MARIA EDGEWORTH’S LAST BREATH
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).