Contributor: Anne-Claire Michoux
Location: National Library of Ireland (Dublin)
Description: On the 21st of January 1803, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who had been residing in Paris for a few months with his daughter Maria and other family members, was ordered by the police to leave the capital within twenty-four hours. This document is a copy of the petition addressed to the ‘Citoyen Grand Juge’, Claude Ambroise Régnier (nominated in 1802), signed by eighteen leading French and Genevese literary, scientific, and political authorities appealing against the order on the family’s behalf. Many of the signatories were members of the Institut national des sciences et des arts, founded in 1795, of which Napoleon was also a member, and were in high office as members of the Tribunat, one of the main legal institutions under Napoleon. The petition captures the still-operative Enlightenment belief in a republic of letters which privileges intercultural intellectual exchanges. It reflects the dream of a European intellectual community that endures beyond or despite political and military conflict.
The aim of the petition was to testify to the moral and intellectual worth of ‘this interesting family’, whose company all of intellectual Paris sought. (It also sought to clear up confusion concerning RLE’s relation to ‘L’Abbé Edgeworth’, Henry Essex Edgeworth (1745-1807), who had been Louis XVI’s chaplain. Here the authors took a few liberties with history, claiming RLE and the Abbé had neither corresponded nor met.) The text praises Edgeworth’s private moral qualities and respect for ‘l’ordre public’, but its focus was on Edgeworth’s contribution to educational works, and his and Maria’s position within European literature. The petition notes his literary partnership with his daughter, a leading author of her time, whose ‘Hibernian Tale’ Castle Rackrent (1800) and Belinda (1801) are now recognised as major contributions to the literature of the Romantic period. The Edgeworths are said to have gained the ‘general esteem of Europe’, even its ‘respect’, an indication of the widespread dissemination of their work on the continent. Practical Education (1798) is singled out, an educational treatise which Marc-Auguste Pictet, who also co-signed the petition, translated.
Pictet, a Genevese, co-founded with his brother Charles and Frédéric-Guillaume Maurice the monthly periodical, the Bibliothèque britannique in 1791. Its purpose was to make scientific research carried out in Great Britain available on the continent. Pictet told Maria Edgeworth that, if her principles were admired in Paris, they were actually followed in Geneva. He also told her that her name as well-known in Paris as in Edgeworthstown. It was after Pictet’s visit to Ireland in 1802, during the short peace of the Treaty of Amiens that reopened routes between England and the continent, that the Edgeworths decided to travel to Europe in the autumn of 1802. They arrived in Paris in October. There RLE was reacquainted with ‘the venerable Abbé Morellet’, ‘le doyen de la literature Françoise’ and a period of stimulating intellectual exchanges began. Thanks to Pictet and Morellet, the Edgeworths were introduced to the most exclusive intellectual Parisian circles. Morellet and Pictet wrote the petition to the Grand Judge, and alongside their names are the names of Joachim Le Breton (1760-1819), a professor of rhetoric and legislator, Jean-Baptiste Antoine Suard (1732-817), ‘one of the most refined critics of Paris’, the Baron Gaspard de Prony, an engineer and encyclopaedist, the Vicomte Morel de Vindé (1759-1842), who studied literature, science, and agronomy, Gallois (Jean-Antoine Cauvin), who became the president of the Tribunat in 1802. Although no woman’s name features on the document, many of these men were introduced to the Edgeworths through their wives, influential hostesses who ruled Parisian society.
The text and the appended names are written in the same hand. Two additional names appear in the bottom-right corner, in two different hands, added after the petition was granted. These are Octave-Henri Gabriel, Comte de Ségur (1779-1818), a botanist and military man who translated Belinda for the Bibliothèque britannique, and Mathieu de Montmorency. Their decision to add their names to the copy, after the affair was settled, shows how much the Edgeworths were valued in Parisian circles.
The petition was successful and the Edgeworths were able to stay in Paris. However, there was growing evidence that France was preparing for war and their friend Joachim Le Breton advised them to leave the country. The Edgeworths left Paris in February. Maria would only return in 1820.
Date: January 1803
Creator: Edgeworth family
Subject: Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) and Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817)
Media rights: courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
Object type: petition belonging to the Edgeworth papers
Format: ink on paper (one main hand, two different hands and ink bottom right-hand corner)
Publisher: National Library of Ireland (Dublin)
Catalogue number: Ms 10,166/7 folio 357
Butler, Marilyn, Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)
Edgeworth, Maria, Maria Edgeworth in France and Switzerland: A Selection from the Edgeworth Family Letters, ed. Christina Colvin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979)
Edgeworth, Richard Lovell and Maria Edgeworth, Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth: Begun by Himself and Concluded by his Daughter Maria Edgeworth, 2 vols. (London: R. Hunter, 1821)