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pose a volume of rare interest, reflecting credit alike on its author, and the illustrious name which he has first effectually rescued from obloquy, misconception and forgetfulness.
ART. VI. — Richard Lovell Edgeworth.
ARD Lovell EDGEWORTH. New York. 1835.
The reprint in this country of this useful and popular work, affords us an opportunity to say something of Mr. Edgeworth, the father of the celebrated writer. This is the description by which he is generally known. This of itself is no small distinction, to have aided in forming a mind to which the world has been so much indebted; and not only so, but to have borne a part in those efforts by which her fame is established; for an age that ascribes to education almost unbounded power, must allow that the success of the scholar affords strong presumptive evidence in favor of the teacher and his system. If there were any doubt as to his agency in this respect, it is removed by the express testimony of his daughter, who is too sagacious to claim for him more than he could rightfully demand. She evidently considers herself under obligation to her father, not only for the formation of those intellectual habits which have led to her brilliant success, but for a large and efficient share in the compositions of her best works. She is a good, if not impartial witness; if there were no other proofs of his merits, this alone would to our minds be clear and convincing.
But however plain it may be that a teacher has a right to be honored for the ability and success of the scholar whom it has been the business of his life to form, such honor is not apt to be given, we mean by public applause, though private gratitude be ever so warm in its acknowledgment. It is always found that an illustrious name eclipses other distinguished names beside it; instead of shining in its brightness, they are exceedingly apt to be lost in its light. In ordinary associations there is no help for this unequal distribution of favor; and the secondary party must bear neglect as he may; but in a case like this before us, a father may be supposed, so far from lamenting this circumstance, to take as much pride and delight in the reputation of his daughter, as if it were his own; in fact to regard it as his own.
This Mr. Edgeworth appears to have done. Without any anxiety to establish his own claims, bis whole ambition was to advance his daughter's success, by lending counsel and aid to make her works as perfect as possible. Such manly and self-denying affection was honorable to his name.
The result has been, that all the literary reputation has been carried away by the daughter, or rather given to the daughter; for she certainly has not been ambitious to claim more than is fairly her own. Mr. Edgeworth is little known in this country as a literary man; it is not even known that his tastes inclined decidedly in that direction; it is commonly thought that the aid which he furnished her was of the kind, which in intellectual matters, would be called mechanical ; such for example, as supplying subjects and materials ; suggesting improvements, and occasionally throwing in some of those sagacious and practical maxims in which her writings abound. Assistance of this kind, though very important to the intellectual laborer, is not estimated by the public, who concern themselves with what has been accomplished, and care little how, or by whose aid it was done. So that Mr. Edgeworth, though bis name has been so often associated with his daughter's, as on the title-page of the work before us, has been little known as a lite
He is generally considered as a man who possessed a remarkable inventive talent with which he amused his idle hours ; constructing engines of various kinds, which were better calculated to exercise his ingenuity than to increase the comfort and convenience of life. There is of course nothing wrong in this playful employment of a mechanical genius, nor is this a disparaging view of an able man, living apart from society, and requiring amusement as a relief from various labors; still it is plain, upon examining his life and writings, that amusement was not his object; his desire was to be useful; and to this purpose he devoted talent, time and money, for which, like too many others, he received no other reward than the consciousness of doing good.
It is much to his honor that he did not, like too many who profess to make utility their object, profane and abridge the meaning of the word. One would suppose from the language of many on this subject, that man had nothing but a body to provide for; they account nothing useful but that which tends to increase the comfort and supply the wants of the present existence; but to those who have hearts and souls, and who feel that the well-being of the moral and spiritual nature is a thing to be regarded, such a view of the subject and such language on the subject, seems untrue as it is unworthy. They think that there are things of the moral kind, quite as essential in domestic life as cooking-stoves; and that railroads, convenient as they are, are not the only things that deserve the name of public improvements. Every suggestion that throws light on the subject of education, and shows us how to bring te means and agencies of improvement to bear upon our children, every discussion that tends to make men aware of their rights and responsibilities, every philosophical investigation that teaches us the mystery of our own nature, and even all those efforts of taste and imagination which raise us above the bondage of the senses, are useful in the highest acceptation of the word, and he is a stranger to himself
and his duty, who does not receive the word utility with all this breadth of meaning. Mr. Edgeworth saw the subject in this light; and after he had retired from social life, in which he bore an enviable part, to the seclusion of his own estate, he devoted much of his time, not only to what are called improvements, but to the cultivation of the minds of his children. Those of his daughter's productions in which he took most interest, were those in which education was the prominent object; probably it was the strong direction of his mind to the subject, which turned her attention to the intellectual paths in which she has travelled with so much fame.
Mr. Edgeworth had the opportunity of learning what good education is from his mother, whose early lessons he well remembered. She became, by some mismanagement in sickness, a cripple for life: and being suddenly thrown upon her own resources, devoted her time to the education of her children. By her calm and judicious firmness she acquired remarkable influence over them. Never following the usual course of parental discipline which varies between severity and indulgence, she took favorable moments to make impressions upon them, teaching them the necessity of putting restraints upon themselves. His temper was naturally fiery and ungovernable, but she taught him that unless his own good sense restrained it, it would be bis ruin. Her suggestions and warnings were remembered; and his daughter bears witness to the fact, that in his
later years, though he had many things to try the goodness of bis disposition, he never gave way to anger or any passion, but always kept himself under firm and resolute control.
She also taught him to take correct views of all subjects without being misled by feeling. The manner in which the character receives its bent is shown by some examples in his own history ; particularly by the case of a young man of fortune, who married an inferior woman, and filling up his house with her relations led a life of riot and sensuality. The natural consequences of self-indulgence came, and he was confined by sickness to his own apartment. Here he was regaled by crusts of bread, which were cast away as refuse by those who were feasting at his expense below. He was so wounded by this treatment that he sunk away and died. Mr. Edgeworth, in his childhood, having this case before him, became sceptical as to the gratitude of mankind. But before he could form permanent habits of jealousy and suspicion, his mother came to his aid, and showed him the subject in its proper light. This timely and saved him from that distrust approaching to misanthropy, by which so many are unfitted for social life and its duties. He remarks in his sketch of his own life, that he is convinced, that more ingratitude arises from the unjudicious conduct of benefactors, than from the want of proper feeling in those whom they have obliged.
Mr. Edgeworth was able to remember the manner in which bis mind was deterinined to engage in those experiments and inventions in which he afterwards delighted. His mother had received some strangers with hospitality, and in return for her kindness, the gentleman whom she had laid under obligation, brought her an electrical machine, hoping that it might restore the use of her limbs. It was tried with some beneficial results; but on one occasion, the shock was not given, and the operator was at a loss to account for it. Mr. Edgeworth, then
very young, observed that the wire used as a conductor touched a hinge of the table, and asked if that might not be the reason of the failure. It was the cause, as he suspected ; and the operator was so much pleased with this instance of observation, in a child, that he paid him the utmost attention, and took pleasure in exhibiting to him his philosophical instruments, and teaching him their uses.
This encouragement confirmed his taste for mechanical constructions; and thus by an early association he acquired his decided interest in the business of inventions. Examples of this kind show how tastes of any kind may be formed and encouraged, and how the mind may be set at work in any pursuit, by watching, and drawing out those marks of early intelligence on which the formation of characterso much depends.
His mother was particularly attentive to his moral education. We refer here not only to religious principle but to rules of acticn, such as the young need for the conduct of life, and which they are commonly left to learn by their own experience, which is the best way certainly, if its lessons are not 100 costly and do not come too late. Observing his peculiar tendencies, she took pains to show him the necessity of quick and decided action. She pointed out examples in which that easiness of temper which finds it hard to say no, leads to fatal indulgences, and at last to absolute ruin, while by exciting in others expectations that cannot be answered, it brings unusual anger and reproach on those who would, if it were in their power,
do favors to all mankind. Good nature too often appears in the form of a fault; having no power to resist importunities, the easy tempered man is always at the mercy of others; he does not gratify them by his compliances, since what he does for one he does for all ; meantime he feels all the misery of a dependent spirit, and goes through life like a drifting vessel entirely at the mercy of the waves and storms. Happy are they who have a parent who has judgment to discern and power to control the early elements of character, and who does not leave to accidental influences that which parental instruction is bound to do.
As Mr. Edgeworth passed from childhood to that age when he became more his own master, he felt the benefit of this early instruction. When he was fourteen, being at an entertainment at Pakenham Hall, Lord Longford put five guineas in his hands and desired him to try his fortune; he won with it in the course of the evening a hundred guineas. The next evening he lost it all, and his lordship offered to lend him more; but he steadily declined and did not again sit down at the table. He was then congratulated by his mother on his self-command, which would secure him from the vice of gambling. The nobleman was rather a perilous moralist, and the experiment might in many cases have led to most injurious results; in this instance however the effect was happy, and he never was tempted to engage in such amusements again.