Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

remuner

6

[ocr errors]

swords were in Mr. Sheridan's power.'| the 13th of April, 1773, the marriage cereMr. Matthews still seemed resolved to mony was repeated in London, and the give it another turn, and observed that he happy pair retired to a cottage at East had never quitted his sword. Provoked Burnham. It is worthy of record, as disat this, I then swore that he should either playing Sheridan's character in a highly give up his sword, and I would break it, favorable light, that, although his wife or go to his guard again. He refused was engaged to sing at the Worcester but, on my persisting, either gave it into Festival for several seasons at my hand, or flung it on the table or the ation of one thousand pounds for twelve ground (which, I will not absolutely af- performances, and although he at the firm). I broke it, and Aung the hilt to time did not possess as many shillings, the other end of the room. He exclaimed he steadily refused to allow her again to at this. I took a mourning sword from appear in public. Many in the present Mr. Ewart, and presenting him with mine, day will consider such scruples overgave my honor that what had passed strained, yet none can deny their mag. should never be mentioned by me, and naninity. Another singular instance of that he might now right himself again. this indifference to money, when opposed He replied that he would never draw a to principle, upon the part of a man who sword against the man who had given was ever in need of it, was related to him his life.'” After much altercation, Lady Morgan by Joseph Lefanu. Slieriand with very ill-grace, Matthews ten- dan, he told her, once missed a legacy of dered an apology. But, according to £10,000 because he refused to go and see Sberidan, this did not prevent his giving a relative in his last illness, lest his moto the world a garbled account of the duel tives should be thought mercenary. - which the reader will perceive was Probably the period passed in the little very far from being en règle. So a second East Burnham cottage was the purest meeting took place near Bath, with much and happiest of all that chequered existthe same result as the first. Both swords ence; often thereafter in his most brilliant breaking at the first lunge, the two men days he looked back upon it with tender grappled, fell to the ground, and rolling regret. But love in a cottage could not over and over hacked at each other with long content the restless and aspiring the pieces; the seconds looking quietly Brinsley. He returned to London, and

entered himself as a barrister in the MidAfter this Sheridan became the hero of dle Temple, while both he and his wife the day; it was his first step to fame. At wrote for the periodicals. By-and-by, the time of her marriage Miss Linley was with the help of her £3,000, they set up only eighteen years of age, and under a fashionable establishment in Orchard articles of apprenticeship which bound Street, Portman Square, gave dinners and her to her father until her twenty-first parties, to which the attractions of the year. Yet she was not penniless; on the once fair maid of Bath, and the fame of contrary, she was the possessor of £3,000, her gallant young husband drew some of gained under the following curious cir- the best of London society. Indeed Mrs. cumstances. Of all her suitors the one Sheridan's soirées were one of the things most favored by her parents was naturally of the season. Of course it was all done the very rich Mr. Long; but on being upon credit, and it first opened that abyss informed by her own lips that she could of debt which he was never throughout never give him her love, he, very magnan- his life to succeed in closing again. imously, not only renounced his preten. Reared in the atmosphere of the theatre, sions, but settled the aforesaid sum upon it was the most natural thing in the world her. Whether or not Mr. Linley approved that Brinsley should turn his thoughts in of his daughter's matrimonial arrange that direction, and, as the actor's art had ments, he had to accept them as a fait no attraction for him, that he should accompli; but the young couple did not write a play. Not at all favorable was live together until the following year. On the reception of his first venture, for “ The

on.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Rivals,” produced at Covent Garden on entitled " St. Patrick's Day: or, the the 17th of January, 1775, was, on the Scheming Lieutenant,” written for Clinch, first night, a decided failure. This was the second representative of Sir Lucius, attributed to the bad acting of the Sir in recognition of his admirable performLucius O'Trigger, and to the great length ance of that character; and on the 21st of the work. An old magazine of the of the following November, one of his period, in criticising the piece, informs us most popular works, “ The Duenna," that “after a pretty warm contest towards was first performed, and ran seventy-five the end of the last act, it was suffered to nights to overflowing houses. There may be given out for the ensuing night.” It be those yet living who remember its also hints that the friends of the author latest revival, with Vestris as Carlos; it had expected that "it would meet with bad some delightful music — partly comopposition from a certain quarter, as it posed by Linley and partly borrowed from was thought by many to have a close con- | Rauzzini, Harrington, and old Irish melonection with a certain affair at Bath, in dies - wedded to charming words; many which the celebrated Miss Linley (now of the couplets are still quoted by those Mrs. Sheridan) was the subject of rival- who probably never heard of the opera. ship.” This view seems to be borne out Garrick had always taken an interest by the fact that sounds of disapprobation in Sheridan, and the young man owed were heard even during the prologue, many of his best introductions to the which was spoken by the favorite actor, great actor's favor. Upon the retirement Woodward. The piece was admirably of the latter from the management of cast Shuter was the Sir Anthony; Drury Lane in 1776, Brinsley, in partnerQuick, the Acres; Lewis, Falkland; ship with Dr. Ford and his father-in-law, Woodward, the Captain; Mrs. Green, Linley, acquired Garrick's share of the Mrs. Malaprop. It was withdrawn, how- patent for the sum of £35,000. Moore ever, pruned, and a new Sir Lucius found, says that “the mode by which he conand from that time entered upon that jured up at this time the money for the career of public favor which has never first purchase of the theatre remains, as been interrupted unto the present day. far as I can learn, a mystery to this day.” Contemporary criticism was not enthu- The money he had made by “ The Ri. siastic in its praise. It complained that vals” and “ The Duenna" must have gone the characters were not new — - and cer- long before, as sops to stop the mouths tainly Mrs. Malaprop has a more than of clamorous creditors, yet without a sixfamily likeness to Miss Tabitha Bramble, pence he could call his own, he contrived while Falkland bears a strong resem- to find £10,000. Verily Moore might well blance to Valentine in Wycherly's " Love say, “There was something mysterious in a Wood ” — and that the work con- and miraculous about all his acquisitions tained "

many low quibbles and barbar- - whether in love, in learning, in wit, or ous pụns that disgrace the very name of in wealth.” Garrick might have assisted comedy," — what would the writer say to him, although there is no evidence to our modern productions ? that the acts support the supposition. were long, and in many parts uninterest- The commencement of his managerial ing and tedious. The latter stricture was campaign was most disastrous. It opened well applied to those dreary, sentimental with his alteration of Vanbrugh's “ Rescenes between Julia and Falkland, of lapse,” which he re-christened " A Trip to which the modern playgoer has been Scarborough.” It was the first attempt much relieved by the stage - manager's at Bowdlerizing the old comedies, and pruning-knife.

But if there was not Sheridan was one of the first to discover something very excellent in the work it that their wit evaporated with their grosswould not be as green and fresh to an ness. It was emphatically damned the audience of 1880 as it was to our fore- first night. The production of a mangled fathers of a hundred years ago. Mrs. version of “The Tempest” fared scarcely Malaprop's “nice derangement of epi- better. The prospects of the new mantaphs,” Captain Absolute's delicious im- agement were gloomy indeed. But in the pudence, and Bob Acres's newly invented mean time Sheridan was hard at work oaths are as delightful as ever, and ever upon a new comedy that was destined to will be wbile a taste for true wit and retrieve the fortunes of the theatre, and humor survives, let the critics say what to constitute an era in the annals of drathey will.

matic literature. On the 6th of May, In the May of 1775, Sheridan brought 1777, was first performed “ The School for out at Covent Garden a two-act farce Scandal.” The cast was exceptionally

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

strong.

Walpole says, There were | School for Scandal,” that it would be more parts admirably performed in ‘The almost impertinent in so brief a sketch as School for Scandal' than I almost ever the present to descant upon its merits. saw in any play.” King, Smith, Palmer, The screen-scene is probably the finest Parsons, Dodd, Baddeley, Yates, Mrs. situation in the whole range of comedy, Abington, Miss Pope, were seen in char- ancient or modern. But Sheridan, like acters that fitted each like a glove. The Molière, took his property wherever he success of the production was never for found it, and he found much of his “School an instant dou ful, it rose with each act for Scandal ” in Le Misanthrope," and until it culminated in the inimitable more in Wycherly's “Plain Dealer; screen-scene. “ On the first night of The while it has been suggested, very plausi, School for Scandal,' » writes George bly, that Tom Jones and Blifil suggested Frederick Reynolds, in his " Memoirs,” Charles and Joseph. The dialogue was "returning from Lincoln's Inn Fields certainly moulded upon that of Wycherly about nine o'clock, and passing through and Congreve ; but, brilliant as it is, it the pit passage from Vinegar Yard to does not equal that of the author of Brydges Street, I heard such a tremendous "Love for Love." noise over my head, that, fearing the the- It was his last dramatic work of any atre was proceeding to fall about it, I ran importance. Michael Kelly once told him for my life; but found, the next morning, he would never write another comedy, as that the noise did not arise from the fall- he was afraid of the author ofSchool for ing of the house, but from the falling of Scandal.But among his posthumous the screen in the fourth act; so violent papers were found several sketches: one and tumultuous were the applause and of a piece founded upon “The Vicar of laughter.” Many years afterwards Sheri- Wakefield;" another of a comedy entitled dan told Byron' that on that night he “ Affectation,” in which he proposed to was knocked down and put into the watch- satirize all the forms of that folly. But house for making a row in the street, and he never went beyond a few memoranda, being found intoxicated by the watchman. the names of three characters, and some

The first sketch of this comedy, of detached sentences of dialogue which which Moore gives a long account in his promised to equal in wit the utterances of biography of Sheridan, was quite differ- the famous scandal-mongers. ent to the finished play; there was neither But to return to our narrative. Such a a Sir Peter nor Lady Teazle, nor Mrs. success as that of “The School for ScanCandour nor any oiher member of the scan- dal” could not possibly escape the envy dalous coterie, save Lady Sneerwell, who of rivals and enemies, who invented all was then called Lady Timewell ; while kinds of stories to rob the author of his Charles Surface had' half-a-dozen differ- glory. One reported that the comedy was ent names before he settled down to his written by a young lady who had left the immortal cognomen. Nor does it contain MS. at the stage door, and who died of any suggestion of the screen-scene. In a consumption before it was performed. It second sketch, the Teazles and Sir Oliver, is certainly very like the production of a here called Sir Roland Harpur, are consumptive young lady!

Another as brought in. The condensed and polished signed the authorship to Mrs. Sheridan. wit that now sparkles in every line was For years afterwards it was pointed out the effect of immense labor. “ There is as a significant fact, by the supporters of not a page,” writes Moore," that does these theories, that Sheridan, although pot bear testimony to the fastidious care several times offered a large sum, would with which he selected and arranged and never sell the copyright. Consequently moulded his language so as to form it there is no edition of the play authentiinto the transparent channel of his cated by him; that now used by the theathoughts which it is at present.” Every tres having been printed from a manupart, with one exception, was re-written script which he lent his sister, who oband re-polished sometimes six or seven tained £100 from the manager of the times, and then with interlineations. The Dublin Theatre for its use. The secret exception was the last act, which was not of this reticence is contained in the fol. written until the play was announced for lowing sentence - a reply to one of the representation. On the last leaf of the many applications he received from puboriginal MS. was scribbled “ Finished at lishers: "I have been endeavoring for last, thank God!” to which the prompter nineteen years to satisfy myself with the added, “ Amen. — W. Hopkins !

style of The School for Scandal,' and Everyone is so familiar with “The have not succeeded yet.”

more.

*

was

In 1778 he purchased another share of the boon companion of the Prince of the Drury Lane patent. But notwith Wales, Fox, and Selwyn; and the time standing this voluntary increase of bis that should have been devoted to his busiliabilities — for which again no one knew ness, was spent in the pleasures and dishow he obtained the money — and the sipations of society. In 1780 he entered success of his comedy, Sheridan was over-| Parliament as member for Stafford.

The whelmed with debt, and the management first speech delivered by one who was of the theatre was disgraceful. Salaries destined to be one of the most brilliant were unpaid, even in the most menial orators that ever declaimed the English departments; actors refused to perform, language, was so great a failure that in consequence of which the audience Woodfall counselled him to speak no were frequently disappointed; the scen- “But it is in me,” replied Sheriery and dresses would have disgraced a dan, nothing daunted, “and by God it fifth-rate theatre ; letters, sometimes of shall come out !” How he worked to momentous importance, some even con- attain this end is well described by a taining bank-notes, were unopened, accu- by no means friendly biographer, Lord mulated in heaps, and were then burned Brougham.* “With an ample share of to save the trouble of reading. * Such was literary and dramatic reputation, but not the condition of his affairs within the first certainly of the kind most auspicious for two years of his lesseeship. But bad as a statesman; with the most slender prowas the beginning, as we shall presently vision of knowledge at all likely to be see, worse remained behind.

useful in political affairs; with a position On October 30, 1778, he brought out by birth and profession little suited to the still famous burlesque of The Critic,” command the respect of the most aristowritten to ridicule Cumberland who cratic country in Europe -- the son of an figures as Sir Fretful Plagiary — and his actor, the manager himself of a theatre tragedies. Two days before the night of - he came into that Parliament which performance the last scene of the piece was enlightened by the vast and various

not written. In vain did King, knowledge, as well as fortified and adorned then stage-manager, remonstrate, entreat; by the more choice literary fame of a Sheridan's invariable answer was that he Burke, and which owned the sway of was just going home to finish it. As a consummate orators like Fox and Pitt. last resource Linley ordered a night : • . What he wanted in acquired learnrehearsal, and that day made his dilatory ing and in natural quickness, he made up son-in-law dine with him; after dinner he by indefatigable industry: within given proposed they should stroll to the the limits, towards a present object, no labor atre. There they found Ford. Presently could daunt him; no man could work for King came up and, requesting a few a season with more steady and unwearied words, led the way into the small green application. . . . By constant practice in room, where there were a good fire, a small matters, or before private commit. comfortable armchair, a table upon which tees, by diligent attendance upon all de. were pens, ink, paper, two bottles of bates, by habitual intercourse with all claret, a dish of anchovy toast, and the dealers in political wares, from the chiefs unfinished manuscript of “The Critic.” of parties and their more refined coteries As soon as Sheridan was in the room, to the providers of daily discussion for King went out and locked the door be the public and the clironiclers of Parliahind him; then Linley and Ford avowed mentary speeches, he trained himself to their intention of keeping him prisoner a facility of speaking absolutely essential until the piece was concluded. And, to all but first-rate genius, and all but necrather enjoying the joke, Sheridan at essary even to that; and he acquired once set to work and performed his task. what acquaintance with the science of

He was now a man of fashion; his gen- politics he ever possessed, or his speeches jus and incomparable wit procured him ever betrayed.” But of his eloquence admission into the highest circles, he was little more than the tradition remains to the associate of Burke and Townshend, us. The most famous of all his speeches and a half, which Burke declared to be out of the French Revolution, with that the most astonishing effort of eloquence, section led by Fox; but after the rise of argument, and wit combined of which Napoleon patriotic feelings reasserted there was any record or tradition, of themselves, and breaking with the admirwhich Fox said that all he had ever heard ers of the despot he went over to the or read, when compared with it, dwindled more constitutional division of the Whigs. into nothing, which even his political op- He was always an ardent supporter of ponent, Pitt, pronounced to surpass all the Prince of Wales, with whom he lived the eloquence of ancient or modern times. upon terms of the closest intimacy, and It must be confessed, however, that the he did him good service in the debates shorthand notes which have come down upon the Regency Bill, 1789, — to prove to posterity scarcely bear out this unqual thereafter the proverbial ingratitude of ified praise, and that Sheridan himself princes. was doubtful of the effect it would pro- But while he was every day becoming duce upon a calm perusal is indicated by more world-famous as a politician, orator, the fact that he refused a thousand pounds and man of fashion, his domestic affairs for its publication. Brougham was of were growing more and more hopelessly opinion that it owed a portion of its suc. embarrassed. His father undertook for cess "to the artist-like elaboration and a short time the management of the theabeautiful delivery of certain fine passages, tre, but very soon wearied of the terrible rather than to the merits of the whole. task and retired. Only Sheridan himself,

was that against the Begum, princess of * His valet used to relate that, one morning upon Oude (1787), which held the House of throwing open his master's bedroom windows, he found them stuffed up with papers, among which were several Commons entranced during five hours bank-notes: there had been a high wind in the night, the windows had rattled, and for want of something better he had stuffed the bank-notes into the casement, * Historical Sketches of the Statesmen of the Time and being intoxicated at the time never missed them. of George III.

His worst passages by far were those thanks to his marvellous powers of faswhich he evidently preferred himself: cination, could have possibly fended off full of imagery often far-fetched, often during so many years the ever-impending gorgeous, and loaded with point that drew catastrophe. Unpaid actors, servants, the attention of the hearer away from the tradespeople, all yielded to that magic thoughts to the words; and his best by influence. Fannie Kemble in her “Recfar were those where he declaimed, with ords” gives, from her mother's recollechis deep, clear voice, though somewhat tions, a sad picture of the state of the thick utterance, with a fierce defiance of employés of the theatre - how on Satursome adversary, or an unappeasable ven-day mornings, when salaries had not been geance against some oppressive act; or paid for some time, the work people would reasoned rapidly, in the like tone, upon assail Sheridan on the way to the treassome plain matter of fact, or exposed as ury with, “For God's sake, Mr. Sheridan, plainly to homely ridicule some puerile pay us our salaries. For heaven's sake, sophism; and in all this his admirable Mr. Sheridan, let us have something this manner was aided by an eye singularly week.”. “ Certainly, certainly, my good piercing, and a countenance which, though people,” he would reply, "you shall be coarse, and even in some features gross, attended to directly.” “Then he would was yet animated and expressive, and go into the treasury, sweep it clean of the could easily assume the figure of both whole week's receipts (the salaries of the rage and menace, and scorn." But principal actors, whom he dared not whether his powers of oratory were or offend, or could not dispense with, being, were not overrated the effect they pro- if not wholly, partially paid), and going duced upon his auditors is indisputable, out of the building another way, leave and during the trial of Warren Hastings, the poor people, who had cried to hiin not even the speeches of Burke and Fox for their arrears of wages, baffled and created so much interest and expectancy cheated of their labors for another week.” as did that of Sheridan. When he spoke Yet a day or two afterwards he had but the court was crowded to suffocation, and to appear among them with a smile, a as much as fifty guineas was offered for few kindly words and promises, and they a ticket of admission.

would be as eager to serve him as ever. His political career would require an Bunn, in “ The Stage," tells the followarticle to itself, and it would not be an ing capital story in illustration of his interesting one; he was simply an orator, powers of softening a creditor. Sheridan's and Brougham's comment that “as a coal-merchant, one Robert Mitchell, had statesman he is without a place in any a heavy demand against him for coals, class, or of any rank . he was no which he could not get settled. One day, statesman at all,” is not perhaps too em- having lost all patience, he attacked the phatic. As a politician he ranged with great manager mercilessly, and swore he the Liberal party, and, upon the breaking would not leave the house without the

)

« VorigeDoorgaan »