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As Alice Paterson comments, from a twentieth-century standpoint, Edgeworth seems “to have combined in the oddest way a passion for mechanics with a love of classical literature15”.
He appears, at one point, to have carried the taste for to extremes.
Thomas Day was a precise and relentless dialectician, and Maria Edgeworth comments that “[d]uring his intimacy with Mr Day, he adopted, perhaps, too much of his friend’s taste for arguments; experience convinced him, that these protracted discussions seldom ended in any satisfactory conclusion, either to the understanding or to the temper16”.
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In short, as this article tries to demonstrate, Edgeworth, living as he did at a time when the concept of the intellectual had not yet been devised, was a Richard Lovell Edgeworth est plus connu comme le père de Maria, la romancière, que pour ses idées sur la politique et l’éducation, et pourtant il était familier des théories de Rousseau ainsi qu’un ardent défenseur de la philosophie expérimentale.
Il attachait beaucoup de prix à l’atmosphère de « la Lunar Society », où la confrontation réciproque des idées était perçue comme un moyen d’atteindre la vérité, et ses idées ou ses préférences en matière de religion n’avaient rien de dogmatique.
Clearly, however, in Jeffrey’s mind, they belong to the same kind: they are men with excessive intellectual ambitions of some sort or other.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) would have seemed superlatively provincial to Jeffrey, as he was Anglo-Irish, and only occasionally visited England after he decided to settle on his County Longford estate in 1782.
But the point is that Jeffrey implicitly denied that an important thinker or a Francis Jeffrey does not mention Richard Lovell Edgeworth, but he might have, as the men he names were either members of the Lunar Society – Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Joseph Priestley – or had some connection with it3.
Those men had very different specialities, from botany (Darwin) to medicine (Beddoes), chemistry, rhetoric and theology (Priestley), politics and children’s literature (Day), and poetry (Southey and Coleridge).Yet, he has a place in the intellectual history of the British Isles, primarily as an educationalist, but also as an inventor, a politician and an improving landlord.This essay will not try to project modern definitions of the intellectual onto the achievements of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, but will examine the major aspects of his intellectual career, bringing out the paradoxes and tensions in it, to argue that it embodies and illustrates the tensions and ruptures in the intellectual life of the British Isles at the turn of the nineteenth century.He would often quote Latin verse in his letters to Thomas Day and Erasmus Darwin.Despite his interest in “experimental philosophy”, he never deprecated the classics, and thought that they should go on figuring prominently in the education of future gentlemen.Indeed, of the members of the Birmingham Lunar Society, who met at Matthew Boulton’s house, Edgeworth says that they were “men of very different characters, but all devoted to literature and science5” and the London society he defines as a “literary society6”.