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Maria Edgeworth's letters 'Sir Walter Scott punctual to his word arrived on Friday'

The Castle Rackrent author, who counted Jane Austen and Byron among her admirers, was also a prodigious correspondent.

She influenced Sir Walter Scott and Turgenev, was an activist for the famine-stricken Irish and for a decade in the early 19th century, Maria Edgeworth was Britain’s bestselling novelist. Valerie Pakenham, whose family have been connected to the Edgeworth’s for centuries, has painstakingly combed through hundreds of her letters from Ireland. Here is a short selection.

To Mrs Billamore (the Edgeworth’s housekeeper)
Edgeworthstown, December 1816

My dear good Mrs Billamore,

I write as I promised you … tell you how all your children do and how all is going on in your absence – in one word the children are all well – and my father pretty well … and therefore enjoy yourself completely at dear Black Castle … I need not ask you whether you are happy – I know it is impossible for anyone so nearly connected with this family as you are to be anything but delighted at Black Castle. I hope you have walked all
the pretty walks – and that you have not walked yourself off your legs.

I turned a pig away yesterday from your tree where he was routing with his snout & Prince was so cowardly that he did not dare to pull him by the ears; he only barked round and round and the pig despising him for a poltroon …

So I roared at my window “Is there anybody alive in the backyard” –
“Yes, Ma’am, Pat” –
“Then run and drive the pig that is routing at Mrs Billamore’s tree.”

It was raining very hard & Pat in his yellow waistcoat which you know he is scrupulous about wetting, but he ran out instantly & stoned the pig & when the pig ran & squeaked Prince grew wondrous brave & chased him through the gate in triumph …

John Langan says that Mistress Billamore will be fit to be tied when she hears that the master gave Pat Connell four guineas for the butter instead of three pounds five for which Mrs Billamore bargained for it.

But Kitty, my dear, if you had seen how happy Pat Connell looked when he came to pay his rent & my father allowed him that unexpected price! – His long chin became two inches shorter & tho’ he looked before as if he had never smiled since he was created, he smiled without power to help it & went away with as sunshiny a face as ever you saw, carrolling his Honour’s praises for the best landlord in the 3 counties.
Adieu, my dear good Kitty


To Sophy Ruxton
Edgeworthstown, [?] August 1825

… Sir Walter Scott punctual to his word arrived on Friday in good time for dinner – he brought with him Mrs Scott [daughter-in-law] and Mr Crampton – I am glad kind Crampton had the reward of that day’s journey with him – Though frequently hid from each other by clouds of dust they had as they told us never ceased talking – They like each as much as two men of so much genius & so much knowledge should & we rejoice in being the bond of union ….

Captain and Mrs Scott & Mr Lockhart were detained in Dublin by some repairing of their carriage … They came about eleven o’clock – Mrs E, who has always everything managed in the best manner, had supper & fruit & everything refreshing in a few minutes and put timid Mrs Scott & her shy Captain as much at their ease as it is possible for them to be – So much so that Crampton whispered to me “It is witchcraft – I have seen them in other houses – It is positive witchcraft” – …

Sir Walter Scott delights the hearts of any creature who sees, hears & know him … – He is most benignant as well as most entertaining – the noblest & gentlest of lions & his face, especially the lower part, is exceptionally like a lion.

Mr Crampton, Jephson & he were delightful together – and Lovell appeared to great advantage – not too much or too little of anything – The band after dinner by moonlight … at a little distance till Sir W.S. begged to hear it nearer – The Scotch tunes – the first he had heard except his son’s regiment since he had left Scotland – delighted him … All went on well from that – boys playing leapfrog delighted Sir W. Scott – Next day all went to the school for a very short time & saw a little of everything worth seeing …

The religious instruction, it being Sunday, was going on as we went – Catholics with their Priest in one room – Protestants with Mr Keating in the other … More delightful conversation I have seldom in my life – I don’t say never – heard than what I have been blessed with these three days ….

We set off at 7am on Tuesday for Killarney – Sir W.S. on account of his son’s
short leave of absence … must be back in Dublin in 8 or 9 days from this day.

Maria Edgeworth’s Letters from Ireland by Valerie Pakenham is published by Lilliput Press. It is available in bookshops nationwide.

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