Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 2/Letter 105
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Volume 2/Letter 105
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To MISS RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, March 31, 1835.
Harriet told me, my dear Sophy, that she found you in bed, reading Popular Tales, or some of my old things—thank you, thank you, my dear, for loving them. I hope that this will find you better, and that your Black Castle walks, leaning on that kind Isabella's arm, will have quite restored you.
I have been reading Roget's most admirable Bridgewater Treatise—admirable in every way, scientific, moral, and religious, in the most deep and exalted manner—religious, raising the mind through nature's works up to nature's GOD, which must increase and exalt piety where it exists, and create and confirm the devotional feelings where they have lain dormant. All his facts are most curious, and the exclamation, "how fearfully and wonderfully we are made," may be extended to the ugliest tadpole that wabbles in a ditch till he is a frog, and the microscope invented by that creature man endowed with—
Luckily a hair in my pen stopped me, or I might have gone on to another page, in my hot fit of enthusiasm.
To MISS RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, Sept. 1835.
Have you seen in the papers reports about the marriage of Lord John Russell to Lady R.? All true—Lady Ribblesdale, ci-devant Adelaide Lister, Aunt Mary's niece, a young widow with a charming little boy; this morning Aunt Mary had a letter from Lady Ribblesdale herself. If she was to marry again she could not have made a more suitable match. He is a very domestic man, and, save his party violence and folly, very amiable and sensible.
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Mr. George Ticknor and his family visited Edgeworthstown in August 1835, and remained there several days, which were a very interesting and happy time to Miss Edgeworth. Mr. Ticknor describes his visit at great length in his journals, and the first appearance of Miss Edgeworth:
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A small, short, spare lady of about sixty-seven, with extremely frank and kind manners, and who always looks straight into your face with a pair of mild deep gray eyes whenever she speaks to you. Her conversation, always ready, is as full of vivacity and variety as I can imagine. It is also no less full of good-nature. She is disposed to defend everybody, as far as she can, though never so far as to be unreasonable. And in her intercourse with her family she is quite delightful, referring constantly to Mrs. Edgeworth, who seems to be the authority for all matters of fact, and most kindly repeating jokes to her infirm aunt, Miss Sneyd, who cannot hear them, and who seems to have for her the most unbounded affection and admiration.
About herself as an author she seems to have no reserve or secrets.... But, though she talks freely about herself and her works, she never introduces the subject, and never seems glad to continue it. She talks quite as well, and with quite as much interest, on everything else.
It is plain that the family make a harmonious whole, and by those who visited Edgeworthstown when it was much larger, and were proud of the children of all the wives of Mr. Edgeworth, with their connections produced by marriage, so as to prove the most heterogeneous relationships, I am told there was always the same striking union and agreeable intercourse among them all, to the number of sometimes fifteen or twenty.
...The house, and many of its arrangements—the bells, the doors, etc.—bear witness to that love of mechanical trifling of which Mr. Edgeworth was so often accused. But things in general are very convenient and comfortable through the house, though, as elsewhere in Ireland, there is a want of English exactness and finish. However, all such matters, even if carried much farther than they are, would be mere trifles in the midst of so much kindness, hospitality, and intellectual pleasures of the highest order as we enjoyed under their roof, where hospitality is so abundant that they have often had twenty or thirty friends come upon them unexpectedly, when the family was much larger than it is now.
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Maria Edgeworth was now the real owner of Edgeworthstown. Her half-brother Lovell's embarrassments had obliged him to sell his paternal inheritance, and Miss Edgeworth gladly expended the fortune which had come to her through literature in preserving it from falling into the hands of strangers. She only stipulated that she herself should remain as much "a background figure" as before. Lovell Edgeworth was still the apparent owner of Edgeworthstown. Mrs. Edgeworth was still the mistress of the house, consulted and deferred to in everything. In her note of invitation to Mr. and Mrs. Ticknor she says: "The sooner you can come to us the better, because Mrs. Edgeworth is now at home with us ... as you would find this house much more agreeable when she is at home; and in truth you never could see it to advantage, or see things as they really are in this family, unless when she makes part of it, and when she is at the head of it." Maria Edgeworth unconsciously depicted herself when describing Miss Emma Granby, "The Modern Griselda."
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All her thoughts were intent upon making her friends happy. She seemed to live in them more than in herself, and from sympathy rose the greatest pleasure and pain of her existence. Her sympathy was not of that useless kind which is called forth only by the elegant fictitious sorrows of a heroine of romance; hers was ready for all the occasions of real life; nor was it to be easily checked by the imperfections of those to whom she could be of service.
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Amongst those who visited Edgeworthstown about this time was the American authoress, Mrs. Farrar, who writes:
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When shown to our bedroom we found such an extraordinary lock to the door that we dared not shut it for fear of not being able to open it again. That room, too, was unlike any I ever saw. It was very large, with three huge windows, two of them heavily curtained, and the third converted into a small wardrobe, with doors of pink cotton on a wooden frame. It had two very large four-post bedsteads, with full suits of curtains, and an immense folding-screen that divided the room in two, making each occupant as private as if in a separate room, with a dressing-table and ample washing conveniences on each side. A large grate filled with turf, and all ready for lighting, with a peat basket lined with tin, and also filled with the same fuel, reminded us strongly that we were in Ireland. Large wax candles were on the mantelpiece, and every convenience necessary to our comfort.
Miss Edgeworth was very short, and carried herself very upright, with a dapper figure and quick movements. She was the remains of a blonde, with light eyes and hair; she was now gray, but wore a dark frisette, whilst the gray hair showed through her cap behind. In conversation we found her delightful. She was full of anecdotes about remarkable people, and often spoke from her personal knowledge of them. Her memory, too, was stored with valuable information, and her manner of narrating was so animated that it was difficult to realise her age. In telling an anecdote of Mirabeau, she stepped out before us, and, extending her arms, spoke a sentence of his in the impassioned manner of a French orator, and did it so admirably that it was quite thrilling.
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Another American visitor, in the same year of 1836, the Rev. William B. Sprogue, writes:
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The Edgeworth house is a fine spacious old mansion, with a splendid lawn stretching before it, and everything to indicate opulence and hereditary distinction.... Miss Edgeworth was the first person to meet me; and she immediately introduced me to her mother, Mrs. Edgeworth, her father's fourth wife, and her sister, Miss Honora Edgeworth. Miss Edgeworth, in her personal appearance, was below middle size; her face was exceedingly plain, though strongly indicative of intellect; and though she seemed to possess great vigour of body as well as of mind, it was, after all, the vigour of old age. I supposed her to be about sixty-five, but I believe she was actually on the wrong side of seventy. Her stepmother, Mrs. Edgeworth, must have been, I think, rather younger than Maria, and was not only a lady of high intelligence, but of great personal attractions, and withal of a very serious turn of mind. As Miss Edgeworth knew that my visit was to be limited to a single day, she told me almost immediately that she wished to know in what way she could contribute most to my gratification,—whether by remaining in the house or walking over the grounds. She talked upon a great variety of subjects, but there was nothing about her that had ever any affinity to showing off or trying to talk well: she evidently did not know how to talk otherwise. Circumstances led her to speak of her experience with some of her publishers. She mentioned that one of them had repeatedly requested her to abate from the amount which he had engaged to pay her, and that she had done so; but at length, after she had told him explicitly to make proposals he would abide by, he wrote her a letter, saying that he wished another abatement, and that he found that on the whole he had lost by her works; and she then wrote him in reply, that in consequence of the loss he had sustained, she would transfer her publications to other hands. He afterwards earnestly requested that she would excuse him for having thus written, and desired to retain the works; but she was inflexible, and he very angry. Her former publisher, she said, when he found himself dying, called for a letter to her which was then unfinished, and requested that there should be inserted a promise of ten or twelve hundred pounds more than he had engaged to give her for one of her works; for it had been so much more profitable to him than he expected, that he could not die in peace till he had done justly by her. And his heirs executed his will in accordance with this dying suggestion.
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Home interests, home cares, and home sorrows were henceforth increasingly to occupy Miss Edgeworth's life.
- The well-known Professor of Modern Literature at Harvard University, author of the History of Spanish Literature, etc. Born 1791, died 1871.
- Life of George Ticknor.
- One of Mr. Edgeworth's inventions.
- European Celebrities, 1855.