THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF
AUGUSTUS J.C. HARE
In her later years Miss Edgeworth was often asked to write a biographical preface to her novels. She refused. "As a woman," she said, "my life, wholly domestic, can offer nothing of interest to the public." Incidents indeed, in that quiet happy home existence, there were none to narrate, nothing but the ordinary joys and sorrows which attend every human life. Yet the letters of one so clear-sighted and sagacious—one whom Macaulay considered to be the second woman of her age—are valuable, not only as a record of her times, and of many who were prominent figures in them: but from the picture they naturally give of a simple, honest, generous, high-minded character, filled from youth to age with love and goodwill to her fellow-creatures, and a desire for their highest good. An admirable collection of Miss Edgeworth's letters was printed after her death by her stepmother and lifelong friend, but only for private circulation. As all her generation has long since passed away, Mr. Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown now permits that these letters should be read beyond the limits of the family circle. An editor has had little more to do than to make a selection, and to write such a thread of biography as might unite the links of the chain.
AUGUSTUS J.C. HARE.
In the flats of the featureless county of Longford stands the large and handsome but unpretentious house of Edgeworthstown. The scenery here has few natural attractions, but the loving care of several generations has gradually beautified the surroundings of the house, and few homes have been more valued or more the centre round which a large family circle has gathered in unusual sympathy and love. In his Memoirs, Mr. Edgeworth tells us how his family, which had given a name to Edgeworth, now Edgeware, near London, came to settle in Ireland more than three hundred years ago. Roger Edgeworth, a monk, having taken advantage of the religious changes under Henry VIII., had married and left two sons, who, about 1583, established themselves in Ireland. Of these, Edward, the elder, became Bishop of Down and Connor, and died without children; but the younger, Francis, became the founder of the family of Edgeworthstown. Always intensely Protestant, often intensely extravagant, each generation of the Edgeworth family afterwards had its own picturesque story, till Richard Edgeworth repaired the broken fortunes of his house, partly by success as a lawyer, partly by his marriage, in 1732, with Jane Lovell, daughter of a Welsh judge.
Their eldest son, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, was born in 1744, and educated in his boyhood at Drogheda School and Dublin University. Strong, handsome, clever, ingenious, and devoted to sports of every kind, he was a general favourite. But his high spirits often led him into scrapes. The most serious of these occurred during the festivities attendant on his eldest sister's marriage with Mr. Fox of Fox Hall, at which he played at being married to a young lady who was present, by one of the guests dressed up in a white cloak, with a door-key for a ring. This foolish escapade would not deserve the faintest notice, if it had not been seriously treated as an actual marriage by a writer in the Quarterly Review.
In 1761 Richard Edgeworth was removed from Dublin to Corpus Christi College at Oxford. There he arrived, regretting the gaieties of Dublin, and anxious to make the most of any little excitements which his new life could offer. Amongst the introductions he brought with him was one to Mr. Paul Elers, who, himself of German extraction, had made a romantic marriage with Miss Hungerford, the heiress of Black Bourton in Oxfordshire. Mr. Elers honourably warned Mr. Edgeworth, who was an old friend of his, that he had four daughters who were very pretty, and that his friend had better be careful, as their small fortunes would scarcely fit one of them to be the wife of his son. But the elder Mr. Edgeworth took no notice—Richard was constantly at Black Bourton; and in 1763, being then only nineteen, he fled with Miss Anna Maria Elers to Gretna Green, where they were married. Great as was Mr. Edgeworth's displeasure, he wisely afterwards had the young couple remarried by license.
The union turned out unhappily. "I soon felt the inconveniences of an early and hasty marriage," wrote the bridegroom; "but, though I heartily repented my folly, I determined to bear with firmness and temper the evil which I had brought on myself." His eldest child, Richard, was born before he was twenty; his second, Maria, when he was twenty-four. Though he became master of Edgeworthstown by the death of his father in 1769, he for some years lived chiefly at Hare Hatch, near Maidenhead. Here he already began to distract his attention from an ungenial home by the endless plans for progress in agriculture and industry, and the disinterested schemes for the good of Ireland, which always continued to be the chief occupation of his life. It was his inventive genius which led to his paying a long visit to Lichfield to see Dr. Darwin. There he lingered long in pleasant intimacy with the doctor and his wife, with Mr. Wedgwood, Miss Anna Seward—"the Swan of Lichfield"—and still more, with the eccentric Thomas Day, author of Sandford and Merton, who became his most intimate friend, and who wished to marry his favourite sister Margaret, though she could not make up her mind to accept him, and eventually became the wife of Mr. Ruxton of Black Castle. With Mrs. Seward and her daughters lived at that time—partly for educational purposes—Honora Sneyd, a beautiful and gifted girl, who had rejected the addresses of the afterwards famous Major Andre, and who now also refused those of Mr. Day. "In Honora Sneyd," wrote Mr. Edgeworth, "I saw for the first time in my life a woman that equalled the picture of perfection existing in my imagination. And then my not being happy at home exposed me to the danger of being too happy elsewhere." When he began to feel as if the sunshine of his life emanated from his friendship with Miss Sneyd, he was certain flight was the only safety. So leaving Mrs. Edgeworth and her little girls with her mother, he made his escape to France, only taking with him his boy, whom he determined to educate according to the system of Rousseau. Then, for two years, he remained at Lyons, employing his inventive and mechanical powers in building bridges.
Meantime, the early childhood of Maria Edgeworth, who was born, 1st January 1767, in the house of her grandfather, Mr. Elers, at Black Bourton, was spent almost entirely with relations in Oxfordshire, or with her maternal great-aunts, the Misses Blake, in Great Russell Street in London. It was in their house that her neglected and unloved mother—always a kind and excellent, though a very sad woman—died after her confinement of a third daughter (Anna) in 1773. On hearing of what he considered to be his release, Mr. Edgeworth hurried back at once to England, and, before four months were over, he was married to Miss Honora Sneyd, whose assent to so hasty a marriage would scarcely prepare those who were unacquainted with her for the noble, simple, and faithful way in which she ever fulfilled the duties of a wife and stepmother. The son of the first marriage, Richard Edgeworth, went, by his own choice, to sea, but the three little girls, Maria, Emmeline, and Anna, returned with their father and stepmother to Edgeworthstown, where they had a childhood of unclouded happiness.
In 1775 Maria Edgeworth, being then eight years old, was sent to a school at Derby, kept by Mrs. Lataffiere, to whom she always felt much indebted, though her stepmother, then in very failing health, continued to take part in her education by letter.
MRS. HONORA EDGEWORTH to MARIA.
BEIGHTERTON, NEAR SHIFFNALL,
Oct. 10, 1779.
I have received your letter, and I thank you for it, though I assure you I did not expect it. I am particularly desirous you should be convinced of this, as I told you I would write first. It is in vain to attempt to please a person who will not tell us what they do and what they do not desire; but as I tell you very fully what I think may be expected from a girl of your age, abilities, and education, I assure you, my dear Maria, you may entirely depend upon me, that as long as I have the use of my understanding, I shall not be displeased with you for omitting anything which I had before told you I did not expect. Perhaps you may not quite understand what I mean, for I have not expressed myself clearly. If you do not, I will explain myself to you when we meet; for it is very agreeable to me to think of conversing with you as my equal in every respect but age, and of my making that inequality of use to you by giving you the advantage of the experience I have had, and the observations I have been able to make, as these are parts of knowledge which nothing but time can bestow.
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In the spring of 1780 Mrs. Honora Edgeworth died of consumption, leaving an only son, Lovell, and a daughter, Honora. Mr. Edgeworth announced this—which to her was a most real sorrow—to his daughter Maria in a very touching letter, in which he urges her to follow her lost stepmother's example, especially in endeavouring to be "amiable, prudent, and of use;" but within eight months he married again. Mrs. Honora Edgeworth, when dying, had been certain that he would do so, and had herself indicated her own sister Elizabeth as the person whose character was most likely to secure a happy home to him and his children. So, with his usual singularity, though he liked her less than any of her other sisters, and though he believed her utterly unsuited to himself, he followed the advice which had been given, and in spite of law and public opinion, Elizabeth Sneyd became the third Mrs. Edgeworth within eight months of her sister's death.
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Nothing (wrote Mr. Edgeworth) 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 the situation which constituted his former felicity.
I felt that Honora had judged wisely and from a thorough knowledge of my character, when she advised me to marry again as soon as I could meet with a woman who would make a good mother to my children, and an agreeable companion to me. She had formed an idea that her sister Elizabeth was better suited to me than any other woman, and thought I was equally suited to her. But, of all Honora's sisters, I had seen the least of Elizabeth.
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Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth proved herself worthy of her sister's confidence. She was soon adored by her stepchildren, and her conduct to them was in all respects maternal. Maria at this time was removed from Bath to the school of Mrs. Davis, in Upper Wimpole Street, London, where she had excellent masters. Here her talent as an improvisatrice was first manifested in the tales she used to tell to her companions in their bedroom at night. She also, by his desire, frequently wrote stories and sent them for her father's criticism and approval. During holidays which she often spent with his old friend Mr. Day at Anningsly, she benefited by an admirable library and by Mr. Day's advice as to her reading.
In 1782 Mr. and Mrs. Edgeworth returned to Ireland, taking the whole family with them. Maria was now fifteen, and was old enough to be interested in all the peculiarities of the Irish as contrasted with the English character, soon showing such natural aptitude for dealing with those around her, that her father entrusted her with all his accounts, and practically employed her as his agent for many years. Thus she obtained an insight into the lives and characters of her humbler neighbours, which was of inestimable value to her, when afterwards writing her sketches of Irish life. She already began to plan many stories, most of which were never finished. But Mr. Edgeworth discouraged this. In the last year of her life Miss Edgeworth wrote: "I remember a number of literary projects, if I may so call them, or apercus of things which I might have written if I had time or capacity so to do. The word apercu my father used to object to. 'Let us have none of your apercus, Maria: either follow a thing out clearly to a conclusion, or do not begin it: begin nothing without finishing it.'"
Building and planting, alterations and improvements of every kind at Edgeworthstown were at once begun by Mr. Edgeworth, but always within his income. He also made two rules: he employed no middlemen, and he always left a year's rent in his tenants' hands. "Go before Mr. Edgeworth, and you will surely get justice," became a saying in the neighbourhood.
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Some men live with their families without letting them know their affairs (wrote Miss Edgeworth), and, however great may be their affection and esteem for their wives and children, think that they have nothing to do with business. This was not my father's way of thinking. On the contrary, not only his wife, but his children, knew all his affairs. Whatever business he had to do was done in the midst of his family, usually in the common sitting-room; so that we were intimately acquainted, not only with his general principles of conduct, but with the minute details of their everyday application. I further enjoyed some peculiar advantages: he kindly wished to give me habits of business; and for this purpose allowed me, during many years, to assist him in copying his letters of business, and in receiving his rents.
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With the younger children Mr. Edgeworth's educational system was of the most cheerful kind; they were connected with all that was going on, made sharers in all the occupations of their elders, and not so much taught as shown how best to teach themselves. "I do not think one tear per month is shed in this house, nor the voice of reproof heard, nor the hand of restraint felt," wrote Mr. Edgeworth to Dr. Darwin. Both in precept and practice he was the first to recommend what is described by Bacon as the experimental mode of education. "Surely," says Miss Edgeworth, "it would be doing good service to bring into a popular form all that metaphysicians have discovered which can be applied to practice in education. This was early and long my father's object. The art of teaching to invent—I dare not say, but of awakening and assisting the inventive power by daily exercise and excitement, and by the application of philosophic principles to trivial occurrences—he believed might be pursued with infinite advantage to the rising generation."
Maria Edgeworth found very congenial society in the family of her relation, Lord Longford, at Pakenham, which was twelve miles from Edgeworthstown, and in that of Lord Granard, at Castle Forbes, nine miles distant. Lady Granard's mother, Lady Moira, full of wit and wisdom, and with great nobility of character, would pour out her rich stores of reminiscence for the young girl with ceaseless kindness. But more than any other was her life influenced, helped, cheered, and animated by the love of her father's sister Margaret, Mrs. Ruxton, the intimate friend and correspondent of forty-two years, whose home, Black Castle, was within a long drive of Edgeworthstown. Mrs. Ruxton's three children—Richard, Sophy, and Margaret—were Maria Edgeworth's dearest companions and friends.
The great love which Miss Edgeworth always felt for children was tried and developed to its fullest extent in the ever increasing family circle. Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth added nine more brothers and sisters to the group of six which already existed; the eldest of them, Henry, born in 1782, was entrusted to Maria's especial care.
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MARIA to MISS CHARLOTTE SNEYD.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Dec. 9, 1787.
I think, my dear Aunt Charlotte, I did not know till Henry returned to us after his six weeks' absence, how very agreeable even a child of his age can make himself, but I am sure that his journey has been productive of so much pleasure to me from the kindness and approbation you have shown, and has left on my mind so full a conviction of your skill in the art of education, that I should part with Henry again to-morrow with infinitely more security and satisfaction than I did two months ago. I was really surprised to see with what ease and alacrity little Henry returned to all his former habits and occupations, and the very slight change that appeared in his manner or mind; nothing seemed strange to him in anything, or anybody about him. When he spoke of you to us he seemed to think that we were all necessarily connected in all our commands and wishes, that we were all one whole—one great polypus soul. I hope my father will tell you himself how much he liked your letter, "the overflowings of a full mind, not the froth of an empty one."
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In 1790 the family group was first broken by the death from consumption, at fifteen, of Honora, the beautiful only daughter of Mrs. Honora Edgeworth.
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MARIA EDGEWORTH to MRS. RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Feb. 11, 1790.
Your friendship, my dear Aunt Ruxton, has, I am sure, considerably alleviated the anguish of mind my father has had to feel, and your letter and well-deserved praise of my dear mother's fortitude and exertion were a real pleasure to her. She has indeed had a great deal to bear, and I think her health has suffered, but I hope not materially. In my father's absence, she ordered everything, did everything, felt everything herself. Unless, my dear aunt, you had been present during the last week of dear Honora's sufferings, I think you could not form an idea of anything so terrible or so touching. Such extreme fortitude, such affection, such attention to the smallest feelings of others, as she showed on her deathbed!
My father has carefully kept his mind occupied ever since his return, but we cannot help seeing his feelings at intervals. He has not slept for two or three nights, and is, I think, far from well to-day.
He said the other day, speaking of Honora, "My dear daughters, I promise you one thing, I never will reproach any of you with Honora. I will never reproach you with any of her virtues." There could not be a kinder or more generous promise, but I could not help fearing that my father should refrain from speaking of her too much, and that it would hurt his mind. He used to say it was a great relief to him to talk of my mother Honora.
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In the summer of 1791 Mr. and Mrs. Edgeworth went to England, leaving Maria in sole charge of the large family at home. She used to amuse her young sisters at this time by stories, which she would write on a slate during the leisure moments her many occupations permitted, and which she would read aloud to them in the evening. By their interest or questions she estimated the stories, which became the foundation of The Parent's Assistant. When her father was with her she always wrote a sketch of an intended story, and submitted it to his approval, being invariably guided by his advice. In October Maria was desired to follow her parents to Clifton, bringing nearly all the children with her, a formidable undertaking for a young girl in those days of difficult travelling.
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MARIA to MRS. RUXTON, AFTER RETURNING FROM A VISIT TO BLACK CASTLE.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN. October 1791.
My dear mother is safe and well, and a fine new sister, I suppose you have heard. My very dear aunt, since the moment I came home till this instant my hands have trembled, and my head whirled with business, but the delightful hope of seeing my dear father and mother at Bristol is in fine perspective at the end. My father has just written the kindest letter possible, and Emmeline is transcribing his directions about our journey. We are to set off as soon as we can—on Tuesday morning next, I believe, for my father is extremely impatient for us to come over. I write by this night's post to Mr. Hanna, to take lodgings for us in Dublin, and we are, as you will see, to go by Holyhead. As to coming round by Black Castle, it is out of the question. For everybody's sake but my own, I regret this: for my own I do not, the few hours I should have to spend in your company would not, my dearest aunt, balance the pain of parting with you all again, which I did feel thoroughly, and if I had not had the kindest friends and the fullest occupation the moment I came home, I should have been in the lamentables a long time. Tell my dear uncle I never shall forget the kindness of his manner towards me during the whole of my stay at Black Castle, and the belief that he thinks well of his little niece adds much to her happiness, perhaps to her vanity, which he will say there was no occasion to increase. And now, dear Sophy, for your roaring blade, Thomas Day, Esq., [Footnote: This little brother was born the day before the Edgeworth family received the news of the sudden death of their old friend Mr. Day in 1789.] he is in readiness to wait upon you whenever you can, and will have the charity to receive him. Name the day, my dear aunt, which will be the least inconvenient if you can, and Molly or John Langan shall bring him in the old or new chaise to your door, where I hope he will not salute you with a cry, but if he does do not be surprised.
You see, my dear aunt, that I am in a great hurry by my writing, but no hurry, believe me, can drive out of my mind the remembrance of all the kindness I received at Black Castle. Oh, continue to love your niece; you cannot imagine the pleasure she felt when you kissed her, and said you loved her a thousand times better than ever you did before.
MR. SMITH'S, HOLYHEAD,
We are this instant arrived, my dear aunt, after a thirty-three hours' passage; all the children safe and well, but desperately sick; poor little Sneyd especially. The packet is just returning, and my head is so giddy that I scarcely know what I write, but you will only expect a few shabby lines to say we are not drowned. Mr. Ussher Edgeworth [Footnote: Brother to the Abbe Edgeworth, who resided in Dublin.] and my Aunt Fox's servant saw us on board, and Mr. E. was so very good to come in the wherry with us and see us into the ship. We had the whole cabin to ourselves; no passenger, except one gentleman, son-in-law to Mr. Dawson, of Ardee, he was very civil to us, and assisted us much in landing, etc. I felt, besides, very glad to see one who knew anything even of the name of Ruxton. Adieu, my dear aunt; all the sick pale figures around me with faint voices send their love to you and my uncle.
MARIA to MR. RUXTON.
PRINCE'S BUILDINGS, CLIFTON,
Dec. 29, 1791.
My Dear Uncle—If you are going to the canal put this letter in your pocket, and do not be troubled in your conscience about reading it, but keep it till you are perfectly at leisure: for I have nothing strange or new to tell you. We live just the same kind of life that we used to do at Edgeworthstown; and though we move amongst numbers, are not moved by them, but feel independent of them for our daily amusement. All the phantasmas I had conjured up to frighten myself, vanished after I had been here a week, for I found that they were but phantoms of my imagination, as you very truly told me. We live very near the Downs, where we have almost every day charming walks, and all the children go bounding about over hill and dale along with us. My aunt told me that once when you were at Clifton, when full dressed to go to a ball at Bath, you suddenly changed your mind, and undressed again, to go out a walking with her, and now that I see the walks, I am not surprised, even if you were not to have had the pleasure of my aunt's company. My father has got a transfer of a ticket for the Bristol library, which is an extremely fine one; and what makes it appear ten times finer is, that it is very difficult for strangers to get into. From thence he can get almost any book for us he pleases, except a few of the most scarce, which are by the laws of the library immovable. No ladies go to the library, but Mr. Johns, the librarian, is very civil, and my mother went to his rooms and saw the beautiful prints in Boydell's Shakespear. Lavater is to come home in a coach to-day. My father seems to think much the same of him that you did when you saw him abroad, that to some genius he adds a good deal of the mountebank. My father is going soon to Bath, Madame de Genlis is there, and he means to present the translation of Adele and Theodore to her: [Footnote: Maria Edgeworth, by her father's advice, had made a translation of Adele et Theodore in 1782, but the appearance of Holcroft's translation prevented its publication.] he had intended to have had me introduced to her, but upon inquiry he was informed that she is not visited by demoiselles in England.
For some time I kept a Bristol journal, which I intended to send to Black Castle in form of a newspaper, but I found that though every day's conversation and occurrences appeared of prodigious importance just at the moment they were passing, yet afterwards they seemed so flat and stale as not to be worth sending. I must however tell you that I had materials for one brilliant paragraph about the Duchess of York. Mr. Lloyd had seen the wondrous sight. "When she was to be presented to the Queen, H.R.H. kept Her Majesty waiting nearly an hour, till at last the Queen, fearing that some accident had happened, sent to let the Duchess know that she was waiting for her. When the Duchess at length arrived, she was so frightened—for a Royal Duchess can be frightened as well as another—that she trembled and tottered in crossing the presence chamber so that she was obliged to be supported. She is very timid, and never once raised her eyes, so that our correspondent cannot speak decidedly as to the expression of her countenance, but if we may be allowed to say so, she is not a beauty, and is very low. She was dressed in white and gold," etc. etc.
The children all desire their love: they were playing the other day at going to Black Castle, and begged me to be Aunt Ruxton, which I assured them I would if I could; but they insisted on my being Sophy, Letty, and Margaret at the same time, and were not quite contented at my pleading this to be out of my power.
To MISS SOPHY RUXTON.
CLIFTON, March 9, 1792.
I wish, my dear Sophy, that you could know how often I think of you and wish for you, whenever we see or hear anything that I imagine you would like. How does your ward go on? My mother desires me to say the kindest things to you, and assure yourself, my dear Sophy, that when my mother says the kindest, they are always at the same time the truest. She is not a person ever to forget a favour, and the care and trouble you are now bestowing on little Thomas Day will be remembered probably after you have forgotten it. But my father interrupts me at this moment, to say that if I am writing to Sophy I must give him some room at the end, so I shall leave off my fine speeches. We spend our time very agreeably here, and have in particular great choice of books. I don't think the children are quite as happy here as they used to be at home, it is impossible they should be, for they have neither the same occupations nor liberty. It is however "restraint that sweetens liberty," and the joy they show when they run upon the Downs, hunting fossils, and clambering, is indeed very great. Henry flatters himself that he shall some time or other have the pleasure of exhibiting his collection to Cousin Sophy, and rehearses frequently in the character of showman. Dr. Darwin has been so good as to send him several fossils, etc., with their names written upon them, and he is every day adding to his little stock of larning. There is a very sensible man here who has also made him presents of little things which he values much, and he begins to mess a great deal with gums, camphor, etc. He will at least never come under Dr. Darwin's definition of a fool. "A fool, Mr. Edgeworth, you know, is a man who never tried an experiment in his life." My father tells me that Henry has acquired a taste for improving himself, and that all he has now to fear is my taste for improving him.
We went the other day to see a collection of natural curiosities at a Mr. Broderip's, of Bristol, which entertained us very much. My father observed he had but very few butterflies, and he said, "No, sir, a circumstance which happened to me some time ago, determined me never to collect any more butterflies. I caught a most beautiful butterfly, thought I had killed it, and ran a pin through its body to fasten it to a cork: a fortnight afterward I happened to look in the box where I had left it, and I saw it writhing in agony: since that time I have never destroyed another."
My father has just returned from Dr. Darwin's, where he has been nearly three weeks: they were extremely kind, and pressed him very much to take a house in or near Derby for the summer. He has been, as Dr. Darwin expressed it, "breathing the breath of life into the brazen lungs of a clock" which he had made at Edgeworthstown as a present for him. He saw the first part of Dr. Darwin's Botanic Garden; L900 was what his bookseller gave him for the whole! On his return from Derby, my father spent a day with Mr. Keir, the great chemist, at Birmingham: he was speaking to him of the late discovery of fulminating silver, with which I suppose your ladyship is well acquainted, though it be new to Henry and me. A lady and gentleman went into a laboratory where a few grains of fulminating silver were lying in a mortar: the gentleman, as he was talking, happened to stir it with the end of his cane, which was tipped with iron,—the fulminating silver exploded instantly, and blew the lady, the gentleman, and the whole laboratory to pieces! Take care how you go into laboratories with gentlemen, unless they are like Sir Plume skilled in the "nice conduct" of their canes.
Have you seen any of the things that have been lately published about the negroes? We have just read a very small pamphlet of about ten pages, merely an account of the facts stated to the House of Commons. Twenty-five thousand people in England have absolutely left off eating West India sugar, from the hope that when there is no longer any demand for sugar the slaves will not be so cruelly treated. Children in several schools have given up sweet things, which is surely very benevolent; though whether it will at all conduce to the end proposed is perhaps wholly uncertain, and in the meantime we go on eating apple pies sweetened with sugar instead of with honey. At Mr. Keir's, however, my father avers that he ate excellent custards sweetened with honey. Will it not be rather hard upon the poor bees in the end?
Mrs. Yearsly, the milkwoman, whose poems I daresay my aunt has seen, lives very near us at Clifton: we have never seen her, and probably never shall, for my father is so indignant against her for her ingratitude to her benefactress, Miss Hannah More, that he thinks she deserves to be treated with neglect. She was dying, absolutely expiring with hunger, when Miss More found her. Her mother was a washerwoman, and washed for Miss More's family; by accident, in a tablecloth which was sent to her was left a silver spoon, which Mrs. Yearsly returned. Struck with this instance of honesty, which was repeated to her by the servants, Miss More sent for her, discovered her distress and her genius, and though she was extremely eager in preparing some of her own works for the press, she threw them all aside to correct Mrs. Yearsly's poems, and obtained for her a subscription of L600. In return, Mrs. Yearsly accused her of having defrauded her, of having been actuated only by vanity in bringing her abilities to light—a new species of vanity from one authoress to another—in short, abused her in the basest and most virulent manner. Would you go to see Mrs. Yearsly?
Lo! I have almost filled the Bristol Chronicle, and have yet much that I wish to say to you, dear Sophy, and that I could tell you in one half-hour, talking at my usual rate of nine miles an hour: when that will be, it is impossible to tell. My mother is now getting better. All the children are perfectly well: Bessy's eyes are not inflamed: Charlotte est faite a peindre et plus encore a aimer, if that were French.
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Little Thomas Day Edgeworth died at the age of three, whilst he was in the care of the Ruxtons, and about the same time Maria Edgeworth's own brother Richard, who had paid a long visit to his family at Clifton, returned to North Carolina, where he had married and was already a father.
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MARIA EDGEWORTH to MISS RUXTON.
ASHTON BOWER, CLIFTON, August 14, 1792.
Last Saturday my poor brother Richard took leave of us to return to America. He has gone up to London with my father and mother, and is to sail from thence. We could not part with him without great pain and regret, for he made us all extremely fond of him. I wish my dear aunt could have seen him; he was very sensible of her kindness, and longed to have a letter from her. He is to come over in '95. Emmeline is still with Lady Holt and Mrs. Bracebridge, at Atherstone, in Warwickshire. Miss Bracebridge, grand-daughter to Lady Holt, is a very agreeable companion to my sister, though some years younger, and she enjoys the society at Atherstone very much. They are most unwilling to part with her; but now she has been absent two months, and we all begin to growl for her return, especially now that my brother is gone, who was "in himself a host."
I am engaged to go in October to pay a visit to Mrs. Charles Hoare. I believe you may remember my talking to you of this lady, and my telling you that she was my friend at school,[Footnote: Miss Robinson.] and had corresponded with me since. She was at Lisbon when we first came to England, and I thought I had little prospect of seeing her, but the moment she returned to England she wrote to me in the kindest and most pressing manner to beg I would come to her. Immediately after this, I dare not add that she is a most amiable and sensible woman, lest Sophy should exclaim, "Ah! vanity! because she likes you, Mademoiselle Marie!"
My uncle, William Sneyd, whom I believe you saw at Edgeworthstown, has just been with us for three weeks, and in that time filled five quires of paper with dried plants from the neighbouring rocks. He says there is at Clifton the richest harvest for botanists. How I wish you were here to reap it. Henry and I will collect anything that we are informed is worthy of your Serene Highness's collection. There is a species of cistus which grows on S. Vincent's rock, which is not, I am told, to be found in any other part of England. Helpless as I am and scoffed at in these matters, I will contrive to get some of it for you. A shoemaker showed us a tortoise shell which he had for sale. I wished to have bought it for La Sophie, but upon inquiry I found it could not be had for less than a guinea; now I thought at the utmost it would not give Sophy above half a crown's worth of pleasure, so I left the shoemaker in quiet possession of his African tortoise. He had better fortune with two shells, admirals, which he sold to Lady Valentia for three guineas.
We begin to be hungry for letters. The children all desire their love to you; Charlotte is very engaging, and promises to be handsome; Sneyd is and promises everything; Henry will, I think, through life always do more than he promises; little Honora is a sprightly blue-eyed child, at nurse with a woman who is the picture of health and simplicity, in a beautiful romantic cottage, just such a cottage as you would imagine for the residence of health and simplicity. Lovell is perfectly well, and desires his kind love to you. Dr. Darwin has paid him very handsome compliments in his lines on the Barbarini vase, in the first part of the Botanic Garden, which my father has just got.
Has my aunt seen the Romance of the Forest? It has been the fashionable novel here, everybody read and talked of it; we were much interested in some parts of it. It is something in the style of the Castle of Otranto, and the horrible parts are we thought well worked up, but it is very difficult to keep Horror breathless with his mouth wide open through three volumes.
Adieu, my dear Sophy: do not let my aunt forget me, for I love her very much; and as for yourself, take care not to think too highly of Cousin Maria, but see her faults with indulgence, and you will I think find her a steady and affectionate friend.
To MISS S. RUXTON.
FLEET STREET, LONDON,
October 17, 1792.
I have been with Mrs. Charles Hoare a week, and before I left Clifton had a budget in my head for a letter to you, which I really had not a moment's time to write. I left them all very well, just going to leave Ashton Bower, which I am not sorry for, though it has such a pretty romantic name; it is not a fit Bower to live in in winter, it is so cold and damp. They are going to Prince's Place again, and I daresay will fix there for the winter, though my father has talked of Bath and Plymouth.
I find in half-rubbed-out notes in my pocket-book, "Sophy—Slave-ship: Sophy—Rope-walk: Sophy—Marine acid: Sophy—Earthquake: Sophy—Glasshouse," etc.: and I intended to tell you a la longue of these.
We went on board a slave-ship with my brother, and saw the dreadfully small hole in which the poor slaves are stowed together, so that they cannot stir. But probably you know all this.
Mrs. Hoare was at Lisbon during two slight shocks of an earthquake; she says the night was remarkably fine, there was no unwholesome feeling that she can remember in the air, immediately preceding the shock: but they were sitting with the windows open down to the ground, looking at the clearness of the sky, when they felt the shock. The doors and windows, and all the furniture in the room shook for a few instants: they looked at one another in silent terror. But in another instant everything was still, and they came to the use of their voices. Numbers of exaggerated accounts were put into the public papers, and she received vast numbers of terrified letters from her friends in England. So much for the earthquake. The marine acid I must leave till I have my father at my elbow, lest in my great wisdom I should set you wrong.
About the glasshouse: there is one Stephens, an Englishman, who has set up a splendid glasshouse at Lisbon, and the Government have granted him a pine wood sixteen miles in extent to supply his glasshouse with fuel. He has erected a theatre for his workmen, supplied them with scenes, dresses, etc.; and they have acquired such a taste for theatrical amusements, that it has conquered their violent passion for drinking which formerly made them incapable of work three days in the week; now they work as hard as possible, and amuse themselves for one day in the week.
Of the beauty of the Tagus, and its golden sands, and the wolves which Mrs. Hoare had the satisfaction of seeing hunted, I must speak when I see you. Mrs. Hoare is as kind as possible to me, and I spend my time at Roehampton as I like: in London that is not entirely possible. We have only come up to town for a few days. Mr. Hoare's house at Roehampton is an excellent one indeed: a library with nice books, small tables upon castors, low sofas, and all the other things which make rooms comfortable. Lady Hoare, his mother, is said to be a very amiable, sensible woman: I have seen her only once, but I was much entertained at her house at Barnelms, looking at the pictures. I saw Zeluco's figure in Le Brun's "Massacre of the Innocents." My aunt will laugh, and think that I am giving myself great airs when I talk of being entertained looking at pictures; but assure her that I remember what she used to say about taste, and that without affectation I have endeavoured to look at everything worth seeing.
To MRS. RUXTON.
STANHOPE STREET, LONDON,
Nov. 6, '92.
I left Roehampton yesterday, and took leave of my friend Mrs. Charles Hoare, with a high opinion of her abilities, and a still higher opinion of her goodness. She was exceedingly kind to me, and I spent most of my time with her as I liked: I say most, because a good deal of it was spent in company where I heard of nothing but chariots and horses, and curricles and tandems. Oh, to what contempt I exposed myself in a luckless hour by asking what a tandem was! I am going in a few days to meet Mrs. Powys at Bath. Since I have been away from home I have missed the society and fondness of my father, mother, and sisters more than I can express, and more than beforehand I should have thought possible: I long to see them all again. Even when I am most amused I feel a void, and now I understand what an aching void is, perfectly well. You know they are going back to Prince's Buildings to the nice house we had last winter; and Emmeline writes me word that the great red puddle which we used to call the Red Sea, and which we were forced to wade through before we could get to the Downs, will not this winter be so terrible, for my father has made a footpath for his "host."
CLIFTON, Dec. 13, '92.
(The day we received yours.)
The day of retribution is at hand, my dear aunt: the month of May will soon come, and then, when we meet face to face, and voucher to voucher, it shall be truly seen whose letter-writing account stands fullest and fairest in the world. Till then, "we'll leave it all to your honour's honour." But why does my dear aunt write, "I can have but little more time to spend with my brother in my life," [Footnote: Mrs. Ruxton lived thirty-nine years after this letter was written.] as if she was an old woman of one hundred and ninety-nine and upwards? I remember, the day I left Black Castle, you told me, if you recollect, that "you had one foot in the grave;" and though I saw you standing before me in perfect health, sound wind and limb, I had the weakness to feel frightened, and never to think of examining where your feet really were. But in the month of May we hope to find them safe in your shoes, and I hope that the sun will then shine out, and that all the black clouds in the political horizon will be dispersed, and that "freemen" will by that time eat their puddings and hold their tongues. Anna and I stayed one week with Mrs. Powys [Footnote: The most intimate friend of Mrs. Honora Edgeworth.] at Bath, and were very thoroughly occupied all the time with seeing and—I won't say with being seen; for though we were at three balls, I do not believe any one saw us. The Upper Rooms we thought very splendid, and the playhouse pretty, but not so good as the theatre at Bristol. We walked all over Bath with my father, and liked it extremely: he showed us the house where he was born.
GLOUCESTER ROW, CLIFTON,
July 21, 1793.
My father is just returned to us from Mr. Keir's.... Come over to us, since we cannot go to you. "Ah, Maria, you know I would come if I could." But can't you, who are a great woman, trample upon impossibilities? It is two years since we saw you, and we are tired of recollecting how kind and agreeable you were. Are you the same Aunt Ruxton? Come and see whether we are the same, and whether there are any people in the world out of your own house who know your value better.
During the hot weather the thermometer was often 80, and once 88. Mr. Neville, a banker, has taken a house here, and was to have been my father's travelling companion, but left him at Birmingham: he has a fishing-stool and a wife. We like the fishing-stool and the wife, but have not yet seen the family. My father last night wrote a letter of recommendation to you for a Mr. Jimbernat, a Spanish gentleman, son to the King of Spain's surgeon, who is employed by his Court to travel for scientific purposes: he drank tea with us, and seems very intelligent. Till I saw him I thought a Spaniard must be tall and stately: one may be mistaken.
Adieu, for there are matters of high import coming, fit only for the pen of pens.
R.L. EDGEWORTH in continuation.
The matters of high importance, my dear sister, have been already communicated to you in brief, and indeed cannot be detailed by any but the parties. Dr. Beddoes, the object of Anna's vows,[Footnote: Dr. Thomas Beddoes, the celebrated physician and chemist, followed the Edgeworth family to Ireland, where he was married to Anna Edgeworth, Maria's youngest own sister.] is a man of abilities, and of great name in the scientific world as a naturalist and chemist: good-humoured, good-natured, a man of honour and virtue, enthusiastic and sanguine, and very fond of Anna.
MARIA to MRS. RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Nov. 18, 1793.
This evening my father has been reading out Gay's Trivia to our great entertainment. I wished very much, my dear aunt, that you and Sophy had been sitting round the fire with us. If you have Trivia, and if you have time, will you humour your niece so far as to look at it? I think there are many things in it which will please you, especially the "Patten and the Shoeblack," and the old woman hovering over her little fire in a hard winter. Pray tell me if you like it. I had much rather make a bargain with any one I loved to read the same book with them at the same hour, than to look at the moon like Rousseau's famous lovers. "Ah! that is because my dear niece has no taste and no eyes." But I assure you I am learning the use of my eyes main fast, and make no doubt, please Heaven I live to be sixty, to see as well as my neighbours.
I am scratching away very hard at the Freeman Family.[Footnote: i.e. Patronage, which, however, was laid aside, and not published till 1813.]
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In November 1793 the Edgeworth family returned to Ireland, where Mr. Edgeworth's inventive genius became occupied with a system of telegraphy on which he expended much time and money. It was offered to the Government, but declined. Maria Edgeworth was occupied at this time with her Letters for Literary Ladies, as well as with "Toys and Tasks" which formed one of her chapters on Practical Education.
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To MISS SOPHY RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Feb 23, 1794.
Thank my aunt and thank yourself for kind inquiries after Letters for Literary Ladies. [Footnote: Published in 1795—an early plea in favour of female education.] I am sorry to say they are not as well as can be expected, nor are they likely to mend at present: when they are fit to be seen—if that happy time ever arrives—their first visit shall be to Black Castle. They are now disfigured by all manner of crooked marks of papa's critical indignation, besides various abusive marginal notes, which I would not have you see for half a crown sterling, nor my aunt for a whole crown as pure as King Hiero's; with which crown I am sure you are acquainted, and know how to weigh it as Honora did at eight years old, though Mr. Day would not believe it. I think my mother is better this evening, but she is so very cheerful when she has a moment's respite, that it deceives us. She calls Lovell the Minute Philosopher at this instant, because he is drawing with the assistance of a magnifying glass with a universal joint in his mouth; so that one eye can see through it while he draws a beautifully small drawing of the new front of the house. I have just excited his envy even to clasping his hands in distraction, by telling him of a man I met with in the middle of Grainger's Worthies of England, who drew a mill, a miller, a bridge, a man and horse going over the bridge with a sack of corn, all visible, upon a surface that would just cover a sixpence.
To MRS. RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, May 8, 1794.
My father is perfectly well, and very busy out of doors and indoors. He brought back certain books from Black Castle, amongst which I was glad to see the Fairy Tales; and he has related, with various embellishments suited to the occasion, the story of Fortunatus, to the great delight of young and old, especially of Sneyd, whose eyes and cheeks expressed strong approbation, and who repeated it afterwards in a style of dramatic oratory, which you would have known how to admire.
We are reading a new book for children, Evenings at Home, which we admire extremely. Has Sophy seen them? And has she seen the fine Aurora Borealis which was to be seen last week, and which my father and Lovell saw with ecstasies? The candles were all put out in the library, and a wonderful bustle made, before I rightly comprehended what was going on.
I will look for the volume of the Tableau de Paris which you think I have; and if it is in the land of the living, it shall be coming forth at your call. Do you remember our reading in it of the garcon perruquier who dresses in black on a Sunday, and leaves his everyday clothes, white and heavy with powder, in the middle of the room, which he dares not peep into after his metamorphosis? I like to read as well as to talk with you, my dear aunt, because you mix the grave and gay together, and put your long finger upon the very passages which my short, stumpy one was just starting forward to point out, if it could point.
You are very good indeed to wish for "Toys and Tasks," but I think it would be most unreasonable to send them to you now. We are a very small party, now that my father, Anna, and Lovell are gone; but I hope we shall be better when you come.
To MRS. ELIZABETH EDGEWORTH.
All's well at home; the chickens are all good and thriving, and there is plenty of provender, and of everything that we can want or wish for: therefore we all hope that you will fully enjoy the pleasures of Black Castle without being anxious for your bairns.
Pray tell my dear aunt that I am not ungrateful for all the kindness she showed to me while I was with her: it rejoiced my heart to hear her say, when she took leave of me, that she did not love me less for knowing me better.
Kitty wakened me this morning saying, "Dear, ma'am, how charming you smell of coals! quite charming!" and she snuffed the ambient air. [Footnote: The coal burnt at Black Castle was naturally more agreeable to Mrs. Billamore (a faithful servant) than the bog turf used at Edgeworthstown.]
To MISS SOPHY RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, July 2, 1794, having the honour to be the fair day of Edgeworthstown, as is well proclaimed to the neighbourhood by the noise of pigs squeaking, men bawling, women brawling, and children squealing, etc.
I will tell you what is going on, that you may see whether you like your daily bill of fare.
There are, an' please you, ma'am, a great many good things here. There is a balloon hanging up, and another going to be put on the stocks: there is soap made, and making from a receipt in Nicholson's Chemistry: there is excellent ink made, and to be made by the same book: there is a cake of roses just squeezed in a vice, by my father, according to the advice of Madame de Lagaraye, the woman in the black cloak and ruffles, who weighs with unwearied scales, in the frontispiece of a book, which perhaps my aunt remembers, entitled Chemie de gout et de l'odorat. There are a set of accurate weights, just completed by the ingenious Messrs. Lovell and Henry Edgeworth, partners: for Henry is now a junior partner, and grown an inch and a half upon the strength of it in two months. The use and ingenuity of these weights I do, or did, understand; it is great, but I am afraid of puzzling you and disgracing myself attempting to explain it; especially as, my mother says, I once sent you a receipt for purifying water with charcoal, which she avers to have been above, or below, the comprehension of any rational being.
My father bought a great many books at Mr. Dean's sale. Six volumes of Machines Approuves, full of prints of paper mills, gunpowder mills, machines pour remonter les batteaux, machines pour—a great many things which you would like to see I am sure over my father's shoulder. And my aunt would like to see the new staircase, and to see a kitcat view of a robin redbreast sitting on her nest in a sawpit, discovered by Lovell, and you would both like to pick Emmeline's fine strawberries round the crowded oval table after dinner, and to see my mother look so much better in the midst of us.
If these delights thy soul can move, Come live with us and be our love.
To MRS. RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Aug. 11, 1794.
Nothing wonderful or interesting, nothing which touches our hopes or fears, which either moves us to laugh or to be doleful, can happen without the idea of Aunt Ruxton immediately arising. This, you will think, is the preface to at least either death or marriage; but it is only the preface to a history of Defenders.
There have been lately several flying reports of Defenders, but we never thought the danger near till to-day. Last night a party of forty attacked the house of one Hoxey, about half a mile from us, and took, as usual, the arms. They have also been at Ringowny, where there was only one servant left to take care of the house; they took the arms and broke all the windows. To-day Mr. Bond, our high sheriff, paid us a pale visit, thought it was proper something should be done for the internal defence of the town of Edgeworthstown and the County of Longford, and wished my father would apply to him for a meeting of the county. My father first rode over to the scene of action, to inquire into the truth of the reports; found them true, and on his return to dinner found Mr. Thompson of Clonfin, and Captain Doyle, nephew to the general and the wounded colonel, who is now at Granard. Captain Doyle will send a sergeant and twelve to-morrow; to-night a watch is to sit up, but it is supposed that the sight of two redcoats riding across the country together will keep the evil sprites from appearing to mortal eyes "this watch." My father has spoken to many of the householders, and he imagines they will come here to a meeting to-morrow, to consider how best they can defend their lands and tenements; they bring their arms to my father to take care of. You will be surprised at our making such a mighty matter of a visit from the Defenders, you who have had soldiers sitting up in your kitchen for weeks; but you will consider that this is our first visit.
The arts of peace are going on prosperously. The new room is almost built, and the staircase is completed: long may we live to run up and down it.
To MISS RUXTON.
I will treat you, my dear Letty, like a lady for once, and write to you upon blue-edged paper, because you have been ill: if you should be well before you receive this, I shall repent of the extravagance of my friendship. I believe it was you—or my aunt, the teller of all good things—who told me of a lady who took a long journey to see her sister, who she heard was very ill; but, unfortunately, the sister was well before she got to her journey's end, and she was so provoked, that she quarrelled with her well sister, and would never have anything more to do with her.
You will look very blank when you come back from the sea, and find what doings there have been at Black Castle in your absence. Anna was extremely sorry that she could not see you again before she left Ireland; but you will soon be in the same kingdom again, and that is one great point gained, as Mr. Weaver, a travelling astronomical lecturer, who carried the universe about in a box, told us. "Sir," said he to my father, "when you look at a map, do you know that the east is always on your right hand, and the west on your left?"—"Yes," replied my father, with a very modest look, "I believe I do."—"Well," said the man of learning, "that's one great point gained."
To MRS. RUXTON.
My father returned late on Friday night, bringing with him a very bad and a very good thing; the bad thing was a bad cold—the good is Aunt Mary Sneyd. Emmeline was delayed some days at Lichfield by the broken bridges, and bad roads, floods and snows, which have stopped man, and beast, and mail coaches. Mr. Cox, the man who sells camomile drops under the title of Oriental Pearls, wrote an apology to my Aunt Mary for neglecting to send the Pearls in the following elegant phrase: "That the mistake she mentioned he could no ways account for but by presuming that it must have arisen from impediments occasioned by the inclemencies of the season!"
When my father went to see Lord Charlemont, he came to meet him, saying, "I must claim relationship with you, Mr. Edgeworth. I am related to the Abbe Edgeworth, who is I think an honour to the kingdom—I should say to human nature."
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, April 11, 1795.
My father and Lovell have been out almost every day, when there are no robbers to be committed to jail, at the Logograph.[Footnote: A name invented to suit the anti-Gallican prejudices of the day.] This is the new name instead of the Telegraph, because of its allusion to the logographic printing press, which prints words instead of letters. Phaenologue was thought of, but Logograph sounds better. My father will allow me to manufacture an essay on the Logograph, he furnishing the solid materials and I spinning them. I am now looking over, for this purpose, Wilkins's Real Character, or an Essay towards a Universal Philosophical Language. It is a scarce and very ingenious book; some of the phraseology is so much out of the present fashion, that it would make you smile: such as the synonym for a little man, a Dandiprat. Likewise two prints, one of them a long sheet of men with their throats cut, so as to show the windpipe whilst working out the different letters of the alphabet. The other print of all the birds and beasts packed ready to go into the ark.
Sir Walter James has written a very kind and sensible letter to my father, promising all his influence with his Viceregal brother-in-law about the telegraph. My father means to get a letter from him to Lord Camden, and present it himself, though he rather doubts whether, all things taken together, it is prudent to tie himself to Government. The raising the militia has occasioned disturbances in this county. Lord Granard's carriage was pelted at Athlone. The poor people here are robbed every night. Last night a poor old woman was considerably roasted: the man, who called himself Captain Roast, is committed to jail, he was positively sworn to here this morning. Do you know what they mean by the White Tooths? Men who stick two pieces of broken tobacco pipes at each corner of the mouth, to disguise the face and voice.
Here is a whirlwind in our county, and no angel to direct it, though many booted and spurred desire no better than to ride in it. There is indeed an old woman in Ballymahon, who has been the guardian angel of General Crosby; she has averted a terrible storm, which was just ready to burst over his head. The General, by mistake, went into the town of Ballymahon, before his troops came up; and while he was in the inn, a mob of five hundred people gathered in the street. The landlady of the inn called General Crosby aside, and told him, that if the people found him they would certainly tear him to pieces. The General hesitated, but the abler general, the landlady, sallied forth and called aloud in a distinct voice, "Bring round the chaise-and-four for the gentleman from Lanesborough, who is going to Athlone." The General got into the chaise incog., and returning towards Athlone met his troops, and thus effected a most admirable retreat.
Richard [Footnote: His last visit to Ireland. He returned to America, and died there in 1796.] and Lovell are at the Bracket Gate. I hope you know the Bracket Gate, it is near Mr. Whitney's, and so called, as tradition informs me, from being painted red and white like a bracket cow. I am not clear what sort of an animal a bracket cow is, but I suppose it is something not unlike a dun cow and a gate joined together. Richard and Lovell have a nice tent, and a clock, and white lights, and are trying nocturnal telegraphs, which are now brought to satisfactory perfection.
I am finishing "Toys and Tasks;" I wish I might insert your letter to Sneyd, [Footnote: Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth's second boy.] with the receipt for the dye, as a specimen of experiments for children. Sneyd with sparkling eyes returns you his sincere thanks, and my mother with her love sends you the following lines, which she composed to-day for him:
To give me all that art can give, My aunt and mother try: One teaches me the way to live, The other how to dye.
But though she makes epigrams, my mother is far from well.
* * * * *
This year Letters for Literary Ladies, Miss Edgeworth's first published work, was produced by Johnson. In 1796 she published the collection of stories known as The Parent's Assistant. In these, in the simplest language, and with wonderful understanding of children, and what would come home to their hearts, she continued to illustrate the maxims of her father. The "Purple Jar" and "Lazy Laurence" are perhaps the best-known stories of the first edition. To another was added "Simple Susan," of which Sir Walter Scott said, "That when the boy brings back the lamb to the little girl, there is nothing for it but to put down the book and cry." Most of these stories were written in the excitement of very troubled times in Ireland.
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MARIA EDGEWORTH to MRS. RUXTON.
Saturday Night, Jan. 1796.
My father is gone to a Longford committee, where he will I suppose hear many dreadful Defender stories: he came home yesterday fully persuaded that a poor man in this neighbourhood, a Mr. Houlton, had been murdered, but he found he was only kilt, and "as well as could be expected," after being twice robbed and twice cut with a bayonet. You, my dear aunt, who were so brave when the county of Meath was the seat of war, must know that we emulate your courage; and I assure you in your own words, "that whilst our terrified neighbours see nightly visions of massacres, we sleep with our doors and windows unbarred."
I must observe though, that it is only those doors and windows which have neither bolts nor bars, that we leave unbarred, and these are more at present than we wish, even for the reputation of our valour. All that I crave for my own part is, that if I am to have my throat cut, it may not be by a man with his face blackened with charcoal. I shall look at every person that comes here very closely, to see if there be any marks of charcoal upon their visages. Old wrinkled offenders I should suppose would never be able to wash out their stains; but in others a very clean face will in my mind be a strong symptom of guilt—clean hands proof positive, and clean nails ought to hang a man.
To MISS S. RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Feb. 27, 1796.
Long may you feel impatient to hear from your friends, my dear Sophy, and long may you express your impatience as agreeably. I have a great deal bottled, or rather bundled up for you. Though I most earnestly wish that my father was in that situation [Footnote: M.P. for the County of Longford.] which Sir T. Fetherstone now graces, and though my father had done me the honour to let me copy his Election letters for him, I am not the least infected with the electioneering rage. Whilst the Election lasted we saw him only a few minutes in the course of the day, then indeed he entertained us to our hearts' content; now his mind seems relieved from a disagreeable load, and we have more of his company.
You do not mention Madame Roland, therefore I am not sure whether you have read her; if you have only read her in the translation which talks of her Uncle Bimont's dying of a "fit of the gout translated to his chest," you have done her injustice. We think some of her memoirs beautifully written, and like Rousseau: she was a great woman and died heroically, but I don't think she became more amiable, and certainly not more happy by meddling with politics; for—her head is cut off, and her husband has shot himself. I think if I had been Mons. Roland I should not have shot myself for her sake, and I question whether he would not have left undrawn the trigger if he could have seen all she intended to say of him to posterity: she has painted him as a harsh, stiff, pedantic man, to whom she devoted herself from a sense of duty; her own superiority, and his infinite obligations to her, she has taken sufficient pains to blazon forth to the world. I do not like all this, and her duty work, and her full-length portrait of herself by herself. The foolish and haughty Madame de Boismorrel, who sat upon the sofa, and asked her if she ever wore feathers, was probably one of the remote causes of the French Revolution: for Madame Roland's Republican spirit seems to have retained a long and lively remembrance of this aristocratic visit.
As soon as the blind bookseller [Footnote: A pedlar who travelled through the country, and sometimes picked up at sales curious books new and old.] can find them for us, we shall read Miss Williams's Letters. I am glad we both prefer the same parts in Dr. Aikin's Letters: I liked that on the choice of a wife, but I beg to except the word helper, which is used so often and is associated with a helper in the stables. Lovell dined with Mr. Aikin at Mr. Stewart's, at Edinburgh, and has seen the Comte d'Artois, who he says has rather a silly face, especially when it smiles. Sneyd is delighted with the four volumes of Evenings at Home, which we have just got, and has pitched upon the best stories, which he does not, like M. Dalambert, spoil in the reading—"Perseverance against Fortune," "The Price of a Victory," and "Capriole." We were reading an account of the pinna the other day, and very much regretted that your pinna's brown silk tuft had been eaten by the mice—what will they not eat?—they have eaten my thimble case! I am sorry to say that, from these last accounts of the pinna and his cancer friend, Dr. Darwin's beautiful description is more poetic than accurate. The cancer is neither watchman nor market-woman to the pinna, nor yet his friend: he has free ingress to his house, it is true, and is often found there, but he does not visit on equal terms, or on a friendly footing, for the moment the pinna gets him in he shuts the door and eats him; or if he is not hungry, kills the poor shrimp and keeps him in the house till the next day's dinner. I am sorry Dr. Darwin's story is not true.
I do not know whether you ever heard of a Mr. Pallas, who lives at Grouse Hall. He lately received information that a certain Defender was to be found in a lone house, which was described to him; he took a party of men with him in the night, and got to the house very early in the morning: it was scarcely light. The soldiers searched the house, but no man was to be found. Mr. Pallas ordered them to search again, for that he was certain the man was there: they searched again, in vain. They gave up the point, and were preparing to mount their horses when one man who had stayed a little behind his companions, saw something moving at the end of the garden behind the house: he looked again, and beheld a man's arm come out of the ground. He ran towards the spot and called his companions, but the arm had disappeared; they searched, but nothing was to be seen, and though the soldier persisted in his story he was not believed. "Come," said one of the party, "don't waste your time here looking for an apparition among these cabbage-stalks, come back once more to the house." They went to the house, and there stood the man they were in search of, in the middle of the kitchen.
Upon examination, it was found that a secret passage had been practised from the kitchen to the garden, opening under an old meal chest with a false bottom, which he could push up and down at pleasure. He had returned one moment too soon.
I beg, dear Sophy, that you will not call my little stories by the sublime title of "my works," I shall else be ashamed when the little mouse comes forth. The stories are printed and bound the same size as Evenings at Home, but I am afraid you will dislike the title; my father had sent The Parent's Friend, [Footnote: Mr. Edgeworth had wished the book to bear this title.] but Mr. Johnson has degraded it into The Parent's Assistant, which I dislike particularly, from association with an old book of arithmetic called The Tutor's Assistant.
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This was the first appearance of The Parent's Assistant, in one small volume, with the "Purple Jar," which afterwards formed part of Rosamond.
* * * * *
To MRS. RUXTON.
We heard from Lovell [Footnote: Gone to London with Mr. Edgeworth's telegraphic invention.] last post. He had reached London, and waited immediately on Colonel Brownrigg, who was extremely civil, and said he would present him any day he pleased to the Duke of York. He was delighted with the telegraphic prospect in his journey: from Nettlebed to Long Compton, a distance of fifty miles, he saw plainly. He was afraid that the motion of the stage would have been too violent to agree with his model telegraph—"his pretty, delicate little telly," as Lovell calls it. He therefore indulged her all the way with a seat in a post-chaise, "which I bestowed upon her with pleasure, because I am convinced that, when she comes to stand in the world upon ground of her own, she will be an honour to her guardian, her parents, and her country."
* * * * *
Miss Edgeworth now began to write some of the stories which were afterwards published under the title of Moral Tales, but which she at first intended as a sequel to The Parent's Assistant; and she began to think of writing Irish Bulls.
* * * * *
To MISS SOPHY RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Oct. 1797.
I do not like to pour out the gratitude I feel for your unremitting kindness to me, my dear Sophy, in vain thanks; but I may as well pour it out in words, as I shall probably never be able to return the many good turns you have done me. I am not nearly ready yet for Irish Bulls. I am going directly to Parent's Assistant. Any good anecdotes from the age of five to fifteen, good latitude and longitude, will suit me; and if you can tell me any pleasing misfortunes of emigrants, so much the better. I have a great desire to draw a picture of an anti-Mademoiselle Panache, a well-informed, well-bred French governess, an emigrant.
By the blind bookseller my father will send you some books, and I hope that we shall soon have finished Godwin, that he may set out for Black Castle. There are some parts of his book [Footnote: Essays, by the author of Caleb Williams.] that I think you will like much—"On Frankness," and "Self-taught Genius;" but you will find much to blame in his style, and you will be surprised that he should have written a dissertation upon English style. I think his essay on Avarice and Profusion will please you, even after Smith: he has gone a step farther. I am going to write a story for boys, [Footnote: The Good Aunt.] which will, I believe, make a volume to follow the Good French Governess. My father thinks a volume of trials and a volume of plays would be good for children. He met the other day with two men who were ready to go to law about a horse which one had bought from the other, because he had one little fault. "What is the fault?" said my father. "Sir, the horse was standing with us all the other day in our cabin at the fire, and plump he fell down upon the middle of the fire and put it out; and it was a mercy he didn't kill my wife and children as he fell into the midst of them all. But this is not all, sir; he strayed into a neighbour's field of oats, and fell down in the midst of the oats, and spoiled as much as he could have eaten honestly in a week. But that's not all, sir; one day, please your honour, I rode him out in a hurry to a fair, and he lay down with me in the ford, and I lost my fair."
* * * * *
For the last few years Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth's sisters, Charlotte and Mary Sneyd, had lived entirely at Edgeworthstown, not only beloved and honoured by the children of their two sisters, but tenderly welcomed and cherished by the children of their predecessor, especially by Maria, to whom no real aunts could have been more dear. During the seventeen years through which her married life lasted, Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth had become increasingly the centre of the family circle, to which she had herself added five sons and four daughters. In every relation of life she was admirable. Through the summer of 1797 her health rapidly declined, and in November she died.
Mr. Edgeworth, then past fifty, had truly valued his third wife, of whom he said that he had "never seen her out of temper, and never received from her an unkind word or an angry look." Yet, when he lost her, after his peculiar fashion, he immediately began to think of marrying again.
Dr. Beaufort, Vicar of Collon, was an agreeable and cultivated man, and had long been a welcome guest at Mrs. Ruxton's house of Black Castle. His eldest daughter, who was a clever artist, had designed and drawn some illustrations for Maria Edgeworth's stories. With these Mr. Edgeworth found fault, and the good-humour and sense with which his criticisms were received charmed him, and led to an intimacy. Six months after his wife's death he married Miss Beaufort.
It may sound strange, but it is nevertheless true, that, in Miss Beaufort, even more than in her predecessors, he gave to his children a wise and kind mother, and a most entirely devoted friend.
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MISS EDGEWORTH to MISS BEAUFORT.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, May 16, 1798.
Whilst you, my dear Miss Beaufort, have been toiling in Dublin, my father has been delighting himself in preparations for June. The little boudoir looks as if it intends to be pretty. This is the only room in the house which my father will allow to be finished, as he wishes that your taste should finish the rest. Like the man who begged to have the eclipse put off, we have been here praying to have the spring put off, as this place never looks so pretty as when the lilacs and laburnums are in full flower. I fear, notwithstanding all our prayers, that their purple and yellow honours will be gone before your arrival. There is one other flower which I am sure will not be in blow for you, "a little western flower called love in idleness." Amongst the many kindnesses my father has shown me, the greatest, I think, has been his permitting me to see his heart a decouverte; and I have seen, by your kind sincerity and his, that, in good and cultivated minds, love is no idle passion, but one that inspires useful and generous energy. I have been convinced by your example of what I was always inclined to believe, that the power of feeling affection is increased by the cultivation of the understanding. The wife of an Indian yogii (if a yogii be permitted to have a wife) might be a very affectionate woman, but her sympathy with her husband could not have a very extensive sphere. As his eyes are to be continually fixed upon the point of his nose, hers in duteous sympathy must squint in like manner; and if the perfection of his virtue be to sit so still that the birds (vide Sacontala) may unmolested build nests in his hair, his wife cannot better show her affection than by yielding her tresses to them with similar patient stupidity. Are there not European yogiis, or men whose ideas do not go much further than le bout du nez? And how delightful it must be to be chained for better for worse to one of this species! I should guess—for I know nothing of the matter—that the courtship of an ignorant lover must be almost as insipid as a marriage with him; for "my jewel" continually repeated, without new setting, must surely fatigue a little.
You call yourself, dear Miss Beaufort, my friend and companion: I hope you will never have reason to repent beginning in this style towards me. I think you will not find me encroach upon you. The overflowings of your kindness, if I know anything of my own heart, will fertilise the land, but will not destroy the landmarks. I do not know whether I most hate or despise the temper which will take an ell where an inch is given. A well-bred person never forgets that species of respect which is due to situation and rank: though his superiors in rank treat him with the utmost condescension, he never is "Hail fellow well met" with them; he never calls them Jack or Tom by way of increasing his own consequence.
I flatter myself that you will find me gratefully exact en belle fille. I think there is a great deal of difference between that species of ceremony which exists with acquaintance, and that which should always exist with the best of friends: the one prevents the growth of affection, the other preserves it in youth and age. Many foolish people make fine plantations, and forget to fence them; so the young trees are destroyed by the young cattle, and the bark of the forest trees is sometimes injured. You need not, dear Miss Beaufort, fence yourself round with very strong palings in this family, where all have been early accustomed to mind their boundaries. As for me, you see my intentions, or at least my theories, are good enough: if my Practice be but half as good, you will be content, will you not? But Theory was born in Brobdingnag, and Practice in Lilliput. So much the better for me. I have often considered, since my return home, as I have seen all this family pursuing their several occupations and amusements, how much you will have it in your power to add to their happiness. In a stupid or indolent family, your knowledge and talents would be thrown away; here, if it may be said without vanity, they will be the certain source of your daily happiness. You will come into a new family, but you will not come as a stranger, dear Miss Beaufort: you will not lead a new life, but only continue to lead the life you have been used to in your own happy, cultivated family.
* * * * *
Mr. Edgeworth and Miss Beaufort were married 31st May 1798 at St. Anne's Church in Dublin. Mrs. Edgeworth writes:
When we set off from the church door for Edgeworthstown, the rebellion had broken out in many parts of Ireland.
Soon after we had passed the second stage from Dublin, one of the carriage wheels broke down. Mr. Edgeworth went back to the inn, then called the Nineteen-mile House, [Footnote: Now Enfield: a railway station.] to get assistance. Very few people were to be found, and a woman who was alone in the kitchen came up to him and whispered, "The boys (the rebels) are hid in the potato furrows beyond." He was rather startled at this intelligence, but took no notice. He found an ostler who lent him a wheel, which they managed to put on, and we drove off without being stopped by any of the boys. A little farther on I saw something very odd on the side of the road before us. "What is that?"—"Look to the other side—don't look at it!" cried Mr. Edgeworth; and when we had passed he said it was a car turned up, between the shafts of which a man was hung—murdered by the rebels.
We reached Edgeworthstown late in the evening. The family at that time consisted of the two Miss Sneyds, Maria, Emmeline, Bessy, Charlotte (Lovell was then at Edinburgh), Henry, Sneyd, Honora, and William. Sneyd was not twelve years old, and the other two were much younger. All agreed in making me feel at once at home, and part of the family; all received me with the most unaffected cordiality: but from Maria it was something more. She more than fulfilled the promise of her letter; she made me at once her most intimate friend; and in all the serious concerns of life, and in every trifle of the day, treated me with the most generous confidence.
MARIA to MISS SOPHY RUXTON IN NORTH WALES.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, June 20, '98.
Hitherto all has been quiet in our county, and we know nothing of the dreadful disturbances in other parts of the country but what we see in the newspapers. I am sorry my uncle and Richard were obliged to leave you and my dear aunt, as I know the continual state of suspense and anxiety in which you must live while they are away. I fear that we may soon know by experience what you feel, for my father sees in to-night's paper that Lord Cornwallis is coming over here as Lord-Lieutenant; and he thinks it will be his duty to offer his services in any manner in which they can be advantageous. Why cannot we be left in peace to enjoy our happiness? that is all we have the conscience to ask! We are indeed happy: the more I see of my friend and mother, the more I love and esteem her, and the more I feel the truth of all that I have heard you say in her praise. I do not think I am much prejudiced by her partiality for me, though I do feel most grateful for her kindness. I never saw my father at any period of his life appear so happy as he does, and has done for this month past; and you know that he tastes happiness as much as any human being can. He is not of the number of those qui avalent leurs plaisirs, il sait les gouter. So little change has been made in the way of living, that you would feel as if you were going on with your usual occupations and conversation amongst us. We laugh and talk, and enjoy the good of every day, which is more than sufficient. How long this may last we cannot tell. I am going on in the old way, writing stories. I cannot be a captain of dragoons, and sitting with my hands before me would not make any of us one degree safer. I know nothing more of Practical Education: it is advertised to be published. I have finished a volume of wee, wee stories, about the size of the "Purple Jar," all about Rosamond. "Simple Susan" went to Foxhall a few days ago, for Lady Anne to carry to England.
My father has made our little room so nice for us; they are all fresh painted and papered. O rebels! O French! spare them! We have never injured you, and all we wish is to see everybody as happy as ourselves.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Aug. 29, '98.
We have this moment learned from the sheriff of this county, Mr. Wilder, who has been at Athlone, that the French have got to Castlebar. They changed clothes with some peasants, and so deceived our troops. They have almost entirely cut off the carbineers, the Longford militia, and a large body of yeomanry who opposed them. The Lord-Lieutenant is now at Athlone, and it is supposed that it will be their next object of attack. My father's corps of yeomanry are extremely attached to him, and seem fully in earnest; but, alas! by some strange negligence their arms have not yet arrived from Dublin. My father this morning sent a letter by an officer going to Athlone, to Lord Cornwallis, offering his services to convey intelligence or reconnoitre, as he feels himself in a most terrible situation, without arms for his men, and no power of being serviceable to his country. We who are so near the scene of action cannot by any means discover what number of the French actually landed: some say 800, some 1800, some 18,000, some 4000. The troops march and countermarch, as they say themselves, without knowing where they are going, or for what.
Poor Lady Anne Fox! [Footnote: Wife of Mr. Edgeworth's nephew.] she is in a dreadful situation; so near her confinement she is unable to move from Foxhall to any place of greater safety, and exposed every moment to hear the most alarming reports. She shows admirable calmness and strength of mind. Francis and Barry [Footnote: Brothers of the fourth Mrs. Edgeworth.] set out to-morrow morning for England: as they do not go near Conway, my father advises me not to send by them "Simple Susan" and sundry other little volumes which I wish were in your kind hands.
GOD send the French may soon go, and that you may soon come.
To MRS. RUXTON.
MRS. FALLON'S INN, LONGFORD,
Sept. 5, '98.
We are all safe and well, my dearest aunt, and have had two most fortunate escapes from rebels and from the explosion of an ammunition cart. Yesterday we heard, about ten o'clock in the morning, that a large body of rebels, armed with pikes, were within a few miles of Edgeworthstown. My father's yeomanry were at this moment gone to Longford for their arms, which Government had delayed sending. We were ordered to decamp, each with a small bundle: the two chaises full, and my mother and Aunt Charlotte on horseback. We were all ready to move, when the report was contradicted: only twenty or thirty men were now, it was said, in arms, and my father hoped we might still hold fast to our dear home.
Two officers and six dragoons happened at this moment to be on their way through Edgeworthstown, escorting an ammunition cart from Mullingar to Longford: they promised to take us under their protection, and the officer came up to the door to say he was ready. My father most fortunately detained us: they set out without us. Half an hour afterwards, as we were quietly sitting in the portico, we heard—as we thought close to us—a clap of thunder, which shook the house. The officer soon afterwards returned, almost speechless; he could hardly explain what had happened. The ammunition cart, containing nearly three barrels of gunpowder, packed in tin cases, took fire and burst, halfway on the road to Longford. The man who drove the cart was blown to atoms—nothing of him could be found; two of the horses were killed, others were blown to pieces and their limbs scattered to a distance; the head and body of a man were found a hundred and twenty yards from the spot. Mr. Murray was the name of the officer I am speaking of: he had with him a Mr. Rochfort and a Mr. Nugent. Mr. Rochfort was thrown from his horse, one side of his face terribly burnt, and stuck over with gunpowder. He was carried into a cabin; they thought he would die, but they now say he will recover. The carriage has been sent to take him to Longford. I have not time or room, my dear aunt, to dilate or tell you half I have to say. If we had gone with this ammunition, we must have been killed.
An hour or two afterwards, however, we were obliged to fly from Edgeworthstown. The pikemen, three hundred in number, actually were within a mile of the town. My mother, Aunt Charlotte, and I rode; passed the trunk of the dead man, bloody limbs of horses, and two dead horses, by the help of men who pulled on our steeds: we are all safely lodged now in Mrs. Fallon's inn.
* * * * *
Mrs. Edgeworth narrates:
Before we had reached the place where the cart had been blown up, Mr. Edgeworth suddenly recollected that he had left on the table in his study a list of the yeomanry corps, which he feared might endanger the poor fellows and their families if it fell into the hands of the rebels. He galloped back for it—it was at the hazard of his life—but the rebels had not yet appeared. He burned the paper, and rejoined us safely.
The landlady of the inn at Longford did all she could to make us comfortable, and we were squeezed into the already crowded house. Mrs. Billamore, our excellent housekeeper, we had left behind for the return of the carriage which had taken Mr. Rochfort to Longford; but it was detained, and she did not reach us till the next morning, when we learned from her that the rebels had not come up to the house. They had halted at the gate, but were prevented from entering by a man whom she did not remember to have ever seen; but he was grateful to her for having lent money to his wife when she was in great distress, and we now, at our utmost need, owed our safety and that of the house to his gratitude. We were surprised to find that this was thought by some to be a suspicious circumstance, and that it showed Mr. Edgeworth to be a favourer of the rebels! An express arrived at night to say the French were close to Longford: Mr. Edgeworth undertook to defend the gaol, which commanded the road by which the enemy must pass, where they could be detained till the King's troops came up. He was supplied with men and ammunition, and watched all night; but in the morning news came that the French had turned in a different direction, and gone to Granard, about seven miles off; but this seemed so unlikely, that Mr. Edgeworth rode out to reconnoitre, and Henry went to the top of the Court House to look out with a telescope. We were all at the windows of a room in the inn looking into the street, when we saw people running, throwing up their hats and huzzaing. A dragoon had just arrived with the news that General Lake's army had come up with the French and the rebels, and completely defeated them at a place called Ballinamuck, near Granard. But we soon saw a man in a sergeant's uniform haranguing the mob, not in honour of General Lake's victory, but against Mr. Edgeworth; we distinctly heard the words, "that young Edgeworth ought to be dragged down from the Court House." The landlady was terrified; she said Mr. Edgeworth was accused of having made signals to the French from the gaol, and she thought the mob would pull down her house; but they ran on to the end of the town, where they expected to meet Mr. Edgeworth. We sent a messenger in one direction to warn him, while Maria and I drove to meet him on the other road. We heard that he had passed some time before with Major Eustace, the mob seeing an officer in uniform with him went back to the town, and on our return we found them safe at the inn. We saw the French prisoners brought in in the evening, when Mr. Edgeworth went after dinner with Major Eustace to the barrack. Some time after, dreadful yells were heard in the street: the mob had attacked them on their return from the barrack—Major Eustace being now in coloured clothes, they did not recognise him as an officer. They had struck Mr. Edgeworth with a brickbat in the neck, and as they were now, just in front of the inn, collaring the major, Mr. Edgeworth cried out in a loud voice, "Major Eustace is in danger." Several officers who were at dinner in the inn, hearing the words through the open window, rushed out sword in hand, dispersed the crowd in a moment, and all the danger was over. The military patrolled the streets, and the sergeant who had made all this disturbance was put under arrest. He was a poor, half-crazed fanatic.