As a rule people’s books appeal first to one’s imagination, and then after a time, if the books are good books and alive, not stuffed dummies and reproductions, one begins to divine the writers themselves, hidden away in their pages, and wrapped up in their hot-press sheets of paper; and so it happened by chance that a printed letter once written by Maria Edgeworth to Mrs. Barbauld set the present reader wondering about these two familiar names, and trying to realise the human beings which they each represented. Since those days Miss Edgeworth has become a personage more vivid and interesting than any of her characters, more familiar even than ‘Simple Susan’ or ‘Rosamond of the Purple Jar.’ She has seemed little by little to grow into a friend, as the writer has learnt to know her more and more intimately, has visited the home of that home-loving woman, has held in her hands the delightful Family Memoirs, has seen the horizons, so to speak, of Maria Edgeworth’s long life. [Now published and edited by Mr. Hare (Nov. 1894).] Several histories of Miss Edgeworth have been lately published in England. Miss Zimmern and Miss Oliver in America have each written, and the present writer has written, and various memoirs and letters have appeared in different magazines and papers with allusions and descriptions all more or less interesting. One can but admire the spirit which animated that whole existence; the cheerful, kindly, multiplied interest Maria Edgeworth took in the world outside, as well as in the wellbeing of all those around her. Generations, changes, new families, new experiences, none of these overwhelmed her. She seemed to move in a crowd, a cheerful, orderly crowd, keeping in tune and heart with its thousand claims; with strength and calmness of mind to bear multiplied sorrows and a variety of care with courage, and an ever-reviving gift of spirited interest. Her history is almost unique in its curious relationships; its changes of step-mothers, its warm family ties, its grasp of certain facts which belong to all time rather than to the hour itself. Miss Edgeworth lived for over eighty years, busy, beneficent, modest, and intelligent to the last. When she died she was mourned as unmarried women of eighty are not often mourned.
The present owner of Edgeworthstown told us that he could just remember her, lying dead upon her bed, and her face upon the pillow, and the sorrowful tears of the household; and how he and the other little children were carried off by a weeping aunt into the woods, to comfort and distract them on the funeral day. He also told us of an incident prior to this event which should not be overlooked. How he himself, being caught red-handed, at the age of four or thereabouts, with his hands in a box of sugar-plums, had immediately confessed the awful fact that he had been about to eat them, and he was brought then and there before his Aunt Maria for sentence. She at once decided that he had behaved Nobly in speaking the truth, and that he must be rewarded in kind for his praiseworthy conduct, and be allowed to keep the sugar-plums!