1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Lovell Edgeworth

Richard Lovell Edgeworth
Anglo-Irish scientist, politician and educationist
(1744-1817)




RICHARD LOVELL EDGEWORTH, (1744-1817), father of the subject of the foregoing notice (Maria Edgeworth), and her associate in many literary undertakings, was born at Bath in 1744. The greater part of his life, however, was spent at Edgeworthtown, or Edgeworthstown, in the county of Longford, Ireland, where the Edgeworth family had been settled for upwards of 150 years. He was of gentle blood—his father being the son of Colonel Erancis Edge-worth, and his mother, Jane Lovell, being the daughter of
Samuel Lovell, a Welsh judge. Bichard's mother taught him to read at a very early age; his young imagination was nurtured on the beautiful stories in the book of Genesis and on Shakespeare's characters of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar; and, when he was only seven years old, a Mr Deane explained to him the uses and structure of several pieces of machinery, a circumstance to which he ever afterwards traced his strong love for mechanical science. The Bev. Patrick Hughes initiated him in Lilly's Latin Grammar—an office he also performed for Goldsmith, who was born on the property of the Edgeworths—and his public education began, in August 1752, in a school at Warwick. He subsequently attended Drogheda school, then reputed the best in Ireland; and, after spending two years at a school in Longford, entered Trinity College, Dublin, in April 1761, from which he was transferred to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in October of the same year. While still at college, he made a runaway match, marrying at Gretna Green one of the daughters of Mr Paul Elers, an old friend of his father, by whom he had a son, who was born before Edgeworth reached his twentieth birth-day, and his daughter Maria. Shortly after the birth of his son, he and his wife went to Edgeworthtown, where he met a severe trial in the death of his mother. Her dying advice to him, to " learn how to say no," was the germ of Vivian, one of Miss Edgeworth's best novels. For some time after this Edgeworth devoted himself to scientific reading and ex-periments ; and he claims to be the reviver of telegraphic communication in modern times (Memoirs, second edition, i. 144). His home was now at Hare Hatch, in Berkshire, where he endeavoured to educate his son according to the method explained in Bousseau's jtmile. In later life, how-ever, he saw reason to doubt many of Bousseau's views (Memoirs, ii. 374). At the same time he went on keeping terms at the Temple, and formed the greatest friendship of his life with Thomas Day—an able man, of noble character, excessively eccentric, and known to all boys as the author of Sandford and Merton, which was written at Edge-worth's suggestion. In 1769, on the death of his father, he gave up the idea of being a barrister; but, instead of immediately settling on his Irish estate, he spent a con-siderable time in England and France, mainly in Day's company. In Lyons, where he resided for about two years, he took an active part in the management of public works intended to turn the course of the Bhone. He was summoned to England by the death of his wife, with whom his autobiography tells us plainly he was not happy. Edgeworth hurried to Lichfield, to Dr Erasmus Darwin's, one of his greatest friends, and at once declared his passion for Miss Honora Sneyd, which had been the cause of his flight to France two years before. They were married (1773) in the cathedral, and after residing at Edgeworthtown for three years, settled at Northchurch, in Hertfordshire. When six years of great domestic happiness had elapsed, Mrs Honora Edgeworth died, after recommending her husband to marry her sister Elizabeth —which he did, on Christmas Day 1780. In 1782 Edgeworth returned to Ireland, determined to improve his estate, educate his seven children, and ameliorate the condition of the tenants. Up to this point Edgeworth has told his own story. The rest of his life is written by his daughter, and opens with an account of the improve-ments he effected, and a le'ngthy panegyric on Mr Edge-worth as a model landlord (Memoirs, ii. 12-36). In 1785 he was associated with others in founding the Boyal Irish Academy; and, during the two succeeding years, mechanics and agriculture occupied most of his time. In October 1789 his friend Day was killed by a fall from his horse, and this trial was soon followed by the loss of a daughter, who had just reached her fifteenth year. The first thing that broke the monotony of his grief was the arrival of Dr Darwin's poem, the Botanic Garden, about which the author says, " It was your early approbation that contributed to encourage me to go on with the poem" (Memoirs, ii. 113). In 1792 the health of one of Edgeworth's sons took him to Clifton, where he remained with his family for about two years, returning in 1794 to Edgeworthtown. Ireland was, at that time, harassed by internal disturbances, and threats of a French invasion, and Edgeworth offered to establish telegraphic communication of his own invention throughout the country. This offer was declined. A full account of the matter is given in Edge-worth's Better to Lord Charlemont on the Telegraph; and his apparatus is explained in an " Essay on the Art of Convey-ing Swift and Secret Intelligence," published in the sixth volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. In the autumn of 1797 Mrs Edgeworth fell a victim to de-cline. Practical Education, a work which embodied the experience of the authors in dealing with children, was pub-lished in 1798. " So commenced," says Miss Edgeworth, " that literary partnership which, for so many years, was the pride and joy of my life " (Memoirs, ii. 170). In the same year Edgeworth married Miss Beaufort, and was elected M.P. for the borough of St John's Town, Longford. The same year, too, saw a hostile landing of the French and a formidable rebellion; and for a short time the Edgeworths took refuge in Longford. The spring of 1802 brought the depressing announcement of Dr Darwin's death; and the winter of that year was spent by the Edgeworths in Paris, where, among many friends, they particularly valued M. Dumont. On his return home he was gratified by Government accepting of his telegraphic apparatus, which worked admirably. In 1802 appeared the Essay on Irish Bulls by Mr and Miss Edgeworth; and in 1806 Edgeworth was elected a member of the Board of Commissioners to inquire into Irish education. From 1807 till 1809 much of his time was spent on mechanical experiments and in writing the story of his life. In 1808 appeared Professional Education, and in 1813 his Essay on the Construction of Roads and Carriages. He died on the 13th of June 1817, and was buried in the family vault in Edgeworthtown churchyard.

Many of Edgeworth's works were suggested by his zeal for the education of his own children. Such were Poetry Explained for Young People, Readings on Poetry, A Rational Primer, and the parts of Early Lessons contributed by him. His speeches in the Irish Parliament have also been published ; and numerous essays, mostly on scientific subjects, have appeared in the Philosophical Transactions, the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, the Monthly Magazine, and Nicholson's Journal. The story of his early life, told by himself, is fully as entertaining as the continuation by Maria, as it contains less dissertation and more incident. (T. GI.)







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