Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 2/Letter 49
To MRS. RUXTON.
Jan. 1, 1825.
A happy new year to you, my dearest aunt,—to you to whom I now look as much as I can to any one now living, for the rays of pleasure that I expect to gild my bright evening of life. As we advance in life we become more curious, more fastidious in gilding and gilders; we find to our cost that all that glitters is not gold, and your everyday bungling carvers and gilders will not do. Our evening-gilders must be more skilful than those who flashed and daubed away in the morning of life, and gilt with any tinsel, the weather-cock for the morning sun.
You may perceive, my dear aunt, by my having got so finely to the weather-cock, and the rising sun, that I am out of the hands of all my dear apothecaries, and playing away again with a superfluity of life. (N.B. I am surprisingly prudent.) Honora's cough has almost subsided, and Lucy can sit upright the greater part of the day. "GOD bless the mark!" as Molly Bristow would say, if she heard me, "don't be bragging."
I have to give you the most cheering accounts of Honora and Lucy. Honora is now on the sofa opposite to me, working with her candle beside her on a bracket—my new year's gift to the sofas, a mahogany bracket on each side of the chimney-piece to fold up or down, and large enough to hold a candlestick and a teacup or work-box. Mary Beddoes and I are on the sofa next the door; Honora and Anna on the other, and somebody sitting in the middle talking by turns to each sofa. Who can that be? Not Harriet, for tea is over and she has seceded to Lucy's room—not my mother, nor William, nor Mrs. Beaufort, nor Louisa, for the carriage has carried them away some hours ago, poor souls, and full-dressed bodies, to dine at Ardagh. But who can this Unknown be? A gentleman it must be to constitute the happiness of two sofas of ladies.
My nephew, Henry Beddoes! and the joy of ladies he certainly will be, not merely of aunts and sisters, but of all who can engage or be engaged by prepossessing manners and appearance, and the promise of all that is amiable and intelligent. I am delighted with him, and he would charm you.
Lady Bathurst has done me another good turn for Fanny Stewart, that is, for her husband; there was a charming letter from Fanny Stewart a few days ago. I send for your amusement the famous little Valoe in its elegantissimo binding, and Lady Bathurst's letter about it, elegantissima also. You remember, I hope, the story of its publication, written by a governess of the Duchess of Beaufort's, assisted by all the conclave of quality young-lady-governesses, with little traits of character of their pupils. The authoress sent it to the Duchess of Beaufort, asking permission to publish and dedicate it to her Grace. The Duchess never read it, and returned it to the Governess with a compliment, and, "publish it by all means, and dedicate it to me." Out came the publication; and though each young lady was flattered, yet all quarrelled with the mode of compliment, and in many there was a little touch of blame, which moved their or their mothers' anger, and with one accord they attacked the Duchess of Beaufort for her permission to publish, and the edition was all bought up in a vast hurry.
In a few days I trust—you know I am a great truster—that you will receive a packet franked by Lord Bathurst, containing only a little pocket-book—Friendships Offering, for 1825, dizened out; I fear you will think it too fine for your taste, but there is in it, as you will find, the old "Mental Thermometer," which was once a favourite of yours. You will wonder how it came there—simply thus. Last autumn came by the coach a parcel containing just such a book as this for last year, and a letter from Mr. Lupton Relfe—a foreigner settled in London—and he prayed in most polite bookseller strain that I would look over my portfolio for some trifle for this book for 1825. I might have looked over "my portfolio" till doomsday, as I have not an unpublished scrap, except "Take for Granted." But I recollected the "Mental Thermometer," and that it had never been out, except in the Irish Farmer's Journal—not known in England. So I routed in the garret under pyramids of old newspapers, with my mother's prognostics, that I never should find it, and loud prophecies that I should catch my death, which I did not, but dirty and dusty, and cobwebby, I came forth after two hours' grovelling with my object in my hand! Cut it out, added a few lines of new end to it, and packed it off to Lupton Relfe, telling him that it was an old thing written when I was sixteen. Weeks elapsed, and I heard no more, when there came a letter exuberant in gratitude, and sending a parcel containing six copies of the new Memorandum book, and a most beautiful twelfth edition of Scott's Poetical Works, bound in the most elegant manner, and with most beautifully engraved frontispieces and vignettes, and a £5 note. I was quite ashamed—but I have done all I could for him by giving the Friendship's Offerings to all the fine people I could think of. The set of Scott's Works made a nice New Year's gift for Harriet; she had seen this edition at Edinburgh and particularly wished for it. The £5 I have sent to Harriet Beaufort to be laid out in books for Fanny Stewart. Little did I think the poor old "Thermometer" would give me so much pleasure.
Here comes the carriage rolling round. I feel guilty; what will my mother say to me, so long a letter at this time of night?—Yours affectionately in all the haste of guilt, conscience-stricken: that is, found out.
No—all safe, all innocent—because not found out.
By the author of Moral Tales and Practical Education.
I hope my dearest aunt will not disdain the work of my little bungling hands. The vandykes of this apron are such as Vandyke would scorn; poor little pitiful things they be! and will be in rags in a fortnight no doubt. But if you knew the pains I have taken with them, and what pleasure I have had in doing them, even all wrong, you would hang them round you with satisfaction. By the time it is completely roved away I shall be with you and bind it over to its good behaviour, so that it shall never rove again me. Love me and laugh at me as you have done many is the year.
The crocuses and snowdrops in my garden are beautiful; my green-board-edged beds and green trellis make it absolutely a wooden paradise.
I forgot to boast that I was up for three mornings at seven vandyking.
Henry Beddoes told us that Lord Byron was extremely beloved and highly thought of by all whom he heard speak of him at Missolonghi, both Greeks and his own country-men. He had regained public esteem by his latter conduct. The place in which he died was not the worst inn's worst room, but an absolute hovel, without any bed of any kind; he was lying on a sack.
You have probably seen in the papers the death of our admirable friend Mrs. Barbauld. I have copied for you her last letter to me and some beautiful lines written in her eightieth year. There is a melancholy elegance and force of thought in both. Elegance and strength—qualities rarely uniting without injury to each other, combine most perfectly in her style, and this rare combination, added to their classical purity, form, perhaps, the distinguishing characteristics of her writings. England has lost a great writer, and we a most sincere friend.
- "Take for Granted" was an idea which Maria never worked out into a story, though she had made many notes for it.