Richard Lovell Edgeworth A SELECTION FROM HIS MEMOIRS
EDITED BY BEATRIX L. TOLLEMACHE (HON. MRS. LIONEL TOLLEMACHE)
RIVINGTON, PERCIVAL & CO. KING STREET, COVENT GARDEN
By THE SAME AUTHOR
Engelberg, and Other Verses. With Frontispiece. Crown 8vo. 6s.
Jonquille, or, The Swiss Smuggler. Translated from the French of MADAME COMBE. Crown 8vo. 6s.
Grisons Incidents in Olden Times. Crown 8vo. 2s. 6d.
LONDON RIVINGTON, PERCIVAL & CO.
LIFE IS AN INN
THERE is an inn where many a guest May enter, tarry, take his rest. When he departs there's nought to pay, Only he carries nought away.
'Not so,' I cried, 'for raiment fine, Sweet thoughts, heart-joys, and hopes that shine, May clothe anew his flitting form, As wings that change the creeping worm.
His toil-worn garb he casts aside, And journeys onward glorified.'
B. L. T.
RICHARD LOVELL EDGEWORTH
Some years ago, I came across the Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth in a second-hand bookshop, and found it so full of interest and amusement, that I am tempted to draw the attention of other readers to it. As the volumes are out of print, I have not hesitated to make long extracts from them. The first volume is autobiographical, and the narrative is continued in the second volume by Edgeworth's daughter Maria, who was her father's constant companion, and was well fitted to carry out his wish that she should complete the Memoirs.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth was born at Bath in 1744. He was a shining example of what a good landlord can do for his tenants, and how an active mind will always find objects of interest without constantly requiring what are called amusements; for the leisure class should be like Sundays in a week, and as the ideal Sunday should be a day when we can store up good and beautiful thoughts to refresh us during the week, a day when there is no hurry, no urgent business to trouble us, a day when we have time to rise above the sordid details of life and enjoy its beauties; so it seems to me that those who are not obliged to work for their living should do their part in the world by adding to its store of good and wise thoughts, by cultivating the arts and raising the standard of excellence in them, and by bringing to light truths which had been forgotten, or which had been hidden from our forefathers.
Richard Edgeworth was eminently a practical man, impulsive, as we learn from his imprudent marriage at nineteen, but with a strong sense of duty. His mother, who was Welsh, brought him up in habits of thrift and industry very unlike those of his ancestors, which he records in the early pages of his Memoirs. His great-grandmother seems to have been a woman of strong character and courage in spite of her belief in fairies and her dread of them, for he writes that 'while she was living at Liscard, she was, on some sudden alarm, obliged to go at night to a garret at the top of the house for some gunpowder, which was kept there in a barrel. She was followed upstairs by an ignorant servant girl, who carried a bit of candle without a candlestick between her fingers. When Lady Edgeworth had taken what gunpowder she wanted, had locked the door, and was halfway downstairs again, she observed that the girl had not her candle, and asked what she had done with it; the girl recollected, and answered that she had left it "stuck in the barrel of black salt." Lady Edgeworth bid her stand still, and instantly returned by herself to the room where the gunpowder was, found the candle as the girl had described, put her hand carefully underneath it, carried it safely out, and when she got to the bottom of the stairs dropped on her knees, and thanked God for their deliverance'
When we remember that it was Richard Edgeworth, the father of Maria, who trained and encouraged her first efforts in literature, we feel that we owe him a debt of gratitude; but our interest is increased when we read his Memoirs, for we then find ourselves brought into close contact with a very intelligent and vigorous mind, keen to take part in the scientific experiments of the day, while his upright moral character and earnest and well-directed efforts to improve his Irish property win our admiration; and when we remember that he married in succession four wives, and preserved harmony among the numerous members of his household, our admiration becomes wonder, and we would fain learn the secret of his success. One element in his success doubtless was that he kept every one around him usefully employed, and in the manner most suited to each. He knew how to develop innate talent, and did not crush or overpower those around him. He owed much to the early training of a sensible mother, and he gives an anecdote of his early childhood, which I will quote:—
'My mother was not blind to my faults. She saw the danger of my passionate temper. It was a difficult task to correct it; though perfectly submissive to her, I was with others rebellious and outrageous in my anger. My mother heard continual complaints of me; yet she wisely forbore to lecture or punish me for every trifling misdemeanour; she seized proper occasions to make a strong impression upon my mind.
'One day my elder brother tom, who, as I have said, was almost a man when I was a little child, came into the nursery where I was playing, and where the maids were ironing. Upon some slight provocation or contradiction from him, I flew into a violent passion; and, snatching up one of the boxirons which the maid had just laid down, I flung it across the table at my brother. He stooped instantly; and, thank God! it missed him. There was a redhot heater in it, of which I knew nothing until I saw it thrown out, and until I heard the scream from the maids. They seized me, and dragged me downstairs to my mother. Knowing that she was extremely fond of my brother, and that she was of a warm indignant temper, they expected that signal vengeance would burst upon me. They all spoke at once. When my mother heard what I had done, I saw she was struck with horror, but she said not one word in anger to me. She ordered everybody out of the room except myself, and then drawing me near her, she spoke to me in a mild voice, but in a most serious manner. First, she explained to me the nature of the crime which I had run the hazard of committing; she told me she was sure that I had no intention seriously to hurt my brother, and did not know that if the iron had hit my brother, it must have killed him. While I felt this first shock, and whilst the horror of murder was upon me, my mother seized the moment to conjure me to try in future to command my passions. I remember her telling me that I had an uncle by the mother's side who had such a violent temper, that in a fit of passion one of his eyes actually started out of its socket. "You," said my mother to me, "have naturally a violent temper; if you grow up to be a man without learning to govern it, it will be impossible for you then to command yourself; and there is no knowing what crime you may in a fit of passion commit, and how miserable you may, in consequence of it, become. You are but a very young child, yet I think you can understand me. Instead of speaking to you as I do at this moment, I might punish you severely; but I think it better to treat you like a reasonable creature. My wish is to teach you to command your temper—nobody can do that for you so well as you can do it for yourself."
'As nearly as I can recollect, these were my mother's words; I am certain this was the sense of what she then said to me. The impression made by the earnest solemnity with which she spoke never, during the whole course of my life, was effaced from my mind. From that moment I determined to govern my temper.'
Acting upon the old adage that example is better than precept, his mother taught him at an early age to observe the good and bad qualities of the persons he met. The study of character she justly felt to be most important, and yet it is not one of the subjects taught in schools except by personal collision with other boys, and incidentally in reading history. When sent to school at Warwick, he learned not only the first rudiments of grammar, but 'also the rudiments of that knowledge which leads us to observe the difference of tempers and characters in our fellow-creatures. The marking how widely they differ, and by what minute varieties they are distinguished, continues, to the end of life, an inexhaustible subject of discrimination.'
May not Maria have gained much valuable training in the art of novel-writing from a father who was so impressed with the value of the study of character?
The Gospel precept which we read as 'Judge not,' should surely be translated 'Condemn not,' and does not forbid a mental exercise which is necessary in our intercourse with others.
Among the circumstances which had considerable influence on his character, he mentions: 'My mother was reading to me some passages from Shakespeare's plays, marking the characters of Coriolanus and of Julius Caesar, which she admired. The contempt which Coriolanus expresses for the opinion and applause of the vulgar, for "the voices of the greasyheaded multitude," suited well with that disdain for low company with which I had been first inspired by the fable of the Lion and the Cub.* It is probable that I understood the speeches of Coriolanus but imperfectly; yet I know that I sympathised with my mother's admiration, my young spirit was touched by his noble character, by his generosity, and, above all, by his filial piety and his gratitude to his mother.' He mentions also that 'some traits in the history of Cyrus, which was read to me, seized my imagination, and, next to Joseph in the Old Testament, Cyrus became the favourite of my childhood. My sister and I used to amuse ourselves with playing Cyrus at the court of his grandfather Astyages. At the great Persian feasts, I was, like young Cyrus, to set an example of temperance, to eat nothing but watercresses, to drink nothing but water, and to reprove the cupbearer for making the king, my grandfather, drunk. To this day I remember the taste of those water-cresses; and for those who love to trace the characters of men in the sports of children, I may mention that my character for sobriety, if not for water-drinking, has continued through life.'
* In Gay's Fables.
When Richard Edgeworth encouraged his daughter Maria's literary tastes, he was doubtless mindful how much pleasure and support his own mother had derived from studying the best authors; and when we read later of the affectionate terms on which Maria stood with her various stepmothers and their families, we cannot help thinking that she must have inherited at least one of the beautiful traits in her grandmother's character which Richard Edgeworth especially dwells on: 'She had the most generous disposition that I ever met with; not only that common generosity, which parts with money, or money's worth, freely, and almost without the right hand knowing what the left hand doeth; but she had also an entire absence of selfish consideration. Her own wishes or opinions were never pursued merely because they were her own; the ease and comfort of everybody about her were necessary for her well-being. Every distress, as far as her fortune, or her knowledge, or her wit or eloquence could reach, was alleviated or removed; and, above all, she could forgive, and sometimes even forget injuries.'
Richard's taste for science early showed itself, when at seven years old his curiosity was excited by an electric battery which was applied to his mother's paralysed side. He says:—
'At this time electricity was but little known in Ireland, and its fame as a cure for palsy had been considerably magnified. It, as usual, excited some sensation in the paralytic limbs on the first trials. One of the experiments on my mother failed of producing a shock, and Mr. Deane seemed at a loss to account for it. I had observed that the wire which was used to conduct the electric fluid, had, as it hung in a curve from the instrument to my mother's arm, touched the hinge of a table which was in the way, and I had the courage to mention this circumstance, which was the real cause of failure.'
It was when he was eight years old, and while travelling with his father, that his attention was caught by 'a man carrying a machine five or six feet in diameter, of an oval form, and composed of slender ribs of steel. I begged my father to inquire what it was. We were told that it was the skeleton of a lady's hoop. It was furnished with hinges, which permitted it to fold together in a small compass, so that more than two persons might sit on one seat of a coach—a feat not easily performed, when ladies were encompassed with whalebone hoops of six feet extent. My curiosity was excited by the first sight of this machine, probably more than another child's might have been, because previous agreeable associations had given me some taste for mechanics, which was still a little further increased by the pleasure I took in examining this glittering contrivance. Thus even the most trivial incidents in childhood act reciprocally as cause and effect in forming our tastes.'
It was in 1754 that Mrs. Edgeworth, continuing much out of health, resolved to consult a certain Lord Trimblestone, who had been very successful in curing various complaints. Lord Trimblestone received Mr. and Mrs. Edgeworth most cordially and hospitably, and though he could not hope to cure her, recommended some palliatives. He had more success with another lady whose disorder was purely nervous. His treatment of her was so original that I must quote it at length:
'Instead of a grave and forbidding physician, her host, she found, was a man of most agreeable manners. Lady Trimblestone did everything in her power to entertain her guest, and for two or three days the demon of ennui was banished. At length the lady's vapours returned; everything appeared changed. Melancholy brought on a return of alarming nervous complaints—convulsions of the limbs —perversion of the understanding—a horror of society; in short, all the complaints that are to be met with in an advertisement enumerating the miseries of a nervous patient. In the midst of one of her most violent fits, four mutes, dressed in white, entered her apartment; slowly approaching her, they took her without violence in their arms, and without giving her time to recollect herself, conveyed her into a distant chamber hung with black and lighted with green tapers. From the ceiling, which was of a considerable height, a swing was suspended, in which she was placed by the mutes, so as to be seated at some distance from the ground. One of the mutes set the swing in motion; and as it approached one end of the room, she was opposed by a grim menacing figure armed with a huge rod of birch. When she looked behind her, she saw a similar figure at the other end of the room, armed in the same manner. The terror, notwithstanding the strange circumstances which surrounded her, was not of that sort which threatens life; but every instant there was an immediate hazard of bodily pain. After some time, the mutes appeared again, with great composure took the lady out of the swing, and conducted her to her apartment. When she had reposed some time, a servant came to inform her that tea was ready. Fear of what might be the consequence of a refusal prevented her from declining to appear. No notice was taken of what had happened, and the evening and the next day passed without any attack of her disorder. On the third day the vapours returned—the mutes reappeared—the menacing flagellants again affrighted her, and again she enjoyed a remission of her complaints. By degrees the fits of her disorder became less frequent, the ministration of her tormentors less necessary, and in time the habits of hypochondriacism were so often interrupted, and such a new series of ideas was introduced into her mind, that she recovered perfect health, and preserved to the end of her life sincere gratitude for her adventurous physician.'
Three years were spent by Richard at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, while his vacations were often passed at Bath by the wish of his father, who was anxious that his son should be introduced to good society at an early age. It was there that Richard saw Beau Nash,' the popular monarch of Bath,' and also 'the remains of the celebrated Lord Chesterfield. I looked in vain for that fire, which we expect to see in the eye of a man of wit and genius. He was obviously unhappy, and a melancholy spectacle.' Of the young ladies he says: 'I soon perceived that those who made the best figure in the ballroom were not always qualified to please in conversation; I saw that beauty and grace were sometimes accompanied by a frivolous character, by disgusting envy, or despicable vanity. All this I had read of in poetry and prose, but there is a wide difference, especially among young people, between what is read and related, and what is actually seen. Books and advice make much more impression in proportion as we grow older. We find by degrees that those who lived before us have recorded as the result of their experience the very things that we observe to be true.'
It was while still at college that he married Miss Elers without waiting for his father's consent; he soon found that his young wife did not sympathise with his pursuits; but he adds, 'Though I heartily repented my folly, I determined to bear with firmness and temper the evil, which I had brought upon myself. Perhaps pride had some share in my resolution.'
He had a son before he was twenty, and soon afterwards took his wife to Edgeworth Town to introduce her to his parents; but a few days after his arrival his mother, who had long been an invalid, felt that her end was approaching, and calling him to her bedside, told him, with a sort of pleasure, that she felt she should die before night. She added: 'If there is a state of just retribution in another world, I must be happy, for I have suffered during the greatest part of my life, and I know that I did not deserve it by my thoughts or actions.'
Her dying advice to him was,'"My son, learn how to say No." She warned me further of an error into which, from the vivacity of my temper, I was most likely to fall. "Your inventive faculty," said she, "will lead you eagerly into new plans; and you may be dazzled by some new scheme before you have finished, or fairly tried what you had begun. Resolve to finish; never procrastinate."'
It was in 1765, while stopping at Chester and examining a mechanical exhibition there, that Edgeworth first heard of Dr. Darwin, who had lately invented a carriage which could turn in a small compass without danger of upsetting. Richard on hearing this determined to try his hand on coach building, and had a handsome phaeton constructed upon the same principle; this he showed in London to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, and mentioned that he owed the original idea to Dr. Darwin. He then wrote to the latter describing the reception of his invention, and was invited to his house. The doctor was out when he arrived at Lichfield, but Mrs. Darwin received him, and after some conversation on books and prints asked him to drink tea. He discovered later that Dr. Darwin had imagined him to be a coachmaker, but that Mrs. Darwin had found out the mistake. 'When supper was nearly finished, a loud rapping at the door announced the doctor. There was a bustle in the hall, which made Mrs. Darwin get up and go to the door. Upon her exclaiming that they were bringing in a dead man, I went to the hall: I saw some persons, directed by one whom I guessed to be Dr. Darwin, carrying a man, who appeared motionless. "He is not dead," said Dr. Darwin. "He is only dead drunk. I found him," continued the doctor, "nearly suffocated in a ditch; I had him lifted into my carriage, and brought hither, that we might take care of him to-night." Candles came, and what was the surprise of the doctor and of Mrs. Darwin to find that the person whom he had saved was Mrs. Darwin's brother! who, for the first time in his life, as I was assured, had been intoxicated in this manner, and who would undoubtedly have perished had it not been for Dr. Darwin's humanity.
'During this scene I had time to survey my new friend, Dr. Darwin. He was a large man, fat, and rather clumsy; but intelligence and benevolence were painted in his countenance. He had a considerable impediment in his speech, a defect which is in general painful to others; but the doctor repaid his auditors so well for making them wait for his wit or his knowledge, that he seldom found them impatient.'
At Lichfield he met Mr. Bolton of Snow Hill, Birmingham, who asked him to his house, and showed him over the principal manufactories of Birmingham, where he further improved his knowledge of practical mechanics. His time was now principally devoted to inventions; he received a silver medal in 1768 from the Society of Arts for a perambulator, as he calls it, an instrument for measuring land. This is a curious instance of the changed use of a word, as we now associate perambulators with babies. In 1769 he received the Society's gold medal for various machines, and about this time produced what might have been the forerunner of the bicycle, 'a huge hollow wheel made very light, withinside of which, in a barrel of six feet diameter, a man should walk. Whilst he stepped thirty inches, the circumference of the large wheel, or rather wheels, would revolve five feet on the ground; and as the machine was to roll on planks, and on a plane somewhat inclined, when once the vis inertia of the machine should be overcome, it would carry on the man within it as fast as he could possibly walk. ... It was not finished; I had not yet furnished it with the means of stopping or moderating its motion. A young lad got into it, his companions launched it on a path which led gently down hill towards a very steep chalk-pit. This pit was at such a distance as to be out of their thoughts when they set the wheel in motion. On it ran. The lad withinside plied his legs with all his might. The spectators who at first stood still to behold the operation were soon alarmed by the shouts of their companion, who perceived his danger. The vehicle became quite ungovernable; the velocity increased as it ran down hill. Fortunately, the boy contrived to jump from his rolling prison before it reached the chalk-pit; but the wheel went on with such velocity as to outstrip its pursuers, and, rolling over the edge of the precipice, it was dashed to pieces.
'The next day, when I came to look for my machine, intending to try it upon some planks, which had been laid for it, I found, to my no small disappointment, that the object of all my labours and my hopes was lying at the bottom of a chalk-pit, broken into a thousand pieces. I could not at that time afford to construct another wheel of that sort, and I cannot therefore determine what might have been the success of my scheme.'
He goes on to say: 'I shall mention a sailing carriage that I tried on this common. The carriage was light, steady, and ran with amazing velocity One day, when I was preparing for a sail in it with my friend and schoolfellow, Mr. William Foster, my wheel-boat escaped from its moorings just as we were going to step on board. With the utmost difficulty we overtook it; and as I saw three or four stage-coaches on the road, and feared that this sailing chariot might frighten their horses, I, at the hazard of my life, got into my carriage while it was under full sail, and then, at a favourable part of the road, I used the means I had of guiding it easily out of the way. But the sense of the mischief which must have ensued if I had not succeeded in getting into the machine at the proper place, and stopping it at the right moment, was so strong, as to deter me from trying any more experiments on this carriage in such a dangerous place.'
I have already given the changed use of the word perambulator. As an example of the different use of a word in the last century, I may mention telegraph, by which he means signalling either by moving wooden arms or by showing lights. This mode of conveying a message he first applied in order to win a wager: 'A famous match was at that time pending at Newmarket between two horses that were in every respect as nearly equal as possible. Lord March, one evening at Ranelagh, expressed his regret to Sir Francis Delaval that he was not able to attend Newmarket at the next meeting. "I am obliged," said he, "to stay in London; I shall, however, be at the Turf Coffee-house; I shall station fleet horses on the road to bring me the earliest intelligence of the event of the race, and I shall manage my bets accordingly."
'I asked at what time in the evening he expected to know who was winner. He said about nine in the evening. I asserted that I should be able to name the winning horse at four o'clock in the afternoon. Lord March heard my assertion with so much incredulity, as to urge me to defend myself; and at length I offered to lay five hundred pounds that I would in London name the winning horse at Newmarket at five o'clock in the evening of the day when the great match in question was to be run.'
The wager was however given up when Edgeworth told Lord March that he did not depend upon the fleetness or strength of horses to carry the desired intelligence.
His friend, Sir Francis Delaval, immediately put up under his directions an apparatus between his house and part of Piccadilly. He adds: 'I also set up a night telegraph between a house which Sir Francis Delaval occupied at Hampstead, and one to which I had access in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. This nocturnal telegraph answered well, but was too expensive for common use.' Later on he writes to Dr. Darwin:
'I have been employed for two months in experiments upon a telegraph of my own invention. By day, at eighteen or twenty miles distance, I show, by four pointers, isosceles triangles, twenty feet high, on four imaginary circles, eight imaginary points, which correspond with the figures 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, so that seven thousand different combinations are formed, of four figures each, which refer to a dictionary of words. By night, white lights are used.'
Dr. Darwin in reply says: 'The telegraph you described, I dare say, would answer the purpose. It would be like a giant wielding his long arms and talking with his fingers: and those long arms might be covered with lamps in the night.'
It is curious now to read Mr. Edgeworth's words: 'I will venture to predict that it will at some future period be generally practised, not only in these islands, but that it will in time become a means of communication between the most distant parts of the world, wherever arts and sciences have civilised mankind.'
It was some years later, in 1794, when Ireland was in a disturbed state, and threatened by a French invasion, that Edgeworth laid his scheme for telegraphs before the Government, and offered to keep open communication between Dublin and Cork if the Government would pay the expense. He made a trial between two hills fifteen miles apart, and a message was sent and an answer received in five minutes. The Government paid little attention to his offer, and finally refused it. Two months later the French were on the Irish coasts, and great confusion and distress was occasioned by the want of accurate news. 'The troops were harassed with contradictory orders and forced marches for want of intelligence, and from that indecision, which must always be the consequence of insufficient information. Many days were spent in terror, and in fruitless wishes for an English fleet. ... At last Ireland was providentially saved by the change of the wind, which prevented the enemy from effecting a landing on her coast.'
Another of Edgeworth's inventions was a one-wheeled carriage adapted to go over narrow roads; it was made fast by shafts to the horse's sides, and was furnished with two weights or counterpoises that hung below the shafts. In this carriage he travelled to Birmingham and astonished the country folk on the way.
I must now give a sketch of Edgeworth's matrimonial adventures. They began after a strange fashion, when, at fifteen, he and some young companions had a merry-making at his sister's marriage, and one of the party putting on a white cloak as a surplice, proposed to marry Richard to a young lady who was his favourite partner. With the door key as a ring the mock parson gabbled over a few words of the marriage service. When Richard's father heard of this mock marriage he was so alarmed that he treated it seriously, and sued and got a divorce for his son in the ecclesiastical court.
It was while visiting Dr. Darwin at Lichfield that Edgeworth made some friendships which influenced his whole life. At the Bishop's Palace, where Canon Seward lived, he first met Miss Honora Sneyd, who was brought up as a daughter by Mrs. Seward. He was much struck by her beauty and by her mental gifts, and says: 'Now for the first time in my life, I saw a woman that equalled the picture of perfection which existed in my imagination. I had long suffered much from the want of that cheerfulness in a wife, without which marriage could not be agreeable to a man with such a temper as mine. I had borne this evil, I believe, with patience; but my not being happy at home exposed me to the danger of being too happy elsewhere.' He describes in another place his first wife as 'prudent, domestic, and affectionate; but she was not of a cheerful temper. She lamented about trifles; and the lamenting of a female with whom we live does not render home delightful.'
His friend, Mr. Day,* was also intimate at the Palace, but did not admire Honora at that time (1770) as much as Edgeworth did. Mr. Day thought 'she danced too well; she had too much an air of fashion in her dress and manners; and her arms were not sufficiently round and white to please him.'
* The author of Sandford and Merton.
He was at this time much preoccupied with an orphan, Sabrina Sydney, whom he had taken from the Foundling Hospital, and whom he was educating with the idea of marrying her ultimately. Honora, on the other hand, had received the addresses of Mr. Andre, afterwards Major Andre, who was shot as a spy during the American War. But want of fortune caused the parents on both sides to discourage this attachment, and it was broken off.
It was in 1771 that Mr. Day, having placed Sabrina at a boarding-school, became conscious of Honora's attractions, and began to think of marrying her. 'He wrote me one of the most eloquent letters I ever read,' says Edgeworth, 'to point out to me the folly and meanness of indulging a hopeless passion for any woman, let her merit be what it might; declaring at the same time that he "never would marry so as to divide himself from his chosen friend. Tell me," said he, "have you sufficient strength of mind totally to subdue love that cannot be indulged with peace, or honour, or virtue?"
'I answered that nothing but trial could make me acquainted with the influence which reason might have over my feelings; that I would go with my family to Lichfield, where I could be in the company of the dangerous object; and that I would faithfully acquaint him with all my thoughts and feelings. We went to Lichfield, and stayed there for some time with Mr. Day. I saw him continually in company with Honora Sneyd. I saw that he was received with approbation, and that he looked forward to marrying her at no very distant period. When I saw this, I can affirm with truth that I felt pleasure, and even exultation. I looked to the happiness of two people for whom I had the most perfect esteem, without the intervention of a single sentiment or feeling that could make me suspect I should ever repent having been instrumental to their union.'
Later on Mr. Day wrote a long letter to Honora, describing his scheme of life (which was very peculiar), and his admiration for her, and asking whether she could return his affections and be willing to lead the secluded life which was his ideal. This letter he gave to Edgeworth to deliver. 'I took the packet; my friend requested that I would go to the Palace and deliver it myself. I went, and I delivered it with real satisfaction to Honora. She desired me to come next morning for an answer. ... I gave the answer to Mr. Day, and left him to peruse it by himself. When I returned, I found him actually in a fever. The letter contained an excellent answer to his arguments in favour of the rights of men, and a clear, dispassionate view of the rights of women.
'Miss Honora Sneyd would not admit the unqualified control of a husband over all her actions. She did not feel that seclusion from society was indispensably necessary to preserve female virtue, or to secure domestic happiness. Upon terms of reasonable equality she supposed that mutual confidence might best subsist. She said that, as Mr. Day had decidedly declared his determination to live in perfect seclusion from what is usually called the world, it was fit she should decidedly declare that she would not change her present mode of life, with which she had no reason to be dissatisfied, for any dark and untried system that could be proposed to her. . . . One restraint, which had acted long and steadily upon my feelings, was now removed; my friend was no longer attached to Miss Honora Sneyd. My former admiration of her returned with unabated ardour. . . . This admiration was unknown to everybody but Mr. Day; ... he represented to me the danger, the criminality of such an attachment; I knew that there is but one certain method of escaping such dangers —flight. I resolved to go abroad.'
Mr. Day and Edgeworth went to France, and the latter spent nearly two years at Lyons, where his wife joined him. Here he found interest and occupation in some engineering works by which the course of the Rhone was to be diverted and some land gained to enlarge the city, which lies hemmed in between the Rhone and the Saone. When the works were nearly completed, an old boatman warned Edgeworth 'that a tremendous flood might be expected in ten days from the mountains of Savoy. I represented this to the company, and proposed to employ more men, and to engage, by increased wages, those who were already at work, to continue every day till it was dark, but I could not persuade them to a sudden increase of their expenditure. . . . At five or six o'clock one morning, I was awakened by a prodigious noise on the ramparts under my windows. I sprang out of bed, and saw numbers of people rushing towards the Rhone. I foreboded the disaster! dressed myself, and hastened to the river. . . When I reached the Rhone, I beheld a tremendous sight! All the work of several weeks, carried on daily by nearly a hundred men, had been swept away. Piles, timber, barrows, tools, and large parts of expensive machinery were all carried down the torrent, and thrown in broken pieces upon the banks. The principal part of the machinery had been erected upon an island opposite the rampart; here there still remained some valuable timber and engines, which might, probably, be saved by immediate exertion. The old boatman, whom I have mentioned before, was at the water-side; I asked him to row me over to the island, that I might give orders how to preserve what remained belonging to the company. My old friend, the boatman, represented to me, with great kindness, the imminent danger to which I should expose myself. "Sir," he added, "the best swimmer in Lyons, unless he were one of the Rhone-men, could not save himself if the boat overset, and you cannot swim at all."
'"Very true," I replied, "but the boat will not overset; and both my duty and my honour require that I should run every hazard for those who have put so much trust in me." My old boatman took me over safely, and left me on the island; but in returning by himself, the poor fellow's little boat was caught by a wave, and it skimmed to the bottom like a slate or an oyster-shell that is thrown obliquely into the water. A general exclamation was uttered from the shore; but, in a few minutes, the boatman was seen sitting upon a row of piles in the middle of the river, wringing his long hair with great composure.
'I have mentioned this boatman repeatedly as an old man, and such he was to all appearance; his hair was grey, his face wrinkled, his back bent, and all his limbs and features had the appearance of those of a man of sixty, yet his real age was but twenty-seven years. He told me that he was the oldest boatman on the Rhone; that his younger brothers had been worn out before they were twenty-five years old.'
The French society at Lyons included many agreeable people; but Edgeworth singles out from among them, as his special friend, the Marquis de la Poype, who understood English, and was well acquainted with English literature. He pressed Edgeworth to pay him a visit at his Chateau in Dauphiny, and the latter adds: 'I promised to pass with him some of the Christmas holidays. An English gentleman went with me. We arrived in the evening at a very antique building, surrounded by a moat, and with gardens laid out in the style which was common in England in the beginning of the last century. These were enclosed by high walls, intersected by canals, and cut into parterres by sandy walks. We were ushered into a good drawing-room, the walls of which were furnished with ancient tapestry. When dinner was served, we crossed a large and lofty hall, that was hung round with armour, and with the spoils of the chase; we passed into a moderate-sized eating-room, in which there was no visible fireplace, but which was sufficiently heated by invisible stoves. The want of the cheerful light of a fire cast a gloom over our repast, and the howling of the wind did not contribute to lessen this dismal effect. But the dinner was good, and the wine, which was produced from the vineyard close to the house, was excellent. Madame de la Poype, and two or three of her friends, who were on a visit at her house, conversed agreeably, and all feeling of winter and seclusion was forgotten.
'At night, when I was shown into my chamber, the footman asked if I chose to have my bed warmed. I inquired whether it was well aired; he assured me, with a tone of integrity, that I had nothing to fear, for "that it had not been slept in for half a year." The French are not afraid of damp beds, but they have a great dread of catching some infectious disease from sleeping in any bed in which a stranger may have recently lain.
'My bedchamber at this chateau was hung with tapestry, and as the footman assured me of the safety of my bed, he drew aside a piece of the tapestry, which discovered a small recess in the wall that held a grabat, in which my servant was invited to repose. My servant was an Englishman, whose indignation nothing but want of words to express it could have concealed; he deplored my unhappy lot; as for himself, he declared, with a look of horror, that nothing could induce him to go into such a pigeon-hole. I went to visit the accommodations of my companion, Mr. Rosenhagen. I found him in a spacious apartment hung all round with tapestry, so that there was no appearance of any windows. I was far from being indifferent to the comfort of a good dry bed; but poor Mr. Rosenhagen, besides being delicate, was hypochondriac. With one of the most rueful countenances I ever beheld, he informed me that he must certainly die of cold. His teeth chattered whilst he pointed to the tapestry at one end of the room, which waved to and fro with the wind; and, looking behind it, I found a large, stone casement window without a single pane of glass, or shutters of any kind. He determined not to take off his clothes; but I, gaining courage from despair, undressed, went to bed, and never slept better in my life, or ever awakened in better health or spirits than at ten o'clock the next morning.
'After breakfast the Marquis took us to visit the Grotto de la Baume, which was at the distance of not more than two leagues from his house. We were most hospitably received at the house of an old officer, who was Seigneur of the place. His hall was more amply furnished with implements of the chase and spoils of the field than any which I have ever seen, or ever heard described. There were nets of such dimensions, and of such strength, as were quite new to me; bows, cross-bows, of prodigious power; guns of a length and weight that could not be wielded by the strength of modern arms; some with old matchlocks, and with rests to be stuck into the ground, and others with wheel-locks; besides modern fire-arms of all descriptions; horns of deer, and tusks of wild boars, were placed in compartments in such numbers, that every part of the walls was covered either with arms or trophies.
'The master of the mansion, in bulk, dress, and general appearance, was suited to the style of life which might be expected from what we had seen at our entrance. He was above six feet high, strong, and robust, though upwards of sixty years of age; he wore a leather jerkin, and instead of having his hair powdered, and tied in a long queue, according to the fashion of the day, he wore his own short grey locks; his address was plain, frank, and hearty, but by no means coarse or vulgar. He was of an ancient family, but of a moderate fortune.' Here Edgeworth adds a long description of the grotto and its stalactites. They returned to dine with the old officer at his castle.
'Our dinner was in its arrangement totally unlike anything I had seen in France, or anywhere else. It consisted of a monstrous, but excellent, wild boar ham; this, and a large savoury pie of different sorts of game, were the principal dishes; which, with some common vegetables, amply satisfied our hunger. The blunt hospitality of this rural baron was totally different from that which is to be met with in remote parts of the country of England. It was more the open-heartedness of a soldier than the roughness of a squire.'
During the winter of 1772 Edgeworth was busy making plans for flour-mills to be erected on a piece of land gained from the river. But his stay in Lyons was cut short as the news reached him in March 1773 that Mrs. Edgeworth, who had returned to England for her confinement, had died after giving birth to a daughter. He travelled home with his son through Burgundy and Paris, and on reaching England arranged to meet Mr. Day at Woodstock. His friend greeted him with the words,' Have you heard anything of Honora Sneyd ?'
Mr. Edgeworth continues: 'I assured him that I had heard nothing but what he had told me when he was in France; that she had some disease in her eyes, and that it was feared she would lose her sight.' I added that I was resolved to offer her my hand, even if she had undergone such a dreadful privation.
'"My dear friend," said he, "while virtue and honour forbade you to think of her, I did everything in my power to separate you; but now that you are both at liberty, I have used the utmost expedition to reach you on your arrival in England, that I might be the first to tell you that Honora is in perfect health and beauty, improved in person and in mind; and, though surrounded by lovers, still her own mistress."
'At this moment I enjoyed the invaluable reward of my steady adherence to the resolution which I had formed on leaving England, never to keep up the slightest intercourse with her by letter, message, or inquiry. I enjoyed also the proof my friend gave me of his generous affection. Mr. Day had now come several hundred miles for the sole purpose of telling me of the fair prospects before me. . . .
'A new era in my life was now beginning. ... I went directly to Lichfield, to Dr. Darwin's. The doctor was absent, but his sister, an elderly maiden lady, who then kept house for him, received me kindly.
'"You will excuse me," said the good lady, "for not making tea for you this evening, as I am engaged to the Miss Sneyds; but perhaps you will accompany me, as I am sure you will be welcome."
'It was summer—We found the drawing-room at Mr. Sneyd's filled by all my former acquaintances and friends, who had, without concert among themselves, assembled as if to witness the meeting of two persons, whose sentiments could scarcely be known even to the parties themselves.
'I have been told that the last person whom I addressed or saw, when I came into the room, was Honora Sneyd. This I do not remember; but I am perfectly sure that, when I did see her, she appeared to me most lovely, even more lovely than when we parted. What her sentiments might be it was impossible to divine.
'My addresses were, after some time, permitted and approved; and, with the consent of her father, Miss Honora Sneyd and I were married (1773), by special licence, in the ladies' choir, in the Cathedral at Lichfield. Immediately after the marriage ceremony we left Lichfield, and went to Ireland.'
Now followed what was perhaps the happiest period of Mr. Edgeworth's life, but it was uneventful. The young couple saw little society while living at Edgeworth Town; and after a three years' residence in Ireland, they visited England to rub off the rust of isolation in contact with their intellectual friends. He says: 'We certainly found a considerable change for the better as to comfort, convenience, and conversation among our English acquaintance. So much so, that we were induced to remain in England. . . . My mind was kept up to the current of speculation and discovery in the world of science, and continual hints for reflection and invention were suggested to me. . . . My attention was about this period turned to clockwork, and I invented several pieces of mechanism for measuring time. These, with the assistance of a good workman, I executed successfully. I then (in 1776) finished a clock on a new construction. Its accuracy was tried at the Observatory at Oxford . . . and it is now (in 1809) going well at my house in Ireland.'
Edgeworth now enjoyed the pleasure of having an intelligent companion, and says: 'My wife had an eager desire for knowledge of all sorts, and, perhaps to please me, became an excellent theoretic mechanic. Mechanical amusements occupied my mornings, and I dedicated my evenings to the best books upon various subjects. I strenuously endeavoured to improve my own understanding, and to communicate whatever I knew to my wife. Indeed, while we read and conversed together during the long winter evenings, the clearness of her judgment assisted me in every pursuit of literature in which I was engaged; as her understanding had arrived at maturity before she had acquired any strong prejudices on historical subjects, she derived uncommon advantage from books.
'We had frequent visitors from town; and as our acquaintance were people of literature and science, conversation with them exercised and arranged her thoughts upon whatever subject they were employed. Nor did we neglect the education of our children: Honora had under her care, at this time, two children of her own, and three of mine by my former marriage.'
Edgeworth and his friend Mr. Day were both great admirers of Rousseau's Emile and of his scheme of bringing up children to be hardy, fearless, and independent. Edgeworth brought up his eldest boy after this fashion; but though he succeeded in making him hardy, and training him in 'all the virtues of a child bred in the hut of a savage, and all the knowledge of things which could well be acquired at an early age by a boy bred in civilised society,' yet he adds: 'He was not disposed to obey; his exertions generally arose from his own will; and, though he was what is commonly called good-tempered and good-natured, though he generally pleased by his looks, demeanour, and conversation, he had too little deference for others, and he showed an invincible dislike to control.'
In passing through Paris, Edgeworth and Mr. Day went to see Rousseau, who took a good deal of notice of Edgeworth's son; he judged him to be a boy of abilities, and he thought from his answers that 'history can be advantageously learned by children, if it be taught reasonably and not merely by rote.' 'But,' said Rousseau, 'I remark in your son a propensity to party prejudice, which will be a great blemish in his character.'
'I asked how he could in so short a time form so decided an opinion. He told me that, whenever my son saw a handsome horse, or a handsome carriage in the street, he always exclaimed, "That is an English horse or an English carriage!" And that, even down to a pair of shoe-buckles, everything that appeared to be good of its kind was always pronounced by him to be English. "his sort of party prejudice," said Rousseau, "if suffered to become a ruling motive in his mind, will lead to a thousand evils; for not only will his own country, his own village or club, or even a knot of his private acquaintance, be the object of his exclusive admiration; but he will be governed by his companions, whatever they may be, and they will become the arbiters of destiny."'
It was while at Lyons that Edgeworth realised thaf Rousseau's system of education was not altogether satisfactory. He says: 'I had begun his education upon the mistaken principles of Rousseau; and I had pursued them with as much steadiness, and, so far as they could be advantageous, with as much success as I could desire. Whatever regarded the health, strength, and agility of my son had amply justified the system of my master; but I found myself entangled in difficulties with regard to my child's mind and temper. He was generous, brave, good-natured, and what is commonly called goodtempered; but he was scarcely to be controlled. It was difficult to urge him to anything that did not suit his fancy, and more difficult to restrain him from what he wished to follow. In short, he was self-willed, from a spirit of independence, which had been inculcated by his early education, and which he cherished the more from the inexperience of his own powers.
'I must here acknowledge, with deep regret, not only the error of a theory, which I had adopted at a very early age, when older and wiser persons than myself had been dazzled by the eloquence of Rousseau; but I must also reproach myself with not having, after my arrival in France, paid as much attention to my boy as I had done in England, or as much as was necessary to prevent the formation of those habits, which could never afterwards be eradicated.'
Edgeworth, finding that the tutor he had brought from England was not able to control his son, resolved to send young Richard to school at Lyons. The Jesuits had lately been dismissed, but the Peres de L'Oratoire had taken charge of their Seminary, and to them Edgeworth resolved to intrust his son, having been first assured by the Superior that he would not attempt to convert the boy, and would forbid the under-masters to do so. A certain Pere Jerome, however, desired to make the boy a good Catholic; and the Superior frankly told Edgeworth the circumstance, saying,'One day he took your boy between his knees, and began from the beginning of things to teach him what he ought to believe. "My little man," said he, "did you ever hear of God?"
'"You know that, before He made the world, His Spirit brooded over the vast deep, which was a great sea without shores, and without bottom. Then He made this world out of earth."
'"Where did He find the earth ?" asked the boy.
'"At the bottom of the sea," replied Father Jerome.
'"But," said the boy, "you told me just now that the sea had no bottom!"'
The Superior of the College des Oratoires concluded, 'You may, sir, I think, be secure that your son, when capable of making such a reply, is in no great danger of becoming a Catholic from the lectures of such profound teachers as these.'
This son, having no turn for scholarship, ultimately went to sea, a life which his hardihood and fearlessness of danger peculiarly fitted him for. Some years afterwards he married an American lady and settled in South Carolina.
It was, perhaps, a failure in this first experiment in education which made Edgeworth devote so much care to the training of his younger children.
After six years of happiness Honora's health gave way, and consumption set in; some months of anxious nursing followed before she died, to the great grief of her husband. She left several children, and her dying wish was that he should marry her sister Elizabeth.
Mr. Edgeworth was, at first, benumbed by grief, and unable to take an interest in his former pursuits; but in the society of his wife's family he gradually recovered cheerfulness, and began to consider his wife's dying advice to marry her sister. He remarks: 'Nothing is more erroneous than the common belief, that a man who has lived in the greatest happiness with one wife will be the most averse to take another. On the contrary, the loss of happiness, which he feels when he loses her, necessarily urges him to endeavour to be again placed in a situation which has constituted his former felicity.
'I felt that Honora had judged wisely, and from a thorough knowledge of my character, when she had advised me to marry again.'
After these observations it is not surprising to hear that Edgeworth became engaged to Elizabeth Sneyd in the autumn of 1780. They were staying for the marriage at Brereton Hall in Cheshire, and their banns were published in the parish church; but on the very morning appointed for the marriage, the clergyman received a letter which roused so many scruples in his mind as to make Edgeworth think it cruel to press him to perform the ceremony. The Rector of St. Andrew's, Holborn, was less scrupulous, and they were married there on Christmas Day 1780.
The following summer Mr. and Mrs. Edgeworth rented Davenport Hall in Cheshire, where they lived a quiet retired life, spending a good deal of their time with their friends Sir Charles and Lady Holte at Brereton. Edgeworth amused himself by making a clock for the steeple at Brereton, and a chronometer of a singular construction, which, he says,'I intended to present to the King ... to add to His Majesty's collection of uncommon clocks and watches which I had seen at St. James's.'
The autobiography from which I have been quoting was begun by Edgeworth when he was about sixty-three, and it breaks off abruptly at the date of 1781. The illness which interrupted his task did not, however, prove fatal, for he lived nearly ten years afterwards.
His daughter Maria takes up the narrative, and in her introduction she says, 'In continuing these Memoirs, I shall endeavour to follow the example that my father has set me of simplicity and of truth.'
The following memorandum was found in Edgeworth's handwriting: 'In the year 1782 I returned to Ireland, with a firm determination to dedicate the remainder of my life to the improvement of my estate, and to the education of my children; and farther, with the sincere hope of contributing to the amelioration of the inhabitants of the country from which I drew my subsistence.'
When in the spring of 1768 Edgeworth visited Ireland with his friend Mr. Day, the latter was surprised and disgusted by the state of Dublin and of the country in general. He found 'the streets of Dublin were wretchedly paved, and more dirty than can be easily imagined.' Edgeworth adds: 'As we passed through the country, the hovels in which the poor were lodged, which were then far more wretched than they are at present, or than they have been for the last twenty years, the black tracts of bog, and the unusual smell of the turf fuel, were to him never-ceasing topics of reproach and lamentation. Mr. Day's deep-seated prejudice in favour of savage life was somewhat shaken by this view of want and misery, which philosophers of a certain class in London and Paris chose at that time to dignify by the name of simplicity. The modes of living in the houses of the gentry were much the same in Ireland as in England. This surprised my friend. He observed, that if there was any difference, it was that people of similar fortune did not restrain themselves equally in both countries to the same prudent economy; but that every gentleman in Ireland, of two or three thousand pounds a year, lived in a certain degree of luxury and show that would be thought presumptuous in persons of the same fortune in England.
'On our journey to my father's house, I had occasion to vote at a contested election in one of the counties through which we passed. Here a scene of noise, riot, confusion, and drunkenness was exhibited, not superior indeed in depravity and folly, but of a character or manner so different from what my friend had even seen in his own country, that he fell into a profound melancholy.'
It was to remedy this wretched state of things in Ireland that Edgeworth resolved in 1782 to devote his energies.
It is curious to read his account of the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland at this date. He soon learned that firmness was required in his dealings with his tenants as well as kindness. 'He omitted a variety of old feudal remains of fines and penalties; but there was one clause, which he continued in every lease with a penalty attached to it, called an alienation fine—a fine of so much an acre upon the tenant's reletting any part of the devised land.'
He wisely resolved to receive his rents himself, and to avoid the intervention of any agent or driver ('a person who drives and impounds cattle for rent or arrears'). 'In every case where the tenant had improved the land, or even where he had been industrious, though unsuccessful, his claim to preference over every new proposer, his tenanfs right, as it is called, was admitted. But the mere plea of "I have lived under your Honour, or your Honour's father or grandfather" or "I have been on your Honour's estate so many years" he disregarded. Farms, originally sufficient for the comfortable maintenance of a man, his wife, and family, had in many cases been subdivided from generation to generation, the father giving a bit of the land to each son to settle him. It was an absolute impossibility that the land should ever be improved if let in these miserable lots. Nor was it necessary that each son should hold land, or advantageous that each should live on his "little potato garden" without further exertion of mind or body.
'There was a continual struggle between landlord and tenant upon the question of long and short leases. . . . The offer of immediate high rent, or of fines to be paid down directly, tempted the landlord's extravagance, or supplied his present necessities, at the expense of his future interests. . . . Many have let for ninety-nine years; and others, according to a form common in 'Ireland, for three lives, renewable for ever, paying a small fine on the insertion of a new life at the failure of each. These leases, in course of years, have been found extremely disadvantageous to the landlord, the property having risen so much in value that the original rent was absurdly disproportioned.
'The longest term my father ever gave,' says his daughter Maria, 'was thirty-one years, with one or sometimes two lives. He usually gave one life, reserving to himself the option of adding another —the son, perhaps, of the tenant—if he saw that the tenant deserved it by his conduct. This sort of power to encourage and reward in the hands of a landlord is advantageous in Ireland. It acts as a motive for exertion; it keeps up the connection and dependence which there ought to be between the different ranks, without creating any servile habits, or leaving the improving tenant insecure as to the fair reward of his industry.
'Edgeworth's plan was to take not that which, abstractedly viewed, is the best possible course, but that which is the best the circumstances will altogether allow.
'When the oppressive duty-work in Ireland was no longer claimed, and no longer inserted in Irish leases, there arose a difficulty to gentlemen in getting labourers at certain times of the year, when all are anxious to work for themselves; for instance, at the seasons for cutting turf, setting potatoes, and getting home the harvest.
'To provide against this difficulty, landlords adopted a system of taking duty-work, in fact, in a new form. They had cottiers (cottagers), day-labourers established in cottages, on their estate, usually near their own residence. Many of these cabins were the poorest habitations that can be imagined; and these were given rent free, that is, the rent was to be worked out on whatever days, or on whatever occasions, it was called for. The grazing for the cow, the patch of land for flax, and the ridge or ridges of potato land were also to be paid for in days' labour in the same manner. The uncertainty of this tenure at will, that is, at the pleasure of the landlord, with the rent in labour and time, variable also at his pleasure or convenience, became rather more injurious to the tenant than the former fixed mode of sacrificing so many days' duty-work, even at the most hazardous seasons of the year.
'My father wished to have entirely avoided this cottager system; but he was obliged to adopt a middle course. To his labourers he gave comfortable cottages at a low rent, to be held at will from year to year; but he paid them wages exactly the same as what they could obtain elsewhere. Thus they were partly free and partly bound. They worked as free labourers; but they were obliged to work, that they might pay their rent. And their houses being better, and other advantages greater, than they could obtain elsewhere, they had a motive for industry and punctuality; thus their services and their attachment were properly secured. . . . My father's indulgence as to the time he allowed his tenantry for the payment of their rent was unusually great. He left always a year's rent in their hands: this was half a year more time than almost any other gentleman in our part of the country allowed. . . . He was always very exact in requiring that the rents should not, in their payments, pass beyond the half-yearly days—the 25th of March and 29th of September. In this point they knew his strictness so well that they seldom ventured to go into arrear, and never did so with impunity. . . . They would have cheated, loved, and despised a more easy landlord, and his property would have gone to ruin, without either permanently bettering their interests or their morals. He, therefore, took especial care that they should be convinced of his strictness in punishing as well as of his desire to reward.
'Where the offender was tenant, and the punisher landlord, it rarely happened, even if the law reached the delinquent, that public opinion sided with public justice. In Ireland it has been, time immemorial, common with tenants, who have had advantageous bargains, and who have no hopes of getting their leases renewed, to waste the ground as much as possible; to break it up towards the end of the term; or to overhold, that is, to keep possession of the land, refusing to deliver it up.
'A tenant, who held a farm of considerable value, when his lease was out, besought my father to permit him to remain on the farm for another year, pleading that he had no other place to which he could, at that season, it being winter, remove his large family. The permission was granted; but at the end of the year, taking advantage of this favour, he refused to give up the land. Proceedings at law were immediately commenced against him; and it was in this case that the first trial in Ireland was brought, on an act for recovering double rent from a tenant for holding forcible possession after notice to quit.
'This vexatious and unjust practice of tenants against landlords had been too common, and had too long been favoured by the party spirit of juries; who, being chiefly composed of tenants, had made it a common cause, and a principle, if it could in any way be avoided, never to give a verdict, as they said, against themselves. But in this case the indulgent character of the landlord, combined with the ability and eloquence of' his advocate, succeeded in moving the jury—a verdict was obtained for the landlord. The double rent was paid; and the fraudulent tenant was obliged to quit the country unpitied. Real good was done by this example.'
Edgeworth objected strongly to a practice common among the gentry, 'to protect their tenants when they got into any difficulties by disobeying the laws. Smuggling and illicit distilling seemed to be privileged cases, where, the justice and expediency of the spirit of the law being doubtful, escaping from the letter of it appeared but a trial of ingenuity or luck. In cases that admitted of less doubt, in the frequent breach of the peace from quarrels at fairs, rescuing of cattle drivers for rent, or in other more serious outrages, tenants still looked to their landlord for protection; and hoped, even to the last, that his Honour's or his Lordship's interest would get the fine taken off, the term of imprisonment shortened, or the condemned criminal snatched from execution. He [Edgeworth] never would, on any occasion, or for the persons he was known to like best, interfere to protect, as it is called, that is, to screen, or to obtain pardon for any one of his tenants or dependants, if they had really infringed the laws, or had deserved punishment. . . . He set an example of being scrupulous to the most exact degree as a grand juror, both as to the money required for roads or for any public works, and as to the manner in which it was laid out.
'To his character as a good landlord was soon added that he was a real gentleman. This phrase, pronounced with well-known emphasis, comprises a great deal in the opinion of the lower Irish. They seem to have an instinct for the real gentleman, whom they distinguish, if not at first sight, infallibly at first hearing, from every pretender to the character. They observe that the real gentleman bears himself most kindly, is always the most civil in speech, and ever seems the most tender of the poor. . . .
'They soon began to rely upon his justice as a magistrate. This is a point where, their interest being nearly concerned, they are wonderfully quick and clearsighted; they soon discovered that Mr. Edgeworth leaned neither to Protestant nor Catholic, to Presbyterian nor Methodist; that he was not the favourer nor partial protector of his own or any other man's followers. They found that the law of the land was not in his hands an instrument of oppression, or pretence for partiality. They discerned that he did even justice; neither inclining to the people, for the sake of popularity; nor to the aristocracy, for the sake of power. This was a thing so unusual, that they could at first hardly believe that it was really what they saw.
'Soon after his return to Ireland he set about improving a considerable tract of land, reletting it at an advanced rent, which gave the actual monied measure of his skill and success.' He also wrote a paper on the draining and planting of bogs, in which he gives minute directions for carrying out the work, for he was no mere theorist, but experimented on his own property; and he was not ashamed to own when he had made a mistake, but was constantly learning from experience.
He had for a while to turn from peaceful occupations and take his share in patriotic efforts for parliamentary refortn; this reform was pressed on the parliament sitting in Dublin by a delegation from a convention of the Irish volunteers. They were raised in 1778 during the American War, when England had not enough troops for the defence of Ireland. The principal Irish nobility and gentry enrolled themselves, and the force at length increased, till it numbered 50,000 men, under the command of officers of their own choosing. The Irish patriots now felt their power, and used it with prudence and energy. They obtained the repeal of many noxious laws—one in particular was a penal statute passed in the reign of William III. against the Catholics ordaining forfeiture of inheritance against those Catholics who had been educated abroad.' At the pleasure of any informer, it confiscated their estates to the next Protestant heir; that statute further deprived Papists of the power of obtaining any legal property by purchase; and, simply for officiating in the service of his religion, any Catholic priest was liable to be imprisoned for life. Some of these penalties had fallen into disuse; but, as Mr. Dunning stated to the English House of Commons, "many respectable Catholics still lived in fear of them, and some actually paid contributions to persons who, on the strength of this act, threatened them with prosecutions." Lord Shelburne stated in the House of Lords "that even the most odious part of this statute had been recently acted upon in the case of one Moloury, an Irish priest, who had been informed against, apprehended, convicted, and committed to prison, by means of the lowest and most despicable of mankind, a common informing constable. The Privy Council used efforts in behalf of the prisoner; but, in consequence of the written law, the King himself could not give a pardon, and the prisoner must have died in jail if Lord Shelburne and his colleagues had not released him at their own risk."'
This law was repealed by the English House of Commons without a negative, and only one Bishop opposed its repeal in the House of Lords.
Having won this victory, the Irish patriots continued their campaign, and now sought to win general emancipation from the legislative and commercial restrictions of England. It was in 1781 that the first convention of volunteer delegates met, and some months after Mr. Grattan moved an address to the throne asserting the legislative independence of Ireland. 'The address passed; the repeal of a certain act, empowering England to legislate for Ireland, followed; and the legislative independence of this country was acknowledged.'
Edgeworth sympathised with the enthusiasm which prevailed throughout Ireland at this time; but he was shrewd enough to see that what was further required for the real benefit of the country was 'an effectual reformation of the Irish House of Commons.'
The counties were insufficiently represented, and the boroughs were venal. The Irish parliament was, in fact, an Oligarchy, and Edgeworth realised this danger. He, however, wished the reform to be carried on 'through the intervention of parliament,' while the more extreme party insisted on sending delegates from the volunteers to a convention in Dublin. This military convention 'met at the Royal Exchange in Dublin, November the 9th, 1783—Parliament was then sitting. An armed convention assembled in the capital, and sitting at the same time with the Houses of Lords and Commons, deliberating on a legislative question, was a new and unprecedented spectacle.
'In this convention, as in all public assemblies, there was a violent and a moderate party. Lord Charlemont, the president of the assembly, was at the head of the moderate men. Though not convinced of the strict legality of the meeting, he thought a reform in parliament so important and desirable an object, that to the probability or chance of obtaining this great advantage it was the wisdom of a true patriot to sacrifice punctilio, and to hazard all, but, what he was too wise and good to endanger, the peace of the country. Lord Charlemont accepted the office of president, specially with the hope that he and his friends might be able to influence the convention in favour of proceedings at once temperate and firm. The very sincerity of his desire to attain a reform rendered him clear-sighted as to the means to be pursued; and while he wished that the people should be allowed every degree of liberty consistent with safety, no man was less inclined to democracy, or could feel more horror at the idea of involving his country in a state of civil anarchy.
'The Bishop of Deny (Lord Bristol), wishing well to Ireland, but of a far less judicious character than Lord Charlemont, was at the head of the opposite party. . . . Lord Charlemont, foreseeing the danger of disagreement between the parliament and convention, if at this time any communication were opened between them, earnestly deprecated the attempts. It was his desire that the convention, after declaring their opinion in favour of a parliamentary reform, should adjourn without adopting a specific plan; and that they should refer it to future meetings of each county, to send to parliament, in the regular constitutional manner, their petitions and addresses. Mr. Flood, however, whose abilities and eloquence had predominant influence over the convention, and who wished to distinguish himself in parliament as the proposer of reform, prevailed upon the convention, on one of the last nights of their meeting, to send him, accompanied by other members of parliament from among the volunteer delegates, directly to the House of Commons then sitting. There he was to make a motion on the question of parliamentary reform, introducing to the House his specific plan from the convention. The appearance of Mr. Flood, and of the delegates by whom he was accompanied, in their volunteer uniforms, in the Irish House of Commons, excited an extraordinary sensation. Those who were present, and who have given an account of the scene that ensued, describe it as violent and tumultuous in the extreme. On both sides the passions were worked up to a dangerous height. The debate lasted all night. "The tempest, for, towards morning, debate there was none, at last ceased." The question was put, and Mr. Flood's motion for reform in parliament was negatived by a very large majority. The House of Commons then entered into resolutions declaratory of their fixed determination to maintain their just rights and privileges against any encroachments whatever, adding that it was at that time indispensably necessary to make such a declaration. Further, an address was moved, intended to be made the joint address of Lords and Commons to the throne, expressing their satisfaction with His Majesty's Government, and their resolution to support that government, and the constitution, with their lives and fortunes. The address was carried up to the Lords, and immediately agreed to. This was done with the celerity of passion on all sides.
'Meantime an armed convention continued sitting the whole night, waiting for the return of their delegates from the House of Commons, and impatient to learn the fate of Mr. Flood's motion. One step more, and irreparable, fatal imprudence might have been committed. Lord Charlemont, the president of the convention, felt the danger; and it required all the influence of his character, all the assistance of the friends of moderation, to prevail upon the assembly to dissolve, without waiting longer to hear the report from their delegates in the House of Commons. The convention had, in fact, nothing more to do, or nothing that they could attempt without peril; but it was difficult to persuade the assembly to dissolve the meeting, and to return quietly to their respective counties and homes. This point, however, was fortunately accomplished, and early in the morning the meeting terminated.'
Miss Edgeworth adds: 'I have heard my father say that he ever afterwards rejoiced in the share he had in preserving one of the chiefs of this volunteer convention from a desperate resolution, and in determining the assembly to a temperate termination.'
Writing of this convention many years afterwards, Edgeworth says: 'There never was any assembly in the British empire more in earnest in the business on which they were convened, or less influenced by courtly interference or cabal But the object was in itself unattainable.
'The idea of admitting Roman Catholics to the right of voting for representatives was not urged even by the most liberal and most enlightened members of the convention; and the number, and wealth, and knowledge of Protestant voters in Ireland could not decently be considered as sufficient to elect an adequate and fair representation of the people.'
The reforms were never carried, though fresh efforts, equally unsuccessful, were made when Pitt became minister.
It was in 1786 that Edgeworth had a severe fall from a scaffolding, the result of which was, as his friend Dr Darwin prophesied, an attack of jaundice. When the workmen brought him home, he tried to reassure his family by telling them the story of a French Marquis,' who fell from a balcony at Versailles, and who, as it was court politeness that nothing unfortunate should ever be mentioned in the King's presence, replied to His Majesty's inquiry if he wasn't hurt by his fall, "Tout au contraire, Sire"' To all our inquiries whether he was hurt, my father replied, 'Tout au contraire, mes aimes.'
His friendship for Mr. Day, which had existed for many years, was now interrupted by Mr. Day's sudden death from a fall from his horse in 1789. Edgeworth thought of writing his life, as he considered him to have been a man of such'original an and noble character as to deserve a public eulogium. He goes on to say: 'To preserve a portrait to posterity, it must either be the likeness of some celebrated individual, or it must represent a face which, independently of peculiar associations, corresponds with the universal ideas of beauty. So the pen of the biographer should portray only those who by their public have interested us in their private characters; or who, in a superior degree, have possessed the virtues and mental endowments which claim the general love and admiration of mankind.' This biography, however, was never finished, as Edgeworth found another friend, Mr. Keir, had undertaken it; he therefore sent the materials to him, but some of them are incorporated in the Memoirs, Sabrina, whom Mr. Day had educated, and intended to marry (though he gave up the idea when he doubted her docility and power of adaptiveness to his strange theories of life), ultimately married his friend, Mr. Bicknel, while Mr. Day married Miss Milne, a clever and accomplished lady, who had sufficient tact to fall in with his wishes, and a wifely devotion which made up to her for their seclusion from general society. In her widowhood she found Mr. Edgeworth a most faithful and helpful friend; he offered to come over and aid in the search which was made at Mr. Day's death for a large sum of money which was not forthcoming, and which it was thought he might, after his eccentric fashion, have concealed; as he took this measure when, 'at the time of the American War, he had apprehended that there would have been a national bankruptcy, and under this dread he had sold out of the Stocks. ... A very considerable sum had been buried under the floor of the study in his mother's house. This he afterwards took up, and placed again in the public funds at the return of peace.'
Mr. Day had, before his marriage, promised to leave his library to his friend Edgeworth, but no mention was made of this in the will; he left almost everything to Mrs. Day. She, however, hearing of Mr. Day's promise, offered his library to his friend; but Edgeworth, in the same generous spirit, refused it, and Mrs. Day then wrote to him as follows:
'MY DEAR MR. EDGEWORTH,—I will ingenuously own, that of all the bequests Mr. Day could have made, the leaving his whole library from me would have mortified me the most—indeed, more than if he had disposed of all his other property, and left me only that. My ideas of him are so much associated with his books, that to part with them would be, as it were, breaking some of the last ties which still connect me with so beloved an object. The being in the midst of books he has been accustomed to read, and which contain his marks and notes, will still give him a sort of existence with me. Unintelligible as such fond chimeras may appear to many people, I am persuaded they are not so to you.'
Maria Edgeworth adds: 'Generous people understand each other. Mrs Day, of a noble disposition herself, always distinguished in my father the same generosity of disposition. She had, she said, ever considered him as "the most purely disinterested and proudly independent of Mr. Day's friends."'
Edgeworth was a devoted father; and the loss of his daughter Honora, a gifted girl of fifteen, was a great blow to him. She was the child of his beloved wife Honora, and he had taken great pleasure in guiding her studies and watching the development of her character. Ever since he had settled in his Irish home one of Edgeworth's chief interests had been the education of his large family; Maria records with pride that at the age of seven Honora was able to answer the following questions:
'If a line move its own length through the air so as to produce a surface, what figure will it describe?'
She answered, 'A square!
She was then asked:
'If that square be moved downwards or upwards in the air the space of the length of one of its own sides, what figure will it, at the end of its motion, have described in the air?'
After a few minutes' silence she answered, 'A cube.'
Edgeworth was careful to train not only the reasoning powers, but also the imaginative faculty of his children; he delighted in good poetry and fiction, and read aloud well, and his daughter writes: 'From the Arabian Tales to Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, and the Greek tragedians, all were associated in the minds of his children with the delight of hearing passages from them first read by their father.'
He was an enthusiastic admirer of the ancient classics—Homer and the Greek tragedians in particular. From the best translations of the ancient tragedies he selected for reading aloud the most striking passages, and Pope's 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey' he read several times to his family, in certain portions every day.
In his grief for his child, Edgeworth turned to his earliest friend, his sister, the favourite companion of his childhood, and from her he received all the consolation that affectionate sympathy could give; but, as he said, 'for real grief there is no sudden cure; all human resource is in time and occupation.'
It was about this time that Darwin published the now forgotten poem, 'The Botanic Garden,' and Edgeworth wrote to his friend expressing his admiration for it; but Maria adds: 'With as much sincerity as he gave praise, my father blamed and opposed whatever he thought was faulty in his friend's poem. Dr. Darwin had formed a false theory, that poetry is painting to the eye; this led him to confine his attention to the language of description, or to the representation of that which would produce good effect in picture. To this one mistaken opinion he sacrificed the more lasting and more extensive fame, which he might have ensured by exercising the powers he possessed of rousing the passions and pleasing the imagination.
'When my father found that it was in vain to combat a favourite false principle, he endeavoured to find a subject which should at once suit his friend's theory and his genius. He urged him to write a "Cabinet of Gems." The ancient gems would have afforded a subject eminently suited to his descriptive powers. . . . The description of Medea, and of some of the labours of Hercules, etc., which he has introduced into his "Botanic Garden," show how admirably he would have succeeded had he pursued this plan; and I cannot help regretting that the suggestions of his friend could not prevail upon him to quit for nobler objects his vegetable loves.'
Edgeworth's prediction has not yet come true, nor does it seem likely that it ever will, 'that in future times some critic will arise, who shall re-discover the "Botanic Garden,"' and build his fame upon this discovery.
Dr. Darwin did not follow his friend's advice, to choose a better subject for his next poem; nor did Edgeworth do what his friend wished, which was to publish a decade of inventions with neat maps.
In the education of his children, he had already learned the value of the observation of children's ways and mental states. Having found that Rousseau's system was imperfect, he was groping after some better method. His daughter writes: 'Long before he ever thought of writing or publishing, he had kept a register of observations and facts relative to his children. This he began in the year 1798. He and Mrs. Honora Edgeworth kept notes of every circumstance which occurred worth recording. Afterwards Mrs Elizabeth Edgeworth and he continued the same practice; and in consequence of his earnest exhortations, I began in 1791 or 1792 to note down anecdotes of the children whom he was then educating. Besides these, I often wrote for my own amusement and instruction some of his conversation-lessons, as we may call them, with his questions and explanations, and the answers of the children. . . . To all who ever reflected upon education it must have occurred that facts and experiments were wanting in this department of knowledge, while assertions and theories abounded. I claim for my father the merit of having been the first to recommend, both by example and precept, what Bacon would call the experimental method in education. If I were obliged to rest on any single point my father's credit as a lover of truth, and his utility as a philanthropist and as a philosophical writer, it should be on his having made this first record of experiments in education. ... In noting anecdotes of children, the greatest care must be taken that the pupils should not know that any such register is kept. Want of care in this particular would totally defeat the object in view, and would lead to many and irremediable bad consequences, and would make the children affected and false, or would create a degree of embarrassment and constraint which must prevent the natural action of the understanding or the feelings. ... In the registry of such observations, considered as contributing to a history of the human mind, nothing should be neglected as trivial. The circumstances which may seem most trifling to vulgar observers may be most valuable to the philosopher; they may throw light, for example, on the manner in which ideas and language are formed and generalised.'
Edgeworth and his daughter Maria brought out their joint work, Practical Education, in 1798. Maria adds: 'So commenced that literary partnership, which for so many years was the pride and joy of my life.' We who were born in the first half of the nineteenth century can remember the delight of reading about Frank and Rosamund, and Harry and Lucy, and feel a debt of gratitude to the writers who gave us so many pleasant hours.
Edgeworth's patience in teaching was surprising, as Maria remarks, in a man of his vivacity. 'He would sit quietly while a child was thinking of the answer to a question without interrupting, or suffering it to be interrupted, and would let the pupil touch and quit the point repeatedly; and without a leading observation or exclamation, he would wait till the steps of reasoning and invention were gone through, and were converted into certainties. . . . The tranquillising effect of this patience was of great advantage. The pupil's mind became secure, not only of the point in question, but steady in the confidence of its future powers. It was his principle to excite the attention fully and strongly for a short time, and never to go to the point of fatigue. ... In the education of the heart, his warmth of approbation and strength of indignation had powerful and salutary influence in touching and developing the affections. The scorn in his countenance when he heard of any base conduct; the pleasure that lighted up his eyes when he heard of any generous action; the eloquence of his language, and vehemence of his emphasis, commanded the sympathy of all who could see, hear, feel, or understand. Added to the power of every moral or religious motive, sympathy with the virtuous enthusiasm of those we love and reverence produces a great and salutary effect.