More and more Miss Edgeworth’s life revolved round home and friends. “In this world, in which I have lived nearly three-quarters of a century, I have found nothing one-quarter so well worth living for as old friends,” she said. In her person old age was seen in its most attractive form. Her lively interests remained undimmed. At seventy she even set herself to learn a new language, Spanish, while her impulsiveness never became extinct, though she playfully hoped that, provided she lived so long, she might perhaps at eighty arrive at years of discretion. It was in 1835 that Mr. Ticknor, the American historian of Spanish literature, visited Edgeworthstown. He has recorded in his journal a pleasing and vivid picture of his visit. He describes Miss Edgeworth as small, short and spare, with frank and kind manners, always looking straight into the face of those she spoke to with a pair of mild, deep gray eyes. Her kindness and vivacity instantly put her visitors at ease. Mr. Ticknor was also impressed with the harmony that existed in a family composed of the most heterogeneous relationships. What struck him about Miss Edgeworth herself was her uncommon quickness of perception, her fertility of allusion, and the great resources of fact which a remarkable memory supplied to her. He likens her conversation to that of her own Lady Davenant. Mr. Ticknor observed that though she would talk freely about herself and her works, she never introduced the subject, and never seemed glad to continue it. Indeed, though he watched carefully for it, he could not detect either any of the mystification or the vanity of authorship. He was struck with her good nature and desire to defend everybody, even Lady Morgan, as far as she could, though never so far as to be unreasonable.
“In her intercourse with her family she was quite delightful, referring constantly to Mrs. Edgeworth, who seems to be the authority in all matters of fact, and most kindly repeating jokes to her infirm aunt, Mrs. Sneyd, who cannot hear them, and who seems to have for her the most unbounded affection and admiration.”
The dispersion of so many members of her family imposed much letter-writing on Miss Edgeworth, for all turned to her graphic pen for news of the dear old home. And, as before when she was away, those she left behind had to share in her pleasures, or they would be but sorry pleasures to her. Death, as well as marriages, had thinned the family ranks. Tenacious and warm in her affections as she was, Miss Edgeworth never took a morbid view concerning those who were gone. Everything morbid was foreign to her nature.
There is something mournful, yet pleasingly painful, in the sense of the ideal presence of the long-loved dead. Those images people and fill the mind with unselfish thoughts, and with the salutary feeling of responsibility and constant desire to be and to act in this world as the superior friend would have wished and approved.
And there were so many still left to love, young and old. “Who would not like to live to be old if they could be so happy in friends as I am?” The enthusiastic affection in her peculiar family relations, which she kept unimpaired, cannot be better shown than by quoting one of the countless letters she wrote concerning those dear to her:—
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, NOV. 1, 1838.
MY DEAR MR. AND MRS. TICKNOR:
I know so well your kind feelings towards all this family, that I am sure you will be pleased with the intelligence which I am going to communicate to you.
My sister Honora is going to be happily married to a person every way suited to her (and that is saying a great deal), as you who most kindly and justly appreciated her will readily join with me in thinking. The gentleman’s name, Captain Beaufort, R. N., perhaps you may be acquainted with, as he is in a public situation, and not unknown to literary and scientific fame. He is a naval officer. (I hope you like this officer’s name?) He made some years ago a survey of the coast of Caramania, and wrote a small volume on that survey, which has obtained for him a good reputation. He has been for some years Hydrographer Royal. . . . In one word, he is a person publicly esteemed; and privately he is beloved and esteemed by all who know him best. He is and has been well known to us ever since the present Mrs. Edgeworth’s marriage with my father. Captain Beaufort is Mrs. Edgeworth’s youngest brother. As Mrs. E. is Honora’s stepmother, you see that he is no relation whatever to Honora. But the nearness of the connection has given us all the best means of knowing him thoroughly. He was my dear father’s most beloved pupil and friend; by pupil I only mean that his being so much younger made him look up to my father with reverence, and learn from him in science and literature with delight. Thus has he been long connected with all I love. He has been a widower two years. He has three sons and four daughters. . . . The youngest daughter, Emily, is a delightful child. Captain Beaufort lives in London, 11 Gloucester place; has a very comfortable house, and sufficient fortune for all their moderate wishes. Honora’s fortune, which is ample, will give them affluence.
My dear Mrs. Ticknor, I know you particularly liked Honora, and that you will be interested in hearing all these particulars, though it seems impertinent to detail them across the Atlantic to one who will, I fear, never see any one of the persons I have mentioned. Yet affections such as yours keep warm very long and at a great distance.
I feel that I have got into a snug little corner in both your hearts, and that you will excuse a great deal from me; therefore I go on without scruple drawing upon your sympathy, and you will not protest my draft.
You saw how devoted Honora was to her aunt, Mrs. Mary Sneyd, whom you liked so much; and you will easily imagine what a struggle there has been in Honora’s mind before she could consent to a marriage with even such a man as Captain Beaufort, when it must separate her from her aunt. Captain Beaufort himself felt this so much that he never would have pressed it. He once thought that she might be prevailed upon to accompany them to London and to live with them. But Mrs. Mary Sneyd could not bear to leave Mrs. Edgeworth, and this place which she has made her heart’s home. She decided Captain Beaufort and her niece to make her happy by completing their union, and letting her feel that she did not prevent the felicity of the two persons she loves best now in the world. She remains with us.
The marriage is to take place next Tuesday or Thursday, and my Aunt Mary will go to the church with her niece and give her away. I must tell you a little characteristic trait of this aunt, the least selfish of all human beings. She has been practicing getting up early in the morning, which she has not done for two years — has never got up for breakfast. But she has trained herself to rising at the hour at which she must rise on the wedding-day, and has walked up and down her own room the distance she must walk up and down the aisle of the church, to insure her being accustomed to the exertion and able to accomplish it easily. This she did for a long time without our knowing it, till Honora found it out. Mrs. Mary Sneyd is quite well and in excellent spirits.
A younger sister of mine, Lucy, of whom you have heard us speak as an invalid, who was at Clifton with that dear Sophy whom we have lost, is now recovered, and has returned home to take Honora’s place with her Aunt Mary; and Aunt Mary likes to have her, and Lucy feels this a great motive to her to overcome a number of nervous feelings, which formed part of her illness. A regular course of occupations and duties, and feeling herself essential to the happiness and the holding together of a family she so loves, will be the best strengthening medicine for her. She arrived at home last night. My sister Fanny and her husband, Lestock Wilson, are with us. My sister has much improved in health; she is now able to walk without pain, and bore her long journey and voyage here wonderfully. I have always regretted, and always shall regret, that this sister Fanny of mine had not the pleasure of becoming acquainted with you. You really must revisit England. My sister Harriet Butler, and Mr. Butler, and the three little dear Foxes, are all around me at this instant. Barry Fox, their father, will be with us in a few days, and Captain Beaufort returns from London on Monday. You see what a large and happy family we are!!!
Do I not give you some proof, my dear Mr. and Mrs. Ticknor, of my affection in writing to you at this moment? and if I write without much sense or connection you will not be surprised.
My head is really upside down, and my feelings so divided between joy and sorrow — joy for Honora’s happiness, but sorrow for the parting that must be!
It will all settle down under the hand of strong necessity and of lenient time. My sisters Fanny and Harriet will stay with us some weeks after the marriage; this will be a great comfort.
Mr. Butler will perform the happy, awful ceremony. How people who do not love can ever dare to marry, to approach the altar to pronounce that solemn vow, I cannot conceive.
My thoughts are so engrossed by this subject that I absolutely cannot tell you of anything else. You must tell me of everything that interests you, else I shall not forgive myself for my egotism.
I am most sincerely and affectionately, my dear Mrs. Ticknor, with affectionate remembrances to your engaging daughter, not forgetting your little darling,
Yours most sincerely,
Mention Lockhart’s Memoirs of Scott, of which my head and heart were full before this present all-engrossing subject overcame me.
I shall be quite rational again, I am sure, by the time your answer reaches me, so pray do not treat me as quite a hopeless person to write rationally to.
Mrs. Edgeworth desires me to send you her very affectionate remembrances.
I believe, I am almost sure, that I wrote to you, my dear Mr. Ticknor, some months ago while you were on the Continent, to thank you for the present you sent me, through Mr. Norton’s means, of an American edition of my works. I thought it beautifully printed and bound, and the engravings excellent, particularly that for Helen, and the vignette for Helen, which we have not in the English edition. I have another American copy of this edition, and I have left yours for life with my brother Francis and my Spanish sister Rosa, who live in a little cottage near Windsor, and have not money to indulge themselves in the luxury of books. I hope you will not be angry with me for so doing; no, I think you will be glad that I made your present give me the greatest possible sum of pleasure. Take into account the pride I felt in saying, Mr. Ticknor sent me these books.
I am ashamed to see that I have come so far in a second sheet, and in spite of all the wonderings at what can Maria be about?
Sense in my next.
In answer to a letter from Mr. Ticknor, describing to her his library, in which the only picture was one of Sir Walter Scott, Miss Edgeworth wrote a reply, of which a portion has been published, but which contains besides an able parallel, or rather contrast, between Washington and Napoleon, worthy of preservation for its own sake, and as a testimony to her unimpaired powers:—
TRIM, NOV. 19TH, 1840.
“Who talks of ‘Boston’ in a voice so sweet?” Who wishes to see me there? and to show me their home, their family, their country? I have been there — at Boston! “Yes, and in Mr. and Mrs. Ticknor’s happy, beautiful home.” I have been up “the slope of the Boston hillside,” have seen “the fifty acres of public park” in all its verdure, with “its rich and venerable trees,” its graveled promenade surrounding it, with those noble rows of venerable elms on either side. I have gone up the hillside and the steps profusely decked with luxuriant creepers; I have walked into Mr. and Mrs. Ticknor’s house, as I was desired — have seen the three rooms opening into one another, have sat in the library, too, and thought — and thought it all charming. Looking into the country, as you know the windows all do, I saw down through “the vista of trees” to the quiet bay and the “beautiful” hills beyond, and I “watched the glories of the setting sun” lighting up country and town, “trees, turf and water!”— an Italian sun not more gorgeously attended than this “New England luminary” setting or rising. I met Sir Walter Scott in Mr. Ticknor’s library with all his benign, calm expression of countenance, his eye of genius and his mouth of humor — such as he was before the life of life was gone, such as genius loved to see him, such as American genius has given him to American friendship, immortalized in person as in mind. His very self I see feeling, thinking and about to speak — and to a friend to whom he loved to speak; and well placed and to his liking he seems in this congenial library, presiding and sympathizing. But my dear madam, ten thousand books, “about ten thousand books,” do you say this library contains? My dear Mrs. Ticknor! Then I am afraid you must have double rows — and that is a plague. But you may ask why do I conceive you have double rows? Because I cannot conceive how else the book-cases could hold the ten thousand. Your library is 34 by 22, you say. But to be sure you have not given me the height, and that height may make out room enough. Pray have it measured for me, that I may drive this odious notion of double rows out of my head —“and what a head,” you may say, “that must be that could calculate in such a place and at such a time!” It was not my poor head, I assure you, my dear Mrs. Ticknor, but Captain Beaufort’s ultra-accurate head. I gave him through Honora the description of your library, and he (jealous, I am clear, for the magnitude and number of his own library and volumes) set to work at 22 by 34 — and there I leave him — till I have the height to confound him completely. You see, my dear friends, that you need not again ask me to go to see you — for I have seen and I know everything about your home; full as well I know Boston and your home as you know ours at Edgeworthstown. It is your turn now to come and see us again. But I am afraid to invite you, lest you should be disenchanted, and we should lose the delightful gratification we enjoy in your glamor of friendship. Aunt Mary, however, is really all you think and saw her, and in her ninety-first year still a proof as you describe her — and a remarkable proof — of the power of mind over time, suffering and infirmities; and an example of Christian virtues making old age lovely and interesting.
Your prayer, that she might have health and strength to enjoy the gathering of friends round her, has been granted. Honora and her husband, and Fanny and her husband, have all been with us this summer for months; and we have enjoyed ourselves as much as your kind heart could wish. Especially “that beautiful specimen of a highly-cultivated gentlewoman” as you so well called Mrs. E., has been blest with the sight of all her children round her, all her living daughters and their husbands, and her grandchildren. Francis will settle at home and be a good country gentleman and his own agent — to Mrs. E.‘s and all our inexpressible comfort and support, also for the good of the country, as a resident landlord and magistrate much needed. As he is at home I can be spared from the rent-receiving business, etc., and leaving him with his mother, Aunt Mary and Lucy, I can indulge myself by accepting an often-urged invitation from my two sisters Fanny and Honora, to spend some months with them in London. I have chosen to go at this quiet time of year, as I particularly wish not to encounter the bustle and dissipation and lionizing of London. For tho’ I am such a minnikin lion now, and so old, literally without teeth or claws, still there be, that might rattle at the grate to make me get up and come out and stand up to play tricks for them — and this I am not able or inclined to do. I am afraid I should growl — I never could be as good-humored as Sir Walter Scott used to be, when rattled for and made to “come out and stand on his hind legs,” as he used to describe it, and then go quietly to sleep again.
I shall use my privilege of seventy-two — rising seventy-three — and shall keep in my comfortable den: I will not go out. “Nobody asked you, ma’am,” to play Lion, may perhaps be said or sung to me, and I shall not be sorry nor mortified by not being asked to exhibit, but heartily happy to be with my sisters and their family and family friends —all for which I go. Knowing my own mind very well, I speak the mere plain truth. I shall return home to Edgeworthstown before the London season, as it is called, commences, i.e., by the end of March or at the very beginning of April.
This is all I have for the present to tell you of my dear self, or of our family doings or plannings. You see I depend enough on the sincerity of your curiosity and sympathy, and I thank you in kind for all you have been so affectionately good to tell me of yourselves.
I have been lately reading Thibeaudeau’s ten volumes of the History of Napoleon —Le Consulat et l’Empire— immediately after having read the life of Washington by Sparks, a book which I think I mentioned to you had been sent to me by an American Jewess of Philadelphia, Miss Gratz. A most valuable present — a most interesting work it is. The comparison between the characters, power, deeds, fortune and fate of Washington and Napoleon continually pressed on my mind as I read their lives; and continually I wished that some modern Plutarch with more of religious, if not more of moral and political knowledge and philosophy than the ancient times afforded, would draw a parallel — no, not a parallel, for that could not be — but a comparison between Napoleon and Washington. It would give in the result a comparison between moral and intellectual power on the highest scale, and with the fullest display in which they have ever been seen in two national heroes. The superior, the universal abilities of Bonaparte, his power of perseverance, of transition of resource, of comprehensiveness, of adaptation of means to ends, and all tending to his own aggrandizement, and his appetite for dominion growing with what it fed upon, have altogether been most astonishingly displayed in the Frenchman’s history of Napoleon. The integrity, disinterestedness, discretion, persevering adherence to one great purpose, marking the character and the career of Washington, are all faithfully portrayed by his American biographer, and confirmed by state papers and by the testimony of an independent world. The comparison between what Napoleon and Washington did living, and left dying, of the fruits and consequences of their deeds, would surely be a most striking and useful moral and political lesson on true and false glory, and further, would afford the strongest illustrations of the difference in human affairs of what is called the power of fortune and the influence of prestige, and the power of moral character and virtue. See Napoleon deserted at his utmost need by those his prosperous bounty gorged. See Napoleon forced to abdicate his twice-snatched imperial sceptre! — and compare this with your Washington laying down his dictatorship, his absolute dominion, voluntarily, the moment he had accomplished his great purpose of making his beloved country, the New World, free and independent. Then the deep, silent attachment shown to him when he retired from the army, parted from military power, took leave of public life, is most touching — quite sublime in its truth and simplicity, in as strong contrast as possible with all the French acclamations, inconstancy, frivolity, desertion, treachery, insult, toward their prostrate idol of an Emperor. I felt while I read, and I feel while I reflect, how much of the difference between Napoleon and Washington must be ascribed to the different times, nations, circumstances in which they were placed. But independent of all these, the comparison ably and clearly drawn would lie between the individual characters — between moral and religious power and influence, and intellectual powers even supported by military glory and political despotism. The comparison would ultimately lie between success and merit, and between their transient and durable effects — their worldly and never-dying consequences.
Forgive me, my dear Mrs. Ticknor, for my having been actually run away with thus, and forgetting what I was going to say when I began. I was going to say that I wish Mr. Ticknor would draw the comparison between these two heroes of false and true glory — between real patriotism, true and great to the last, and ambition using patriotism as a mask, and having it struck from his hand powerless at the last. There is no one more able, better fitted to draw this than your husband. Channing has said well of the character of Napoleon as far as he went. But Mr. Ticknor, I conceive, has wider views, more means of information, and a less rhetorical style than Channing: and Sparks, having been the biographer of Washington, might be considered as a party too much concerned to be quite impartial. I am ashamed to have written so much that must seem common-place to him. But I will not tear the pages, as I am tempted to do, because there is a possibility that when you read them to him it might turn his mind to the subject — and no matter for the rest.
* * *
I do not know whether I was most interested, dear Mrs. Ticknor, in your picture of your domestic life and happy house and home, or by the view you gave me of your public festivity and celebration of your American day of days — your national festival in honor of your Declaration of Independence.
It was never, I suppose, more joyously, innocently and advantageously held than on the day you describe so delightfully with the accuracy of an eye-witness. I think I too have seen all this, and thank you for showing it to me. It is a picture that will never leave the memory of my heart. I only wish that we could ever hope to have in Ireland any occasion or possibility of such happy and peaceable meetings, with united sympathy and for the keeping alive a feeling of national patriotism. No such point of union can be found, alas! in Ireland — no subject upon which sects and parties could coalesce for one hour, or join in rejoicing or feeling for their country. Father Mathew, one might have hoped, considering the good he has effected for all Ireland, and considering his own unimpeachable character and his real liberality, admitting all sects and all parties to take his pledge and share his benevolent efforts, might have formed a central point round which all might gather. But no such hope! for as I am just now assured, his very Christian charity and liberality are complained of by his Catholic brethren, priests and laity, who now begin to abuse him for giving the pledge to PROTESTANTS and say, “What good our fastings, our temperance, our being of the true faith, if Father Mathew treats heretics all as one, as Catholics themselves! and would have ’em saved in this world and the next too?” Then I would not doubt but at the last he’d turn tail! aye, turn Protestant himself ENTIRELY. I have written so much to Mr. Ticknor about Father Mathew that I must here stop, or take care lest I run on with him again. Once set a-running, you see how I go on. You having encouraged me, and I from having conversed with you even for a few days, we have so much knowledge of each other’s minds that it is as easy and pleasant to me to write as to speak to you. I will send you some Irish tales newly published by Mrs. Hall, which I think you will like, both from their being well-written and interesting portraitures of Irish life and manners, and from the conciliating, amiable and truly feminine (not meaning feeble) tone in which they are written.
* * *
I have not yet thanked you enough, I feel, for Rollo. Our children all, and we ourselves, delight in him at play and at work, and every way, and we wish to see more of him. If there be any more of him, pray pack him up bag and baggage and send him off by first steamer, steam-haste. By the by, are you or your children acquainted with the elephant who in his haste forgot to pack up his trunk?
If you are not acquainted with him, I shall have the pleasure of introducing him to you and yours.
Meantime, if you wish to be amused, and with what is new and what is true, read Mrs. Wilmot’s Memoirs of the Princess Dashkoff, and her own residence in Russia. We know enough of the author to warrant the whole to be true. I do not say that she tells the whole truth, but that all she does tell is true, and what she does not tell she was bound in honor and friendship, and by the tacit, inviolable compact between confidence shown and accepted, never to reveal, much less to publish. Both in the Princess Dashkoff’s own memoirs (very able and curious) and in Mrs. Wilmot’s continuation (very amusing and new) there are from time to time great gaps, on coming to which the reader cries Ha! Ha! and feels that he must skip over. These gaps are never covered over; and when we come even to dangerous ground we see that we must not turn that way, or hope to get on in utter darkness and our guide deserting — or, if not deserting, standing stock still, obstinately dumb. These memoirs are not a book on which history could absolutely be founded, but a book to which the judicious historian might safely refer illustrations, and even for materials, all which it affords being sound and solid. Much more, in short, may these memoirs be depended upon than any or many of the French varnished and vamped-up Memoires pour servir à l’Histoire.
After reading the book I wrote to Mrs. Wilmot, and after homage due to her talents and her truth, I ventured to express, what I am sure you will feel if you read the volume, some horror, towards the close, at the Princess Dashkoff’s accepting for herself or her sister, or for whoever it was, a ball from Orloff, the murderer — that Orloff who with his own hand strangled his Emperor.
Mrs. Wilmot made me but a lame apology for her dear princess, I think, and an odd answer for herself. In the first place, she said, it was so long ago. As if such a murder could be a by-gone tale! or as if thirty or forty or any number of years could purify or cleanse a murderer in the eyes and sense of humanity or justice! In the next place she pleaded that she was so much pleased by Orloff’s angel daughter who stood beside him, and then with his parental delight in her beauty, simplicity and elegance in the dance.
Mrs. Wilmot was sure I should have felt as she did, and have forgotten the murderer in the father. But, on the contrary, I am afraid I should have forgotten the father in the murderer; I fear I should have seen only “the vile spot” which would never out of that hand! And oh! that horrible knee — I see it pressing on the body of the breathless Peter; and, through all the music of the ball-room band, methinks I hear “shrieks of an agonizing king.”
Possibly in Russia “murder is lawful made by the excess,” and may be palliated by the impartial historian’s observing, “It was then necessary that the Emperor should CEASE TO BE”— soft synonym for assassination.
I ought not to leave Mrs. Wilmot and the Princess Dashkoff, however this may be, with a tragical and unmerited impression on your mind. I am quite convinced the princess had nothing to do with this horrid affair, or that our countrywoman never would have gone or never would have staid with her.
I can also assure you that when you read these memoirs you will be convinced, as I am, that the Princess Dashkoff was quite pure from all the Empress Catherine’s libertine intrigues (I can use no softer phrase). This is proved by facts, not words, for no word does she say on the subject. But the fact is that during Orloff, the favorite Orloff’s reign and his numerous successors, the Princess Dashkoff was never at court, banished herself on her travels or at her far-distant territories; she over-rated, idolized Catharine, but was her real friend, not flatterer.
It is scarcely worth telling you, but I will for your diversion mention that I asked Mrs. Wilmot whether the Princess Dashkoff evermore went about in the costume, which she described, of a man’s great-coat, with stars and strings over it, at the ball, and with the sentimental old souvenir silk handkerchief about her throat. Yes. But Mrs. Wilmot would not let me laugh at her friend, and I liked her all the better. She defended the oddity by the kindness of the motive. It was not affectation of singularity, but privilege of originality, that should be allowed to a being so feeling and so educated by circumstances and so isolated — so let the ragged handkerchief and the old gloves museumized pass, and even the old overall of the man’s coat on a woman and a princess — so be it.
But from the time of Cardinal Chigi and his one stump of a twenty-years-old pen on which he piqued himself, I quite agree with Cardinal Mazarin11 that these petty singularities are proofs of a little mind, instead of an originality of genius.
And now, my dear Mrs. Ticknor, “Bisogna levar l’incommodità"— to use the parting phrase of a vulgar Italian who feels that she has made an unconscionable visit: or, as the cockney would say as she got up to depart from a morning visitation, “Time for me to be going, I think.” And if you do not think so, or have not thought so ten pages ago, you are more indulgent and fonder of me than I had any right or reason to expect, even after all I have heard from and seen of you.
I promise you that you shall not be so tried again for a twelvemonth to come, at the least. Give my kind remembrances to your eldest daughter, who so kindly remembers me, and give a kiss for me to your youngest, that dear little plaything who cannot remember me, but whom I shall never forget; nor her father’s fond look at her, when the tear was forgotten as soon as shed.
Ever affectionately, dear Mrs. Ticknor,
Your obliged friend,
Turn over, and as the children’s fairy-boards say, “you shall see what you shall see.”
N. B. — Among the various scratchifications and scarifications in this volume, you may remark that there have been reiterated scratches at Mrs. and Miss Wilmot, and attempts alternately to turn the lady into Mrs. and Miss.
Be it now declared and understood that the lady is not either Mrs. or Miss Wilmot, but Mrs. Bradford — born Wilmot, daughter of a Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot of Cork — went over to Russia to better herself at the invitation of the Princess Dashkoff, who had, in a visit to Ireland, become acquainted with some of her family. What motives induced her to go to Russia, except the general notion of bettering her fortune, I cannot tell. But she did better her fortune, for the princess gave her pearls in strings, and diamonds in necklaces and rings, and five thousand solid pounds in her pocket, for all which she had like to have been poisoned before she could clear away with them out of Russia.
When she came back she married, or was married to, Mr. Bradford, a clergyman, and now lives in Sussex, England.
Now, in consideration of my having further bored you with all this, be pleased whenever you see Mrs. or Miss Wilmot in the foregoing pages to read Mrs. Bradford, and you will save me thereby the trouble and danger of scratching Mrs. or Miss Wilmot into ten or eleven holes.
The visit to London referred to was paid. Part of the time was spent agreeably visiting friends, seeing sights and reading new books, among them Darwin’s Voyage in the Beagle, which delighted Miss Edgeworth. But the larger portion of her stay was occupied in nursing her sister Fanny through a weary illness, with the added mental anxiety of knowing that Mrs. Edgeworth was ill at home. Both invalids, however, happily recovered, yet Miss Edgeworth was to find an empty chair on her return; her aunt, Mary Sneyd, had been taken away at the advanced age of ninety. As often before, she felt the sorrow keenly, but rallied bravely from its effects for the sake of those who were left and who depended on her yet more.
During the summer of 1842 Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall visited Ireland. They spent some days at Edgeworthstown, with the avowed purpose of writing of its occupants, and we have from their pen also a pleasant picture of the family home-life:—
“The library at Edgeworthstown” (say the writers) “is by no means the reserved and solitary room that libraries are in general. It is large and spacious and lofty; well stored with books, and embellished with those most valuable of all classes of prints — the suggestive; it is also picturesque, having been added to so as to increase its breadth; the addition is supported by square pillars, and the beautiful lawn seen through the windows, embellished and varied by clumps of trees judiciously planted, imparts much cheerfulness to the exterior. An oblong table in the centre is a sort of rallying-point for the family, who group around it, reading, writing or working; while Miss Edgeworth, only anxious upon one point — that all in the house should do exactly as they like, without reference to her — sits quietly and abstractedly in her own peculiar corner on the sofa, her desk — upon which lies Sir Walter Scott’s pen, given to her by him when in Ireland — placed before her upon a little quaint table, as unassuming as possible. Miss Edgeworth’s abstractedness would puzzle the philosophers: in that same corner, and upon that table, she has written nearly all that has enlightened and delighted the world. There she writes as eloquently as ever, wrapt up to all appearance in her subject, yet knowing, by a sort of instinct, when she is really wanted in dialogue; and, without laying down her pen, hardly looking up from her page, she will, by a judicious sentence wisely and kindly spoken, explain and elucidate in a few words, so as to clear up any difficulty; or turn the conversation into a new and more pleasing current. She has the most harmonious way of throwing in explanations — informing without embarrassing. A very large family party assemble daily in this charming room, young and old bound alike to the spot by the strong cords of memory and love. Mr. Francis Edgeworth, the youngest son of the present Mrs. Edgeworth, and of course Miss Edgeworth’s youngest brother, has a family of little ones who seem to enjoy the freedom of the library as much as their elders. To set these little people right if they are wrong; to rise from her table to fetch them a toy, or even to save a servant a journey; to mount the steps and find a volume that escapes all eyes but her own, and, having done so, to find exactly the passage wanted — are hourly employments of this most unspoiled and admirable woman. She will then resume her pen, and, what is more extraordinary, hardly seem to have even frayed the thread of her ideas; her mind is so rightly balanced, everything is so honestly weighed, that she suffers no inconvenience from what would disturb and distract an ordinary writer.”
Miss Edgeworth wrote of this notice:—
Mrs. Hall has sent to me her last number, in which she gives Edgeworthstown. All the world here are pleased with it, and so am I. I like the way in which she has mentioned my father particularly. There is an evident kindness of heart and care to avoid everything that could hurt any of our feelings, and at the same time a warmth of affectionate feeling, unaffectedly expressed, that we all like in spite of our dislike to that sort of thing.
Early in 1843 Miss Edgeworth was taken seriously ill with bilious fever, from the effects of which she recovered but slowly. In late autumn she once more went to London to pass the winter with her sister. It was to be her last visit. She enjoyed it with all the freshness of youth, sight-seeing and visiting without fatigue, even attending an opening of Parliament, which she protested had not tired her more than if she had been eighteen. Her prayer and hope was, as it had been her father’s, that her body might not survive her mind, and that she might leave a tender and not unpleasing recollection of herself in the hearts of her friends. Her letters certainly showed no falling-off in power, as is amply proved by one written during this visit to her Boston friends:—
LONDON, 1 North Audley street,
Grosvenor square, January 1, 1844.
MY DEAR FRIENDS MR. AND MRS. TICKNOR:
I cannot begin this new year better, or more to my own heartfelt satisfaction, than by greeting you with my best wishes for many, many happy years to you of your domestic felicity and public estimation —estimation superior to celebrity, you know, Mr. Ticknor, disdaining notoriety, which all low minds run after and all high minds despise. How I see this every day in this London world, and hear it from all other worlds — loudly from your New World across the great Atlantic, where those who make their boast of independence and equality are struggling and quarreling for petty preëminence and “vile trash.”
I have been here with my sister, Mrs. Wilson, in a peaceful, happy home these six weeks, and the rattle of Grosvenor square, at the corner of which her house is, never disturbs the quiet of her little library, which is at the back of the house, and looks out upon gardens and trees (such as they are!). . . .
Among the pleasantest days I have enjoyed in London society, among friends of old standing and acquaintance of distinguished talents, I spent two days at my very good old friend Dr. Holland’s, where I heard your name and your letter to your countrymen on Sydney Smith’s memorial spoken of in the highest terms of just estimation! You know that Dr. Holland is married to Sydney Smith’s daughter. I hope you know Dr. Holland’s book, Medical Notes, which, though the title might seem exclusively professional, is full of such general and profound views of the human mind as well as body, that it could not but be interesting to you, and would prove to you for my present purpose that he is a person whose estimation and whose praise is worthy of you. . . .
I do not know whether you made acquaintance, when you were in London, with Sydney Smith’s brother, Mr. Robert S., or, as he is strangely cognomened (or nicknamed) Bobus Smith. He is well known as one of the celebrities of Holland House, where he has been figuring this half-century. But he no longer figures as a diner-out, and indeed, I believe from that notoriety he always seceded. He is now old and blind, but nevertheless has a most intelligent, energetic countenance, and I should almost say penetrating eye. When he turns and seems to look at me, I feel as if he looked into my face, and am glad so to feel, as he encourages me to open my mind to him by opening his own at once to me. I saw him for the first time a few evenings ago at Dr. Holland’s, and sat between him and your American ambassador, Mr. Everett. I was much pleased by their manner towards each other, and by all they said of the letter of which I spoke. Mr. R. Smith has, in the opinion of all who know him and his brother, the strongest and highest and deepest powers of the two; not so much wit, but a more sound, logical understanding — superior might in the reasoning faculty. If the two brothers’ hands grasped and grappled for mastery, with elbows set down upon the table, in the fashion in which schoolboys and others try strength, Robert Smith’s hand would be uppermost, and Sydney must give way, laughing perhaps, and pretending that he only gave way to fight another day. But independently of victory or trials of strength, the earnestness for truth of the blind brother would decide my interest and sympathy in his favor.
Mr. Everett and Mr. R. Smith seemed to me properly to esteem each other, and to speak with perfect courtesy and discretion upon the most delicate national questions, on which, in truth, they liberally agreed more than could have been or was expected by the bystanders of different parties. Oh, Party Spirit! Party Spirit! how many follies, how many outrages are committed in thy name, even in common conversation!
Mr. Everett did me the honor to come to visit us a few mornings after I had first met him at Dr. Holland’s, and sat a good hour conversing as if we had been long known to each other. It is to me the most gratifying proof of esteem to be thus let at once into the real mind, the sanctum sanctorum, instead of being kept with ceremonials and compliments on the steps, in the ante-chamber, or even in the salle de reception, doing Kotoo Chinese or any other fashion.
We went over vast fields of thought in our short hour, from America to France, and to England and to Ireland, Washington, Lafayette, Bonaparte, O’Connell. You may guess it could only be a vue d’oiseau, flying too, but still a pounce down upon a true point now and then, and agreeing in our general unchangeable view that moral excellence is essential to make the man really great; that the highest intellectual superiority that can be given by Omnipotence to mortal ought not and does not, even in human opinion, entitle him without moral worth to the character of great. Mr. Everett tells me that Washington Irving is going to publish another life of Washington. I fear his workmanship will be too fine and delicate for the main matter. Boldness, boldness, boldness — and brevity. Oh, the strength of brevity! Brevity keeps fast hold of the memory, and more fast hold of the judgment; the whole process, en petit compris, goes in a few words with the verdict to “long posterity,” while elegance only charms the taste, accords with the present fashion of literature, and passes away, gliding gracefully into “mere oblivion.”
Lecture upon brevity well exemplified by present correspondent.
A severe attack of erysipelas laid her low this summer; but if it weakened her body it did not depress her mental faculties. She writes to her cousin with all the buoyancy of youth:—
I am right glad to look forward to the hope of seeing you again, and talking all manner of nonsense and sense, and laughing myself and making you laugh, as I used to do, though I am six years beyond the allotted age and have had so many attacks of illness within the last two years; but I am, as Bess Fitzherbert and poor dear Sophy used to say, like one of those pith puppets that you knock down in vain; they always start up the same as ever. . . . Sir Henry Marsh managed me with skill, and let me recover slowly, as nature requires at advanced age. I am obliged to repeat myself, “advanced age,” because really and truly neither my spirits nor my powers of locomotion and facility of running up and down stairs would put me in mind of it. I do not find either my love for my friends or my love of literature in the least failing. I enjoyed, even when flattest in my bed, hearing Harriet Butler reading to me till eleven o’clock at night.
Her interest in the current literature was sustained; and though she had little sympathy with the romantic school of poetry and fiction that had arisen, her criticisms were both fair and acute. Of the modern French writers she said:—
All the fashionable French novelists will soon be reduced to advertising for a new vice, instead of, like the Roman Emperor, simply for a new pleasure. It seems to me with the Parisian novelists a first principle now that there is no pleasure without vice, and no vice without pleasure, but that the Old World vices having been exhausted, they must strain their genius to invent new; and so they do, in the most wonderful and approved bad manner, if I may judge from the few specimens I have looked at.
Henrietta Temple she condemns as “trash,” “morally proving that who does wrong should be rewarded with love and fortune.” Indeed, so eager was she over books, so ardently did she still enter into all adventures and details, that when she was ill her doctor found it needful to prescribe that her reading must be confined to some old, well-known work, or else something that should entertain and interest her without over-exciting her or straining her attention.
During the whole of 1846 the long illness and death of her brother Francis absorbed all Miss Edgeworth’s interest. Next year came the terrible potato famine. She strained every nerve to help the sufferers; her time, her thoughts, her purse, her whole strength, were devoted to the poor. She could hardly feel or think on any other theme; plans to relieve the distress, petitions for aid, filled her letters. She even turned her attention once more to writing, in order to get more money for her starving countrymen. The result was Orlandino, a tale for children, relating the fortunes and reformation of a graceless truant. It was the last work she published — her literary career thus ending, as it began, with a tale to give gladness to childhood. She had her reward in a great pleasure that came to her from America. The children of Boston, hearing what pains their kind friend in Ireland was taking for her unhappy compatriots, as a recognition of their love for her and her writings, organized a subscription. At the end of a few weeks they were able to send her one hundred and fifty barrels of flour and rice. They came with the simple address, worth more to her than many phrases: “To Miss Edgeworth, for her poor.”
She was deeply touched and grateful. It touched her also that the porters, who carried the grain down to the shore, refused to be paid; and with her own hands she knitted a woolen comforter for each man and sent them to a friend for distribution. Before they reached their destination the hands that had worked them were cold, and the beating of that warm, kind heart stilled forever.
For scarcely was the famine over, and before Miss Edgeworth’s over-taxed strength had time to recoup, another and yet heavier blow was to befall her. Indeed, many deaths and sorrows as she had known, in some respects this was the severest that had for some years come upon her. It was natural to see the old go before her, but not so the young, and when in 1848 her favorite sister Fanny died rather suddenly, Miss Edgeworth felt that the dearest living object of her love had gone.
The shock did not apparently tell on her health, as she continued to employ herself with her usual interest and sympathy in all the weal and woe of her family and many friends, but the life-spring had snapped, unknown perhaps even to her, certainly unknown to those around her. For she bore up bravely, cheerfully, and was to all appearances as bright as ever. Next to doing good, reading was still her greatest pleasure:—
Our pleasures in literature do not, I think, decline with age. Last 1st of January was my eighty-second birthday, and I think that I had as much enjoyment from books as ever I had in my life.
History gave her particular delight:—
I am surprised to find how much more history interests me now than when I was young, and how much more I am now interested in the same events recorded, and their causes and consequences shown, in this history of the French Revolution, and in all the history of Europe during the last quarter of a century, than I was when the news came fresh and fresh in the newspapers. I do not think I had sense enough to take in the relations and proportions of the events. It was like moving a magnifying glass over the parts of a beetle, and not taking in the whole.
Macaulay’s history charmed her, and in all her first enthusiasm she wrote a long letter about it to her old friend, Sir Henry Holland. He showed it to Macaulay, who was so struck with its discrimination and ability that he begged to be allowed to keep it. Among all the incidents connected with the publication of his book, nothing, it is said, pleased Macaulay more than the gratification he had contrived to give Miss Edgeworth as a small return for the enjoyment which, during more than forty years, he had derived from her writings:—
TRIM, April 2nd, 1849.
MY DEAR DR. HOLLAND:
I have just finished Macaulay’s two volumes of the History of England with the same feeling that you expressed — regret at coming to the end, and longing for another volume — the most uncommon feeling, I suppose, that readers of two thick octavo volumes of the history of England and of times so well known, or whose story has been so often written, ever experienced. In truth, in the whole course of reading or hearing it read I was sorry to stop and glad to go on. It bears peculiarly well that severe test of being read aloud; it never wearies the ear by the long resounding line, but keeps the attention alive by the energy shown. It is the perfection of style so varied, and yet the same in fitness, in propriety, in perspicuity, in grace, in dignity and eloquence, and, whenever naturally called forth, in that just indignation which makes the historian as well as the poet. If Voltaire says true that “the style is the man,” what a man must Macaulay be! But the man is in fact as much more than the style, as the matter is more than the manner. It is astonishing with what ease Macaulay wields, manages, arranges his vast materials collected far and near, and knows their value and proportions so as to give the utmost strength and force and light and life to the whole, and sustains the whole. Such new lights are thrown upon historic facts and historic characters that the old appear new, and that which had been dull becomes bright and entertaining and interesting. Exceedingly interesting he has made history by the happy use and aid of biography and anecdote. A word brings the individual before us, and shows not only his character, but the character of the times, and at once illustrates or condemns to everlasting fame. Macaulay has proved by example how false Madame de Staël’s principle was that biography and biographical anecdotes were altogether inadmissible in history — below the dignity or breaking the proportion or unity, I suppose she thought. But whatever might be her reasons, she gave this opinion to Dumont, who told it to me. Much good it did her! How much more interesting historical précis in painting or in writing, which is painting in word, are made by the introduction of portraits of celebrated individuals! Either as actors or even as spectators, the bold figures live, and merely by their life further the action and impress the sense of truth and reality. I have pleasure, my dear Dr. Holland, in pointing out to you, warm as it first comes, the admiration which this work has raised to this height in my mind. I know this will give you sympathetic pleasure.
And now, my good friend, in return I require from you prompt and entire belief in an assertion which I am about to make, which may appear to you at first incredible. But try-try; at all events the effort will give you occasion to determine a question which perhaps, excellent metaphysician as you have shown yourself, you never settled whether you can or cannot believe at will.
That which I require you to believe [the figure of a hand pointing right appears here] is that all the admiration I have expressed of Macaulay’s work is quite uninfluenced by the self-satisfaction, vanity, pride, surprise, delight, I had in finding my own name in a note!!!!!
Be assured, believe it or not as you may or can, that neither my vanity nor my gratitude weighed with my judgment in the slightest degree in the opinion I formed, or in that warmth with which it was poured out. In fact, I had formed my opinion, and expressed it with no less warmth to my friends round me, reading the book to me, before I came to that note; moreover, there was a mixture of shame and twinge of pain with the pleasure, the pride I felt in having a line in his immortal history given to me, when the historian makes no mention of Sir Walter Scott throughout the work, even in places where it seems impossible that genius could resist paying the becoming tribute which genius owes and loves to pay to genius. I cannot conceive how this could be. I cannot bring myself to imagine that the words Tory or Whig, or Dissenter or Churchman, or feeling of party or natural spirit, could bias such a man as Macaulay. Perhaps he reserves himself for the forty-five, and I hope in heaven it is so, and that you will tell me I am very impetuous and prematurely impertinent. Meanwhile, be so good to make my grateful and deeply-felt thanks to the great author for the honor which he has done me. When I was in London some years ago, and when I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Macaulay, I took the liberty of expressing a wish that he would visit Ireland, and that if he did we might have the honor of seeing him at our house. I am very glad to find that the Battle of the Boyne will bring him here. He must have now so many invitations from those who have the highest inducement to offer, that I hardly dare to repeat my request. But will you, my dear friends, do whatever you can with propriety for us, and say how much Mrs. Edgeworth and myself and our whole family would be gratified by his giving us even a call on his way to some better place, and even an hour of his conversation. I am now at Trim with my sister and dear brother. Trim and its ruins, and the tower, and where kings and generals and poets have been, would perhaps, he may think, be worth his seeing. Dean Butler and my sister feel as I do how many claims Mr. Macaulay must have upon his time in his visit to Ireland; but they desire me to say that if anything should bring him into this neighborhood, they should think themselves highly honored by receiving him. I am sure he would be interested by Mr. Butler’s conversation and remarks on various parts of Macaulay’s history, and I should exceedingly like to hear it commented and discussed. Little i must come in, you see, at every close. You will observe that, in speaking of Macaulay’s work, I have spoken only of the style, the only point of which I could presume to think my opinion could be of any value. Of the great attributes, of the essential qualities of the historian, accuracy, fidelity, impartiality, I could not, even if I thought myself qualified to judge, attempt to speak in this letter.
But I am sensible that I have neither the knowledge nor the strength, much less the coolness of judgment, necessary to make opinion valuable on such subjects. I could easily give my own opinion, but — of no use. The less I am inclined to speak when I do not know, the more I am anxious to hear; and most delightful and profitable would it be to me to hear the great historian himself speak on many points which I hear discussed by my learned brother, Dean Butler, and others (on Clarendon’s character, etc., etc., etc.) We have not yet seen any of the public reviews of Macaulay’s history. No doubt the stinging, little, ephemeral insects will come out in swarms to buzz and fly-blow in the sunshine. The warmer, the brighter, the thicker the swarm will be to prick. I hope you will read this unconscionable lengthy letter when you are in your carriage, rolling about from patient to patient, and be patient yourself then, my dear doctor. You are always so very good and kind to me that I encroach. I seldom write such long epistles. As the most impudent beggar-woman in our town says to Mrs. E., “Ma’am, your ladyship, I never beg from any one so much as your ladyship; troth, never from any but you.” . . .
Give my most kind and affectionate remembrances to Mrs. Holland and your daughters and sons, and
Believe me most garrulously and sincerely yours,
This letter, so characteristic in its humility and generous admiration, shows no sign of old age or impaired faculties, neither is there any trace of this in one of the last she ever wrote, addressed to her sister Harriet:—
I am heartily obliged and delighted by your being such a goose and Richard such a gander, as to be frightened out of your wits at my going up the ladder to take off the top of the clock! Know, then, that I am quite worthy of that most unmerited definition of man, “A creature that looks before and after.” Before I let on to anybody my doubts of my own capability of reaching the nail on which to hang the top, I called Shaw, and made her stand at the foot of the ladder while I went up, and found I could no more reach the nail than I could reach the moon, Exit Shaw!
Prudence of M. E., Act 2: Summoned Cassidy, and informed him that I was to wind up the clock, and that he was promoted to take off the top for me; and then up I went and wound the clock, and wound it as I had done before you was born, as there is nothing easier, only to see that it is not going to maintain at the very instant, which is plainly to be noted by the position of the maintaining pin on the little outer wheel relative to the first deep tooth. You see I am not quite a nincompoop. I send my lines:—
“Ireland, with all thy faults, thy follies too,
I love thee still: still with a candid eye must view
Thy wit too quick, still blundering into sense;
Thy reckless humor; sad improvidence;
And even what sober judges follies call —
I, looking at the heart, forget them all.”
MARIA E., May, 1849.
Miss Edgeworth had been staying with Mr. and Mrs. Butler in the spring. When taking leave she was unusually agitated and depressed, but said as she went away: “At Whitsuntide I shall return.” On the very day before she was to redeem this promise, she drove out in apparent good health, when a sudden feeling of weakness overcame her and made her return to the house. Severe pains in the region of the heart set in, and after a few hours’ illness Maria Edgeworth died — died as she had fondly wished, at home, in the arms of her stepmother. Yet another of her wishes was granted: she had spared her friends the anguish of seeing her suffer from protracted illness. May 22d, 1849, she rose from the banquet of life, where, in her own words, she had been a happy guest.
In her latter years Miss Edgeworth had been asked to furnish prefaces of a biographical character to her novels. She refused, saying she had nothing personal to tell. “As a woman, my life, wholly domestic, cannot afford anything interesting to the public; I am like the ‘needy knife-grinder’— I have no story to tell.”
Was she right? or is not the story of so loving and lovable a life worth telling?
11 This anecdote, attributed by Miss Edgeworth to Mazarin, is told by De Retz, and is to be found in his memoirs.
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