Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leadbeater, Mary

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LEADBEATER, MARY (1758–1826), authoress, daughter of Richard Shackleton (1726–1792) by his second wife, Elizabeth Carleton, and granddaughter of Abraham Shackleton [q. v.], Burke’s schoolmaster, was born at Ballitore, county Kildare, in December 1758. Her parents were quakers. She was thoroughly educated, and her literary studies were aided by Aldborough Wrightson, a man of great ability who had been educated at Ballitore school and had returned to die there. In 1784 she travelled to London with her father and paid several visits to Burke’s town house, where she met Sir. J. Reynolds and George Crabbe. She also went to Beaconsfield, and on her return wrote a poem in praise of the place and its owner, which was acknowledged by Burke, 13 Dec. 1784, in a long and eulogistic letter (printed in Annals of Ballitore, p. 145). On her way home she visited at Selby, Yorkshire, some primitive quakers whom she described in her journal. In 1791 she married William Leadbeater, a former pupil of her father, and they resided in Ballitore. Leadbeater, who traced his descent from the Huguenot family of Le Batre, was a small farmer and landowner, and his wife kept the village post office. On her father’s death Mrs. Leadbeater received a tender letter of consolation from Burke (ib. p. 200). She had from time to time written poems, and in 1794 published anonymously in Dublin ‘Extracts and Original Anecdotes for the Improvement of Youth,’ which begins with ‘some account of the society of the people call Quakers,’ contains several poems on secular subjects, and concludes with ‘divine odes.’ She was in Carlow on Christmas day 1796 when the news arrived that the French fleet had been seen off Bantry, and she describes the march out of the troops. On 23 May 1797 Burke wrote one of his last letters to her (ib. p.218). Ballitore was occupied in 1798 first by yeoman and soldiers and then by the insurgents. It was sacked, and she and her husband narrowly escaped death. She thought her food tasted of blood and used to have horrible dreams of massacre. In 1808 she published ‘Poems’ with a metrical version of her husband’s prose translation of Maffæus Vegio’s ‘Thirteenth Book of the Æneid.’ The poems are sixty-seven in number; six are on subjects relating to Burke, one in praise of the spa of Ballitore, and the remainder on domestic and local subjects. She next published in 1811 ‘Cottage Dialogues among the Irish Peasantry,’ of which four editions, with some alterations and additions, had appeared by 1813. The dialogues are on such subjects as dress, a wake, going to the fair, a spinning match, cow-pock, cookery, and matrimony. William P. Le Fanu (1774-1817) had suggested the design, and the object was to diffuse information about peasantry. In 1813 she tried to instruct the rich on a similar plan in ‘The Landlord’s Friend, intended as a sequel to Cottage Dialogues,’ in which persons of quality are made to discourse on such topics as beggars, spinning-wheels, and Sunday in the village. ‘Tales for Cottagers,’ which she brought out in 1814 in conjunction with Elizabeth Shackleton, is a return to the original design. The tales illustrate perseverance, temper, economy, and are followed by a curious moral play, ‘Honesty is the best policy.’ In 1822 she concluded this series by ‘Cottage Biography, being a Collection of Lives of the Irish Peasantry.’ The lives are those of real persons, and contain some interesting passages, especially in the life of James Dunn, a pilgrim to Loch Derg. Many traits of Irish country life appear in these books, and they preserve several of the idioms of the English-speaking inhabitants of the Pale. ‘Memoirs and Letters of Richard and Elizabeth Shackleton … compiled by their Daughter,’ was also issued in 1822 (new edit. 1849, ed. Lydia Ann Barclay). Her ‘Biographical Notices of Members of the Society of Friends who were resident in Ireland’ appeared in 1823, and is a summary of their spiritual lives, with a scanty narrative of events. Her last work was ‘The Pedlars, a Tale,’ published in 1824.

Besides receiving letters from Burke, Mrs. Leadbeater corresponded with, among others, Maria Edgeworth, George Crabbe, and Mrs Melusina Trench, and from the age of eleven kept a private journal. She died at Ballitore 27 June 1826, and was buried in the quaker burial-ground there. She had several children, and one of her daughters, Mrs. Fisher, was the intimate friend of the poet and novelist, Gerald Griffin [q. v.]

Mrs. Leadbeater’s best work, the ‘Annals of Ballitore,’ was not printed till 1862, when it was brought out with the general title of ‘The Leadbeater Papers’ (2 vols.) by Richard Davis Webb, a learned and patriotic printer, eager to preserve every truthful illustration of Irish life. It tells of the inhabitants and events of Ballitore from 1766 to 1823, and few books give a better idea of the character and feelings of Irish cottagers, of the premonitory signs of the rebellion of 1798, and of the horrors of the outbreak itself. The second volume includes unpublished letters of Burke and the correspondence with Mrs. Richard Trench and with Crabbe.

[Works; Memoir of Mary Leadbeater, prefixed to the Leadbeater Papers, 2 vols. 2nd ed. London, 1862; Smith’s Cat. of Friends’ Books; A. Webb’s Comp. of Irish Biog.; Memoirs of Mrs. Trench; information received at Ballitore.]

N. M.