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pared with it dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapour before the sun.' As to his wit, Fox pronounced him to be 'the wittiest man he had ever known.' His wit was great even in his cups. The Wilberforce anecdote is superb. He was found drunk in the channel, and when asked by the watchman where he lived and what was his name, he in a whispered hiccup replied: 'Wilberforce.'-Wilberforce drunk and incapable in the Sherry all over,' says Byron.
'The Rivals' was written in two months, and though the first representation was a failure, the play, when pruned and improved, was a conspicuous success. 'The School for Scandal' was an immediate and pronounced success, and is even a greater favourite now than it was in his own day. 'The Critic' is the best of his plays and the best play of its kind—a success in a line where others had failed. Of his comedies, however, Macaulay -who declared the Begum speech to be 'the finest which had been delivered within the memory of man'— recorded his opinion that Sheridan was not the equal of Wycherley, and that 'no writers have injured the comedy of England so much as Congreve and Sheridan,' and supports it by arguments to be found in his 'Essay on Machiavelli.' But though the wit and humour of 'The Rivals' is artificial and laboured, and the plot meagre, and the characters, excepting Sir Anthony Absolute, disappointing and unnatural, yet it is to be borne in mind that it holds the stage at present, and shows no decline in public favour.
Dr. Johnson, between whom and Sheridan's father there was ill-feeling sufficient to cause a rupture in an old friendship, said that 'the man who has written the two best comedies of his age is surely a considerable
man'-no weak praise from Johnson. Byron's commendation is superlative likewise: 'He has written the best comedy, the best drama, the best farce, and the best address; and, to crown all, delivered the very best oration ever conceived or heard in this country.'
He softened the hearts of hostile attorneys and averted ruinous suits. He was a huge and notorious fraud in money matters, yet he was idolised and his unprincipled conduct condoned. He could joke with and at the Prince Regent and the Duke of York, and charm Madame de Staël. Contrast all this with his tears when declaring 'he never knew what it was to have a shilling of his own,' and his 'passionate weeping' at the profanation his person suffered in the spunging-house in Tooke's Court, near Chancery Lane, and with that wretched, saddest, and most pathetic last letter of his to Rogers, written when the bailiffs were in possession a few days before his death: 'I am absolutely undone and broken-hearted. They are going to put the carpets out of the windows and break into the room and take me.' The laughter and admiration that are evoked by his life-story are turned into the utmost pity by the record of his death.
The incidents of his life are well-known, and we have space only to summarise them chronologically.
1751.-Born at 12, Dorset Street, Dublin, Sept. Baptized in St. Mary's Church, 4th October, by the names Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan.
1758.-Sent to Whyte's celebrated school in Grafton Street. Pronounced to be 'a hopeless dunce.'
1762. Sent to Harrow, parents having moved to England.
1769.-Left Harrow, where he was idle and careless,' and went to reside in London and Bath.
1771.-Published, in conjunction with Mr. Halked, a 'Translation of Aristænetus,' 'Jupiter, a farce,' etc., both total failures. Meets Miss Linley, 'The Maid of Bath.'
1772.-Miss Linley flies with Sheridan to London, thence to Dunkirk and Lisle. Married in March. Returns to Bath. Sheridan's duel with Captain Mathews, who traduced Miss Linley. Second duel on 4th July between Sheridan and Mathews-'they hacked at each other with their broken swords, rolling upon the ground;' both wounded.
1773-13th April. Marriage by licence of Sheridan and Miss Linley. Writes occasionally for Woodfall's
1774.-'The Rivals' written. Residing in Orchard Street, Portman Square, London.
1775. 17th January. The Rivals' produced at Covent Garden-a failure. 2nd May. 'St. Patrick's Day' acted. 21st November. 'The Duenna' performed -a great success; ran for seventy-five nights, a longer period than that of the first run of 'The Beggar's Opera.'
1776.-June. Becomes patentee and manager of Drury Lane Theatre in succession to Garrick. The following were the payments made for half the property:
1777. The School for Scandal' written and performed.
1778.-Purchases for £45,000 the moiety of Drury Lane Theatre, held by Mr. Lacy. How or where he got the money is a mystery. Appoints his father, from whom he had been estranged for years, manager of the theatre.
1779.-Produces 'The Critic.'
1780.-Oct. Returned as M.P. for Stafford through Fox's influence. 20th November. Makes his first speech, upon which Woodfall told him it was not in his line.' Sheridan rejoined, 'It is in me, however; and by God it shall come out.'
1782.-Appointed an Under-Secretary of State in the Rockingham Administration.
1783.-Made Secretary of the Treasury under the Shelburne Ministry.
1787.-7th Feb. Great speech on Impeachment of Warren Hastings. 3rd June. Begum speech.
1788. His father dies.
1792. His wife dies. Five months after he offered his hand to Pamela, afterwards the wife of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
1795.-Married again, a daughter of Dr. Ogle, Dean of Winchester; receives £5,000 fortune.
1798. The Stranger' and 'Pizarro' produced. 1804.-Appointed by the Prince of Wales Receiver of the Duchy of Cornwall.
1806.—Elected M.P. for Westminster.
1807.-Loses his seat for Westminster. Returned for
1809.-24th Feb. Drury Lane Theatre burned. While watching the destruction of all his property from the Piazza coffee-house, where he was drinking, a friend reproached him for his calmness. 'A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine at his own fireside,' he answered.
1812. Speaks in House of Commons in favour of Catholic Emancipation: Be just to Ireland as you value your own honour. Be just to Ireland as you value your
own peace.' Sept. Defeated at Stafford. Political career ended.
1813.-Frequently arrested for debt. Pictures, books, presents, etc., sold. Hopes to be returned for Westminster.
1816.-7th July. Dies at the house of Mr. Peter Moore, in Great George's Street, Westminster (his own residence, 17, Saville Place, being in the hands of bailiffs), and buried in the Abbey.
This is a succinct relation of the incidents of Sheridan's life, to which we need add little beyond drawing attention to the early development of his genius. He was but twenty-three when 'The Rivals' was written, and twenty-six when 'The School for Scandal' was produced. He absolutely died in penury and misery. Writs and executions thick as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa showered upon him, and with bailiffs in the house and a sheriff's officer arresting him on his death-bed, and threatening to carry him to the spunging-house, blankets and all, he learned that a public appeal on his behalf had been made in the Morning Post, and heard the toolate inquiries of dukes and earls at his door. He was borne to his grave by the highest nobility, he who a week before was at the mercy of a brutal sheriff's officer. Thomas Moore wrote the following noble and just lines on the sad and disgraceful circumstances attending poor Sheridan's death and burial:
'Oh! it sickens the heart to see bosoms so hollow,
And friendship so false in the great and high born;
The relics of him who died friendless and lorn.
Of him who they shunned in his sickness and sorrow;
Whose pall shall be held up by nobles to-morrow.'