OF IRELAND, proves that it is not, as some have imagined, peculiarly derived from the Scythians, but that 'most nations of the world anciently used the mantle; for the Jews used it, as you may read of Elias's mantle, etc.; the Chaldees also used it, as you may read in Diodorus; the Egyptians likewise used it, as you may read in Herodotus, and may be gathered by the description of Berenice in the Greek Commentary upon Callimachus; the Greeks also used it anciently, as appeared by Venus's mantle lined with stars, though afterward they changed the form thereof into their cloaks, called Pallai, as some of the Irish also use; and the ancient Latins and Romans used it, as you may read in Virgil, who was a great antiquary, that Evander, when AEneas came to him at his feast, did entertain and feast him sitting on the ground, and lying on mantles: insomuch that he useth the very word mantile for a mantle—
"Humi mantilia sternunt:"
so that it seemeth that the mantle was a general habit to most nations, and not proper to the Scythians only.
Spenser knew the convenience of the said mantle, as housing, bedding, and clothing: 'IREN. Because the commodity doth not countervail the discommodity; for the inconveniences which thereby do arise are much more many; for it is a fit house for an outlaw, a meet bed for a rebel, and an apt cloak for a thief. First, the outlaw being, for his many crimes and villanies, banished from the towns and houses of honest men, and wandering in waste places, far from danger of law, maketh his mantle his house, and under it covereth himself from the wrath of Heaven, from the offence of the earth, and from the sight of men. When it raineth, it is his penthouse; when it bloweth, it is his tent; when it freezeth, it is his tabernacle. In summer he can wear it loose; in winter he can wrap it close; at all times he can use it; never heavy, never cumbersome. Likewise for a rebel it is as serviceable; for in this war that he maketh (if at least it deserves the name of war), when he still flieth from his foe, and lurketh in the THICK WOODS (this should be BLACK BOGS) and straight passages, waiting for advantages, it is his bed, yea, and almost his household stuff.']
To look at me, you would hardly think 'Poor Thady' was the father of Attorney Quirk; he is a high gentleman, and never minds what poor Thady says, and having better than fifteen hundred a year, landed estate, looks down upon honest Thady; but I wash my hands of his doings, and as I have lived so will I die, true and loyal to the family. The family of the Rackrents is, I am proud to say, one of the most ancient in the kingdom. Everybody knows this is not the old family name, which was O'Shaughlin, related to the kings of Ireland—but that was before my time. My grandfather was driver to the great Sir Patrick O'Shaughlin, and I heard him, when I was a boy, telling how the Castle Rackrent estate came to Sir Patrick; Sir Tallyhoo Rackrent was cousin-german to him, and had a fine estate of his own, only never a gate upon it, it being his maxim that a car was the best gate. Poor gentleman! he lost a fine hunter and his life, at last, by it, all in one day's hunt. But I ought to bless that day, for the estate came straight into THE family, upon one condition, which Sir Patrick O'Shaughlin at the time took sadly to heart, they say, but thought better of it afterwards, seeing how large a stake depended upon it: that he should, by Act of Parliament, take and bear the surname and arms of Rackrent.
Now it was that the world was to see what was IN Sir Patrick. On coming into the estate he gave the finest entertainment ever was heard of in the country; not a man could stand after supper but Sir Patrick himself who could sit out the best man in Ireland, let alone the three kingdoms itself [See GLOSSARY 2]. He had his house, from one year's end to another, as full of company as ever it could hold, and fuller; for rather than be left out of the parties at Castle Rackrent, many gentlemen, and those men of the first consequence and landed estates in the country—such as the O'Neills of Ballynagrotty, and the Moneygawls of Mount Juliet's Town, and O'Shannons of New Town Tullyhog—made it their choice, often and often, when there was no room to be had for love nor money, in long winter nights, to sleep in the chicken-house, which Sir Patrick had fitted up for the purpose of accommodating his friends and the public in general, who honoured him with their company unexpectedly at Castle Rackrent; and this went on I can't tell you how long. The whole country rang with his praises!—long life to him! I'm sure I love to look upon his picture, now opposite to me; though I never saw him, he must have been a portly gentleman—his neck something short, and remarkable for the largest pimple on his nose, which, by his particular desire, is still extant in his picture, said to be a striking likeness, though taken when young. He is said also to be the inventor of raspberry whisky, which is very likely, as nobody has ever appeared to dispute it with him, and as there still exists a broken punch-bowl at Castle Rackrent, in the garret, with an inscription to that effect—a great curiosity. A few days before his death he was very merry; it being his honour's birthday, he called my grandfather in—God bless him!—to drink the company's health, and filled a bumper himself, but could not carry it to his head, on account of the great shake in his hand; on this he cast his joke, saying, 'What would my poor father say to me if he was to pop out of the grave, and see me now? I remember when I was a little boy, the first bumper of claret he gave me after dinner, how he praised me for carrying it so steady to my mouth. Here's my thanks to him—a bumper toast.' Then he fell to singing the favourite song he learned from his father—for the last time, poor gentleman—he sung it that night as loud and as hearty as ever, with a chorus:
He that goes to bed, and goes to bed sober, Falls as the leaves do, falls as the leaves do, and dies in October; 'But he that goes to bed, and goes to bed mellow, Lives as he ought to do, lives as he ought to do, and dies an honest fellow.
Sir Patrick died that night: just as the company rose to drink his health with three cheers, he fell down in a sort of fit, and was carried off; they sat it out, and were surprised, on inquiry in the morning, to find that it was all over with poor Sir Patrick. Never did any gentleman live and die more beloved in the country by rich and poor. His funeral was such a one as was never known before or since in the county! All the gentlemen in the three counties were at it; far and near, how they flocked! my great-grandfather said, that to see all the women, even in their red cloaks, you would have taken them for the army drawn out. Then such a fine whillaluh! [See GLOSSARY 3] you might have heard it to the farthest end of the county, and happy the man who could get but a sight of the hearse! But who'd have thought it? Just as all was going on right, through his own town they were passing, when the body was seized for debt—a rescue was apprehended from the mob; but the heir, who attended the funeral, was against that, for fear of consequences, seeing that those villains who came to serve acted under the disguise of the law: so, to be sure, the law must take its course, and little gain had the creditors for their pains. First and foremost, they had the curses of the country: and Sir Murtagh Rackrent, the new heir, in the next place, on account of this affront to the body, refused to pay a shilling of the debts, in which he was countenanced by all the best gentlemen of property, and others of his acquaintance; Sir Murtagh alleging in all companies that he all along meant to pay his father's debts of honour, but the moment the law was taken of him, there was an end of honour to be sure. It was whispered (but none but the enemies of the family believe it) that this was all a sham seizure to get quit of the debts which he had bound himself to pay in honour.
It's a long time ago, there's no saying how it was, but this for certain, the new man did not take at all after the old gentleman; the cellars were never filled after his death, and no open house, or anything as it used to be; the tenants even were sent away without their whisky [See GLOSSARY 4]. I was ashamed myself, and knew not what to say for the honour of the family; but I made the best of a bad case, and laid it all at my lady's door, for I did not like her anyhow, nor anybody else; she was of the family of the Skinflints, and a widow; it was a strange match for Sir Murtagh; the people in the country thought he demeaned himself greatly [See GLOSSARY 5], but I said nothing; I knew how it was. Sir Murtagh was a great lawyer, and looked to the great Skinflint estate; there, however, he overshot himself; for though one of the co-heiresses, he was never the better for her, for she outlived him many's the long day—he could not see that to be sure when he married her. I must say for her, she made him the best of wives, being a very notable, stirring woman, and looking close to everything. But I always suspected she had Scotch blood in her veins; anything else I could have looked over in her, from a regard to the family. She was a strict observer, for self and servants, of Lent, and all fast-days, but not holidays. One of the maids having fainted three times the last day of Lent, to keep soul and body together, we put a morsel of roast beef into her mouth, which came from Sir Murtagh's dinner, who never fasted, not he; but somehow or other it unfortunately reached my lady's ears, and the priest of the parish had a complaint made of it the next day, and the poor girl was forced, as soon as she could walk, to do penance for it, before she could get any peace or absolution, in the house or out of it. However, my lady was very charitable in her own way. She had a charity school for poor children, where they were taught to read and write gratis, and where they were kept well to spinning gratis for my lady in return; for she had always heaps of duty yarn from the tenants, and got all her household linen out of the estate from first to last; for after the spinning, the weavers on the estate took it in hand for nothing, because of the looms my lady's interest could get from the Linen Board to distribute gratis. Then there was a bleach-yard near us, and the tenant dare refuse my lady nothing, for fear of a lawsuit Sir Murtagh kept hanging over him about the watercourse. With these ways of managing, 'tis surprising how cheap my lady got things done, and how proud she was of it. Her table the same way, kept for next to nothing [See GLOSSARY 6]; duty fowls, and duty turkeys, and duty geese, came as fast as we could eat 'em, for my lady kept a sharp lookout, and knew to a tub of butter everything the tenants had, all round. They knew her way, and what with fear of driving for rent and Sir Murtagh's lawsuits, they were kept in such good order, they never thought of coming near Castle Rackrent without a present of something or other—nothing too much or too little for my lady—eggs, honey, butter, meal, fish, game, grouse, and herrings, fresh or salt, all went for something. As for their young pigs, we had them, and the best bacon and hams they could make up, with all young chickens in spring; but they were a set of poor wretches, and we had nothing but misfortunes with them, always breaking and running away. This, Sir Murtagh and my lady said, was all their former landlord Sir Patrick's fault, who let 'em all get the half-year's rent into arrear; there was something in that to be sure. But Sir Murtagh was as much the contrary way; for let alone making English tenants [See GLOSSARY 7] of them, every soul, he was always driving and driving, and pounding and pounding, and canting and canting [See GLOSSARY 8], and replevying and replevying, and he made a good living of trespassing cattle; there was always some tenant's pig, or horse, or cow, or calf, or goose, trespassing, which was so great a gain to Sir Murtagh, that he did not like to hear me talk of repairing fences. Then his heriots and duty-work [See GLOSSARY 9] brought him in something, his turf was cut, his potatoes set and dug, his hay brought home, and, in short, all the work about his house done for nothing; for in all our leases there were strict clauses heavy with penalties, which Sir Murtagh knew well how to enforce; so many days' duty-work of man and horse, from every tenant, he was to have, and had, every year; and when a man vexed him, why, the finest day he could pitch on, when the cratur was getting in his own harvest, or thatching his cabin, Sir Murtagh made it a principle to call upon him and his horse; so he taught 'em all, as he said, to know the law of landlord and tenant. As for law, I believe no man, dead or alive, ever loved it so well as Sir Murtagh. He had once sixteen suits pending at a time, and I never saw him so much himself: roads, lanes, bogs, wells, ponds, eel-wires, orchards, trees, tithes, vagrants, gravelpits, sandpits, dunghills, and nuisances, everything upon the face of the earth furnished him good matter for a suit. He used to boast that he had a lawsuit for every letter in the alphabet. How I used to wonder to see Sir Murtagh in the midst of the papers in his office! Why, he could hardly turn about for them. I made bold to shrug my shoulders once in his presence, and thanked my stars I was not born a gentleman to so much toil and trouble; but Sir Murtagh took me up short with his old proverb, 'learning is better than house or land.' Out of forty-nine suits which he had, he never lost one but seventeen [See GLOSSARY 10]; the rest he gained with costs, double costs, treble costs sometimes; but even that did not pay. He was a very learned man in the law, and had the character of it; but how it was I can't tell, these suits that he carried cost him a power of money: in the end he sold some hundreds a year of the family estate; but he was a very learned man in the law, and I know nothing of the matter, except having a great regard for the family; and I could not help grieving when he sent me to post up notices of the sale of the fee simple of the lands and appurtenances of Timoleague.
'I know, honest Thady,' says he, to comfort me, 'what I'm about better than you do; I'm only selling to get the ready money wanting to carry on my suit with spirit with the Nugents of Carrickashaughlin.'
He was very sanguine about that suit with the Nugents of Carrickashaughlin. He could have gained it, they say, for certain, had it pleased Heaven to have spared him to us, and it would have been at the least a plump two thousand a year in his way; but things were ordered otherwise—for the best to be sure. He dug up a fairy-mount against my advice, and had no luck afterwards. [These fairy-mounts are called ant-hills in England. They are held in high reverence by the common people in Ireland. A gentleman, who in laying out his lawn had occasion to level one of these hillocks, could not prevail upon any of his labourers to begin the ominous work. He was obliged to take a LOY from one of their reluctant hands, and began the attack himself. The labourers agreed that the vengeance of the fairies would fall upon the head of the presumptuous mortal who first disturbed them in their retreat [See GLOSSARY 11].] Though a learned man in the law, he was a little too incredulous in other matters. I warned him that I heard the very Banshee that my grandfather heard under Sir Patrick's window a few days before his death. [The Banshee is a species of aristocratic fairy, who, in the shape of a little hideous old woman, has been known to appear, and heard to sing in a mournful supernatural voice under the windows of great houses, to warn the family that some of them are soon to die. In the last century every great family in Ireland had a Banshee, who attended regularly; but latterly their visits and songs have been discontinued.] But Sir Murtagh thought nothing of the Banshee, nor of his cough, with a spitting of blood, brought on, I understand, by catching cold in attending the courts, and overstraining his chest with making himself heard in one of his favourite causes. He was a great speaker with a powerful voice; but his last speech was not in the courts at all. He and my lady, though both of the same way of thinking in some things, and though she was as good a wife and great economist as you could see, and he the best of husbands, as to looking into his affairs, and making money for his family; yet I don't know how it was, they had a great deal of sparring and jarring between them. My lady had her privy purse; and she had her weed ashes [See GLOSSARY 12], and her sealing money [See GLOSSARY 13] upon the signing of all the leases, with something to buy gloves besides; and, besides, again often took money from the tenants, if offered properly, to speak for them to Sir Murtagh about abatements and renewals. Now the weed ashes and the glove money he allowed her clear perquisites; though once when he saw her in a new gown saved out of the weed ashes, he told her to my face (for he could say a sharp thing) that she should not put on her weeds before her husband's death. But in a dispute about an abatement my lady would have the last word, and Sir Murtagh grew mad [See GLOSSARY 14]; I was within hearing of the door, and now I wish I had made bold to step in. He spoke so loud, the whole kitchen was out on the stairs [See GLOSSARY 15]. All on a sudden he stopped, and my lady too. Something has surely happened, thought I; and so it was, for Sir Murtagh in his passion broke a blood-vessel, and all the law in the land could do nothing in that case. My lady sent for five physicians, but Sir Murtagh died, and was buried. She had a fine jointure settled upon her, and took herself away, to the great joy of the tenantry. I never said anything one way or the other whilst she was part of the family, but got up to see her go at three o'clock in the morning.
'It's a fine morning, honest Thady,' says she; 'good-bye to ye.' And into the carriage she stepped, without a word more, good or bad, or even half-a-crown; but I made my bow, and stood to see her safe out of sight for the sake of the family.
Then we were all bustle in the house, which made me keep out of the way, for I walk slow and hate a bustle; but the house was all hurry-skurry, preparing for my new master. Sir Murtagh, I forgot to notice, had no childer [CHILDER: this is the manner in which many of Thady's rank, and others in Ireland, formerly pronounced the word CHILDREN]; so the Rackrent estate went to his younger brother, a young dashing officer, who came amongst us before I knew for the life of me whereabouts I was, in a gig or some of them things, with another spark along with him, and led horses, and servants, and dogs, and scarce a place to put any Christian of them into; for my late lady had sent all the feather-beds off before her, and blankets and household linen, down to the very knife-cloths, on the cars to Dublin, which were all her own, lawfully paid for out of her own money. So the house was quite bare, and my young master, the moment ever he set foot in it out of his gig, thought all those things must come of themselves, I believe, for he never looked after anything at all, but harum-scarum called for everything as if we were conjurors, or he in a public-house. For my part, I could not bestir myself anyhow; I had been so much used to my late master and mistress, all was upside down with me, and the new servants in the servants' hall were quite out of my way; I had nobody to talk to, and if it had not been for my pipe and tobacco, should, I verily believe, have broke my heart for poor Sir Murtagh.
But one morning my new master caught a glimpse of me as I was looking at his horse's heels, in hopes of a word from him. 'And is that old Thady?' says he, as he got into his gig: I loved him from that day to this, his voice was so like the family; and he threw me a guinea out of his waistcoat-pocket, as he drew up the reins with the other hand, his horse rearing too; I thought I never set my eyes on a finer figure of a man, quite another sort from Sir Murtagh, though withal, TO ME, a family likeness. A fine life we should have led, had he stayed amongst us, God bless him! He valued a guinea as little as any man: money to him was no more than dirt, and his gentleman and groom, and all belonging to him, the same; but the sporting season over, he grew tired of the place, and having got down a great architect for the house, and an improver for the grounds, and seen their plans and elevations, he fixed a day for settling with the tenants, but went off in a whirlwind to town, just as some of them came into the yard in the morning. A circular letter came next post from the new agent, with news that the master was sailed for England, and he must remit L500 to Bath for his use before a fortnight was at an end; bad news still for the poor tenants, no change still for the better with them. Sir Kit Rackrent, my young master, left all to the agent; and though he had the spirit of a prince, and lived away to the honour of his country abroad, which I was proud to hear of, what were we the better for that at home? The agent was one of your middlemen, who grind the face of the poor, and can never bear a man with a hat upon his head: he ferreted the tenants out of their lives; not a week without a call for money, drafts upon drafts from Sir Kit; but I laid it all to the fault of the agent; for, says I, what can Sir Kit do with so much cash, and he a single man?