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1793 - 1795

In November, 1793, the Edgeworth family returned to Ireland, where Mr. Edgeworth's inventive genius became occupied with a system of telegraphy on which he expended much time and money. It was offered to the government, but declined. Maria Edgeworth was occupied at this time with her "Letters for Literary Ladies," as well as with "Toys and Tasks," which formed one of her chapters on "Practical Education."


EDGEWORTHSTOWN, February 23, 1794.

Thank my aunt and thank yourself for kind inquiries after "Letters for Literary Ladies." 1 I am sorry to say they are not as well as can be expected, nor are they likely to mend at present: when they are fit to be seen - if that happy time ever arrives - their first visit shall be to Black Castle. They are now disfigured by all manner of crooked marks of papa's critical indignation, besides various abusive marginal notes, which I would not have you see for half a crown sterling, nor my aunt for a whole crown as pure as King Hiero's; with which crown I am sure you are acquainted, and know how to weigh it as Honora did at eight years old, though Mr. Day would not believe it. I think my mother is better this evening, but she is so very cheerful when she has a moment's respite that it deceives us. She calls Lovell the Minute Philosopher at this instant, because he is drawing with the assistance of a magnifying glass with a universal joint in his mouth; so that one eye can see through it while he draws a beautifully small drawing of the new front of the house. I have just excited his envy even to clasping his hands in distraction, by telling him of a man I met with in the middle of Grainger's "Worthies of England," who drew a mill, a miller, a bridge, a man and horse going over the bridge with a sack of corn, all visible, upon a surface that would just cover a sixpence.


My father is perfectly well, and very busy out of doors and indoors. He brought back certain books from Black Castle, amongst which I was glad to see the "Fairy Tales;" and he has related, with various embellishments suited to the occasion, the story of Fortunatus, to the great delight of young and old, especially of Sneyd, whose eyes and cheeks expressed strong approbation, and who repeated it afterwards in a style of dramatic oratory which you would have known how to admire.
We are reading a new book for children, "Evenings at Home," which we admire extremely. Has Sophy seen them? And has she seen the fine Aurora Borealis which was to be seen last week, and which my father and Lovell saw with ecstasies? The candles were all put out in the library, and a wonderful bustle made, before I rightly comprehended what was going on.


I will look for the volume of the "Tableau de Paris" which you think I have; and if it is in the land of the living, it shall be coming forth at your call. Do you remember our reading in it of the garçon perruquier who dresses in black on a Sunday, and leaves his everyday clothes, white and heavy with powder, in the middle of the room, which he dares not peep into after his metamorphosis? I like to read as well as to talk with you, my dear aunt because you mix the grave and gay together, and put your long finger upon the very passages which my short, stumpy one was just starting forward to point out if it could point.
You are very good indeed to wish for "Toys and Tasks," but I think it would be most unreasonable to send them to you now. We are a very small party, now that my father, Anna, and Lovell are gone; but I hope we shall be better when you come.


All's well at home; the chickens are all good and thriving, and there is plenty of provender, and of everything that we can want or wish for: therefore we all hope that you will fully enjoy the pleasures of Black Castle without being anxious for your bairns.
Pray tell my dear aunt that I am not ungrateful for all the kindness she showed to me while I was with her: it rejoiced my heart to hear her say, when she took leave of me, that she did not love me less for knowing me better.
Kitty wakened me this morning saying, "Dear, ma'am, how charming you smell of coals! quite charming!" and she snuffed the ambient air. 2

having the honor to be the fair
day of Edgeworthstown, as is well
proclaimed to the neighborhood
by the noise of pigs squeaking,
men bawling, women brawling,
and children squealing, etc.

I will tell you what is going on, that you may see whether you like your daily bill of fare.
There are, an't please you, ma' am, a great many good things here. There is a balloon hanging up, and another going to be put on the stocks; there is soap made, and making from a receipt in Nicholson's "Chemistry;" there is excellent ink made, and to be made by the same book; there is a cake of roses just squeezed in a vise, by my father, according to the advice of Madame De Lagaraye, the woman in the black cloak and ruffles, who weighs with unwearied scales, in the frontispiece of a book, which perhaps my aunt remembers, entitled "Chemie de Goût et de l'Odorat." There are a set of accurate weights, just completed by the ingenious Messrs. Lovell and Henry Edgeworth, partners: for Henry is now a junior partner, and grown an inch and a half upon the strength of it in two months. The use and ingenuity of these weights I do, or did, understand; it is great, but I am afraid of puzzling you and disgracing myself attempting to explain it; especially as, my mother says, I once sent you a receipt for purifying water with charcoal, which she avers to have been above, or below, the comprehension of any rational being.
My father bought a great many books at Mr. Dean's sale. Six volumes of "Machines Approuvés," full of prints of paper mills, gunpowder mills, machines pour ramonter les batteaux, machines pour - a great many things which you would like to see, I am sure, over my father's shoulder. And my aunt would like to see the new staircase, and to see a kitcat view of a robin red-breast sitting on her nest in a sawpit, discovered by Lovell; and you would both like to pick Emmeline's fine strawberries round the crowded oval table after dinner, and to see my mother look so much better in the midst of us.
If these delights thy soul can move,
Come live with us and be our love.

EDGEWORTHSTOWN, August 11, 1794.

Nothing wonderful or interesting, nothing which touches our hopes or fears, which either moves us to laugh or to be doleful, can happen without the idea of Aunt Ruxton immediately arising. This, you will think, is the preface to at least either death or marriage; but it is only the preface to a history of Defenders.
There have been lately several flying reports of Defenders, but we never thought the danger near till to-day. Last night a party of forty attacked the house of one Hoxey, about half a mile from us, and took, as usual, the arms. They have also been at Ringowny, where there was only one servant left to take care of the house; they took the arms and broke all the windows. To-day Mr. Bond, our high sheriff, paid us a pale visit, thought it was proper something should be done for the internal defense of the town of Edgeworthstown and the county of Longford, and wished my father would apply to him for a meeting of the county. My father first rode over to the scene of action, to inquire into the truth of the reports; found them true, and on his return to dinner found Mr. Thompson, of Clonfin, and Captain Doyle, nephew to the general and the wounded colonel, who is now at Granard. Captain Doyle will send a sergeant and twelve to-morrow; tonight a watch is to sit up, but it is supposed that the sight of two redcoats riding across the country together will keep the evil sprites from appearing to mortal eyes "this watch." My father has spoken to many of the householders, and he imagines they will come here to a meeting to-morrow, to consider how best they can defend their lands and tenements; they bring their arms to my father to take care of. You will be surprised at our making such a mighty matter of a visit from the Defenders, you who have had soldiers sitting up in your kitchen for weeks; but you will consider that this is our first visit.
The arts of peace are going on prosperously. The new room is almost built, and the staircase is completed; long may we live to run up and down it.


I will treat you, my dear Letty, like a lady for once, and write to you upon blue-edged paper, because you have been ill; if you should be well before you receive this, I shall repent of the extravagance of my friendship. I believe it was you or my aunt, the teller of all good things - who told me of a lady who took a long journey to see her sister, who she heard was very ill; but, unfortunately, the sister was well before she got to her journey's end, and she was so provoked that she quarrelled with her well sister, and would never have anything more to do with her.
You will look very blank when you come back from the sea and find what doings there have been at Black Castle in your absence. Anna was extremely sorry that she could not see you again before she left Ireland; but you will soon be in the same kingdom again, and that is one great point gained, as Mr. Weaver, a traveling astronomical lecturer, who carried the universe about in a box, told us. "Sir," said he to my father, "when you look at a map, do you know that the east is always on your right hand, and the west on your left?" "Yes," replied my father, with a very modest look, "I believe I do." "Well," said the man of learning, "that's one great point gained."


My father returned late on Friday night, bringing with him a very bad and a very good thing; the bad thing was a bad cold, the good is Aunt Mary Sneyd. Emmeline was delayed some days at Lichfield by the broken bridges and bad roads, floods and snows, which have stopped man, and beast, and mail coaches. Mr. Cox, the man who sells camomile drops under the title of Oriental Pearls, wrote an apology to my Aunt Mary for neglecting to send the Pearls, in the following elegant phrase: "That the mistake she mentioned he could no ways account for but by presuming that it must have arisen from impediments occasioned by the inclemencies of the season!"
When my father went to see Lord Charlemont, he came to meet him, saying, "I must claim relationship with you, Mr. Edgeworth. I am related to the Abbé Edgeworth, who is, I think, an honor to the kingdom - I should say to human nature."

EDGEWORTHSTOWN, April 11, 1795.

My father and Lovell have been out almost every day, when there are no robbers to be committed to jail, at the Logograph. 3 This is the new name instead of the Telegraph, because of its allusion to the logographic printing press, which prints words instead of letters. Phænologue was thought of, but Logograph sounds better. My father will allow me to manufacture an essay on the Logograph, he furnishing the solid materials and I spinning them. I am now looking over, for this purpose, Wilkins's "Real Character, or an Essay towards a Universal Philosophical Language." It is a scarce and very ingenious book; some of the phraseology is so much out of the present fashion that it would make you smile: such as the synonym for a little man, a Dandiprat. Likewise two prints - one of them a long sheet of men with their throats cut, so as to show the windpipe whilst working out the different letters of the alphabet; the other print of all the birds and beasts packed ready to go into the ark.
Sir Walter James has written a very kind and sensible letter to my father, promising all his influence with his Viceregal brother-in-law about the telegraph. My father means to get a letter from him to Lord Camden, and present it himself, though he rather doubts whether, all things taken together, it is prudent to tie himself to government. The raising the militia has occasioned disturbances in this county. Lord Granard's carriage was pelted at Athlone. The poor people here are robbed every night. Last night a poor old woman was considerably roasted: the man, who called himself Captain Roast, is committed to jail; he was positively sworn to here this morning. Do you know what they mean by the White Tooths? Men who stick two pieces of broken tobacco pipes at each corner of the mouth, to disguise the face and voice.

April 20.

Here is a whirlwind in our county, and no angel to direct it, though many booted and spurred desire no better than to ride in it. There is indeed an old woman in Ballymahon, who has been the guardian angel of General Crosby; she has averted a terrible storm, which was just ready to burst over his head. The General, by mistake, went into the town of Ballymahon, before his troops came up; and while he was in the inn, a mob of five hundred people gathered in the street. The landlady of the inn called General Crosby aside, and told him that if the people found him they would certainly tear him to pieces The General hesitated, but the abler general, the landlady, sallied forth and called aloud in a distinct voice, "Bring round the chaise-and-four for the gentleman from Lanesborough, who is going to Athlone." The General got into the chaise incog., and returning towards Athlone met his troops, and thus effected a most admirable retreat.

Monday Night.

Richard 4 and Lovell are at the Bracket Gate. I hope you know the Bracket Gate: it is near Mr. Whitney's, and so called, as tradition informs me, from being painted red and white like a bracket cow. I am not clear what sort of an animal a bracket cow is, but I suppose it is something not unlike a dun cow and a gate joined together. Richard and Lovell have a nice tent, and a clock, and white lights, and are trying nocturnal telegraphs, which are now brought to satisfactory perfection.
I am finishing "Toys and Tasks;" I wish I might insert your letter to Sneyd, 5 with the receipt for the dye, as a specimen of experiments for children. Sneyd with sparkling eyes returns you his sincere thanks, and my mother with her love sends you the following lines, which she composed to-day for him: -
"To give me all that art can give,
My aunt and mother try:
One teaches me the way to live,
The other how to dye."
But though she makes epigrams, my mother is far from well.

1 Published in 1795 - an early plea in favor of female education.

2 The coals burned at Black Castle were naturally more agreeable to Mrs. Billamore (a faithful servant) than the bog turf used at Edgeworthstown.

3 A name invented to suit the anti-Gallican prejudices of the day.

4 His last visit to Ireland. He returned to America, and died there, in 1796.

5 Mrs. Elizabeth Edgeworth's second boy.

CONTENTS | 1795-1798