Castle Rackrent/Notes on 'Castle Rackrent'
In 1799, When Maria was in London, she and her father went to call upon Mr. Johnson, the bookseller, who was then imprisoned in the King's Bench for a publication which was considered to be treasonable, and they probably then and there arranged with him for the publication of CASTLE RACKRENT, for in January 1800, writing to her cousin, Miss Ruxton, Maria says, 'Will you tell me what means you have of getting parcels from London to Arundel, because I wish to send my aunt a few popular tales. . . . We have begged Johnson to send CASTLE RACKRENT, and hope it has reached you. DO NOT MENTION THAT IT IS OURS.'
The second edition of CASTLE RACKRENT came out with Miss Edgeworth's name to it in 1811. 'Its success was so triumphant,' Mrs. Edgeworth writes,'that some one—I heard his name at the time, but do not now remember it—not only asserted that he was the author, but actually took the trouble to copy out several chapters with corrections and erasions as if it was his original manuscript.'
It was when Miss Edgeworth first came to Ireland,—so she tells one of her correspondents,—that she met the original Thady of CASTLE RACKRENT. His character struck her very much, and the story came into her mind. She purposely added to the agent's age so as to give time for the events to happen.
Honest Thady tells the story; you can almost hear his voice, and see him as he stands: 'I wear a long greatcoat winter and summer, which is very handy, as I never put my arms into the sleeves; they are as good as new, though come Holantide next I've had it these seven years: it holds on by a single button round my neck, cloak fashion. To look at me, you would hardly think "Poor Thady" was the father of Attorney Quirk; he is a high gentleman, and never minds what poor Thady says, and having better than fifteen hundred a year landed estate, looks down upon honest Thady; but I wash my hands of his doings, and as I have lived, so will I die, true and loyal to the family. The family of Rackrents is, I am proud to say, one of the most ancient in the kingdom.' And then he gives the history of the Rackrents, beginning with Sir Patrick, who could sit out the best man in Ireland, let alone the three kingdoms itself, and who fitted up the chicken-house to accommodate his friends when they honoured him unexpectedly with their company. There was 'such a fine whillaluh at Sir Patrick's funeral, you might have heard it to the farthest end of the county, and happy the man who could get but a sight of the hearse.' Then came Sir Murtagh, who used to boast that he had a law-suit for every letter in the alphabet. 'He dug up a fairy-mount against my advice,' says Thady, 'and had no luck afterwards. . . . Sir Murtagh in his passion broke a blood-vessel, and all the law in the land could do nothing in that case. . . . My lady had a fine jointure settled upon her, and took herself away, to the great joy of the tenantry. I never said anything one way or the other,' says Thady, 'whilst she was part of the family, but got up to see her go at three o'clock in the morning. "It's a fine morning, honest Thady," says she; "good-bye to ye," and into the carriage she stepped, without a word more, good or bad, or even half-a-crown, but I made my bow, and stood to see her safe out of sight for the sake of the family.'
How marvellously vivid it all is! every word tells as the generations pass before us. The very spirit of romantic Irish fidelity is incarnate in Thady. Jason Quirk represents the feline element, which also belongs to our extraordinary Celtic race. The little volume contains the history of a nation. It is a masterpiece which Miss Edgeworth has never surpassed. It is almost provoking to have so many details of other and less interesting stories, such as EARLY LESSONS, A KNAPSACK, THE PRUSSIAN VASE, etc., and to hear so little of these two books by which she will be best remembered.