Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edgeworth, Richard Lovell
EDGEWORTH, RICHARD LOVELL (1744–1817), author, was born in Pierrepoint Street, Bath, 31 May 1744. The Edgeworth family, said to have come originally from Edgware, Middlesex, had settled in Ireland about 1583. Edward Edgeworth, bishop of Down and Connor, left a fortune to his brother, Francis Edgeworth, clerk of the hanaper. The descendants of Francis Edgeworth were men of talent and vivacity, given to marrying early and often, acquiring fortunes with their wives, increasing them at court or in military service, and spending them in play. ‘Protestant Frank,’ great-grandson of the clerk of the hanaper, raised a regiment for William III, ‘married successively several wives,’ and died, leaving a son Richard, aged eight, with an encumbered inheritance. Richard Edgeworth went to the bar, by advice of a sensible guardian, lived steadily, and restored the family fortunes. He married Jane, daughter of Samuel Lovell, a Welsh judge, and had by her eight children, four of whom died early. The eldest son, Thomas, also died when Richard was in his sixth year. He thus became heir to the estate, the other two children being daughters. One of them, Margaret, afterwards married John Ruxton of Black Castle, co. Meath, and was the favourite aunt of Maria Edgeworth [q. v.] Edgeworth's first tutor was Patrick Hughes of Edgeworthstown, who had been one of Goldsmith's masters. In August 1752 he was sent to the school of a Dr. Lydiat at Warwick, afterwards to Dr. Norris's school at Drogheda, and finally to a Mr. Hynes at Longford. Though a clever lad, with a turn for mechanics, excited by an early sight of an electrical machine, he was more distinguished for physical prowess than for scholarship, and was first-rate at running, jumping, and riding. He performed many exploits of this kind during the festivities which celebrated his eldest sister's (Mary's) marriage to Francis Fox of Fox Hall, co. Longford. One night after a dance he went through a mock ceremony of marriage with the daughter of his old master Hughes (see Prior, Goldsmith, i. 32). His father thought it necessary to get the marriage annulled by a suit of jactitation. Admission to the library at Pakenham Hall, the seat of Lord Longford, gave a more intellectual turn to his pursuits, and a violent passion for field sports soon died out. On 26 April 1761 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a fellow commoner, and spent six months in dissipation. He became ashamed of his waste of time, and on 10 Oct. 1761 entered Corpus College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. Oxford was recommended by the neighbourhood of Paul Elers, an old friend of his father's, who had given up the bar on marrying an heiress, Miss Hungerford. He now lived upon her estate, Black Bourton, near Oxford, had grown indolent, and was getting into difficulties. Edgeworth, though he took to his studies, and made valuable friendships, was often at Black Bourton. He fell in love with Elers's daughter, Anna Maria, eloped with her to Scotland, and married her in 1763 while still an undergraduate. His father forgave him after a time, and the ceremony was repeated in due form a few months later. The young couple passed a year at Edgeworthstown, apparently after the birth of his eldest son at Black Bourton in 1764. His mother died soon afterwards, and in 1765 he returned to England, and took a house at Hare Hatch, near Maidenhead. He had already repented of his marriage, but resolved to bear the evil with ‘firmness and temper.’ Mrs. Edgeworth was a good manager, but was ‘not cheerful,’ and vexed him by querulous complaints. The ‘lamenting of a female with whom we live does not render home delightful’ (Memoirs, i. 179). While at Hare Hatch, Edgeworth was keeping terms in the Temple. He made the acquaintance of Sir Francis Blake Delaval, who shared his interest in conjuring tricks and mechanical contrivances. Delaval was a man of fashion, and given to betting on the turf. A desire to know the result of a race at Newmarket led Edgeworth to invent a plan for telegraphing. He tried the experiment at Hare Hatch. It is said to have been the first attempt at telegraphic communication. He made other inventions for sailing carriages and for a kind of velocipede. Delaval's death freed him from a dangerous acquaintance. He settled to his mechanical experiments at Hare Hatch, where he worked with Gainsborough, a brother of the painter, settled at Henley. The Society of Arts gave him a silver medal for a new ‘perambulator’ or land-measuring machine in 1768, and he invented a ‘turnip-cutter’ and a one-wheeled chaise. Hearing that Erasmus Darwin had invented a carriage, he made a phaeton on the new principle, which was approved by the Society of Arts. This led to an acquaintance with Darwin, whom he visited at Lichfield, and to a further acquaintance with Miss Seward and others of the Lichfield circle. At Hare Hatch he acquired the friendship of Thomas Day [q. v.], author of ‘Sandford and Merton,’ who had been at his college and was now a neighbour. Day sympathised with his principles, and Edgeworth's son was brought up on the system of their common idol, Rousseau. Edgeworth's father dying in 1769, he came into possession of the family estates, and gave up all thoughts of the law. At Christmas 1770 he spent some time at Lichfield, near which his friend Day had settled. At Seward's the friends met the two sisters Honora and Elizabeth Sneyd, two of the daughters of Edward Sneyd, youngest son of Ralph Sneyd of Bishton, Staffordshire. During 1771 Day transferred his affections from Honora to Elizabeth. Meanwhile Edgeworth had become strongly attached to Honora. Day remonstrated eloquently with him, and Edgeworth honourably resolved to fly from a dangerous situation. He therefore accompanied Day to France at the end of 1771. In Paris he showed his boy to Rousseau as an illustration of Émile. The friends went to Lyons, where Edgeworth resolved to stay for some time, being interested in a scheme for altering the course of the Rhone. His wife joined him in 1772, but returned under the care of Day at the beginning of winter, in order to be confined in England. The works on the Rhone were greatly injured by a flood. While Edgeworth was preparing new plans he heard that his wife had died (March 1773), after giving birth to a daughter, Anna. He at once returned to England, went to Lichfield, and there married Honora Sneyd 17 July 1773. After three years at Edgeworthstown, where he built and planted, he returned to England, and took a house at Northchurch, near Great Berkhampstead. A lawsuit necessitated his return to Ireland, and he felt that he ought to settle upon his own estates. His wife consented, but her health suddenly broke down. They stayed at Lichfield and in the neighbourhood for the benefit of Darwin's advice, but Mrs. Edgeworth became weaker, and died 30 April 1780. On her deathbed she advised him to marry her sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth soon consented, in spite of ‘officious friends’ who objected to marriage with a deceased wife's sister. After one clergyman had withdrawn his consent to perform the ceremony, they were married at St. Andrew's, Holborn, 25 Dec. 1780.
In 1782 the Edgeworths went to Ireland, where he settled on his estates, and became an energetic and intelligent landlord. He greatly improved the condition of his tenantry, tried a number of schemes for the reclamation of bogs and improvement of roads, and took some part in politics. In 1783 he was aide-de-camp to Lord Charlemont, and one of the body of volunteer delegates who met at Dublin in November of that year. The years 1791 and 1792 were chiefly spent at Clifton, Bristol, for the health of his son, and there his daughter Anna Maria married Dr. Beddoes. On returning to Ireland he found the country disturbed by expected rebellion and invasion. He took up his old scheme for telegraphs, and vainly endeavoured to secure its adoption by government. The events of 1798 having shown its importance, he succeeded in getting the government to erect a line from Dublin to Galway in 1804, but it was dropped as the fear of invasion declined. His third wife died in November 1797. In the following spring he was visited by Miss Beaufort, whose father was Daniel Augustus Beaufort [q. v.] He married her 31 May 1798, remarking that the disturbed state of the country was an additional reason for acquiring at once the right to protect her. He raised a corps at Edgeworthstown, but before it was armed the rebels approached, and he had to retire to Longford. The defeat of the French by Lake enabled him to return in five days to his house, which had been spared on account of a kindness previously shown by him to one of the rebels. Edgeworth was M.P. for St. Johnstown, co. Longford, in the last Irish parliament (1798–1800), and after some hesitation voted against the union on the ground of the means used to enforce its adoption. He refused to listen to offers of personal advantages.
After this time Edgeworth visited England occasionally, and during the peace of Amiens went to Paris with his daughter, where their literary reputation and their relationship to the Abbé Edgeworth [q. v.] secured them many attentions. Besides his lively interest in his daughter Maria's writings he continued his schemes for improving the country. From 1806 to 1811 he served on a board for inquiring into Irish education; in 1810 he made a report to another commission upon the reclamation of bogs, and injured himself by labours in surveying. In 1811 he contrived a new spire for the church of timber, painted to resemble Bath stone, which was triumphantly raised into its place on 19 Sept. His own declining health and the loss of children saddened some of his later years; but he retained his faculties to the last, and died 13 June 1817.
Edgeworth's extraordinary buoyancy and intellectual vivacity were combined with strong affections, as is proved by his relations to his children and to a large circle of friends. If his matrimonial adventures suggest John Buncle, he was a man of real worth and considerable power. His name appears with that of his daughter in her early works.
His separate works were: 1. ‘Letter to Lord Charlemont on the Tellograph (sic) and on the Defence of Ireland,’ 1797. 2. ‘Poetry explained for Young People,’ 1802. 3. ‘Professional Education,’ 1808. 4. ‘Readings in Poetry,’ 1816. 5. ‘Essay on Construction of Roads and Railways,’ 1817; and a ‘Rational Primer,’ apparently unpublished. He also contributed papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (1783, 1784), to the ‘Transactions of the Irish Academy’ (1788 and 1795), to the ‘Monthly Magazine’ for 1801 (on engraving bank notes), and several papers to ‘Nicholson's Journal’ (1801–17). A list is given at the end of his daughter's ‘Memoirs.’ By his first wife Edgeworth had four children: Richard (1765–1796), died in America; Maria [q. v.]; Emmeline, married to J. King of Clifton; and Anna Maria, married to Dr. Thomas Beddoes [q. v.] By his second wife he had Lovell, who inherited the property, and Honora, a girl of remarkable beauty, who died in 1790. By his third wife he had five sons and four daughters, of whom Charles Sneyd (d. 1864) succeeded his brother Lovell, and Honora married Sir F. Beaufort. By his fourth wife he had four children, of whom Francis Beaufort, mentioned in Carlyle's ‘Life of Sterling,’ married a Spanish lady, Rosa Florentina Eroles, and was by her father of Antonio Eroles Edgeworth, who succeeded his uncle, Charles Sneyd, at Edgeworthstown, and of Francis Ysidro Edgeworth.[Memoirs by himself and his daughter, 1820, 1821, and 1844.]