vol II date / index
St. Pantœnus, 3d Cent. St. Willibald, Bp. 8th Cent. St. Hedda, A.D. 705. St. Edelburga. St. Felix, Bp. of Nantes, A.D. 584. St. Benedict XI. Pope, A.D. 1304.
1816. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the poet, dramatist, orator, and statesman, died. He was the third son of Mr. Thomas Sheridan, celebrated as an actor, eminent as a lecturer on elocution, and entitled to the gratitude of the public for his judicious and indefatigable exertions to improve the system of education in this country. His father, the rev. Dr. Thomas Sheridan, was a distinguished divine, the ablest school-master of his time, and the intimate friend of the dean of St. Patrick. Mr. Thomas Sheridan died at Margate, on the 14th of August, 1788. Mrs. Frances Sheridan, the mother of Richard Brinsley, was the author of "Sidney Biddulph," a novel, which has the merit of combining the purest morality with the most powerful interest. She also wrote "Nourjahad," an oriental tale, and the comedies of the "Discovery," the "Dupe," and "A Trip to Bath." She died at Blois, in France, the 17th of September, 1766.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dorset-street, Dublin, in the month of October, 1751. He was placed, in his seventh year, under the tuition of Mr. Samuel Whyte, of Dublin, the friend of their father. He was placed at Harrow school, after the christmas of 1762. His literary advancement at this seminary appears to have been at first retarded; and it was reserved for the late Dr. Parr, who was at that time one of the sub-preceptors, to discover and call into activity the faculties of young Sheridan's mind. His memory was found to be uncommonly retentive, and his judgment correct; so that when his mind was quickened by competition, his genius gradually expanded. But to be admired seemed his only object, and when that end was attained, he relaxed in his application, and sunk into his former indolence. His last year at Harrow was spent more in reflecting on the acquirements he had made, and the eventful scenes of a busy life, which were opening to his view, than in enlarging the circle of his classical and literary attainments. His father deemed it unnecessary to send him to the university; and he was, a short time after his departure from Harrow, entered as a student of the Middle Temple.
Mr. Sheridan, when about twenty, was peculiarly fond of the society of men of taste and learning, and soon gave proofs that he was inferior to none of his companions in wit and argument. At this age he had recourse to his literary talents for pecuniary supplies, and directed his attention to the drama; but disgusted with some sketches of comic character which he drew, he actually destroyed them, and in a moment of despair renounced every hope of excellence as a dramatic writer. His views with respect to the cultivation and exertion of his genius in literary pursuits, or to the study of the profession to which he had been destined by his father, were all lost in a passion that mastered his reason. He at once saw and loved Miss Linley, a lady no less admirable for the elegant accomplishments of her sex and the affecting simplicity of her conversation, than for the charms of her person and the fascinating powers of her voice. She was the principal performer in the oratorios at Drury-lane theatre. The strains which she poured forth were the happiest combinations of nature and art; but nature predominated over art. Her accents were so melodious and captivating, and their passage to the heart so sudden and irresistable, that "list'ning Envy would have dropped her snakes, and stern-ey'd Fury's self have melted" at the sounds.
Her father, Mr. Linley, the late ingenious composer, was not at first propitious to Mr. Sheridan's passion, and he had many rivals to overcome in his attempts to gain the lady's affections. His perseverance, however, increased with the difficulties that presented themselves, and his courage and resolution were displayed in vindicating Miss Linley's reputation from a calumnious report, which had been basely thrown out against it.
Mr. Mathews, a gentleman then well known in the fashionable circles at Bath, had caused a paragraph to be inserted in a public paper at that place, and had set out for London. He was closely pursued by Mr. Sheridan. They met and fought a duel with swords at a tavern in Henrietta-street, Covent-garden, the house at the north-west corner, opposite Bedford-court. Mr. Sheridan's second on the occasion was his brother, Charles Francis, a late secretary at war in Ireland. Great courage and skill were displayed on both sides; but Mr. Sheridan having succeeded in disarming his adversary, compelled him to sign a formal retraction of the paragraph which had been published. The conqueror instantly returned to Bath; and thinking that, as the insult had been publicly given, the apology should have equal notoriety, he caused it to be published in the same paper. Mr. Mathews soon heard of this circumstance, and, irritated at his defeat, as well as the use which is antagonist had made of his apology, repaired to Bath, and called upon Mr. Sheridan for satisfaction. The parties met on Kingsdown. The victory was desperately contested, and, after a discharge of pistols, they fought with swords. They were both wounded, and closing with each other fell on the ground, where the fight was continued until they were separated. They received several cuts and contusions in this arduous struggle for life and honour, and a part of his opponenet's weapon was left in Mr. Sheridan's ear. Miss Linley rewarded Mr. Sheridan for the dangers he had braved in her defence, by accompanying him on a matrimonial excursion to the continent. The ceremony was again performed on their return to England, with the consent of her parents; from the period of her marriage, Mrs. Sheridan never appeared as a public performer.
Mr. Sheridan, when encumbered with the cares of a family, felt the necessity of immediate exertion to provide for the pressing calls inseparable from a domestic establishment, which, if not splendid, was marked with all the appearance of genteel life.
On finishing his play of the "Rivals," he presented it to the manager of Covent-garden theatre, and it was represented on the 17th of January, 1775. In consequence of some slight disapprobation, it was laid aside for a time, after the first night's performance. Mr. Sheridan having made some judicious alterations, both in the progress of the plot and in the language, it was shortly after brought forward again, and received in the most favourable manner. His next production was the farce of "St. Patrick's Day, or The Scheming Lieutenant." This was followed by the comic opera of the "Duenna," a composition in every respect superior to the general class of English operas then in fashion. It surpassed even the "Beggar's Opera" in attraction and popularity, and was performed seventy-five nights during the season, while Gay's singular production ran only sixty-five.
Mr. Garrick having resolved to retire from the management of Drury-lane theatre, his share of the patent was sold to Mr. Sheridan, who, in 1776, paid 30,000l. for it. He immediately brought out the "Trip to Scarborough," altered from Vanburgh's comedy of the "Relapse." It was performed on the 24th of February, 1777. His next production was the comedy of the "School for Scandal," which raised his fame to undisputed preeminence over contemporary dramatic writers, and conferred, in the opinion of foreign literati, a lustre on the British comedy which it did not previously possess. It was first performed on the 8th of May, 1777.
Early in the following season, he produced the musical piece of "The Camp." His "Critic," written upon the model of the duke of Buckingham's "Rehearsal," came out on the 30th of October, 1787.
On the death of Mr. Garrick, in 1779, Mr. Sheridan wrote the monody to the memory of Mr. Garrick, recited at Drury-lane theatre by Mrs. Yates.
Notwithstanding the profits which he derived from his pieces, and the share he had in the theatre, which was very considerable, as he had obtained Mr. Lacy's interest in the patent, a property equally valuable with that of Mr. Garrick, and of course worth, on the lowest calculation, 30,000l., his pecuniary embarrassments had considerably increased. His domestic establishment was not only very expensive, but conducted without any kind of economy. The persuasions of Mr. Fox, whose friendship he had carefully cultivated, operated, with a firm conviction of his own abilities, in determining him to obtain a seat in the house of commons, and a general election taking place in 1780, Mr. Sheridan was returned for Stafford; and though he contented himself at the commencement of the session with giving a silent vote against the minister, he was indefatigable without doors in seconding the views of the whigs under Mr. Fox, against the measures of the ministry. He had a considerable share in the "Englishman," a paper opposed to the administration of lord North; and when the Rockingham party came into power, in 1782, his exertions were rewarded with the appointment of under secretary to Mr. Fox, then secretary of state for the foreign department.
The death of the marquis of Rockingham, and the unexpected elevation of the earl of Shelburne to the important office of first lord of the treasury, completely defeated the views of himself and friends, and the ever-memorable coalition having been formed between Mr. Fox and lord North, Mr. Sheridan was once more called upon the commence literary hostilities against the new administration. The periodical work of the "Jesuit" soon appeared, and several very distinguished members of the party contributed to that production.
At length the coalition having gained a decisive victory over the new administration, formed by the Shelburne party, Mr. Sheridan was once more brought into place, in April, 1783, as secretary of the treasury. Under Mr. Pitt, an entire change took place in men and measures, and on the trial of an ex officio information against the "Jesuit," Mr. Wilkie, who had the courage to conceal the names of the gentlemen by whom he had been employed, was sentenced to an imprisonment of twelve months.
Mr. Sheridan's speech in defence of Mr. Fox's celebrated East-India Bill was so masterly, as to induce the public opinion to select him from the second class of parliamentary speakers. He was viewed as a formidable opponent by Mr. Pitt, and looked up to with admiration, as a principal leader of the opposition.
He was rapidly approaching to perfection as an orator, when the impeachment of Mr. Hastings supplied him with an opportunity of displaying powers which were then unrivalled. He was one of the managers of the prosecution, and his speech delivered in the house of commons, in April, 1787, on the eighth article as stated in the order laid down by Mr. Burke, relative to "money corruptly and illegally taken," was allowed to equal the most argumentative and impassioned orations that had ever been addressed to the judgment and feelings of the British parliament. He fixed the uninterrupted attention of the house for upwards of five hours, confirmed the minds of those who wavered, and produced co-operation from a quarter which it was supposed would have been hostile to any further proceeding. In the long examination of Mr. Middleton, he gave decided proofs of a strong and discriminating mind; but when, in June, 1788, he summed up the evidence on the charge, repecting the confinement and imprisonment of the princesses of Oude, and the seizure of their treasures, his superiority over his colleagues was established by universal consent. To form a just opinion of this memorable oration, which occupied the attention of the court and excited the admiration of the public for several hours, it would be necessary to have heard Mr. Sheridan himself. It is difficult to select any part of it as the subject of peculiar encomium. The address with which he arranged his materials; the art and force with which he anticipated objections; the unexampled ingenuity with which he commented on the evidence, and the natural boldness of his imagery, are equally entitled to panegyric. He combined the three kinds of eloquence. He was clear and unadorned—diffuse and pathetic—animated and vehement. There was nothing superfluous—no affected turn—no glittering point—no false sublimity. Compassion and indignation were alternately excited, and the wonderful effects related of the eloquence of Greece and Rome were almost revived.
During the indisposition of his late majesty, Mr. Sheridan took a leading part in the attempts which were made to declare the prince of Wales regent, without such restrictions as parliament should think fit to impose. He contended, that the immediate nomination of the heir-apparent ought to take place, as a matter of constitutional right.
He was ever the zealous supporter of parliamentary reform, and the uniform friend of the liberty of the press and of religious toleration; but he rose superior to the selfish drudgery of a mere partizan, and his conduct, during the crisis of the naval mutiny, received the thanks of the minister.
Mrs. Sheridan died in June, 1792, and he had a son by the lady, Mr. Thomas Sheridan, who inherited much of his father's talents, but fell a victim to indulgence. In 1795, Mr. Sheridan married his second wife, Mis Ogle, youngest daughter of the rev. Dr. Newton Ogle, dean of Winchester. This issue of this second marriage was also a son.
His conduct as manager and principal proprietor of the first theatre in the kingdom, and his punctuality in the discharge of the duties contracted by him in that situation, have rarely been the subject of praise; but in the legal discussion of the claims of the proprietors of Drury-lane theatre, in the court of chancery, so far from any imputation being thrown out against his conduct, it was generall[y] commended; and the chancellor himself (lord Eldon) spoke in the handsomest terms of Mr. Sheridan's integrity, though certainly he thought his prudence was, in some instances, liable to be questioned.
On the formation of the Fox and Grenville administration, after the death of Mr. Pitt, Mr. Sheridan was appointed treasurer of the navy, and returned member for Westminster, after a strong opposition on the part of Mr. Paul. But in the latter years of his life he had not sat in parliament; where, during the period after his last return, he attended irregularly, and spoke seldom. One of the wittiest of his closing efforts in the house, was a speech, in answer to Mr. Yorke, respecting a discussion on the "Nightly Watch," which had arisen out of the murder of the families of Marr and Williamson, at Wapping.
Mr. Sheridan was one of that circle denominated the prince's friends. So long as his mind remained unaffected by the pressure of personal distress and embarrassment, and whilst he could contribute to the hilarity of the table by his wit, as he had formerly contributed to forward the interests of the prince by his earnest and unremitted endeavours, he appears to have been a welcome visitor at Carlton-house—but this was all. Nor the brilliancy of genius, nor the master of talent, nor time, nor intellect employed and exhausted in the service of the prince, obtained for this great man the means of a peaceful existence, on his cession from public life. In June, 1816, his constitution was completely broken up, and his speedy dissolution seemed inevitable.
He died at noon, on Sunday, the 7th of July, 1816. For several weeks prior to his death he lay under arrest, and it was only by the firmness and humanity of the two eminent physicians who attended him, Dr. Baillie and Dr. Bain, that an obdurate attorney was prevented from executing a threat to remove him from his house to a death-bed in gaol. He enjoyed, however, to the last moment, the sweetest consolation that the heart can feel in the affectionate tenderness, sympathy, and attention of his amiable wife and son. Mrs. Sheridan, though herself labouring under severe illness, watched over him with the most anxious solicitude through the whole of that protracted suffering, which has parted them for ever.
To these particulars of this extraordinary individual, which are extracted from a memoir of him that appeared in The Times newspaper, must be added a passage or two from a celebrated "Estimate of his Character and Talents" in the same journal.
"Mr. Sheridan in his happiest days never effected any thing by steady application. He was capable of intense, but not of regular study. When public duty or private difficulty urged him, he endured the burden as if asleep under its pressure. At length, when the pain could be no longer borne, he roused himself with one mighty effort, and burst like a lion through the toils. There are reasons for believing that his constitutional indolence began its operation upon his habits at an early age. His very first dramatic scenes were written by snatches, with considerable intervals between them. Convivial pleasures had lively charms for one whose wit was the soul of the table; and the sparkling glass—the medium of social intercourse—had no small share of his affection. These were joys to be indulged without effort: as such they were too well calculated to absorb the time of Mr. Sheridan, and sooner or later to make large encroachments on his character. His attendance in parliament became every year more languid—the vis inertiæ more incurable—the plunges by which his genius had now and then extricated him in former times less frequent and more feeble. We never witnessed a contrast much more melancholy than between the brilliant and commanding talent displayed by Mr. Sheridan throughout the first regency discussions, and the low scale of nerve, activity, and capacity, to which he seemed reduced when that subject was more recently agitated in parliament. But indolence and intermperance must banish reflection, if not corrected by it; since no man could support the torture of perpetual self-reproach. Aggravated, we fear, by some such causes, the naturally careless temper of Mr. Sheridan became ruinous to all his better hopes and prospects. Without a direct appetite for spending money, he thought not of checking its expenditure. The economy of time was as much disregarded as that of money. All the arrangements, punctualities, and minor obligations of life were forgotten, and the household of Mr. Sheridan was always in a state of nature. His domestic feelings were originally kind, and his manners gentle: but the same bad habits seduced him from the house of commons, and from home; and equally injured him as an agent of the public good, and as a dispenser of private happiness. It is painful, it is mortifying, but it is our sacred duty, to pursue this history to the end. Pecuniary embarrassments often lead men to shifts and expedients—these exhausted, to others of a less doubtful colour. Blunted sensibility—renewed excesses—loss of cast in society—follow each other in melancholy succession, until solitude and darkness close the scene.
"It has been made a reproach by some persons, in lamenting Mr. Sheridan's cruel destiny, that 'his friends' had not done more for him. We freely and conscientiously declare it as our opinion, that had Mr. Sheridan enjoyed ten receiverships of Cornwall instead of one, he would not have died in affluence. He never would have attained to comfort or independence in his fortune. A vain man may become rich, because his vanity may thirst for only a single mode of gratification; an ambitious man, a bon vivant, a sportsman, may severally control their expenses; but a man who is inveterately thoughtless of consequences, and callous to reproof—who knows not when he squanders money, because he feels not those obligations which constitute or direct its uses—such a man it is impossible to rescue from destruction. We go further—we profess not to conjecture to what individuals the above reproach of forgotten friendships has been applied. If against persons of illustrious rank, there never was a more unfounded accusation. Mr. Sheridan, throughout his whole life, stood as high as he ought to have done in the quarters alluded to. He received the most substantial proofs of kind and anxious attachment from these personages; and it is to his credit that he was not insensible to their regard. If the mistaken advocates of Mr. Sheridan were so much his enemies as to wish he had been raised to some elevated office, are they not aware that even one month's active attendance out of twelve he was at times utterly incapable of giving? But what friends are blamed for neglecting Mr. Sheridan? What friendships did he ever form? We more than doubt whether he could fairly claim the rights of friendship with any leader of the whig administration. We know that he has publicly asserted Mr. Fox to be his friend, and that he has dwelt with much eloquence on the sweets and enjoyments of that connection; but it has never been our fortune to find out that Mr. Fox had, on any public or private occasion, bound himself by reciprocal pledges. Evidence against the admission of such ties on his part may be drawn from the well-known anecdotes of what occurred within a few days of that statesman's death. The fact is, that a life of conviviality and intemperance seldom favours the cultivation of those better tastes and affections which are necessary to the existence of intimate friendship. That Mr. Sheridan had as many admirers as acquaintances, there is no room to doubt; but they admired only his astonishing powers; there never was a second opinion or feeling as to the unfortunate use which he made of them.
"Never were such gifts as those which Providence showered upon Mr. Sheridan so abused—never were talents so miserably perverted. The term 'greatness' has been most ridiculously, and, in a moral sense, most perniciously applied to the character of one who, to speak charitably of him, was the weakest of men. Had he employed his matchless endowments with but ordinary judgment, nothing in England, hardly any thing in Europe, could have eclipsed his name, or obstructed his progress."
May they who read, and he who writes, reflect, and profit by reflection, on
The talents lost—the moments run
To waste—the sins of act, of thought,
Ten thousand deeds of folly done,
And countless virtues cherish'd not.
Nasturtium. Tropocolum mojus.
Dedicated to St. Felix.
To the Summer Zephyr.
Zephyr, stay thy vagrant flight,
And tell me where you're going—
Is it to sip off the dew-drop bright
That hangs on the breast of the lily white
In yonder pasture growing;
Or to revel 'mid roses and mignionette sweet;
Or wing'st thou away some fair lady to meet?—
If so, then, hie thee away, bland boy;
Thou canst not engage in a sweeter employ.
"From kissing the blue of yon bright summer sky,
To the vine-cover'd cottage, delighted, I fly,
Where Lucy the gay is shining;
To sport in the beams of her lovely eye,
While her temples with roses she's twining.
Then do not detain me; I sigh to be there,
To fan her young bosom—to play 'mid her hair!"