Manor House, Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, Irlanda
St Andrew, Weston-under-Lizard, Shifnal TF11 8LA, Regno Unito
Honora Edgeworth (née Sneyd;[b] 1751 – 1 May 1780) was an eighteenth-century English writer, mainly known for her associations with literary figures of the day particularly Anna Seward and the Lunar Society, and for her work on children's education. Sneyd was born in Bath in 1751, and following the death of her mother in 1756 was raised by Canon Thomas Seward and his wife Elizabeth in Lichfield, Staffordshire until she returned to her father's house in 1771. There, she formed a close friendship with their daughter, Anna Seward. Having had a romantic engagement to John André and having declined the hand of Thomas Day, she married Richard Edgeworth as his second wife in 1773, living on the family estate in Ireland till 1776. There she helped raise his children from his first marriage, including Maria Edgeworth, and two children of her own. Returning to England she fell ill with tuberculosis, which was incurable, dying at Weston in Staffordshire in 1780. She is the subject of a number of Anna Seward's poems, and with her husband developed concepts of childhood education, resulting in a series of books, such as Practical Education, based on her observations of the Edgeworth children. She is known for her stand on women's rights through her vigorous rejection of the proposal by Day, in which she outlined her views on equality in marriage.
Honora Sneyd and Anna Seward lived under the same roof for thirteen years and formed a close friendship which has given rise to much speculation as to its exact nature, located as it was within the tradition of "female friendship", and forming the basis of a body of Anna Seward's poetical works. Various authors differ in their interpretation of the relationship between the two women, with Lillian Faderman who first suggested that it was lesbian, supported by Barrett although the term relates more to twentieth- rather than eighteenth-century concepts of identity. On the other hand, Teresa Barnard argues against this based more on examination of the correspondence rather than poetry, which is generally based within the lesbian poetic canon, the relationship between these two women being frequently cited.
Sneyd had a reputation for both intelligence and beauty, as commented on by many, including Anna Seward and Richard Edgeworth (see below). In 1764 Seward described Sneyd as "fresh and beautiful as the young day-star, when he bathes his fair beams in the dews of spring". At seventeen Honora Sneyd was briefly engaged to a Swiss born Derbyshire merchant, John André, a relationship that Seward had fostered, and wrote about in her Monody on Major André (1781) when André became a British officer in 1771 and was hanged as a spy by the Americans.[f] The respective parents did not support this attachment for reasons of his financial status.
Around Christmas 1770, Thomas Day and Richard Edgeworth, who like Thomas Seward were members of the Lunar Society that met in Lichfield amongst other places, were spending increasing amounts of time at the Seward household and both had fallen for Sneyd, although Edgeworth was already married. In 1771 she declined an offer of marriage from Thomas Day. Edgeworth gives an account of her letter of rejection stating that it "contained an excellent answer to his [Day's] arguments in favour of the rights of men, and a clear dispassionate view of the rights of women". Edgeworth continues that Sneyd had very determined views on the role of women and their rights within marriage.
Miss Honora Sneyd would not admit the unqualified control of a husband over all her actions; she did not feel, that seclusion from society was indispensably necessary to preserve female virtue, or to secure domestic happiness. Upon terms of reasonable equality, she supposed, that mutual confidence might best subsist; she said, that, as Mr Day had decidedly declared his determination to live in perfect seclusion from what is usually called the world, it was fit she should decidedly declare, that she would not change her present mode of life, with which she had no reason to be dissatisfied, for any dark and untried system, that could be proposed to her.
However Honora Sneyd's father moved to Lichfield from London in 1771, and reassembled his family of five daughters there. By now Honora was nineteen and Anna viewed her friend's departure with considerable dismay. Although Day was much distressed by his rejection by Honora Sneyd, he transferred his affections to the fifth daughter, Elizabeth Sneyd, who had been in the care of Mr Henry Powys and his wife, Susannah Sneyd, of the Abbey, Shrewsbury, Mrs. Powys being Mr Sneyd's niece.[g] However Elizabeth Sneyd was not inclined to accept Day.
Richard Edgeworth comments on how Honora Sneyd had affected him;
During this intercourse I perceived the superiority of Miss Honora Sneyd's capacity ... her sentiments were on all subjects so just and were delivered with such blushing modesty though not without an air of conscious worth as to command attention from every one capable of appreciating female excellence. Her person was graceful her features beautiful and their expression such as to heighten the eloquence of every thing she said. I was six and twenty and now for the first time in my life I saw a woman that equalled the picture of perfection which existed in my imagination.
He continued, describing the unhappiness of his marriage, and how that made him vulnerable to her attributes, which were shared by all the learned gentlemen of his circle. He also believed that Anna Seward had noticed the effect her friend was having on him, and would regularly place her actions in the best light for his benefit. The elimination of Day as a suitor for Honora Sneyd's hand placed Edgeworth in a difficult situation and he resolved to end it by moving to Lyons France, to work, in the autumn of 1771.