Mary Leadbeater (1758-1826)

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read

Mary Shackleton, afterwards Mrs. Leadbeater, was daughter to Richard Shackleton, a member of the Society of Friends. He was a man of very superior abilities and high principle, and at his father's boarding-school at Ballitore in Kildare, which was afterwards conducted by himself, Edmund Burke received his early education, and formed that friendship for him which only ended with life. Mary was born in 1758, and as a girl was remarkable for great modesty and sweetness of disposition; she also early showed poetic talent, but none of her youthful productions have been published. In 1791 she married William Leadbeater, a farmer and landowner in her neighbourhood, and a descendant of one of the many Huguenot families who were forced to fly from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The marriage proved a happy one.

In 1794 Mrs. Leadbeater published her first work, entitled Extracts and Original Anecdotes for the Improvement of Youth. This was one of the earliest attempts to introduce a more entertaining class of literature among the youth of the Society of Friends, and it was well received. Her name came before the general public in 1808 by the appearance of a Book of Poems, which were much admired as true pictures of the purity and beauty of rural and domestic life. Cottage Dialogues of the Irish Peasantry appeared in 1811, and a second series of the same work followed in 1813. The character of the poorer Irish, their virtues and sufferings, with the best mode of improving their condition, formed the subject of these Dialogues—a subject on which our authoress, with her kindly sympathies and practical experience, was well fitted to write. Miss Edgeworth, impressed with the fidelity and beauty of the work, lent her aid to extend its circulation, and became the friend of the amiable authoress. Landlord's Friends and Cottage Biography followed, both written in the style of Cottage Dialogues, and equally successful. Notices of Irish Friends and Memoirs of Richard and Elizabeth Shackleton next appeared. She also contributed poems, tales, essays, and sketches to various periodicals.

The Annals of Ballitore, extending from 1766 to 1824, is perhaps the most interesting of all Mrs. Leadbeater's productions. Life in the Quaker village, with its peculiar, droll, and pathetic incidents, anecdotes of individuals, and scenes of the rebellion in 1798 which she had witnessed, are graphically described. This work appeared in 1862, with a memoir of the authoress and a great portion of her extensive correspondence, under the title of The Leadbeater Papers, edited by her niece Elizabeth Shackleton. The last work from the pen of Mrs. Leadbeater was written for the Kildare Street Society. It was entitled The Pedlars, and described in the form of a dialogue the natural and artificial curiosities of different parts of Ireland.

This accomplished lady died 27th June, 1826, and was buried at Ballitore. All her writings give evidence of a desire to benefit her fellow-creatures. By her friends she was respected and beloved; the regard of Edmund Burke was shown by his last farewell, written to her on his death-bed. In her home circle she maintained a gentle sway with a firm and loving hand, and never permitted her literary to interfere with her domestic work—which latter she regarded as the first duty of every woman. Mrs. Fisher the friend of Gerald Griffin, to whom we are indebted for the preservation of many of his poems, was a daughter of Mrs. Leadbeater.

See also:—

Mary Leadbeater to Walter Scott

Extracts from "Annals of Ballitore."