Contributor: Yuri Yoshino
Location: The Taylor Institution Library, the University of Oxford
Description: This house, Edgeworthstown House in Co. Longford, Ireland, was an important intellectual powerhouse in Europe during the Romantic period. This engraving, published on the front cover of the 42nd issue of Le Magasin Pittoresque (1833-1938) in October 1850, testifies to the continuing influence of works by Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) and her family in France and beyond, years after the publication of her final major novel, Helen (1834) and its translation into French by Louise Swanton-Belloc in the same year. The object of Le Magasin was popular education; it had been launched as the earliest imitation of Charles Knight’s Penny Magazine (1832-46), which aimed to enlighten popular readers with the aid of wood-engraved images without provoking radical ideas. Le Magasin was, however, more progressive than its British counterpart, promoting the institutionalization of general education in France during the period (Mainardi 86), and this may account for its interest in the Edgeworths.
This engraving preceded an unsigned article entitled ‘La Famille. Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Maria Edgeworth’ — effectively an obituary of Maria, who had passed away in the previous year. Two more engravings are attached to the article: a portrait of her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) and an illustration of the library at the House, which captures Maria writing at her small table. The engraving of the House itself appears to be a reprint or modified version of that which illustrates an article, ‘Edgeworthstown’, which had appeared in The Art Journal in 1849. That article was by the Irish novelist Anna Maria Hall (1800-1881), wife and co-author of the journalist and editor of The Art Journal, Samuel Carter Hall (1800-1889). According to Anna Maria Hall, the original engraving was based on a drawing by Frederick William Fairholt, who had visited Edgeworthstown with the Halls. In Ireland: Its Sceneries and Character (1841-43), Hall had already written that Edgeworthstown ‘may almost be regarded as public property’ because ‘From this mansion has issued so much practical good to Ireland, and not alone to Ireland, but the civilized world’ (vol. III, p. 279). As Hall notes, Maria and her family’s work were held to have disseminated Enlightenment values widely, and, as the epicentre of this work, the House itself became celebrated.
Richard Lovell had decided to settle in Edgeworthstown on his inheritance of the House (built by his father in 1726) in 1782; as a result, from 1782 to her death, Maria lived and produced her major literary work in the House. It became a hub for social, literary, and educational experiments in order to ‘improve’ the local community, the Irish nation, and the British Empire, visited by eminent guests, including Walter Scott (1771-1832), William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Humphry Davy (1778-1829). This programme of improvement extended to the fabric of the House, from 1782 through to 1812. According to Eve McAulay, ‘[t]he remodeling was extensive and resulted in a house with a particularly idiosyncratic exterior’. Hall however describes the House as ‘a plain edifice with no great antiquity, and built with reference less to style than comfort’ (The Art Journal 224). Nevertheless, the House, remodeled with an emphasis on utility, was later endorsed as ‘picturesque’ both by The Art Journal and Le Magasin Pittoresque. These visual representations of Edgeworthstown House raise the question of what ‘picturesque’ and ‘pittoresque’ meant in the United Kingdom, France, and their (former) colonies, but the periodicals’ addition of these aesthetic values to the meaning of the House also registers the interaction between Romantic authorship and popular reception that had resulted in the phenomenon of celebrating authors’ houses across Europe during the period. According to Bertha Slade, the first collected edition of Maria’s works in 1825 ‘contains a charming vignette of the Edgeworthstown House on each title-page, and has a personal quality which makes it interesting aside from its rarity’ (214).
Maria’s writing promoted Romantic values as well as Enlightenment ideals in the sense that she pioneered the sub-genre of the ‘national tale’. In three of her novels set in Ireland (Ennui, The Absentee, and Ormond), country houses are represented as an important basis for patriotism. Maria’s writing therefore appropriates the idea of the country house as it is depicted in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Indeed, this engraving appears to portray Edgeworthstown as a variation on Burke’s famous celebration of the ‘little platoons’ of local affiliations. The leafy setting corresponds to Burke’s emphasis on the organic unity of the rural community. A gentlewoman and a girl in the foreground imply a family lineage or generational continuity, albeit a female one. At the side of the house, we can see a male peasant on what appears to be a donkey cart, enhancing the idyllic tone of the setting. The symbolism of the tent in the foreground is open to interpretation, provoking thoughts about girls’ play and education, exploration and colonialism, garden history, and eco-criticism, among other topics. The motif would have been received as timely by contemporary readers, since the Falloux Law of 1850 granting legal status to independent secondary schools in France had recommended applied geometry and natural history among other topics for girls’ advanced elementary education.
Edgeworthstown House survives today. It is currently a nursing home closed to the public, marking a contrast with the types of literary tourism and public engagement associated with the homes of contemporaries of Edgeworth (e.g. Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton House, and Abbotsford). The Maria Edgeworth Centre, opened by the Edgeworth Society in a former national school building in 2019, serves as an alternative site to provide a fascinating multi-media introduction to the Edgeworths’ contributions. The Regeneration project, which promoted its foundation with €1.2 million governmental funding, and the project Opening Edgeworth Papers Project at the University of Oxford, 2019-, mark changes to the Edgeworths’ cultural prominence and to cross-channel cultural politics during the period of Brexit. This engraving shows a related, earlier attempt to ensure the dissemination of the Edgeworth family’s politically precarious cultural legacy to wider audiences.
Acknowledgement: The research for this essay was partly funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Project Number: 16k02459, PI: Yuri Yoshino).
Subject: Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), the Edgeworth family
Media rights: Yuri Yoshino
Object type: engraving
Format : ink on paper
Publisher: Le Magasin Pittoresque
Digital collection record:
Catalogue number: VET.PER
Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)
Gillian Dow, ‘Maria Edgeworth, Éducatrice, et Ses Gouvernantes Françaises, in Femmes Educatrices au Siècle des Lumières (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2016), 333-46
Mr. & Mrs. S.C. Hall, Ireland: Its Sceneries and Character, 3 vols. (London: How and Parsons, 1841-43)
Eve McAulay, ‘Edgeworthstown House, Co. Longford: “A House and Home” Blog’
Patricia Mainardi, Another World: Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Print Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017)
Bertha Coolidge Slade, Maria Edgeworth, 1767-1849: A Bibliographical Tribute (London: Constable, 1937)