As an English writer of the 18th Century, Honora Sneyd (1751-1780) was recognized for her work on children’s education and foremost known for her close associations with prominent literary figures of her time.
Born in Bath, Somerset, England, she was the third daughter of Edward Sneyd and Susanna Cook of Sible Hedingham, Essex, in 1751. Her father, a Major in the Royal Horse Guards and a Gentleman Usher at Court, provided her with a privileged upbringing.
Unfortunately, Honora experienced the loss of her mother at a tender age of six, leaving her as one of eight children and the second surviving daughter. Due to his inability to provide for all of his children, her father found himself in a predicament. Therefore, several friends and relatives kindly extended their support by offering to take them in.
Canon Thomas Seward and his wife Elizabeth, along with their family, in Lichfield gave Honora a new home. His progressive views of female education greatly influenced Honora.
Seward’s daughter, Anna, formed a close relationship to Honora and wrote many poetical works about her.
Described as clever and scientifically inclined, Honora developed a profound passion for literature through her interactions with Anna Seward. Although little surviving literary works authored by Honora Sneyd exist today, her love for literature was widely acknowledged.
She was an accomplished scholar, attending day school in Lichfield, where she honed her linguistic skills and became fluent in French. Notably, she even translated Rousseau’s “Julie” for her older foster sister.
Her intellectual prowess and dedication to literature were evident through her scholarly pursuits and linguistic accomplishments. All in all, these attributes endeared Honora even more to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who was caught in an unhappy marriage, as he said himself. As members of the Lunar Society, Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Thomas Day spent a lot of time in Lichfield around 1770. Still married to Anna Maria Elers, Richard distanced himself, after discovering his feelings for Honora. Nevertheless, his friend Day went on to pursue his own affection and proposed to her. But she rejected his offer in 1771. Shortly after, Richard Lovell Edgeworth decided to move to Lyon, France to work. Unexpectedly, his first wife died in March 1773.
A mere 6 month later, Honora Sneyd and Richard Lovell Edgeworth were united in marriage on the 17th of July, 1773, at the esteemed Lichfield Cathedral in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England. There was no mention of the customary waiting period for remarriage after widowhood. Despite causing a minor scandal, including Mr. Sneyd’s disapproval of his daughter’s marriage, the couple exchanged vows.
Shortly after their nuptials, Honora and Richard relocated to his ancestral estate in Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland. There, Honora assumed the role of step-mother to Richard’s four surviving children: Richard Edgeworth, Maria Edgeworth, Emmaline Edgeworth King, and Anna Edgeworth Beddoes. Additionally, they had 2 own children together, Honora Edgeworth (1774-1790) and Lovell Edgeworth (1775-1842)
Notably, Honora embarked on a remarkable endeavour during her time at Edgeworthstown. Driven by her passion for applying experimental science to the realm of child education, she conceived and executed a comprehensive register spanning two volumes (1778-1779). This register chronicled the reactions of children to new knowledge and experiences, meticulously documenting their inquiries, actions, and problem-solving approaches. As a result, a prime example of her recorded dialogue can be found in Richard and Maria Edgeworth’s seminal work, Practical Education.
Basically, the Edgeworths made significant contributions to the field of education through their development of the Practical Education concept. Their recognition of the limitations of Rousseau’s principles and their commitment to finding more effective methods exemplify their dedication to the betterment of childhood education. Therefore, by thoroughly researching existing literature (including Locke, Hartley, Priestley in addition to Rousseau and Anna Barbauld) and meticulously documenting their own observations, they were able to create a practical system that would shape the future of educational practices. Honora Sneyd’s extensive notes on the behavior of the Edgeworth children served as a valuable resource, providing the foundation for the dialogues presented in the final book.
Honora and Richard moved back to England, around the year 1776. Three years later, in 1779, Honora Sneyd was struck by a debilitating fever. Hence, desperate for answers, they turned to Erasmus Darwin, a prominent figure in the medical field, who resided in Lichfield. Darwin’s expertise led him to believe that Honora’s illness was far more serious than they had initially assumed. He suspected that it was a relapse of consumption (T.B.), a condition she had briefly battled during her teenage years. Therefore, Darwin strongly advised against returning to their homeland of Ireland. Instead, he recommended moving closer to Lichfield, where Honora could receive the necessary care and support. They relocated to Beighterton, a charming village near Shifnal in Shropshire, England.
Tragically, Honora succumbed to tuberculosis on the 1st of May, 1780, in Beighterton. Her final resting place is at St. Andrew Church in Weston-under-Lizard, South Staffordshire Borough, Staffordshire, England, where a small plaque commemorates her memory.
Honora Sneyd was an extraordinary woman, renowned for her exceptional beauty, intellect, and literary connections. She captivated the hearts of numerous poets of her era, most notably Anna Seward, who immortalized her in her poetic works. Although Honora’s life was tragically cut short at the tender age of 29, her legacy endures through her writings and the cherished memories of those fortunate enough to have known her.