Category Archives: Century

Our Distant View: Peterloo, Rebellion and Reform

Over the past few months we have opened up the Edgeworth Papers to share tales of the Edgeworths’ domestic concerns, love affairs, and literary lives. We now turn to consider how the public political world also impacted upon the Edgeworth circle. News of one event in Manchester two hundred years ago – and widely commemorated this month of August 2019 – reached the Edgeworth family at the comparative distance of their home in County Longford.

On 16 August 1819, a large crowd gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to urge for greater parliamentary representation and listen to radical speakers including ‘Orator’ Henry Hunt (1773-1835). Following the orders of magistrate William Hulton to arrest Hunt, the cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged into the amassed crowd (modern estimates are there were up to 80,000). The charge resulted in the deaths of approximately 18 people (including a two-year-old boy) and the injury of an estimated 400-700 more people. The Peterloo Massacre, as it became known, was a defining moment in nineteenth-century class history. It was widely reported in the newspapers and the graphic satires of the day.

The Manchester Heroes, 1819, Hand-coloured etching by George Cruikshank on paper, 250 × 350mm, © Trustees of the British Museum

Maria mentions Peterloo in her letter to Peter Holland (1766-1855), who lived close to Manchester in Knutsford, on 27 August (MS 16087/1). The Bodleian has recently acquired this fascinating (and as yet uncatalogued) collection, comprising 145 largely unpublished letters. The collection includes 37 letters written by Maria to Holland and c.80 letters to her from his son, Sir Henry Holland (1788-1873), apparently on behalf of and in collaboration with his father. The archive also includes letters written by Henry to his father and to the writer Lucy Aikin (1781-1864). In this particular letter, Maria informs Peter Holland that she has dictated the letter to Fanny in order to save Maria’s eyesight and for his ease of reading. The letter is urgent though as she needs to know if Peter Holland is ‘dead or alive’ and his family safe following the ‘riots of mob & military’ in Manchester. We provide a transcription of the first paragraphs of the letter that relate to Peterloo.

Images of the first two pages of Maria’s Letter to Peter Holland (27 August 1819, MS 16087/1)

Transcription of first two paragraphs of Maria’s Letter to Peter Holland 27 August 1819, MS 160871

From her ‘distant view’, Maria shares her opinion on events, which she declares ‘perhaps on these occasion may chance to be the truest because the most impartial’. Maria does not support the reformist cause as it is proposed by Hunt (indeed she refers to his ‘evil designs’), and she praises the yeomanry’s ‘good intentions’, but censures their actions:

‘…their imprudent conduct they have made notorious to all the world—What an opportunity of showing that just vigor necessary to restore order they have lost by rashness – why did they not let Hunt and his followers proceed to some overt act before they began cutting and slashing? – I hope Government will forbid yeomanry to act again in any such cases – from their local feelings & from their want of discipline they are of all others the most improper to be employed.’

Maria’s concern for Holland was not only personal, but also evinces her active interest in the politics of the day. Though Maria was ‘distant’ from Peterloo, she was no stranger to political uprisings, such as the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a retaliation against British rule that resulted in the deaths of 10-30,000, which helped shape her ideas about the acceptable and proper limits of rebellion, though her progressive leanings were toward reform rather than regime change.

We should not overstate her interest in the events at Peterloo: in her letter to her Aunt Ruxton, written on 18 August (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56) she does not mention Peterloo at all [though perhaps the news had not reached the Edgeworths]. Yet, in several letters we find Maria and her family commenting on political stories in the newspaper whilst her sister Fanny’s (almost indecipherable) diary from our May blog, evidences the almost daily reading of parliamentary debates.

But the Edgeworth archive and Maria’s novels reveal more than just passing epistolary musings and fictional depictions of revolt and reform. Amongst the papers in the Bodleian, we find a manuscript copy of a poem entitled ‘Lines inspired by the Lord Chancellor’s Speech on the second reading [of] the Libel prevention Bill’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898, fols.25-6), apparently a ‘surplus copy’ of those circulated to members in Parliament. The Libel prevention bill was one of a series of measures (known as the Six Acts) Parliament passed in response to Peterloo, which hindered rather than furthered reform and focussed on curbing the rights of people, rather than – as Maria hoped – reforming the Yeomanry.

The ‘Lines…’ comment on the irony of Parliament attempting to curb the freedom of the press whilst benefitting from parliamentary privilege – that is, the legal immunity from prosecution offered to members of parliament which enabled them to speak freely in order to fulfil their duties. One consequence, however, was that they might make libellous claims without fear of legal challenge, whilst ordinary citizens were subject to increased scrutiny:

‘For still a British Senator we find
May speak (not print) the dictates of his mind,
Men in two honored houses at their ease
May talk what nonsense, or what sense they please,
Sedition there, and Libel, lose their name
There Truth & eloquence may lead to Fame!’

‘Lines inspired by the Lord Chancellor’s Speech on the second reading [of] the Libel prevention Bill’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898, fols.25-6)

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 898 fols.25r-26v

Parliamentary privilege was an ancient custom. But, by the nineteenth century it had taken on a new dimension. Parliamentary speech had become subject to increasing coverage and scrutiny in the newspapers although the newspapers could not (and still cannot) print anything potentially libellous said in the chamber. Nevertheless, parliamentary speeches had been turned into theatre by great orators such as Edmund Burke (1729-1727) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) in the previous century, with newspapers the platform for parliamentarians to achieve new kinds of ‘Fame’ – even if that ‘Fame’ was built on shaky foundations.

Maria Edgeworth’s politics are reformist rather than revolutionary and she consistently represented reform as a means of averting the suffering and violence attendant on outright rebellion. Edgeworth’s story ‘The Grateful Negro’ (written 1802 and published 1804 – one of 11 in Popular Tales) was a reformist take on the abolition debates. A fictional account of the 1760 slave rebellion in Jamaica, the story makes the case that sympathy and care for slaves would prevent violent rebellion and hence be to the economic and ethical advantage of the colonial system. While Maria was critical of abusive and neglectful landlordism, as we see in the satire in Castle Rackrent (1800) and the sentiment of The Absentee (1812) concerning Anglo-Irish rule, she did not criticise the (colonial) system itself. So too, she takes a reformist approach to the issue of slavery – the Jamaican planter Mr Edwards concludes a benevolent exercise of slavery is the best way to sustain the system which supports his livelihood and reconciles his conscience. ‘The Grateful Negro’ was also as Elizabeth S. Kim explains, a vehicle for debating the rights and wrongs of a rebellion nearer to home – the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Our investigation of the letters has uncovered a reference hitherto undiscussed to an encounter with a black woman on Irish soil. While she makes no direct reference to Peterloo in her letter composed the day after the massacre of 18 August to her Aunt Ruxton, Maria provides a short note smuggled into the top right hand corner of a scrappy one page sheet; here she describes a meeting with one Mrs Blackall. Despite interest in Maria’s literary depictions of race, there has been little or no attention to this brief mention of her encountering a mixed-race woman on Irish soil. Maria records that:

‘We dined yesterday at Mrs Whitman where we met Captn & Mrs Blackall — who is 3/4th a negress—Black all indeed. Pray when does the Bishop arrive’

In the third edition of her novel Belinda (1810), Maria erased the suggestion found in the first two editions to a mixed-race marriage, such as the one she described in this letter. Edgeworth changed the name and the reference to the skin colour of Belinda’s white West Indian suitor, Mr Vincent, in her novel: Juba, the African servant who marries the white daughter of a tenant farmer, Lucy, becomes plain James Jackson. But as her encounter with the Blackalls demonstrates, interracial couples would later feature in the Edgeworths’ daily lives.

Maria consistently argued for reform to avert the violence and cruelty she thought resulted from both sides in systems of oppression, whether in Manchester, Jamaica or Ireland. However, there is some cruelty to modern ears in the laboured pun she elaborates in this brief sentence concerning Mrs Blackall, a woman of African descent.

Maria’s Letter to Aunt Ruxton (18 August 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56)

Transcription of Maria’s Letter to Aunt Ruxton 18 August 1819 MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56

The Edgeworth papers are full of such interpretive cruxes. They reveal to us not only strangeness and distance but surprising connections and unexpected moments of encounter.

Looking beyond the Edgeworth papers there are a number of events this year in and around Greater Manchester to commemorate Peterloo including ‘Making the News: Reading between the lines, from Peterloo to Meskel Square’ at the Portico Library, ‘From Waterloo to Peterloo’ at Gallery Oldham, and a public re-enactment in St Peter’s Square on 16 August 2019.

Ros Ballaster and Anna Louise Senkiw

 

References

Elizabeth S. Kim, ‘Maria Edgeworth’s The Grateful Negro: A Site for Rewriting Rebellion’, in
Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Volume 16, Number 1, October 2003, pp.103-126.

 

The Halls on ‘Grand Tour’: Travelling the Continent in the early 19th century (and keeping diaries about it)

Guest post by Katherine Knight
Summer intern at Bodleian Libraries Archives & Modern Manuscripts


Many of us today may be tempted to keep some kind of record of our holidays: but very rarely do we imagine they will survive for another two-hundred years. Thomas Kirkpatrick (‘T.K.’)  Hall (1776-1865) and his wife Elizabeth, née Crompton, did the same as many of the English wealthy in the 19th century: they commenced their own ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. Passing through Kent to France, Switzerland, and Italy, the couple spent thirteen months from the years 1818-1819 touring the continent, and recorded their individual experiences in seven volumes.

Leaving London on 2 June 1818: The first page of Thomas K. Hall’s diary, and the beginning of a journey.

The spines of Mrs Hall’s journals, Vols. I-III

Interestingly, the two appear to have had very different approaches to how to keep their respective journals. While Eliza Hall kept a mostly meticulous account of her travels, with detail given to the activities of each day, she did find that in busy times she got somewhat carried away with the excitement of travelling – as many of us do with our own attempts to journal. When in Rome, she listed the places visited on each day without description, with the details evidently added afterwards from other records.

When in Rome, see all the sights: A tourist’s busy cultural and social schedule in December 1818. The diary also mentions the Halls meeting Lord Byron in or near Rome.

It is here that having a dual account proves invaluable, as T.K. Hall filled in the details of what was missed with elaborate strokes. While in awe of the wonders of St Peter’s Basilica, he was not, however, impressed that there were no special services on Christmas Day – and, even more surprisingly, believed the Sistine Chapel did not live up to expectations!

This temporary lapse in narrative is surprising, as otherwise Eliza’s narrative is meticulous. Her journal is kept in three blue-bound hardback volumes and is immensely detailed.

‘So large an English congregation so far from home’ – church service in Geneva, as described by Eliza Hall [July 1818].

T.K. Hall, while keeping a studious diary of daily affairs, focused on one thing above all: the accommodation. In a sheet pasted into the front cover of one of his two volumes, we can find a handwritten list of hotels, accompanied by the city and rating. A ‘19th century Trip Advisor’, as one might say – and he seemed to have been hard to please, with most of the hotels being labelled ‘so-so’. His journal also offer some interesting details of life on the road. On the last stretch of the journey, Mr. Hall remarks that there was a slight mishap with the carriage overturning – not an occurrence one would be likely to encounter today, although an illness which threatened to derail the holiday is more commonplace.

From ‘very bad’ to ‘excellent’: Thomas K. Hall’s hotel ratings. How many points out of 10 would equal ‘tolerable’ or ‘indifferent’?

Tours and excursions – on mule, on horse, in boat, on foot

Nevertheless, there are several similarities between the style of the two works, right down to the list of towns and distances between which can be found pasted into the covers of each journal. It is tempting to picture the two discussing their journeys, calculating the distances between and making a meticulous log together. Fittingly, both end on the same phrase: thanking God for preserving them on their pleasant journey through the continent.

Mr Hall clearly liked his lists: 3176 miles from Geneva to Brussels (with a few detours, that is)

In a time before travel photography, it is particularly interesting to see a different kind of holiday picture: two volumes of watercolours and sketches by Eliza Hall of various places around Europe. And the landscapes were continued beyond the pair’s brief holiday: the sketches continue through the years, with landscapes of Wales contained amongst the European memories.

An Alpine view, captured in watercolours by Eliza Hall

Heidelberg Castle, 1819

We have some details of the lives of the Halls – like many at the time, they came from a legacy of sugar plantation ownership. It makes for uncomfortable reading today, but is perhaps not surprising when one considers the expense required to embark upon a thirteen-month journey around the continent. The records of life of the Victorian participants of the Grand Tour must inevitably be laid against the background of such sources of income: indeed, it continues to be the foundation of much wealth even today.

– Katherine Knight, University College
Oxford University Careers Service Summer Internship Programme


The late 1810s and 1820s seem to have been popular time for doing the ‘Grand Tour’:  Just as the Halls, Thomas FitzGerald (1788-1860) set out on travel France and Switzerland in 1818/1819, and he returned to the Continent for a combination of tourism and studies in Italy in 1822/1823. His travel diaries and notes are now in the family papers series of the archive of his granddaughter, the scientist Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald (MS. Mabel FitzGerald 81).


 

Music Manuscript Catalogues Go Online

The Bodleian Libraries house rich collections of music manuscripts dating from medieval times to the present and include such highlights as Handel’s conducting score of Messiah, Holst’s suite The Planets and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture. Anyone who has used the Bodleian’s music manuscript or archival collections over the years will be used to grappling with a confusing array of different findings aids. Apart from a few old collection-level entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, we have had to rely on various paper catalogues and handlists, published and unpublished, which readers can rarely navigate successfully without help from Music section staff. These include: the published Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts (for manuscripts acquired up to 1915), supplemented by large numbers of typescript revisions to the Summary Catalogue descriptions; typescript descriptions of post-1915 acquisitions, the more recent of which also exist as MS Word files; published catalogues for the Deneke-Mendelssohn and Tenbury collections, both of which have accumulated long lists of corrections and amendments over time; boxlists for various uncatalogued collections, such as Ella and Sterndale Bennett. Such finding aids were only partially indexed so locating material has always been dependent to a large extent on the knowledge and experience of staff.

Original conducting score of Handel’s Messiah (MS. Tenbury 346, fol. 66r)

Thanks to a very generous donation, we are now well into a three-year project which aims to incorporate the content of these various finding aids into the online catalogue as well as tackle a range of music manuscripts and archives which have hitherto had no catalogue description. So far, a number of uncatalogued manuscripts and collections have been catalogued while the existing finding aids were sent off to have their contents keyed into machine-readable form for the online catalogue. The two strands of converting the existing finding aids and new cataloguing will continue side-by-side for the remainder of the project which is due to finish in the summer of 2021. By this time, if all goes to plan, all of the Bodleian Libraries’ music manuscripts and music-related archives will have entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, which is itself undergoing a system upgrade and facelift. The first collections should start to appear online in the Autumn of 2019 and will be added to gradually as catalogues are completed.

Catalogues of the Bodleian’s Music holdings

To have online access to any of this information is a major step forward for users of our collections and the beauty of an electronic catalogue is that it can be added to and improved over time.

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music

Exhibiting Maria Edgeworth and Her Fellow Literary Lions

July 1819 was a quiet month for Maria. Writing to her favourite aunt, Margaret Ruxton, on 7th July 1819 from Edgeworthstown (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fols.52-3), Maria remarked that although the perpetual scribbler within her couldn’t ‘be happy without writing a few lines’, she had ‘nothing new, remarkable or entertaining’ to relate. Her half-brother Lovell (1775-1842) remained housebound in Dublin with festering leech bites, whilst her half-sister Lucy Jane (1805-1897) was kept ‘constantly horizontal’ to hasten her recovery from treatment for a back problem. Nevertheless, Maria ‘endeavoured to amuse’ the female company at Edgeworthstown by attending different local churches to listen to sermons. She admires a debut performance and has contempt for the bombast of a more famous preacher, one Mr Burgh. She complains that some auditors do ‘not know the difference between fine sounding sentences & sense’.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 7th July 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.52r

 

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 7th July 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fols.52v-53r

 

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 7th July 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.53v

Transcript of MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fols.52-3

In the same letter, two male contemporaries of her own who had been much lionised in the press also attracted wry comment from her in similarly contrasting terms. In this blog we explore the judgements Maria and her contemporaries cast on each other’s work: not only the contrast between ‘fine sounding sentences’ and the solid virtues of ‘sense’, but also the different value placed on the ‘power’ of rendering ‘character’ and ‘story’. And we turn to consider the secret presence of Maria Edgeworth in our contemporary literary world.

As early as 23 October 1814, Maria had written to Sir Walter Scott, her fellow ‘national tale’ teller, to express her admiration for Waverley and the two shared a mutually appreciative correspondence (the Bodleian holds copies of letters from Scott to Maria at MS. Eng. lett. c. 720, fols. 147, 149-50). The other author mentioned in this letter, Lord Byron, she had also met but no ongoing connection was established.

Maria reports a comment in a note to her from Lord Lansdowne that Bryon’s historical narrative poem Mazeppa (1819) had disappointed readers due to its lack of satirical and licentious content. It is not clear that she herself had yet read this rip-roaring poem which draws on a Ukrainian folk tale of the punishment of the page Mazeppa for an adulterous affair with a Polish countess: Mazeppa is strapped to a wild horse and the poem ingeniously captures the relentless rhythm of the horse’s hoofs. The parallels with the circumstances of the poet perhaps did not require spelling out: Byron, afflicted by a club foot but a genius with the poetic foot, was notorious for his separation from his wife in 1816 and adulterous affair with an Italian Contessa he met in Ravenna while in exile in 1818.

The one meeting between Byron and Edgeworth took place when Byron was at the height of his fame and before his exile abroad. Maria and her father Richard met him at the London home of the chemist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy. Writing in his diary in 1813, Bryon admitted Richard, despite his ‘clarety, elderly, red complexion’, was ‘a fine old fellow’. But it was Maria who ‘every one cared more about’ and was the real literary talent of the Edgeworth family: ‘Whereas her father talked, not as if he could write nothing else, but as if nothing else were worth writing’. So impressed by her literary output, Byron admitted that Maria had managed to overshadow his reputation and popularity amongst readers: ‘I was the [literary] lion of 1812 Miss Edgeworth and Madame de Staël […] were the exhibitions’, the literary marvels, ‘of the succeeding year’. Maria by contrast comments wryly in a letter to her cousin Sophy Ruxton of May 1813: ‘Of Lord Byron I can tell you only that his appearance is nothing that you would remark’.

Bryon’s laudatory evaluation of Edgeworth’s literary prowess is fairly typical of her contemporary readers. Scott nicknamed her ‘the great Maria’. In this letter we see Maria beginning to mitigate her enthusiasm for Scott’s works, again through the vehicle of the report of another male correspondent. She is awaiting a copy of the third series (1819) of Scott’s Tales of My Landlord which comprised ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ (now considered one of his finest achievements) and ‘A Legend of Montrose’. ‘Dr H’ (possibly Dr Peter Holland (1766-1855), a regular correspondent although his letters to Maria have not yet been found), she reports, says they ‘are interesting but inferior in power of character to the preceding tales’.

Maria may have preferred Scott’s ability to generate exciting and involving plot to the ‘power of character’ now recognised as the main achievement of another contemporary who placed her alongside Scott and Byron in a pantheon of literary greats. Despite her marginalised position in the modern literary cannon, Maria was once the UK’s most commercially successful novelist, as evidenced by the enthusiasm of other writers such as Byron to meet with her and the extraordinary record of income Maria Edgeworth meticulously recorded in September 1842: £11,062, 8s and 10 pennies (conversion to income now is some £668,332.85) . Compare the modest lifetime earnings for her fiction of £630 by Jane Austen (1775-1817).

Like Byron, Austen held Maria’s works in high regard. Writing to her niece Anna in 1814, herself an aspiring author, Austen went as far as to remark that ‘I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours, and my own’. Austen continued to praise Edgeworth in her fiction. In Northanger Abbey (1818), she lauded Edgeworth’s controversial novel Belinda (1801) – along with Frances Burney’s Camilla and Cecilia – as works ‘in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language’.

Although an attentive reader of Austen’s works, Edgeworth’s opinion of Austen was mixed. In a letter to her cousin, Sophy Ruxton, of 26 December 1814, Maria comments that the family had been ‘much entertained’ by Austen’s previous work, Mansfield Park (1814). But much like Sir Water Scott, Edgeworth found Emma (1815) lacking in substance and gave up on it after one volume. Writing to Aunt Ruxton on 10th January 1816, Maria relates how she was grateful to receive a copy of the novel from the ‘authoress of Pride and Prejudice’ herself. Edgeworth was probably flattered by the kind gift—it was after all the only copy of Emma to presented by Austen to another author. But in a cutting review in a letter written later that year to her half-brother, Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, Maria complained that the novel lacked plot: ‘There is no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet’s lover was an admirer of her own—& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow—and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma’s father’s opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel.’

Jane Austen’s Emma: a novel. In three volumes (1816) Bodleian Library 12 Theta 411-413

Nonetheless, Maria choose to keep her copy of Emma amongst the books housed in the family library at Edgeworthstown— a savvy decision, given that just two of the three original volumes Maria owned of Emma sold at auction in 2010 for £79,250. The new owner is in good company in owning only a partial set. A letter from Maria and Richard’s publisher in the Bodleian evidences, Maria’s gift text of Emma was not the only copy housed in the Edgeworth’s library (MS Eng. Lett. c. 722, fols.29-30). On 4th September 1816, Rowland Hunter wrote to Richard to inform him that he had just sent ‘a brown paper parcel’ filled with books to Ireland via Liverpool. Amongst the latest multi-volume memoirs (John Harriott’s Struggles Through Life (1807) and Memoirs of the Somerville Family (1815)), scholarly reference works (William Nicholson’s A Dictionary of Practical and Theoretical Chemistry (1808)), and writing supplies (18 pencils) was bundled a single novel— the first volume of Austen’s Emma. Whilst Edgeworth had despaired at the first volume, nearly a year later, Richard appears to have gone out of his way to order his own personal copy of the very same volume from his London bookseller.

Letter from Rowland Hunter to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, 4th September 1816, MS. Eng. lett. c. 722 fol 29r

 

Letter from Rowland Hunter to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, 4th September 1816, MS. Eng. lett. c. 722 fol 29v-30r

Transcript of MS. Eng. lett. c. 722

Austen’s reputation would eventually out-shadow that of both Richard and Maria Edgeworth as well as Maria’s fellow lioness, Germaine de Staël. The growth of Irish nationalism, coupled with less enthusiasm for female authors and characters outspoken in their political opinions in the popular form of the novel, caused Maria’s literary popularity to decline from the 1830s onwards. By 1909, Virginia Woolf found herself asking ‘whether people now read Miss Edgeworth’s novels’.

Despite her declining appeal to readers, Maria’s work has continued to inspire important works produced by subsequent generations of literary lions and exhibitors. Castle Rackrent (1800) remains a touchstone, albeit an ambiguous one, with secrets hard to disclose. An apparently slight reference to Castle Rackrent in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) unfolds a wealth of potential meanings. Daisy asks the narrator Nick Carraway
‘Are you in love with me,’ she said in my ear, ‘Or why did I have to come alone?’, to which he answers ‘That is the secret of Castle Rackrent’ (chapter 5). Of Irish descent, Fitzgerald may simply have been invoking an affinity between his own unreliable narrator, Nick and the famously unreliable narrator of Edgeworth’s novel, Thady Quirk. Thady is steward to four generations of variously ineffectual Anglo-Irish landlords of the Rackrent estate: see the sketch by Maria’s half-sister Harriet Edgeworth (1801-1889) of Thady with his favourite master, Sir Condy, a child at his knee (MS Eng 901, fol.108). The ‘secret’ revealed at the end of the novel is that the improvident Sir Condy has entailed a jointure of £500 each year on his wife. Jason Quirk, the aspirant son of Thady and manager of the estate, is poised to seize the whole and is enraged but nonetheless forces Sir Condy to sign over his estate in a deed while Thady looks on and weeps. Thady’s loyalties, like Nick’s, are always murky: we cannot tell whether they are to the ruling classes, the women abused or pursued by those men, or the outsiders/bootleggers who aspire to take their place. The ‘secret’ of such stories, the famous ambivalence of the ‘Irish bull’, stays with these never-fully-revelatory narrators.

Sketch of Thady and Sir Condy by Honora Edgeworth, MS. Eng. 901. fol.145

A modern equivalent of this ambivalent exposure of abuse of power and resistance to it first captured in Castle Rackrent can be found in the bookish heroine of Anna Burn’s 2018 Booker prize-winning Milkman. ‘Middle sister’ decides not to take Castle Rackrent with her on her evening walk when she is ‘too buzzy to read’. She ponders instead ‘teacher’s’ words about sunsets every day and the imperative to ‘uncover what we’ve kept hidden, what we think we might have lost’.

Maria’s other works are secret pleasures for many writers in the know. Antony Trollope used the plot of The Absentee (1812) in his Hibernian novel The Kellys and the O’Kellys (1848). Poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (‘Maria Edgeworth in 1847’) and Vona Groarke (‘Patronage’ 1994) invoke the labour of the woman writer and the threads of influence and affinity across Irish and English kin and cultures her work generates. Mark, the callow hero of Belinda McKeown’s Solace (2011) is writing a thesis on Maria Edgeworth at Trinity College, Dublin. Over two-hundred and fifty years after her birth, despite her decline in mainstream popularity, Byron’s great if reluctant literary exhibitionist continues to inspire writers and delight readers through her displays of authorial prowess.

Ros Ballaster and Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Emily Hobhouse, Oxfam, and humanitarian handicrafts

On Thursday and Friday, 27 and 28 June, ‘Humanitarian Handicrafts: Materiality, Development and Fair Trade. A Re-evaluation’, a collaboration between the University of Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett University and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute of the University of Manchester, brought together historians, curators, archivists and craft practitioners to explore handicraft production for humanitarian purposes from the late 19th century to the present. Subjects ranged from the work of the humanitarian reformer, Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926), founder of Boer Home Industries in the aftermath of the 1899-1902 South African War, through lace-making in Belgium during WW1 and initiatives in Eastern Europe after WW2, to the work of the Huddersfield Committee for Famine Relief (‘Hudfam’) and Oxfam from the late 1950s.

Oxfam’s handicrafts story and its archive were featured strongly at the conference in papers on ‘Helping by Selling’ from 1963, Oxfam’s scheme for the purchase of handicrafts from producers in poor countries for sale in the U.K., the proceeds being returned as grants for humanitarian work; the foundation of Oxfam’s ‘Bridge’ fair trade organisation in 1975, the first in the U.K. and probably in Europe; and the development of the International Federation for Alternative Trade, later the World Fair Trade Organisation, with Oxfam’s support. In addition, the work of Cecil Jackson-Cole was considered. Jackson-Cole, a founder and long-term Hon. Secretary of Oxfam, went on to found charities including Help the Aged and ActionAid and was instrumental in opening charity shops in South Africa in the 1970s.

'Bridge' poster

‘Bridge’ poster, Oxfam archive

On Thursday evening, the Emily Hobhouse Letters, a project to recover Hobhouse’s contribution to international peace, relief and reconstruction in South Africa and Europe, launched its travelling exhibition, ‘War Without Glamour’, which draws extensively on documents from her archive held at the Bodleian. A display of items from the archive will open on 21 September in the Old Library Proscholium. See:

https://emilyhobhouselettersproject.wordpress.com/exhibition/

Emily Hobhouse

Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926)

How much is that Doggie in the Archive?: The Value of Dogs in the Edgeworth Papers

As we struggle through yet another rainy June in Oxford, we cast our gaze back to the more sunny events in Ireland described by Maria Edgeworth in a letter from 17th June 1819 to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton (1746-1830) (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.50-51)—written in cross style on the last page and writing around the sides to save paper. In past posts, we’ve considered some of the smaller objects that make up the Edgeworth papers—scraps and fragments that were treasured not for their intrinsic worth, but for their sentimental value. The focus of this post, Maria’s beloved dog Foster, is thankfully not housed in the Bodleian. But as Maria’s letter demonstrates, despite his diminutive size, Foster was a highly-valued member of the extended Edgeworth family.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.50r)

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.50v)

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.51r)

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.51v)

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. 717, fols.50-1

Like any good boy, Foster comes with his own backstory. Prior to leaving Ireland for England with her sisters late in 1818, Maria visited the family home of John Foster, latterly Baron Oriel (1740-1828)— a good friend of her recently deceased father Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and the last speaker of the Irish House of Commons prior to its dissolution by the Act of Union in 1800. On this particular visit, Maria was so taken by Foster’s King Charles spaniel that he promised her one of its puppies. When Maria returned to Ireland in June 1819, her Aunt Ruxton presented her with a new addition to the family that fulfilled Foster’s promise—a beautiful spaniel puppy, whom she named after her father’s friend.

Writing excitedly to her Aunt shortly after Foster’s arrival at Edgeworthstown, Maria recalls in her letter the superlative devotion of her ‘dearest, most amiable bestbred’ dog to his mistress. Among the Edgeworth papers, there is a pencil portrait by Colonel Stevens of a regally-posed Foster reclining in front of Edgeworthstown House (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.90) , Maria’s description of her new puppy evidences his valued position as the family’s model pet— one who never ‘stirs til I open my eyes’, is as ‘clean as a silken muff’, is friendly enough to withstand the playful grasp of Maria’s seven-year old half-brother Michael Packenham, and entertains the whole family through his comedic reaction to tasting the snuff intended to relieve his ‘Démangeaison’ (itching). Much like Lady Frances Arlington’s dog in Maria’s novel Patronage (1814), who distracts the audience when he performs tricks during a private theatrical performance, Foster clearly succeeded in stealing the hearts of the entire extended Edgeworth family.

Pencil portrait by Colonel Stevens of Foster in front of Edgeworthstown House (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.90)

Maria clearly valued Foster for his companionship. She could, after all, ‘speak forever’ on ‘the subject’ of her puppy. Yet there is some comedic value in the fact that Foster was a King Charles spaniel. This ‘royal breed’, as Maria refers to it, of toy spaniel has been associated with the English Monarch since Lucas de Heere painted a pair curled at the feet of Queen Mary I in 1558. In her letter, Maria takes great pride in telling her aunt how ‘My Fosters [black] mouth proved his noble descent’ from the rare, prized breed owned by English aristocrats. Indeed, Maria shockingly recalls how King Charles Spaniels were valued so much by ‘Late the Duke of Norfolk’ that he reportedly fed their puppies to his ‘German owl’, and deceived Queen Charlotte with a worthless ‘cur’, mongrel, to ‘to preserve [his] […] exclusive possession’ of the breed. Yet Foster was the gift of, and named after, an Irish politician who had stalwartly fought – from within William Pitt’s government— for Irish economic prosperity and peace during the long years of struggle over the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

Whilst Maria’s references to Foster’s aristocratic breed may be ironic, his name choice demonstrates the value Maria placed in his namesake as an individual. In Maria’s fictional works, dogs are often named after the characters with whom they share personality traits. In Maria’s earlier novel, Belinda (1801), for example, West Indian white creole Mr Vincent names his dog after his black servant Juba in recognition of their shared loyalty to their master (‘Well, Juba, the man, is the best man – and Juba, the dog, is the best dog, in the universe’). Similarly, in her moral tale for children, The Little Dog Trusty (1801), the story’s blameless titular canine is renamed Frank after the narrative’s equally well-behaved child (‘Trusty is to be called Frank [to] […] let them know the difference between a liar and a boy of truth’) (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.140). By naming her dog after John Foster, Maria can be seen as complimenting the former speaker for his amiable qualities and loyal character. Indeed, Maria was writing her Father’s memoir with her new dog Foster by her side, and she may well have been thinking of two independent-minded landowning men important in her life—men who had sought to provide the kind of guidance and care to the poor and neglected local Irish tenants described in the second part of this letter, and painted by her half-sister Charlotte (MS Eng Misc c.901, fols.58-60).

‘Vignette for Dog Trusty’ by F.M.W., 1842 (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.140)

Sketch by Maria’s half-sister Charlotte, ‘After dinner at a Bog’ (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.58)

Sketch by Maria’s half-sister Charlotte, ‘Irish laborers from the life’ (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.60)

Early in her letter, in a compliment to her aunt who had raised Foster from a puppy, Maria remarks on his amiability, observing that she is ‘pledged to believe that education does more than nature’. Her belief in the benefits of a good education is evidenced in the scenes of rural labour and education among ‘troops’ of young children with which she furnishes her aunt at the end of the letter and which are also found frequently in her fiction. Virtue is something that must be ‘fostered’ in the young. And we see that in the story of Lovell’s (foster) care for a fatherless Irish boy in his school at Edgworthstown who is described working happily alongside his fellows haymaking in the closing (densely crossed) paragraphs at the end of Maria’s letter.1 The boy’s father has been executed having gone to the bad and fallen among thieves. Maria reports the neighbourhood view that his son, brought up to virtue in his mother’s family, might have influenced him against such criminality. Lovell prompts the boy’s schoolfellows to undertake small amounts of labour so that they can club together and provide him with a suit of clothes in place of the rags he has to stand in. Poverty, insurgency, discontent, were on the doorstep of Edgworthstown House. Maria concludes her letter by remarking that her father would have been proud to see the family applying the principles of generosity, care and educational improvement he took seriously as his duty of landowning care. Maria may in fact be gently mocking ‘proofs’ of value in external marks of ‘breeding’ and the tendency to translate them from the animal kingdom to the human. Certainly the particular brand of benevolent patriarchalism the Edgeworths wielded over their tenants as Anglo-Irish landowners feels uncomfortable and condescending to modern readers. But Maria is sharp and funny enough often to see those contradictions and make room for them in her letters. And in the end, her beloved doggo, bred by a man whom she greatly admired, was naturally the best pupperino in all of Ireland.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

 

Footnotes

1. Lovell established a remarkable co-educational school for one hundred and twenty Protestant and Catholic boys in Edgeworthstown based on his father’s theories of education in 1816. Before closing in 1833, the school attracted notable literary visitors including William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. For more, see Brian W. Taylor, ‘Richard Lovell Edgeworth’, The Irish Journal of Education (1986) XX: 1, pp.27-50.

Old Ideas, New Technologies: Historical and Vintage Festivals in the UK Web Archive

Festivals are wonderful events that can often involve thousands of people, united by their shared love for a common activity or theme. The UK Web Archive seeks to capture, and record these often colourful and creative demonstrations of human culture and creativity.

Some Festivals are very large and documented, such as Glastonbury which often attracts over a 100,000 people. However, there are also a number of smaller and more specific festivals which are less well known outside of their local communities and networks, such as the Shelswell History Festival. However, the internet has helped level the playing field, and given these smaller festivals an opportunity to publicise their events far beyond the reaches of their traditional borders and boundaries. And this has allowed archivists such as myself to find and add these festivals to the UK Web Archive.

(The Festivals Icon on the UK Web Archive Website)

Historical and Vintage Festivals

One of the most personally intriguing parts of the UK Web Archive festivals collection for me is Historical and Vintage festivals. These festivals rarely attract the level of media attention that a high profile music festival featuring the world’s biggest pop stars would enjoy. However, the UK Web Archive, is about diversity, inclusivity, and finding value in all parts of society. People who attend, organise, and take part in historical and vintage festivals form part of a collective effort which often results in a website that helps chronicle their enthusiasm.

Thus far we have found forty eight different historical and vintage festivals that take place in the United Kingdom. These festivals are broad and varied, and celebrate a multitude of things. This includes Newport Rising which celebrates the 1839 Chartist rebellion, the Lupton House Festival of History which celebrates a historic house, and Frock Me! Which is a vintage fashion fair. Every single one of these festivals is unique and specific in their own way, but they do have something in common. They all celebrate history and the past, and are characterised by a charming sense of nostalgia and remembrance.

While the website is no substitute for attending in person, they often include:

• Basic information about the festival’s time, place, and theme.
• An array of photographs.
• Anecdotes about the events.
• Information about the festivals donors and supporters.
• And additional information, such as attendance policies and rules etc.

A notable feature of these websites is how they use relatively new technologies to organise events which celebrate old events, places, and themes. This indicates a fantastic synergy between the heritage sector, and modern technology.

Dressed_Talked_Coffee_Tea: Other Edgeworth Voices and Hands

The spring sunshine Maria described in her April letter swiftly gave way to a sodden May.

Images of Fanny’s Journal of the Tour of England

Images of Fanny’s Journal of the Tour of England, MS. Eng. Lett. c. 744, fols. 129-172

Towards the end of the month Maria Edgeworth and her half-sister Fanny (now recovered from her illness) set off on a tour of England that would last several months. Fanny began a journal documenting her and Maria’s travels – and makes frequent mention of the wet weather. It’s a conventional diary rather than the gripping drama that Maria often managed to make out of their lives. She begins on 20 May ‘Got up 7 ½ – dressed – packed […] left Byrkley Lodge’. Every activity is meticulously noted in Fanny’s far from legible hand.

There are no revelations or codes here of the kind we find in the journals of Anne Lister now being serialised in the BBC/HBO television drama, Gentleman Jack. And, if Fanny had the literary talents of her older half-sister, she did not choose to exercise them in these pages. What the journal lacks in literary merit it makes up for as evidence of the daily lives of the Edgeworth sisters whilst away from home.

First page of May 1819 (MS. Eng. Lett. c. 744 fol. 130)

First page of May 1819 (MS. Eng. Lett. c. 744 fol. 130) [PDF transcript]

Fanny records their day-to-day activities (there is much talking, dressing, eating breakfast and dinner, drinking coffee and tea, writing letters to family), she details the weather, and appears to use symbols to record the stages of the moon. And there are hints of their reading and writing practices, which point to the lively family interest in matters beyond their domestic concerns. There are some tantalising, brief, references to their curiosity about political events (Fanny reads parliamentary debates most days) and to their social lives (they have a number of visitors and acquaintances).

Fanny’s journal gives us the opportunity to open up our blog to the writing of other members of the Edgeworth family. Fanny’s younger brother, Francis Beaufort Edgeworth (aged just 10 at the time) –who had travelled with Fanny in the company of their brother, Lovell, to England in January 1819 so that Francis could take up his place at Charterhouse school — wrote to Fanny shortly after he left them earlier in the month on 12 May 1819 .

Francis’s letter (MS. Eng. Lett. c. 744 fol. 44)

Francis’s letter (MS. Eng. Lett. c. 744 fol. 44) [PDF transcript]

He lists his activities in his neat hand which is strikingly like that of Maria.

Francis and Fanny practiced what they were taught by Maria in line with the educational theory she and her father embraced: taking as much exercise and engaging with nature as they did improving reading: ‘I went and walked and gathered Cowslips, came in wrote to Mama. read lounged about, walked out, read over, Achilles speech’. Francis goes on to describe his journey back to school (Charterhouse) and then on to Epping to visit his maternal uncle and namesake Francis Beaufort.

There are examples of writing other than letters which demonstrate its importance in maintaining the strong bonds in this large family. Harriet Edgeworth (Maria’s sister), composed a poem in celebration of Maria’s forty-third birthday in 1821:

Image of “To Maria on her birthday 1821”

“To Maria on her birthday 1821”

To Maria on her birthday 1821

Now swift the rapid months hence wingd their way
And joyful hailed once more thy natal day
What varied traces have those months imprest
And painted living on the grateful breast

Year after year has hailed thee still the same
Tho’ each new year within the wreath of Fame
Entwined more glowingly the splendour of thy name

Yet still while youth’s bright hope illum’d each scene
When danced the fairy circle o’er the green
You still were first to guide to guard to share
Recount old pastimes & for new prepare.

When cold the hallowed hand that rear’d
And closed the beaming eye that cheer’d
When joys bright cup for us had ceas’d to flow
And Natures charms for us had ceas’d to glow
Still fond to sympathise still first to share
In all a mother’s hopes, a mother’s care

Can words essay our gratitude to shew
Which ever more in our hearts must glow
‘Tis not for words or deeds or sacrifice to prove
The gratitude that lives in our everlasting love

H.E (MS. Eng. Misc. c. 898, fol.36 )

Image of Harriet (MS. Eng. Misc. e. 1468)

Harriet Edgeworth (MS. Eng. Misc. e. 1468)

The poem celebrates Maria as a public figure with growing fame : ‘each new year within the wreath of Fame /Entwined more glowingly the splendour of thy name’. But equally to be celebrated and ever-growing are her virtues as a sister ‘You still were first to guide to guard to share / Recount old pastimes & for new prepare.’ Though none were so famous as Maria, the Edgeworth siblings were clearly engaged in literary composition of their own. If the miniature picture her mother, Frances, painted of her in 1819 is anything to go by, Harriet was as strongminded and independent as the half-sister she so much admired.

We will continue to open up our blog to more writings and drawings by members of the Edgeworth clan in the coming months. Keeping track of them all can be a tricky feat – we hope this list of Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s marriages and children helps:

Edgeworth family tree

Children of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (from Marilyn Butler’s Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography)

If you look at Maria’s dates, you will see that May was not only the month of Fanny’s journal and Francis’ letter in 1819, but it was also the date of Maria’s death. We publish our blog only a few days after the 170th anniversary of Maria’s death on 22 May 1849.

If you’ve been following us on Twitter, you will already know that our next blog will turn to the animal members of the Edgeworth extended family: if you want the dog blog – come back next month!

 

– Anna Louise Senkiw & Ben Wilkinson Turnbull

Curating the UK Web Archive’s Mental Health Collection

The UK Web Archive’s Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet collection  seeks to document the changing conversation surrounding mental health, social media and the internet by capturing UK-based websites for posterity.

Developing the Mental Health Collection

As well as including webpages which highlight the negative impact of social media on mental health, the mental health collection also serves to document online initiatives including web pages and social media platforms which are changing the conversation and helping to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. Examples of sites within the mental health collection include:

  • HeadsTogether, a mental health initiative setup and run by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry incorporating a campaign to change the dialogue surrounding mental health and raise funds to provide new mental health services.
  • The Mix provides an important source of mental health information and advice for people under twenty-five, tackling topics such as anxiety and depression, self-care and counselling.
  • The Mental Health First Aid England Instagram account (mhfaengland) serves to raise mental health literacy through a series of eye-catching posts including: photographs, drawings and info graphics which promote self-care and good mental health.
  • The Mental Health Foundation is a UK charity which aims to help people to understand, protect and sustain good mental health as seen through their online Twitter page

Help us grow our collections

The mental health collection can become a richer resource with your help. You could see your site suggestions preserved in the UK Web Archive by nominating them here.

Trifles and matters of consequence: The Edgeworths in Springtime, 1819

Since our last post, the days have thankfully got longer and warmer. Spring has well and truly sprung in the UK. When we last encountered the Edgeworths, Maria and Honora were preoccupied by Fanny’s courtship by with Lestock Wilson (Mr L W). In an anxious attempt to remove her sister from ‘the reach of poor L W’s hopes’ in Harley Street, Maria took the family out of London to the wholesome Hampstead residence of the Carr family. Writing to her step-mother Frances in a long letter dated 1st-3rd April 1819, Maria describes Maryon Hall in idyllic terms, remarking that it had been ‘intended from the Creation for the 3 Edgeworths’. The Carrs’ family home was a place where Maria, Fanny, and Honora could at last enjoy a ‘delicious spring day in the midst of spring delights’ amongst ‘the far greater delights of a family happy as ours once was’.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fols. 164r

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fols. 165r

MS. Eng. misc. c.696 fol.164 transcription

MS. Eng. misc. c.696 fol. 165 transcription

As Maria remarks in her letter, the Edgeworths were incredibly ‘fortunate […] to come’ to the Carrs ‘just at the moment we did’. Shortly after their arrival in Hampstead, Fanny fell ill with a violent cold as the result of  a draughty visit to the theatre. Maria firmly believed that Fanny’s feverish state had been brought on because she had been ‘too much harassed’ by ‘the struggle of her mind & the pain’ of deciding to reject L W’s proposal. Maria’s letter is full of anxiety as she struggles to decide on the next course of action: whether to call a doctor, whether to return to London as planned after the visit to the Carrs, and risk Fan’s further exposure to Mr. L. W.’s pursuit. As she so often does, she falls back on the advice of her (recently deceased father), Richard Lovell Edgeworth:

As my dear father used to say the great art of life is to know how to sacrifice trifles to matters of consequence. And to know what are trifles compared with great objects.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fol. 167r)

MS Eng misc c. 696 fol. 167 transcription

A cold may seem like a trifling illness to modern readers, who are often advised to resist visiting the GP for minor ailments. But this was not the case in the early nineteenth century. In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), Marianne Dashwood nearly dies of a cold brought on when she undertakes a long walk in bad weather preoccupied with her romantic disappointment over Mr Willoughby. Like Willoughby, Mr L.W. rushed to Hampstead to be by Fanny’s side when he hears of the gravity of her illness, but he was promptly denied by the cautious Maria. The treatments prescribed by Dr Holland— an eclectic mixture of arrowroot, castor oil, and antimony-induced skin-blistering— probably did little to help Fanny recover from her illness. With enough bed rest, Fanny’s cold had passed by the end of the week. But in such a grave situation, even the smallest trifles of medical help could provide psychological comfort in a matter of such great consequence as the illness of a beloved family member.

In opening the Edgeworth Papers we find ourselves constantly weighing the relative value of lengthy letters, full works in manuscript, and small  items that many would consider to be ‘trifles’. Wax seals, fragmented letters, and scraps of inscribed tracing paper may seem insignificant in comparison to some of Maria’s unpublished literary manuscripts. But their survival gives us a valuable insight into the daily lives and attitudes of the Edgeworth family and they open up new insights into the intimate, intense world that nourished Maria’s creativity. The personalised wax seal of Maria’s sister Harriet (1801-1889), for example, can be interpreted as a conscious form of epistolary self-fashioning— evidence that Maria was not the only female member of the family to care about her literary appearance. The cutting-up of one of Maria’s letters to her step-mother, possibly for sealing another contemporary letter, suggests that not every piece of manuscript by this most famous daughter was treated as precious. In stark contrast is the preservation of a ‘blotch’: a patch of paper scrawled with Maria’s tracing from a chinoiserie screen taken while ‘she was waiting to have a tooth drawn’ in 1843. Charlotte Beaufort requested to keep the paper as a ‘remembrance’ of Maria—evidence of the cult of celebrity that continued to surround the author within her family circle even in her final years. Charlotte was likely one of the four daughters from his first marriage of Captain Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), brother of Maria’s much-loved (step)’mother’, Frances. The widowed Rear-Admiral took as his second wife in 1738,  Maria’s sister, Honora. The manuscript note with the ‘blotch’ records Charlotte’s request to keep the paper as a ‘remembrance’ of Maria—evidence of the cult of celebrity that continued to surround the author within her family circle even in her final years.

Harriet Edgeworth’s red wax seal, letter from Harriet to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c. 736, fols. 56-57)

‘Cut-out’ letter, from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c. 696, fols. 93-94)

‘Blotch’ by Maria Edgeworth (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol. 86)

And two manuscript versions exist of a poem Maria wrote for her favourite aunt, Margaret Ruxton (1746-1830), sister to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, to accompany the gift of a ‘violet vase’. Maria’s poem captures the importance of an older woman’s care of a young girl in the ‘spring-time’ of her youth: the sort of care Maria sought to provide for her much younger half-sister, Fanny.

To my dear Aunt Ruxton with a violet vase

Here the first primrose of the year shall blow,
And violets here, their earliest sweets bestow
And the last flowret of the parting year
Shall love to leave its ling’ring sweetness here

So in the spring-time of my earliest youth
Bloomed the sweet promise of thy love & truth
So to my Life’s departing year supplies
Fragrance more rare, & bloom that never dies

Maria E (c.1819)

Two copies of ‘To my dear Aunt Ruxton wth a violet vase’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols. 61-62)

Much can be learnt from the Edgeworth Paper’s rich collection of archival titbits, and we look forward to sharing many of these intriguing fragments with you over the course of this year from one Spring to the next.

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Opening the Edgeworth Papers: the team

Ros Ballaster, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies, Faculty of English and Mansfield College, University of Oxford

Catriona Cannon, Deputy Librarian and Keeper of Collections, Bodleian Library

Anna Senkiw, Research Assistant

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull, Research Assistant

Follow us on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers

References

All materials from the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

  1. Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth, 1-3 April 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fols. 164-170
  2. Cut out letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth, MS. Eng.  lett. c.696 fols. 91-94
  3. Red Seal, Letter from Harriet Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth, 24 May 1830, MS. Eng. lett. c. 736 fols. 56-57
  4. “To my dear Aunt Ruxton with a Violet Vase”, MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 (fols. 61-2)