LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The “Pope” of Holland House
Maria Edgeworth to John Whishaw, 27 June 1815

Chapter I: 1813
Chapter II: 1814
Chapter III: 1815
Chapter IV: 1816
Chapter V: 1817
Chapter VI: 1818
Chapter VII: 1819
Chapter VIII: 1820
Chapter IX: 1821
Chapter X: 1822
Chapter XI: 1824-33
Chapter XII: 1833-35
Chapter XIII: 1806-40
Chapter XIV: Appendix
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Edgeworth’s Town,
June 27, 1815.

My dear Sir,—At last, after many provoking delays occasioned by Dublin custom-house officers and Dublin booksellers, we have obtained possession of the work you did me the honour and the favour to send us. We have read it with peculiar pleasure, not only from the real merit and interest of the book, but from its coming at a time when we were most certain to feel the full value of literary instruction and entertainment. My father has had an illness which has now lasted many months, but which has never diminished the activity and energy of his mind. Reading, or rather being read to, has been his great resource and solace. You may judge, then, how much his family have felt obliged to the author of the Life of Mungo Park for a work which opens so many new views to an inventive mind, at the same time that it gives so
Letter of Maria Edgeworth
much pleasure to literary taste, as a remarkably judicious composition, free from superfluity either of ornament or detail.

As writers on education, and as persons who are anxious for the improvement of the education of the people of Ireland, we felt an additional interest in that part of the Life of Park in which you speak with such forcible eloquence of the advantages that have resulted from the superiority of education among the lower ranks of the people in Scotland.

My father last night employed one of my sisters to make an extract from that invaluable note of yours on this subject, and he will have it inserted in an excellent paper which has lately been published in this country, for the special use of the people, The Irish Farmers Journal and Weekly Intelligencer. We could not venture to make so copious an extract as we could have wished, or to state some of the strongest facts, lest our extract should have proved too strongly bitter and utterly unpalatable to those for whom it was intended.

Do you, my dear Sir, in things of lesser importance admit of such sacrifices of the right to the expedient? In matters of importance I see you are inexorable. Have you not been rather too severe upon Park for his truism about the Slave Trade? First you decide that “his silence must more than his speeches offend,” and then you take exception at the first and only words the poor man says, by inferring that more is meant than meets the ear. You convert a harmless, perhaps a cowardly, but by your own statement a powerless, truism into a dangerous innuendo.

Letter of Maria Edgeworth

(Miss Edgeworth discusses at great length the question as to whether Park’s account of his travels was written by himself, or whether he had been helped by others.)

As to the general question whether an author of voyages and travels ought to accept of assistance from a professional writer in preparing his work for the public, you have with perfect liberality allowed that this is countenanced by the practice of many of our most celebrated navigators and travellers, and justified in some instances by the necessity of the case. But I perfectly agree with you in opinion that, wherever the traveller can, he ought for his own sake, and for the satisfaction and advantage of the public, to state his facts and deliver his tale, varnished or unvarnished, after his own fashion. Of this Mr. Park himself is a striking proof, and you have put it in the power of the public to see and judge of this proof. You have judiciously published, without correction, alteration, or embellishment, Park’s last Journal; and every one accustomed to literature and to see literary manufacture can, from these imperfect notes and hints, judge how capable Park was of writing for himself, and how much more interesting he might have made his travels by his own style, simple and unadorned, than by borrowing the pen of a practised writer, who would give flourishes and rhetoric, but could not give the stamp of truth, that inimitable stamp which happily defies all counterfeit, and is of more value even for its power to interest than the famous cachet of Voltaire or of any other writer in this world of writers.

There are many facts in Park’s Journal, curious in
Letter of Maria Edgeworth
themselves, and still more interesting in opening new views and affording a scent of new discoveries. The barbarism and civilisation existing at one and the same time among these Africans, their gold washing and their gold and iron smelting, and their gunpowder making, and their elegant mud mosques, and their famous Timbuctoo, and their kings’ sons stealing great-coats and their kings delighting in the shrieks of the criminals they have executed, form altogether a new combination, a new picture for the historian; and for the natural historian, geologist, mineralogist, and chemist, there is surely much to hope from “kingdoms they have yet to subdue” in Africa.

The geologist must not make up decisively his system of the world till he learns more of this new world. The chemist will be eager to have the analysing of the rust of gold, and if there be an alchemist left in the world he must look for the philosopher’s stone in the golden sand of Africa, and must take your pretty little black washerwomen to assist in the projection.

Will you be so good as to tell me by whom that print and the other very neat woodcuts in your book were executed? and say whether we should have any chance of engaging the artist at any moderate price to execute some vignettes for children’s books?

. . . . .

When we began to read Park’s travels I thought I could not feel such interest in the course of the Niger, Zad, or Congo; but by degrees I caught the general enthusiasm, and this whole family are now as mad as you or Park could have wished on this subject, and
Letter of Maria Edgeworth
as vehement in the discussion of the several reasons on Park’s and
Rennell’s1 side of the question. At all events, I am glad the father of history is upon this occasion proved not to have been the father of lies, and that the Niger was seen by Park to flow, as Herodotus described it hundreds of years ago, from west to east.

I am glad that the old lake is there, and very sorry Park, when so near Sillee as that, could not reach it, but was forced to turn back like the prince in the Arabian tales, who was in sight of the golden water and the singing tree when forced to turn back. As to this grand question of the Niger, upon collecting votes we find that this whole family are for Mr. Park’s opinion, and think it is the Zad and the Congo. But, like Irish arbitrators upon a reference, we incline to split the difference, and we would decide, for Major Rennell’s satisfaction, that the Niger should empty itself into the lake nobody knows where. But then, why should it be lost there? Why should it not flow through said lake (as, if precedent be required, the Rhone flows through the Lake of Geneva)? Why should not the Niger pursue its course, changing its name to Zad, or Congo or Zaire, as it pleaseth, till it pours through its terrible mouth into the sea?

Is that mouth so terrible? Is the navigation of the Zaire from the western coast so dangerous as to be quite impracticable? This is a question on which another of great importance depends, for if it were practicable, would it not be wise to try to pursue the course of the Congo till it be proved from where that

1 Major Rennell, F.G.S.

Letter of Maria Edgeworth
river rises, and whether it joins the lake or the Niger? This and some other points relative to a new expedition to Africa have been eagerly discussed by my father and brother since we have been reading your work. My father, however, claims the pleasure of giving you his own thoughts, and he who has always been so good as to undertake for me all the business part of our literary partnership will answer your note about Murray the bookseller, which Lady Romilly communicated to us. Accept, dear Sir, my thanks for the obliging interest you show in our concerns, and believe me,

Gratefully and sincerely your obedt. servant,
Maria Edgeworth.

My father has been confined to his bed with rheumatism and bilious sickness, till late this evening, is so indifferent that he cannot write for himself, and he desires me to hold the pen for him.

With respect to the question of the Niger, the possibility of its being evaporated from a lake which served as a reservoir for its waters must depend on the size of that lake, and with this we are unacquainted. However, as we know of no such method of disposing of the waters of a mighty river in any other part of the world, we are upon this point in a field of unbounded conjecture.

The possibility of traversing a hostile country in balloons is not hopeless. I know the means of conducting a balloon in perfectly calm weather. Whether such a calm can be found in any habitable regions of the air is yet to be determined. What periodical winds may reign over the sandy deserts of Africa
Letter of R. L. Edgeworth
is also a question yet to be answered. In the proper season an aerial voyage over the whole tract which
Park traversed might be passed in a very few days. The voyagers might alight in the desert in safety, and their celestial descent among the savages in a populous part of the country would ensure them not only safety but adoration.—Sed referre gradum! Nothing is so disgraceful to the scientific history of the present age as the mere mercenary use that has been made of balloons. Montgolfier, whom I knew at Paris, deplored the unworthy use that had been made of his invention.

With respect to Mr Murray, the bookseller, I return you my acknowledgments for the interest you take in our literary adventures. The partnership that subsisted between the nephew of the late excellent Joseph Johnson has been dissolved, but the business is still carried on at the same house by Mr. R. Hunter, one of Johnson’s nephews, who retains the copyright of our works. The gentleman to whom, after the death of Mr. Johnson, we were attached, was another nephew of his, Mr. Miles, who has quitted business. We have had no business with Mr. Hunter, to whom we are in no way bound. If we find him different from what Johnson’s nephew ought to be, we shall attend to your recommendation. Johnson had promised my daughter a certain price for the three first volumes of “Fashionable Tales.” On the day he died, Johnson, finding himself ill, desired his nephew Miles, who was alone with him, to give Miss E. credit in his books for double the sum which he had promised. Of this, Miles was so impatient to inform us, that he wrote by post to us that very night after his uncle’s death.

Without any stipulation he gave two thousand guineas for “Patronage.” This, undoubtedly, must have been done by the consent of his partner, Mr. Hunter; but we take it for granted that Mr. M. was the person who arranged the business. . . .

I am, dear Sir, with great regard,
Your obedt. servant,
Rich. Lovell Edgeworth.