RICHARD LOVELL EDGEWORTH, 31st May 1744-13th June 1817, Trinity College Dublin, Oxford
University, founder Member of the Royal Irish Academy, 1785.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth was born in Pierrepoint Street, Bath on 31st May 1744, son
of Richard Edgeworth, and his wife Jane, nèe Lovell, the daughter of Sir Salathiel
Lovell, a judge, Recorder of London and a Baron of the Exchequer. The Edgeworths
were a family with landed property in Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland and
it was there that Richard Edgeworth was to spend much of his life.
Edgeworth started his formal education at Warwick, though moved later to what was
generally agreed to be the finest school in Ireland: Drogheda. In 1761 he attended
Trinity College in Dublin, before transferring a few months later to Corpus Christi
In 1763, while still at University, he eloped with Anna Maria Elers, of Black Bourton
in Oxfordshire, daughter of an old friend of his father’s, and the two were married
at Gretna Green, he ‘resolving to meet the disagreeable consequences..with fortitude.’
The first child followed immediately, a son named Dick, who was born in May 1764
just before Richard’s twentieth birthday.
In 1765, Richard and Anna Maria took a tenancy of a house at Hare Hatch, near Maidenhead
in Berkshire, where Edgeworth devoted considerable time to scientific reading and
research. It was during this time that his second child was born on 1st January 1767,
a daughter, Maria Edgeworth, who was to become famous in her own right as one of
the first important woman authors in the English language.
Edgeworth’s scientific interests led him in various directions; he is credited with
developing an early form of bicycle, a machine for measuring land area, and another
for cutting turnips. He inherited his family estates in Ireland on the death of his
father in 1769.
In 1770 he stayed in Lichfield with his friend Thomas Day who had just moved there.
While in Lichfield, he met Erasmus Darwin, who shared an interest in the design of
carriages, and became acquainted not only with the members of the Lunar Society,
but also with Anna Seward, the ‘Swan of Lichfield’ and later biographer of Darwin,
and her cousins Honora and Elizabeth Sneyd.
Edgeworth was fascinated by the principles and philosophy of Rousseau, and in conjunction
with his friend Thomas Day, resolved to apply these to the education of his son,
Dick. The three travelled to France in 1771, where they met Rousseau himself, and
took up residence in Lyons where they remained for two years. Whether due to deficiencies
in Rousseau’s principles, or in Edgeworth’s application of them, the experiment was
not a success, and Edgeworth himself lost faith in the master.
Anna Maria Edgeworth died in March 1773, and Edgeworth returned to England. Four
months later, he married Honora Sneyd (who had earlier rejected a proposal from Thomas
Day!) and the couple took up residence on the Edgeworth estates in Ireland. Two years
later, they moved back to England, settling at Northchurch in Hertfordshire. But
tragedy was to strike in April 1780, when Honora died. Oddly, she recommended that
Edgeworth should marry her sister Elizabeth and, even more oddly, this is exactly
what he did on Christmas Day 1780. Elizabeth had also, earlier, rejected a proposal
from Thomas Day.
In 1782, the Edgeworths returned to Ireland, with Richard determined to improve the
condition of his estates, superintend the education and development of his, by now,
seven children, and ameliorate the condition of his tenants. In 1785 he was one of
the founder members of the Royal Irish Academy, which still exists; membership is
considered to be the highest mark of academic achievement in Ireland.
The following years were occupied in mechanics and agriculture. Edgeworth has been
credited with the invention of an early form of the caterpillar tractor - a vehicle
for crawling over boggy terrain, and a central heating system for the Pakenham family
at Tullynally. Internal disturbances, and threats of a French invasion, led Edgeworth
to offeri in 1796, to install his semaphore telegraph system throughout the country,
but the offer was declined leaving the benefits to be realised by the French who
established their own network.
In the following year, 1797, Elizabeth Edgeworth, too, died.
In 1798, in partnership with his daughter Maria, Edgeworth published a book ‘Practical
Education’ which collected the combined wisdom of the two in the bringing-up of children.
Later in 1798, Edgeworth married Frances-Anne Beaufort, daughter of the Rev. Daniel
Augustus Beaufort, and was elected M.P. for the borough of St John's Town, Longford.
The same year, too, saw a hostile landing of the French and a formidable rebellion;
and for a short time the Edgeworths took refuge in Longford. The winter of 1802,
during the rather curious period of the Peace of Amiens, they spent in Paris. In
1804, following the resumption of hostilities with the French, the government accepted
his telegraphic apparatus, but the installation was left incomplete when the fear
of invasion was past.
In 1806 Edgeworth was elected a member of the Board of Commissioners to inquire into
Irish education. From 1807 till 1809 much of his time was spent on mechanical experiments
and in writing the story of his life. In 1808 appeared ‘Professional Education’ and
in 1813 his ‘Essay on the Construction of Roads and Carriages.’
Richard Lovell Edgeworth died on 13th June 1817, and was buried in the family vault
in Edgeworthstown churchyard.