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RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY HENRY MORLEY
LL.D., PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AT
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS
BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL
Harding " 18.55 95938
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN was born in Dublin, in September, 1757.
Dr. Thomas Sheridan, the grandfather, was a wit and a scholar. He earned much and spent more as a schoolmaster in Dublin, made and lost friends by his wit, bandied rhymes with Swift in his idle hours, and gave counsel to him in the years of his decay. He sat, as trusted friend, by the deathbed of Stella ; and sometimes was Swift's host at Quilca, the country-house, in the wilds of Cavan, that Dr. Sheridan had with his wife. Swift put him in the way of Church promotion, but he lost it by choosing as a text, “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," on the anniversary of the succession of the House of Hanover. He was in his last years master of the Cavan school, and died poor
Thomas Sheridan, Richard's father, was then seventeen years old. He had been born at Quilca, and educated at Westminster School. From school he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated; but four years after his father's death he became an actor. Garrick had just become famous in London, and young Sheridan seemed at first to have attained like success in Dublin. In 1743 he acted at Drury Lane, and officious friends bred quarrels between him and Garrick. But soon afterwards Thomas Sheridan became sole manager of the Dublin Theatre, and he then offered Garrick an engagement with equal division of profits, telling him at the same time that he must expect nothing froin his friendship, for he owed him none; but all that the best actor had a right to command he might be very certain should be granted." Thomas Sheridau was manager in Dublin for eight years, and during that time was resolute in maintaining good order behind the scenes, and closing his stage-door against profligate idiers. He had already a scheme of an Academy to teach oratory: Lord Chesterfield, when Lord Lieutenant, paid particular attention to the Irish actor, and said to him, “ Never let the thought of your oratorical institution go out of your mind." Riotous opposition sprang up, and drove Thomas Sheridan from his theatre, because he had refused to allow his actors to accept "encores” of passages in a play of Mahomet, to which it was desired to give political significance. He set up his Oratorical Institution, and called in London on Lord Chesterfield for support to it. His lordship gave him a guinea. The actor had then married an authoress who had sympathized in a pamphlet with his Dublin troubles. There were daughters from this marriage, and two sons—Charles Francis and Richard Brinsley. Richard, the younger, was three years old when his father was driven from his Dublin management by enthusiastic play-house politicians, who tore up his benches, stormed his stage, and cut up his scenery with their swords, because he would not allow them to sacrifice poetry to party in their dealing with the Rev. James Miller's version of the Mahomet of Voltaire. In 1756, Thomas Sheridan ventured to return to Dublin, made his peace with his opponents, and was manager again, but only to have his ruin completed by the establishment of a rival theatre under Barry and Woodward. He then gave lectures in support of his idea of an Academy, in which oratory was to have a large place among the essentials of a liberal education. Some such school was established, but no part in its management was given to Thomas Sheridan, who was again driven to England. He gave lectures on elocution and oratory at the University of Oxford, with applause. Then he read lectures in London upon oratory, and sometimes acted at Drury Lane. His wife wrote a successful novel, “The History of Miss Sidney Biddulph," and when her son Richard was twelve years old she had a play acted at Drury Lane called The Discovery, in which her husband acted, and Garrick, as a formal old bachelor, Sir Antony Branville, kept the house in a roar. There was another comedy of hers called The Dupe, and one, left unpublished, called The Trip to Bath, which some supposed to have given birth to The Rivals. At any rate Richard Brinsley Sheridan inherited wit from both his parents, and it has run on in the blood of the Sheridans.
Thomas Sheridan's two sons were at school together in Dublin, and there Richard, at the age of eight, had been set down as “a most impenetrable dunce." The father, settled in London, chose to try his theories of education upon the more promising intellect of his elder son, and sent only the younger to Harrow, where he was the most popular of idle boys. His masters mourned over him, but liked him for his liveliness. Dr. Parr, one of the masters, knew Richard's father, Thomas, and said, “Neither he nor I ever spoke of his son's talents but in terms of the highest praise. . . . . I once or twice met his mothershe was quite celestial.” She died when her son Richard's age was but fifteen, and died at Blois, when she and her husband had been driven to France by money difficulties.
At seventeen, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, as a Harrow boy, had tried his hand on a dramatic version of The Vicar of Wakefield.” At eighteen he had left Harrow. His father had returned from France to London, and proposed now to give the last touches to the education of his sons. They had lessons at home in Latin and mathematics, from an Irish tutor; they went to a fencing and riding school ; and they were taught by their father English grammar and oratory. What progress the younger son made was by lively interchange of wit with one of his Harrow schoolfellows, who went to Oxford. They translated together Aristænetus, also parts of Theocritus, and wrote a long farce in the form of a rehearsal, which they hoped they might get Foote to act.
“The thoughts,” said Sheridan's comrade, Halhed, -"the thoughts of two hundred pounds shared between us, are enough to bring tears into one's eyes." In 1771, when the two friends had both fallen in love with the young singer, Eliza Linley, they got into print their verse translation of the prose epistles of Aristænetus.
Thomas Sheridan had been living at Bath since the middle of 1770. He had obtained a pension of £200 a year from Lord Bute, and was living upon that and upon the produce of his lectures. His sons, Charles and Richard, both fell in love with Eliza Ann Linley, so that Richard had his brother as well as his friend for rivals. The young lady was daughter to Thomas Linley, an English musician of high mark, whose gift passed into Thomas his son. He lived at Bath, where the heads of all young men and some old men were turned by the face and voice and modest grace of his daughter Eliza. She was engaged at sixteen to an old gentleman of fortune, who released her, at her own wish, and settled £3,000 upon her when her father threatened law. In the latter part of the year 1771, Thomas Sheridan went to act in Dublin, and found also four or five members of the Irish Parliament waiting for leisure from speaking to take lessons in elocution. In March, 1772, Miss Linley, plagued with attentions that made her profession distasteful to her, confided to Richard Sheridan her resolve to fly for refuge to a convent in France. Sheridan offered to go with her; his sister provided aid to the escape out of the housekeeping money in her hands, and gave also letters of introduction to a family at St. Quentin. While the rest of the Linley family were at a concert, the young lady, aged eighteen, was removed in a sedan-chair, provided by the young gentleman, aged twenty, to a post-chaise on the London road. They went to France, were married at a village near Calais, and Sheridan returned to Bath, leaving his young wife safe in lodgings with a sisterhood. The marriage was kept secret. At Bath again, Sheridan's trip cost him a duel in which he was wounded. There was much Bath scandal. Next spring Sheridan went to London to study law in the Middle Temple. Miss Linley was then singing in the oratorios at Covent Garden, and Sheridan is said sometimes to have personated the hackney coachman by whom she was to be driven home. But the opposition of Miss Linley's father was at last overcome, and on the 13th of April, 1773, the marriage was repeated by license, with con. sent of friends. There were no means for housekeeping, except a part of the 63,000 settled upon Miss Linley by her elderly admirer, and whatever Sheridan could earn.
The young couple went first to lodge in a small cottage at East Burnham ; but next year they set up a house of their own in Orchard Street, Portman Square, and there Sheridan, besides other works, had finished, in 1974, the first of his comedies, The Rivals. It was written for Covent Garden, and first produced on the 17th of January, 1775. The Rivals missed success on the first night through bad acting in the part of Sir Lucius O'Trigger.
The part was transferred to another actor, and success was complete. In gratitude to Clinch, the actor who thus saved his play, Sheridan wrote his farce of St. Patrick's Day; or, the Scheming Lieutenant, which was produced on the end of May in the same year, 1775. He was making also some use of his pen on the Whig side in political controversy, but the success of The Rivals led him to seek full advantage from the flood-tide in his fortune.'' Without interval of rest he planned, with the Covent Garden manager, to write an operatic play, for which his father-in-law, Thomas Linley, would arrange and compose music. This was The Duenna. There were rehearsals of the music in Orchard Street, where Sheridan's wit and his wife's singing brightened many an evening of careless kindly fellowship. Sheridan's father, who had at this time quarrelled with him, came to London, and was acting at Drury Lane. He did not visit Orchard Street, but went to see his son's play at Covent Garden. The son stood silently that evening by a side scene opposite the box in which, himself unseen, he could see his father and sisters. When he reached home, he burst into tears, because he had seen them and might not go near them or speak to them.
The Duenna was produced on the 21st of November, '1775, and its great success caused it to be acted seventy-five nights during the season. Sheridan, who had not much more than completed his twenty-third year when he achieved success with The Rivals, had so swiftly followed up his first advantage, that at the end of the year playgoers were flocking to Covent Garden, and the new dramatist was master of the hour. Garrick, at Drury Lane, followed the stream, and quickened the interest in Sheridan by reviving his mother's comedy of The Discovery. Garrick, then sixty years old, was preparing to retire. At the end of this busy year of his life, 1775, Richard Brinsley Sheridan was in treaty with David Garrick for his share in Drury Lane. Sheridan was happy also in a son, Tom, of whom he wrote playfully to his wife's father,
your grandson astonishes everybody by his vivacity, his talents for music and poetry, and the most perfect integrity of mind.":
In June, 1776, Sheridan had taken Garrick's place at Drury Lane, finding means in some way to pay £10,000 for two-fourteenths of the whole share, Thomas Linley paid a like sum for another two-fourteenths, and an unfortunate Dr. Ford invested £15,000 in an adventure that promised large profits with Sheridan's wit to the fore. Happy the voyage when the ship has a fair wind in her sails, and there is a pilot with a firm hand on the rudder! It was unsafe to invest in a commercial undertaking of which Richard Brinsley Sheridan was manager.
But for the present all went quietly well. Of the little son Tom in his babyhood Sheridan wrote : His progress is so rapid that one may plainly see the astonishment tlie sun is in of a morning at the improvement of the night. Our loves to all.” The young manager took rest as a writer, and produced in 1776 only a version of Vanbrugh's first play, The Relapse, under the title of A Trip to Scarborough. This was first acted on the 24th of February, 1777. But meanwhile he had been working with care upon The School for Scandal. A first sketch of it indicated little more than a satire on the gossip of the Pump-Room at Batha. A second sketch developed Sir Peter and Lady Teazle as Mr. Solomon Teazle and Mrs. Teazle, the characters being Sir Rowland Harpur, Plausible, Captain Harry Plausible, Freeman, Old Teazle, Mrs. Teazle, and Maria,