Bernard Canavan - an Edgeworthstown artist living in London attended the recent Maria Edgeworth Conference in York University held on the 29th and 30th June and sent on the following report from the event
I attended last weekend a conference on Maria Edgeworth in the lovely city of York as part of the city’s department of Eighteenth Century studies at the University; and learned that it will be followed by another conference in Trinity College, Dublin, at the end of the year. Such was the calibre of the speakers and papers from across Ireland, Europe and the wider world that to me, as a mere Edgeworth enthusiast myself, I was left with the impression of being present at the re-discovery of a major lost Irish female voice from the past. Those that were present were long time Edgeworth scholars who held professorship in renowned universities, and they were joined by a number of young researchers just starting off on their Phd topics which augers well for the future. Some were from European, Australian and American universities, who were exploring the ever widening impact of the Edgeworth family, father and daughter, on events in the new American Republic, the Scottish Enlightenment and even the British empire. It was a gathering of experts, but the originality of their research will ensure that there will be ever widening ripples of interest focusing on the little Irish town in the midlands where the family lived. I have no doubt that it will make the town - as it had been during Maria’s lifetime - once again a place of pilgrimage for visitors who want to know more.
The other striking feature about the weekend - as you can see from the programme and the photographs below - was the preponderance of female speakers - understandable, of course, as the subject was a woman writer, but nevertheless worth remembering given the paucity of material by, and about, women’s opinions in in the Eighteenth century. Maria, I venture, will be a figure of ever greater importance, particularly as we reap the harvest of enthusiasm and scholarship that conferences like this have sown.
It is perhaps invidious to mention any one paper, but I found two or three concerning Edgeworth links about which I had been previously been completely ignorant as memorable. Jane Randall’s, from York University, paper, which must have been the product of a life-times research on the Edgeworth’s Scottish connections when Edinburgh was known as the Athens of the north, was very exciting; as was Jenifer Orr’s account of the Edgeworth’s links across the old and new world, ‘Cosmopolitism and the transatlantic emigrant community’. And finally the conference was ended by Susan Manley’s magisterial ‘Copley Lecture’ on ‘Maria Edgeworth and Political Life’. I hope that we can see all these talks in print in a conference volume in the nearer future. A wonderful weekend.
Born Henry Essex Edgeworth into the notable Edgeworth family of Anglo-Irish Protestants, in 1745, his father, a Church of Ireland rector in the local Parish, took the exceptional step of breaking from ‘his class, his culture and his education’ and embraced Catholicism instead. ‘The scandal was immense’, and shortly after the Essex family, including young Henry, then six years old, left for Toulouse, France.
St John's Rectory where Henry Essex Edgeworth was born
The country Henry grew up in was a nation in ferment. Ancien RégimeFrance was still a semi-feudal monarchy, ruled in succession by two ineffectual kings, Louis XV and then his son Louis XVI. A once-dominant Catholic Church struggled with rationalism and widespread anti-clericalism; a once-wealthy country had been impoverished by foreign wars, famine and the extravagant expenditure of its ruling elite; while its once-passive people were fired by the radical ideas of the Enlightenment, summed up in the call to citizenship and nationhood through ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’.
Having received his early education from the Jesuits, Henry went on to study for the priesthood at the Sorbonne University in Paris amidst the growing unrest. After ordination, the new L’Abbé Edgeworth stayed in Paris, ministering not least to the city’s poor and its many Irish Catholics. His reputation saw him eventually appointed Vicar-General of the Diocese of Paris and confessor to Madame Elizabeth, sister of King Louis XVI.
Gradual, but bitterly-resisted political reforms were finally overtaken by open rebellion throughout France and the storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris, on July 14, 1789. Similar watershed events followed as revolution, bloody and often chaotic, consumed the Ancien Régime. A series of disastrous policy decisions by Louis led to his imprisonment and then trial, on charges of treason. Found guilty, he requested the Irish priest stay with him prior to his execution.
L’Abbé Edgeworth, though already in hiding, agreed, hearing the King’s last confession and recording for posterity his final words. He himself did not expect to survive.
‘Almighty God has baffled my measures, and ties me to this land of horrors by chains I have not the liberty to shake off. The case is this: the wretched master [the king] charges me not to quit this country, as I am the priest whom he intends to prepare him for death. And should the iniquity of the nation commit this last act of cruelty, I must also prepare myself for death, as I am convinced the popular rage will not allow me to survive an hour after the tragic scene; but I am resigned. Could my life save him I would willingly lay it down, and I should not die in vain.’
On January 21st, 1793, Louis was led to the guillotine, accompanied by his priest (‘a foreigner sustained the Monarch at his last hour—it seemed as if there were not a single Frenchman left who was loyal to his sovereign’). After the showing of the King’s severed head, the distraught L’Abbé was still somehow able to walk through the yelling mob unharmed.
Généalogie des Rois de France, Éditions Ouest-France 2001, histoire-image.org - wikimedia commons
‘All eyes were fixed on me, as you may suppose; but as soon as I reached the first line, to my greatest surprise, no resistance was made. The second line opened in the same manner and when I got to the fourth or fifth, my coat, being a common surtout (for I was not permitted, on this occasion, to wear any exterior marks of a priest) I was absolutely lost in the crowd, and no more noticed than if I had been a simple spectator of a scene which forever will dishonour France.’
L’Abbé Edgeworth remained in France, on the run and constantly on the move, for a number of years before escaping to England. Despite an invitation to return to Ireland to take up the post of President of Maynooth seminary, he chose instead to travel to Prussia to serve the surviving royal family in their exile, including as chaplain to Louis XVIII, the late King’s brother.
‘I am now here, bound to the most unfortunate family in the universe, and quite determined to share their misfortunes to the very end. ‘
L’Abbé Edgeworth died in 1807, aged sixty-two, in what is now Latvia (then part of Imperial Russia) from typhus caught when ministering to wounded French soldiers of Napoleon’s invading army. His body remains interred in that foreign graveyard (??check)
For his courage and devotion to the Bourbon family, Louis himself composed the epitaph for this esteemed priest:
‘Here lies the Very Reverend Henry Essex Edgeworth de Firmont, a priest, of the Holy Church of God: Vicar General of the Diocese of Paris, etc., Who following in the steps of our Redeemer, was an Eye to the Blind, a Staff to the Lame, a Father to the Poor, and a Consoler of the Afflicted. When Louis XVI was delivered over to Death by his impious and rebellious subjects, he gave the resolute Martyr strength for his last struggle and pointed out to him the opening Heavens. Snatched from the hands of regicides by the wonderful protection of God, he voluntarily attached himself to Louis XVIII, when he signified his wish for his services To whom and to whose Royal Family and Faithful Comrades, he proved himself for a space of ten years, an example of Virtue and an Assuager of misfortune. Driven from kingdom to kingdom by the calamity of the times, he went about doing good, ever like to Him who possessed his sole devotion. At length full of good works, he died the 22nd May, the year of our Lord, 1807, aged 62. May he rest in peace.’
This article was written for the Irish Independent Supplement by local author Lorne Patterson but did not make the cut
Lorne Patterson is an Edgeworthstown writer and member of the Ballymahon Writers Group, Co Longford, Ireland. He is a psychiatric nurse and community educator who has worked in a number of countries, including Britain, the United States and Russia. A past runner-up in the Sean Ó Faoláin short-story competition, he published his first book, Witch, in 2012 to critical acclaim.
The following article was written by Edgeworthstown born poet Dr. Philip Brady about the show 'Maria in Mind' premiered at the 2018 Edgeworth Literary Festival.
Maria in Mind
Edgeworthstown May 2018
Maria Edgeworth is not dead.
She came back to Edgeworthstown today to celebrate her 250th birthday.
She moved quietly along the west wall of the new chapel, noting on her way the full seats, attentive and anticipating. She seemed to approve of this new chapel, not there in her time, but now part of her manor home, and part too of the wider community.
She crossed to the writing desk, the old familiar oak, designed specifically by her prodigiously talented father, Richard Lovell.
John Langan was there. She spoke to him and started to reminisce, and listened to his reassuring common sense.
They were lucky she said, not to have availed of the militia on their retreat to Ballinamuck in 1798, who offered them safe passage back to Longford. They heard the ammunition exploding accidentally on route, and it would have blown them all to pieces. They decided to wait and to take their chances.
Frances Beaufort was there, her father’s third wife, younger than herself and her constant soulmate. How lucky they were to have each other to travel with her father to Europe, Paris, Brussels, and beyond, and to mingle with the rich and the intellectual aristocracy. She spoke with poignant recollection of Count Edelcrantz, the Swedish Courtier who proposed marriage and whom she loved. Her thoughts were gentle, but more gentle still were the pauses in her monologue to ponder the lasting pain of her decision not to leave her father, her home, and Edgeworthstown.
She shared too her compassion for the marginalised and the maligned, and applauded Shakespeare’s growing sense of understanding of Shylock’s isolation in their world of shared theatre.
She acknowledged kindly the guiding genius of her own eccentric educator and inspiration, her King Lear, her father, who saw in her his favourite Cordelia, his ever faithful daughter.
Her own characters too she pondered, through the Castle Rackrent pages, their peculiarities and their declining destinies. Honest Thady related the feckless Rackrent story and their illusions of aristocracy. Her kindness changed to humour in her criticisms, when she remembered the social extravagance of Lady Clonbrony. That fine Lady was difficult to understand until you realised that her loquacious blathering did not make any sense at all to Maria either, and she reassured us that in the verbosity of her mandibular activity we had not missed anything of consequence.
She found her reassurances in old John Langan with his common sense and his Edgeworthstown accent.
It is time for Maria to travel once more, the Literary Routes and the Acclamation Halls where she would be again appreciated.
With Johnny Hanrahan’s subtle text and Carmel O’Leary’s sensitive interpretation she will be guaranteed a well deserved welcome, and will reward her guests with an evening of superb and sophisticated entertainment.
An account given by Rosa Florentina Edgeworth née Eroles
Rosa, the Catalan wife of Francis Beaufort Edgeworth, Maria’s half brother, has been slighted by most of Maria’s biographers. They refer to her just at the moment of her wedding —Dec. 1831— and omit any reference to the nine years —mostly in the 1840s— during which they lived together, with their ‘mother’ Frances Anne Beaufort Edgeworth —in fact, Rosa’s mother-in-law and Maria’s stepmother— and Rosa’s incoming children —William, Mary, Erolino, David, Richard and Francis— in the manor house of Edgeworthstown.
Through the letters and notes of Maria Edgeworth (ME) we see she developed a deep affection for Rosa (RFE):
“Her face varies very much as of a Murillo seen in a good or bad light. But the light comes from within, not from without in this picture. When her face is lighted up by feeling, as we speak to her or as she speaks, it is intelligent, expressive of affection and very engaging, quite natural and true and it thus makes her so very interesting. Her Spanish eyes are dead black when she is uninterested but light up brilliantly when she is pleased, they are not large, nor prominent. [...] Rosa's simplicity is joined to good sense and an independent steadiness of character [...]. She will return her influence over Francis and will be of great use to his character. He chose well, just the wife fit for him. She coalesces into the family, seems glad to become of use, not afraid of us and to value us just for what we really are, either as to sense our good qualities or family affection, not for what other people say, not for our situation for any kind of reputation, literary or in the world, neither of which she knows much or cares anything about. She is not at all literary, but judges well and expresses herself originally of every thing she reads or hears read or spoken of. [...] The more I see of Rosa the more I like her. Francis is very happy." ME to her half brother Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, with RFE's description. April 9, 1834.
[Francis Beaufort Edgeworth, Rosa’s husband dies in Dublin. When she came back to Edgeworthstown, Maria wrote a pair of consolatory notes to her:] "Oh, my dear, admirable Rosa, what you must have gone through [...] Heaven preserve you and sustain you." [And in the second, Maria asks:] "I hope you are not quite worn out. [...] How can you do so much without being quite ill?" Notes from ME to RFE, October 8 & 16, 1846.
“[Rosa] is most truly sensible of your generous kindness to her, which many times I have found her with tears bursting from eyes not easily brought to tears and incapable of a word more than she feels.” ME to her half brother Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, Dec. 1846.
“Rosa is a noble minded and admirable creature” ME to her sister Emmeline King, 1847.
Maria’s death accounts.
The biographers of Maria Edgeworth have based the description of her death on a letter from Frances Anne in which she explains that Maria was in her way to visit her cousin Margaret Ruxton when “she was taken suddenly ill with pain at the region of the heart”, and went back to Edgeworthstown. After reaching home, Rosa and Frances Anne "tried to assist her by giving her a cordial but in a few hours breathed her last in my arms." FAE to Margaret Ruxton, May 1849.
Besides Frances Anne testimonial, there exists a much more detailed account of Maria’s death given by Rosa in a letter to Dr. Philip Crampton, the family physician and General Surgeon of Ireland in Dublin. She writes that Maria was going to Trim with her to visit Margaret Ruxton and the Butlers, but feeling not well in a restroom she asked her to come back to Edgeworthtown. There, with Frances Anne at home, Rosa explains literally:
"We [RFE & FAE] gave her brandy which she [ME] swallowed with avidity. After that great shuffle she was able to walk up to her little room, took one of her accustomed pills & appeared quite quiet. She did not pass a good night. I was with her at 6 o'clock yesterday. She appeared haggard, but I thought I had often seen her worse. She told me of various things she wished me to do. I went to my room to write, my mother came to my room saying 'She is much better. She is sitting in her bed & has begged me to go down & make breakfast.' No sooner had my mother disappeared when Maria's maid rushed into my room exclaiming 'Mrs. Francis!'. I hurried to Maria's. She fixed her eyes on me & in an instant after she was no more!" RFE to P. Crampton, May 22, 1849. (Trinity College Library, Ms. 4178, Dublin).
Lluís Barbé, september 2017,
written for the Edgeworth Society on Maria Edgeworth’s 250th anniversary.
Lluís Barbé (1939) is Emeritus Professor at the Universitat Autònoma of Barcelona, Spain. He taught Economics, Statistics, Econometrics and History of Economic Thought during the period 1964-2013 and has published in Catalan, Spanish and English both in the academic and literary fields. In 1998 he started a research based on the Edgeworth’s family files and produced several books on the subject: Retrat de família sobre fons de trèvols (2001, in Catalan and Spanish), Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (2005 in Catalan, 2010 in English) and Mariquita Tennant (2017, in Catalan).
Today - - the 1st of January 2018 - is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Maria Edgeworth. Daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Maria was heavily influenced by her father. She was an enlightenment intellectual, writer and moralist, she was acutely aware of the responsibilities of her class and supported her father throughout his life in affecting the improvement of the Edgeworth Estate to the benefit of the local community. Internationally renowned, Maria is best remembered for her Irish Novels, especially Castle Rackrent 1800 and her Children's Moral Tales and the Parents Assistant published in 1796. After her father's death in 1817 Maria devoted her time to the completion of his memoirs until their publication in 1820. Throughout the 1830's and 1840's Maria worked tirelessly to manage the family estate and support the local tenants throwing all her energies into aiding those most affected by the Famine. Her last book, one for children Orlandino appeared in 1848. Maria died on the 22nd May 1849.
The Edgeworth Society are staging a number of events during 2018 to mark the occasion of Maria's birthday. For the day itself what better way to celebrate the birthday than by reading one of Maria's stories aptly entitled 'The Birthday Present'
The story begins like this -
The Birthday Present
"Mamma," said Rosamond, after a long silence, "do you know what I have been thinking of all this time?"
"No, my dear.--What?"
"Why, mamma, about my cousin Bell's birthday; do you know what day it is?"
"No, I don't remember."
"Dear mother! don't you remember it's the 22nd of December; and her birthday is the day after to-morrow? Don't you recollect now? But you never remember about birthdays, mamma. That was just what I was thinking of, that you never remember my sister Laura's birthday, or-or-or MINE, mamma."