Richard Lovell Edgeworth


Life
1744-1817; b. Bath, ed. TCD and Oxford (Corpus Christi); friend of Thomas Day, Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, and Josiah Wedgewood, members of midlands Lunar Society; m. Anna Elers of Black Burton, Oxfordshire; dg. Maria, b. 1767, and son Richard (d. South Carolina, 1789); visited Rousseau, and adopted his educational principles in educating the children of his first marriage; m. Honora Sneyd of Lichfield; two further wives and twenty-two children; settled in Ireland, 1782;
 
aide-de-camp to Lord Charlemont, 1783, and MP; constructed Dublin-Galway ‘heliograph’ line, with Dr. Beaufort, 1804, whose dg. Fanny he took as his fourth wife (1769-1865), with whom he had six children incl. Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (b.1812); also invented antecedent of tar Macadam, self-laying track vehicles, moving wooden horses, and other appliances; installed reforms on his estate including recognition of tenant rights in improvements; MP for Johnstown, Co. Longford, 1798-1800;
 
raised a corp against rebels, 1798, including Catholic peasants, whom the Govt. would not supply with arms; ill-used by the Orangemen of Longford; voted twice against the Union because he disliked the methods used to pass it; shocked by the brutal executions in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion; supported Union as promising prosperity to compare with Yorkshire, but voted against it in protest at government bribery, leaving the house before the bill was passed, taking with him a group of anti-unionist MPs incl. Henry Grattan;
 
in 1817 he published an essay on the method of metalling roads later patented by MacAdam; there is a portrait by Hugh Douglas Hamilton in the National Portrait Collection, and another by R. L. Edgeworth by John Henning the Elder. ODNB JMC DIB DIW DIH OCIL FDA

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Works
Autobiography, Maria Edgeworth, ed., Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Esq., 2 vols. (London: R. Hunter, Baldwin, Cradock & Joy 1820); Desmond Clarke, ed. [i.e., intro.], Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth Begun by Himself and Concluded by his Daughter Maria Edgeworth, 2 vols. [rep. edn.] (Shannon: IUP 1969).

For children, The History of Sandford and Merton, 3 vols. (1738-39).

Miscellaneous, A letter to the Right Hon. the Earl of Charlemont on the tellograph, and on the defence of Ireland [printed Dublin; reprinted] (London: J. Johnson 1797), [2], 54pp.; The Substance of Three Speeches delivered in the House of Commons of Ireland upon the subject of an Union with Great Britain (London 1800).

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Criticism
Desmond Clarke, The Ingenious Mr. Edgeworth (1965).

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Commentary
W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), Richard and Maria Edgeworth, in Essay on Practical Education (1798, 2nd ed. 1815), reflects increasing criticism of classical monopoly, which they characterise as ‘toil and misery’ which deploring ‘barbarous translations’; ‘As long as gentlemen feel a deficienty in their own education, when they have not a competent knowledge of the learned languages, so long must a parent be anxious that his son should not be exposed to the mortification of feeling inferior to others of his own rank … It is not the ambition of a gentleman to read Greek like an ancint Grecian, but to undertsnad it as well as the generality of his contemporaries; to know whence the terms of most sciences are derived, and to be able, in some degree, to trace the progress of mankind in knowledge and refinemnt, by examing [sic] the exent and combination of their different vocabularies’; ‘A public speaker, who rises in the House of Commons, with pedantry propense to quote Latinor Greek, is coughed or laughed down but the beautiful, unpremeditatd, classical allusions of Burke or Sheridan, sometimes conveyed in a single word, seize the imagination irresistibly’ (Essay on Practical Education new ed. London 1815, chp. xiii; chp. ii, 255-6. Stanford comments, they write of classics almost like lace on their coats, and one almost feels that if thy had enough courage they would have found little or no place for them in their ‘practical education’. [34] Further: Richard Lovell Edgeworth wrote that certain books on ancient history were ‘certainly improper’, and that to ‘inculcate democracy and a foolish hankering after undefined liberty is not necessary in Ireland.’ (Letter to the Board of Education, in Reports from the Commissioners to the Board of Education of Ireland, Reports on Free Schools of Royal Foundation,1813, p.109; Stanford, Classical Tradition, 1986, c.215]. For classical influence on Richard Lovell Edgeworth, see Memoirs, i (London 1820), pp.23, 32-33 & 64-65.

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Rolf Loeber & Magda Loeber, ‘Fiction available to and written for cottages and their children’, in The Experience of Reading: Irish Historical Perspectives, ed. Bernadette Cunningham & Máire Kennedy (Dublin: Rare Books Group 1999), quoting Edgeworth: ‘[G]ood books that shall entertain and instruct … into the hands of the children of the poor, and they will soon form a taste that must distain such disgusting trash [as The life and adventures of James Freney]’ (Appendix to the 14th report of the Commissioners of the Board of Education in Ireland, p.337; here p.142); Note also, RLE challenges the common opinion that ‘if the poor are taught to read, they may read what is hurtful’ (ibid., p.337; here ftn. 17, p.158.)

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Rolf Loeber & Magda Loeber, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006), contains a frontispiece plate of “Serena” showing Honora Sneyd, 2nd wife of R. L. Edgworth m.1773), reading until daybreak in a mezzotint engraving by J. R. Smith after G[eorge] Romney, London 28 Sept. 1782; the book she is reading is Frances Burney’s Evelina, or a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (London 1778, 3 vols.; rep. Dublin 1779, 2 vols.]

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Willa Murphy, ‘A Queen of Hearts or an Old Maid?: Maria Edgeworth’s Fictions of Union’, in Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, ed. Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001), gives account of Guide to practical education (London 1798), based on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Joseph Priestley, David Hartley and Thomas Day; issued by Edgeworth as reflecting the system developed by him with his second wife Honora, involving encouragement of ability rather than discipline; free conversation between children and parents particularly cultivated, taking care that they do not become ‘spiles of servants, nor should they keep their secrets’ (p.200) and warning against ‘secret intercourse […] between children and servants’ (p.201); in the course of the educational experiment, Edgeworth kept ‘notes of everything which occurred worth recording’, makiing - as Murphy writes - a personal panopticon in his house. (Murphy, op. cit., pp.196-97.)

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Quotations
Act of Union (1800): The Substance of Three Speeches delivered in the House of Commons of Ireland upon the subject of an Union with Great Britain (London 1800): ‘the sun of reason has ascended too high to be followed by the mists of ignorance […] let it shine on Ireland’ (p.14); ‘the force of England is wanted to restrain the violence of party [in Ireland], and to give time for the revival of better passions, to give time for the effects of knowledge and of increasing property’ (p.14-15); [Union would transform] ;idleness and poverty into industry and wealth’ (p.15); ‘we have called in England to our aid, to settle our domestic quarrels’ (p.15); ‘The two islands [will be] mutually dependent - so are the earth and moon; they mutually regulate and enlighten each other; (p.16); ‘Good example and good education will carry off, or prevet the peccant humors that disease [this] country’ (p.17); ‘an identical and equal partnership, such terms as leave no temptation one one side and no suspicion on the other’ (p.20); ‘the real union of different materials can only be effected by the mutual attraction of their respective parts; when these parts have once combined they become one body without danger of spontaneous dissolution’ (p.32);’Are not trooops stationed in every part of this kingdom to enforce what will formally be law, but what an never be substantially legal till it has been santcioned by time and acquiesence?’ (p.46; all quoted in Willa Murphy, ‘A Queen of hearts or an Old Maid?: Maria Edgeworth’s Fictions of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union,Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, pp.187-191; note that Murphy calls the Speeches so even-handed that none of Edgeworth’s contempories, himself included, knew which way he would vote in the Union division.) Cf., ‘I am a unionist, but I vote and speak against the union now proposed to us […] it is intended to force this measure down the throats of the Irish […] the good people of Ireland ought to be persudaded of this truth, and not be dragooned into submission.’ (letter to Erasmus Darwin, 31 March, 1800; Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Esq., begun by himself and concluded by his daughter, Maria Edgewroth, 2 vols, London 1820, Vol. II, p.252; quoted in Claire Connolly, ‘Writing the Union’, in Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, ed. Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.175.)

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Practical Education [with Maria Edgeworth] (1798), “Memory and Invention”: ‘Before we bestow many years of time and pains upon any object, it may be prudent to afford a few minutes previously to ascertain its precise value. Many persons have a vague idea of the great value of memory, and, without analysing their opinion, they resolve to cultivate the memories of their children, as much, and as soon as possible. So far from having determined the value of this talent, we shall find that it will be difficult to give a popular definition of a good memory. Some people call that a good memory which retains the greatest number of ideas for the longest time. Others prefer a recollective, to a retentive memory, and value not so much the number, as the selection of facts; not so much the mass, or even the antiquity, of accumulated treasure, as the power of producing current specie for immediate use. Memory is sometimes spoken of as if it were a faculty admirable in itself, without any union with the other powers of the mind. Amongst those who allow that memory has no independent claim to regard, there are yet many who believe, that a superior degree of it is essential to the successful exercise of the higher faculties, such as judgment and invention. The degree in which it is useful to those powers, has not, however, been determined. Those who are governed in their opinions by precedent and authority, can produce many learned names, to prove that memory was held in the highest estimation amongst the great men of antiquity; it was cultivated with much anxiety in their public institutions, and in their private education. But there were many circumstances which formerly contributed to make [309] a great memory essential to a great man. In civil and military employments, among the ancients, it was in a high degree requisite. Generals were expected to know by heart the names of the soldiers in their armies; demagogues, who hoped to please the people, were expected to know the names of all their fellow citizens [ftn. ref. to Plutarch & Quintillian]. Orators, who did not speak extempore, were obliged to get their long orations by rote. Those who studied science or philosophy were obliged to cultivate their memory with incessant care, because, if they frequented the schools for instruction, they treasured up the sayings of the masters of different sects, and learned their doctrines only by oral instruction. Manuscripts were frequently got by heart by those who were eager to secure the knowledge they contained, and who had not opportunities of recurring to the originals. It is not surprising, therefore, that memory, to which so much was trusted, should have been held in such high esteem. / At the revival of literature in Europe, before the discovery of the art of printing it was scarcely possible to make any progress in the literature of the age, without possessing a retentive memory. A man who had read a few manuscripts, and could repeat them, was a wonder and a treasure; he could travel from place to place, and live by his learning; he was a circulating library to a nation, and the more books he could carry in his head the better; he was certain of an admiring audience if he could repeat what Aristotle or Saint Jerome had written; and he had far more encouragement to engrave the words of others on his memory, than to invent or judge for himself. / In the twelfth century, above six hundred scholars assembled in the forests of Champagne to hear the lectures of the learned Abeillard [i.e., Pierre Abélard (1079-1142]; they made themselves huts of the boughs of trees, and in this new academic grove were satisfied to go almost without the necessaries of life. In the specimens of Abeillard’s composition, which are handed down to us, we may discover proofs of his having been vain of a surprising memory; it seems to have been the superior faculty of his mind; his six hundred pupils could carry away with them only so much of his learning as they could get by heart during his course of lectures; and he who [210] had the best memory must have been best paid for his journey. / The art of printing, by multiplying copies so as to put them within the easy reference of all classes of people, has lowered the value of this species of retentive memory. It is better to refer to the book itself, than to the man who has read the book. Knowledge is now ready classed for use, and it is safely stored up in the great common-place books of public libraries. A man of literature need not encumber his memory with whole passages from the author he wants to quote; he need only mark down the page, and the words are safe. [.]’ (Extract given in A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin: IAP pp.309-11.)

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Practical Education (1798), [On Books]: ‘[.] By watching the turn of mind, and by attending the conversation of children, we may perceive exactly what will suit them in books; and we may preserve the connexion of their ideas without fatiguing their attention. A paragraph read aloud from the newspaper of the day, a passage from any book which parents happen to be reading themselves, will catch the attention of the young people in a family, and will perhaps excite more taste and more curiosity, than could be given by whole volumes read at times when the mind is indolent or intent upon other occupations. / The custom of reading aloud for a great while together is extremely fatiguing to children, and hurtful to their understandings; they learn to read on without the slightest attention or thought; the more fluently they read, the worse it is for them; for their preceptors, whilst words and sentences are pronounced with tolerable emphasis, never seem to suspect that the reader can be tired, or that his mind may be absent from his book. The monotonous tones which are acquired by children, who read a great deal aloud, are extremely disagreeable, and the habit cannot easily be broken; we may observe that children who have not acquired bad customs always read as they speak, when they understand what they read; but the moment they come to any sentences which they do not comprehend, their voices alter, and they read with hesitation, or with false emphasis; to these signals a preceptor should always attend, and the passage should be explained before the pupil is taught to read it in a musical tone, or with the proper emphasis; thus children should be taught to read by the understanding and not merely by the ear. Dialogues, dramas, and well-written narratives, they always read well , and these should be their exercises in the art of reading; they should be allowed to put down the book as soon as they are tired; but an attentive tutor will perceive [311] when they ought to be stopped, before the utmost point of fatigue. We have heard a boy of nine years old, who had never been taught elocution by any reading-master, read simple, pathetic passages, and natural dialogues in “Evenings at Home”, in a manner which would have made even [Laurence] Sterne’s critic forget his stop-watch [Tristram Shandy, III, xii]. By reading much at a time, it is true, that a great number of books are run through in a few years; but this is not at all our object; on the contrary, our greatest difficulty has been to find a sufficient number of books fit for children to read. If they early acquire a strong taste for literature, no matter how few authors they may have perused. We have often heard young people exclaim, “I’m glad I have not read such a book. I have ‘a great pleasure to come!’” Is not this better than to see a child yawn over a work, and count the number of tiresome pages, whilst he says, “I shall have got through this book by and by; and what must I read when I have done this? I believe I never shall have read all I am to read! What a number of tiresome books there are in the world! I wonder what can be the reason that I must read them all. If I were but allowed to skip the pages that I don’t understand, I should be much happier; for when I come to any thing entertaining in a book, I can keep myself awake, and then I like reading as well as any body does.” / Far from forbidding to skip the incomprehensible pages, or to close the tiresome volume, we should exhort our pupils never to read one single page that tires, or that they do not fully understand. We need not fear, that, because an excellent book is not interesting at one period of education, it should not become interesting at another; the child is always the best judge of what is suited to his present capacity. If he says, “Such a book tires me”; the preceptor should never answer with a forbidding, reproachful look, “I am surprised at that, it is no great proof of your taste; the book, which you say tires you, is written by one of the best authors in the English language.” The boy is sorry for it, but he cannot help it: and he concludes, if he be of a timid temper, that he has no taste for literature, since the best authors in the English language tire him. It is in vain to tell him that the book is “universally allowed to be very entertaining.” [Quotes:] “If it be not such to me, / What care I how fine it be!” [var. on lines by George Luthes, “Shall I wasting in Despair”; viz., ‘it’ for ‘she’, and ‘fine’ for ‘kind’]. [312] The more encouraging, and more judicious parent would answer upon a similar occasion, “You are right not to read what tires you, my dear; and I am glad that you have sense enough to tell me that this book does not entertain you, though it is written by one of the best authors in the English language. We do not think at all the worse of your taste and understanding; we know that the day will come when this book will probably entertain you; put it by till then, I advise you.” / It may be thought that young people, who read only those parts of books which are entertaining, or those which are selected for them, are in danger of learning a taste for variety and desultory habits which may prevent their acquiring accurate knowledge upon any subject; and which may render them incapable of that literary application, without which nothing can be well learned. We hope the candid preceptor will suspend his judgment till we can explain our sentiments upon this subject more fully, when we examine the nature of Invention and Memory. / The secret fear that stimulates parents to compel their children to constant application to certain books arises, from the opinion, that much chronological and historical knowledge must at all events be acquired during a certain number of years. The knowledge of history is thought a necessary accomplishment in one sex, and an essential part of education in the other. We ought, however, to distinguish between that knowledge of history and of chronology which is really useful, and that which is acquired merely for parade. We must call that useful knowledge which enlarges the view of human life, and of human nature; which teaches by the experience of the past, what we may expect in future. To study history as it relates to these objects, the pupil must have acquired much previous knowledge; the habit of reasorting, and the power of combining distant analogies. The works of [David] Hume, of [William] Robertson,’ [Edward] Gibbon, or Voltaire, can be properly understood only by well informed and highly cultivated understandings. Enlarged views of policy, some knowledge of the interests of coinmerce, of the progress and state of civilization, and literature in different [313] countries, are necessary to whoever studies these authors real advantage. Without these, the finest sense and the finest writing must be utterly thrown away upon the reader. Children, consequently under the name of fashionable histories, often read what to is absolute nonsense: they have very little motive for the study of history, and all that we can say to keep alive their interest, amounts the common argument, “that such information will be useful to hereafter, when they hear history mentioned in conversation.” / Some people imagine, that the memory resembles a storehouse,which we should early lay up facts; and they assert, that however less these may appear at the time when they are laid up, they afterwards be ready for service at our summons. One allusion may fairly answered by another, since it is impossible to oppose allusion by reasoning. In accumulating facts, as in amassing riches, people often begin by believing that they value wealth only for the use they shall make of it; but it often happens, that during the course of their labours they learn habitually to set a value upon the coin itself, and they grow avaricious of that which they are sensible has little intrinsic value. Young people, who have accumulated a vast number facts, and names, and dates, perhaps intended originally to make some good use of their treasure; but they frequently forgot their laudable intentions, and conclude by contenting themselves with the display of their nominal wealth. Pedants and misers forget the real use wealth and knowledge; and they accumulate, without rendering what they acquire useful to themselves or to others. / A number of facts are often stored in the mind, which lie there useless, because they cannot be found at the moment when they are wanted. It is not sufficient in education to store up knowledge; it is essential to arrange facts so that they shall be ready for use, as materials for the imagination, or the judgment, to select and combine. The power of retentive memory is exercised too much, the faculty of recollective memory is exercised too little, by the common modes of education [.].’ (A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin: IAP 2006, pp.311-15.)

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Popular Tales, Preface: ‘Burke supposes that there are 80,000 readers in Great Britain, surely 1/100 part of its inhabitants! Out of these we may calculate that 10,000 are nobility, clergy or gentlemen of the learned professions. Of 70,000 readers who remain, there are many who ought be amused and instructed by book which were not professedly adapted to the classes whcih have been enumerated. With these in view, the following volumes have been composed. The title of Popular Tales has been chosen, not as a presumptuous and premature claim to popularity, but from the wish they may be current among circles which are sometimes exclusively considered as polite. ALSO, RLE/ME ‘I had always thought that if it were in the power of any man to serve the country which gave him bread, he ought sacrifice every inferior consideration, and to reside where he could be most useful.’ [Practical Ed., or the History of Harry and Lucy, Lichfield 1780]

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Lady Morgan: R. L. Edgeworth wrote a letter of praise to Sydney Owenson (later Lady Morgan) on the publication of her Wild Irish Girl (1806) but took her to task for ‘superfluous epithets’ suggesting that by omitting them in a family reading, Maria Edgeworth had implicitly censured them. (See under Lady Morgan, infra.)

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1782: ‘In the year 1782, I returned to Ireland with a firm determination to dedicate the remainder of my life to the improvement of my estate, and to the education of my children; and further, with the sincere hope of contributing to the melioration of the inhabitants of the country from which I drew my subsistence’ (Life and Letters, ed. Maria Edgeworth, Vol. II, p.1; quoted by Flanagan, Irish Novelists, p. 104); Further, ‘Through the country there is … a spirit of revolution … less desire to overthrow what is, and a hope - more than a hope - an expectation of gaining liberty or wealth, or both, in the struggle; and if they do gain either, they will lose both again and be worse off than ever - they will afterwards quarrel among themselves, destroy one another, and again be enslaved with heavier chains. (Idem.)

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Irish wakes: ‘By waking the bodies of their friends, the human corpse not only becomes familiar to the sans culottes of Ireland, but is associated with pleasure in their minds by the festivity of these nocturnal orgies. An insurrection of such people, who have been much oppressed, must be infinitely more horrid than anything that has happened in France; for no hired executioners need be sought from the prisons or the galleys. And yet the people are altogether better than in England.’ (Memoirs, 1820, Vol. 2, p.85; cited in Moynahan, Anglo-Irish, 1995, p.17.)

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Orange order: ‘To justify myself to the Orange party here,’ he wrote, ‘can only be done by … becoming a member of the Orange lodge – a thing that I would never be induced to do’ (Desmond Clarke, The Ingenious Mr. Edgeworth, 1965, q.p.)

Swapping babies: ‘[T]he causes, curses and cure of this disease [i.e., the switching of the infants] are exemplified I hope in such a manner as not to make the remedy worse than the disease.’ (R. L. Edgeworth, preface to Ennui.)

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References
Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington 1904), selects ‘My Boyhood’, an extract from Memoirs; biog. note holds him to have been born at Edgeworthstown and calls him a patriot who opposed the Union [both errors].

A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), select from Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, The Effect of Early Reading [302], An Unusual Cure [303], Using His Hands [304], Part of his Son’s Education in France [305], An Experimental Velocipede [306], More Experiments with Vehicles [307].

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Booksellers
Hyland Books (Cat. 260, 2011) lists Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Essaie sur la contruction des routes et des voitures ... Traduit de l'Anglais sur la Deuxieme edition et Augmente d'une Notice sur le Systeme Mac Adam (Paris 1827), xli, i, 477pp., ill. [3 tables, 6 fols. pls.; modern ¼-calf, marbled boards [v.g.: €550]. See note: In 1817, RLE published an essay on the construction of Roads and Railways, devising a new system for metalling the former. He failed to patent the idea and so now, we have Macadamising instead of Edgeworthising!

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Notes
Whose Bull?: The attribution of Essay on Irish Bulls (1801) in part or whole to Richard Lovell Edgeworth remains contentious; see Memoirs, ed. Maria Edgworth (1820) and remarks by Seamus Deane, A. Norman Jeffares, and others (supra). [See also under Maria Edgeworth, Notes.]

Tellograph/telegraph: Cf. Edgeworth’s Letter to Lord Charlemont (1797) [supra] and Rev. James Hall [chaplain to Lord Caithness], Tour through Ireland, particularly the interior and least known parts; … with reflections … on the Union, … the … advantages of a telegraphic communication between the two countries, &c., 2 vols. (London: R. P. Moore [… &c] 1813), 8o.

Agin’ the Union: As a member of Parliament, R. L Edgeworth voted against the Union twice, not because he disagreed with it but because he detested the methods used to pass it.

Lord Byron called R. L. Edgeworth an energetic bore when he met in him in London after the Union.

Married love: Edgeworth confessed to having been in love beforehand with the sister of his wife whom he married on the death of the latter.

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