Michael Hurst, Maria Edgeworth and the Public Scene (Macmillan 1969), 206pp.

‘Like the Moores of Moore Hall in county Mayo, Edworth regarded the Union as ‘an indispensable step toward the civilisation of Ireland.’ It would ‘diffuse British customs and manners’ (Hone, Moores of Moore Hall, p.48). Maria too accepted this as both valid and desirable. She had learned how to manage an Irish estate as early as 1791. Her novels were pubished either at the very end of the Grattanite perod or under the Union. All but two appeared before her father’s death and, Castle Rackrent apart, owe an enormous amount to his influence. They combine an intimate knowledge of the Catholic Irish masses with a didactic optimism, the basic assumption of which is that the aristocracy had it within its power to save Ireland from the ‘horrible revolutionists’ (Memoir, Vol. 1, p.145) and bring in a period of peaceful co-operation under Ascendancy guidance. When O’Connell’s movement for Repeal finally convinced her that the ends she sought were a chimera, she ceased to publish material about Irish soiety in her usual manner. Indeed, she wrote hardly anything at all for publication. By 1834 she was complaining: [ ‘it is impossible to draw ... worse than bad taste’. … &c.] From 1817 until the Repeal movement got under way, Maria cherished her hopes, placing what often amounted to a naive faith in the efficacy of the completion of Catholic Emancipation as a panacea for Ireland’s social and political ills. She chose to forget the logic of her own convictions about estate-management and landlord-tenant relations with its inexorable conclusions on the needs for social changes. After this gigantic piece of self-deception the ultimate disappointment was all the more vexing. Bitter touches enter into her letters and conversation ... [33].

Hurst further quotes Maria’s long letter of advise to the landlord Sneyd who has been opposed by his own tenants at the instigation of the priests: ‘Because the priests have used force and intimidation such as their situation and means put in their power, are landlord to do likewise and are the poor tenants in this worl and the next to be evicted and excommunicated between them? Are we to recriminate and revenge because the priests and the people have done so, beaten or beating as brutal force decides? ... Landlord, if you begin the recriminatory system on or after elections with your tenants, where will it end in Ireland?’ [82; cited in from the Memoir, under ‘hanging gale’ and matters akin, in Memoir, iii, 168ff.].

Note that the same contains an exemplification drawn from the case of Michael Langan: ‘Now to go to particular instances and to cases and tenants in question. Michael Langan has paid his rent, but when May comes the question remains whether he is to be called upon and forced or not to pay May 1835 as soon as due. If he can and does without force - very well. Happy for him. He may be saved from drinking by not having the money to drink. And if he does not pay, why (if the election were out of sight), I should say it is good to get rid of a drunken tenant. [She asks Sneyd to determine the case of Dermot, but gives her advice:] ‘not to drive, to let the matter rest with him as it is. ... but I must say, my dear Sneyd, that I cannot as a woman be the driver [meaning evicter]. I must surrender Dermod into the hands of Mr Hinds and you will be so kind as to desire me to do so that I may not have the appearance of so doing in what is called a pet.’ [&c.]

Hurst is Fellow in Mod. History and Pols., St John’s College, Oxford and has also written on Josephe Chambelain, and ‘Parnell and irish Nationalism’ [.. &c.].

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