« ForrigeFortsæt »
will vindicate the motives of the King. ing, such as endear to us the characWe feel, however, that upon this topic ter of a man for ever, and disposes or we are saying too much, and that we rather forces us to sink his many vices are taking a great liberty in presuming even in his few virtues. From the to offer any remark which might be time he left school, he appears to construed into a defence of his Mac have been a reckless lover of pleasure, jesty, wḥen the simple question is, and to have sought nothing but his whether the Whigs or his Majesty own enjoyment. His birth did not were in fault, as respected the latter throw him into the most reputable days of Sheridan; when, in point of circles ; and perhaps it is not going fact, the King to the last continued too far to say, that he never showed his friend ; and at the last the Whigs the soul of a perfect gentleman. There would have allowed him to starve, is much that is offensive in all that and to die neglected. It is, no doubt, story of his first love; and it is not true, a melancholy truth, that for possible to find him afterwards, for some time before the final extinction, one single week, unassociated in one that once brilliant spirit, whose splen- way or other, with fiddlers, and bufdour had dazzled nations, suffered a foons, and players, and managers, and dark and disastrouseclipse. Few things farce-writers, and melo-dramatic mein authentic story afford a scene half chanicians, jobbers of all sorts, men so touching as that of such a man as of the town, the press, and the priSheridan sitting, in his old age, forlorn of friends and of fortune, weep- It would not be easy,-it would be ing at the fire-side of the honest and impossible, to lay your finger on any faithful Kelly, as, with the true- one noble action of his whole private heartedness of the “ poor fool” in life. In the glow of triumph, when his Lear, he sung to him his own tender genius was aroused, no doubt his heart and pathetic ballad.
warmed with many sympathies; but
they led to nothing steadfast and per“No more shall the spring my lost plea- manent. His domestic affections cansure restore,
not be said to have been cold-but cerUncheer'd I still wander alone,
tainly they were far from being either And sunk in dejection, for ever deplore
pure or deep; and many men, unforThe sweets of the days that are gone.
tunately as wild, dissipated, and unWhile the sun as it rises, to others shines
principled as himself, have retained bright,
amidst their vices, far more tenderness, I think how it formerly shone; While others cull blossoms, I find but a
truth, and sincerity of affection, in
the most sacred relations of life. blight, And sigh for the days that are gone.
Bursts of feeling Sheridan sometimes
showed—or rather bursts of passion ; I stray where the dew falls through haps pity, were in his heart rather than
for regret, remorse, shame, and permoon-lighted groves, And list to the nightingale's song,
love. The very triumphs of his genius Her plaints still remind me of long ba
had nothing affecting or august. Vanish'd joys,
nity and selfishness seem to be almost And the sweets of the days that are
the necessary vices of every professed gone.
wit; and the most deplorable thing of Each dew.drop that steals from the dark all is, that a professed wit must pereye of night,
petually be dependent on the frivolous Is a tear for the bliss that is flown : and the foolish. For one man of real Where others cull blossoms, I find but a genius like himself, how
ed creatures must Sheridan have And sigh for the days that are gone.” sought to enliven with his fancy! He
seems at last to have been driven, even Of Sheridan's personal character as in the prime of his talents—to study he left it at his death, it would be table-talk as a profession,--to have painful indeed to speak. But in his lain a-bed devising good things that youth, and during some part of his should keep a party awake all the next manhood, it seems to have been in night-and constructing spring-guns some respects estimable. It cannot, and man-traps, to set in taverns, or however, with truth be said, that he even private parlours, that they might ever showed the possession of any true, go off upon some Bond Street puppy, warm, unselfish, and disinterested feel- or Essex calf, to shake the sides of Yorkshire boobies with mextinguish- doubt he did—but his spirits were exable laughter. All this must, in the hausted; he knew, that even the inspicourse of thirty or forty years, have ration of the goblet for him was gonebecome disheartening and debasing, that the feeling had left the fancy to and even in Mr Moore's account of itself-that the brain was barren be. the matter, one cannot help pitying cause the bosom was desolate-that poor Sheridan, reduced at last tó at- the wine of life was on the lees-and, tempt to do that with infinite labour thus sick of the society he once deand pains, which can be done effectuale lighted in, waxing, old “and miseraly but by the unpremeditated power bly poor," not much respected now by of genius.
any one, and despised by himself-no Yet it can admit of no doubt, that wonder that Yorick, if he still were in his best days, Sheridan must have ambitious to set the table in a roar, been an admirable wit at the festive should be driven to the dismal dera board. He had little or no learning; nier ressort of the worn-out wit, when and was, therefore, wholly free from not one spark of his former fires could pedantry, the utter destruction of all be otherwise awakened in the dead convivial merriment. His knowledge ashes of his imagination. of human life was just sufficient to But although we think Sheridan was render him not absolutely superficial, a brilliant wit, we never can believe and, therefore, he never penetrated too that he was a great orator. In nothing deep for ordinary apprehension. He
so much as in oratory, may the world was intimately acquainted with all the be abused by a man gifted with fancy varieties of what is called, with a some- and powers of speech. Sheridan had what ludicrous limitation of its lati.
an ear for sonorous declamation; and tude, Life-and, therefore, needed ne- his imagination supplied him with a ver to be at a loss for illustrations fa- multitude of figures of speech. He inmiliar to all his listeners. His animal fused a certain fervour into his periods; spirits seem to have been just suffi- and by gross exaggeration and falseciently irregular to give him in reality hood, which the excited public feeling those occasional moods of compara- greedily swallowed, he no doubt worktive depression that serve to bring out ed upon the minds even of first-rate the brilliancy of happier hours, and men to a degree that is scarcely crediwhich would-be wits often wofully ble, if we believe them to have been strive to forge in their penury. All his perfectly sincere in their emotions and reading, and all his writing, lay where their eulogies. For our own part, we he had found perpetual opportunities shall never believe that Burke thought of plagiarism. His taste was correct, Sheridan the greatest of all orators. and so was his judgment, at least in all He expressed that belief in an odd conversational displays, and his was fashion, when he said that Sheridan's the cheering, inspiring, elevating name speech was neither poetry nor prose, (well-earned), of the wittiest of the but something better than either--the witty, so that all rivals quailed before severest criticisin that could have been him, and he was still looked up to as made on all that fustian and rhodothe leading star.
montade. What remains of it-in all We cannot believe, to its fullest ex- the forms alike—is execrably bad ; nor tent, the account which Mr Moore is there any writer of any character gives us of Sheridan's painful prepa- who would not be ashamed to have ration for company. Whatever may written it; nor any orator who would have been his apparent slowness in be proud to have delivered it at a boyhood, nobody can deny that he was tavern dinner. But get the ear of your in conversation one of the wittiest of audience-nay, get their minds and men. Then, he had been a diner-out, their hearts, by means of some passion and a supper-out, and a sleeper-out, or prejudice not at all of your awakenfor many and many a long year, so that ing-pour forth upon them wordsall the common-places of conversation words-words-be apparently impaswere familiar to his mind. He was in sioned, rapt yourself—and having once perpetual training; and, can it be be- got hold of them, never relax your Lieved, that such a man, so living, cram- hold-out then with tropes, figures, med himself with all good things be- metaphors, and similies, in what ap-fore he set out to dine and to dazzle ? pears to be one uncontrollable floodl, or Latterly, he might have done so—no sudden blaze; but all of which has been written, and re-written, and delivered, said, “ That make Sheridan rich, and twenty times before, till it is as part of you would immediately make him yourself; and can there be any doubt everything that was good.” A sorry that
you will prevail over assembled saying! and a severe libel on his chacrowds, and on some fortunate occasion racter. Give a man all he could deperhaps win the everlasting fame of a sire in this life, and he will neither great speaker, omnipotent over the beg, borrow, nor steal ! feelings and judgments of men ? Such We remember the editor of the things have often been, and perhaps Edinburgh Review having been much are not achievable but by men of ge- abused, some years ago, for writing nius, although that is doubtful; but rather sharply, in an article about that such triumphs, splendid as they Burns, of the improvident habits of are, are positive proofs of surpassing too many men of genius. The sentieloquence--eloquence true as that of ments he then uttered were most exPericles or Demosthenes, or Chatham cellent. Because Nature gives a man or Grattan-will not be thought by any a vivid imagination--fancy-wit-eloone who knows under what delusion quence--and so forth, does she give to the spirits of men may be brought, him any sort of right whatever to act when swayed by their own united sym- immorally or dishonestly, more than pathies, and the prodigious power of to the veriest dolt that ever broke all their suddenly roused and unrea- stones, without a thought beyond, for soning passions.
the Macadamizing of the highways ? We have left ourselves no room to The temptations of the latter to drink, moralize; and, indeed, it is well, for devour, deceive, lie all day a-bed, run the chief reason why the world dis- into debt, cheat, swindle, steal,rob, and likes moralizing writers is, that on all murder, are far-far greater than any great and affecting occasions it mora- temptations that can assail the manalizes for itself. When men of genius ger of Drury-Lane, or any other thedisgrace and degrade themselves, or atre. But no excuse for a dull, stuby any means whatever are seen to be pid, heavy man, who keeps the table disgraced and degraded, does not the on a snore, when he cheats his credi. world weep? It has many faults, but tors. It goes hard enough with him, it is not a cold-hearted world. It should he even be an honest bankrupt. says, .“ Let every man take care of Decent, prosperous people, are shy of himself, and should he not do so, but his company, and do not immediately perish in want and misery, I will weep recognize his person in the cabin of a over him, if at least he be a man steam-boat. But be a wit and a gewhom living I admired or loved.” nius--and not only will your vices and This is all that can be expected, all delinquencies be pardoned, when you that ought to be done, and were it are alive, but after death you will unotherwise, we should be worse off dergo a sort of a dubious canonization. than we are in this state of being. All your friends, perhaps even your Sheridan would ruin himself, and he King, who had often and often kept did so, in soul, body, and estate. you from jail, will be abused for not Some of his friends behaved well to obliging you to be an honest man. To him-others ill—others indifferently, speak the truth of you—that is, to say but to himself he himself behaved that you were a dishonest man-will be worst of all, and thence a blasted re- accounted shameful scurrility against putation, beggary, starvation, death, the dead. Of your brutal habitsand an arrested corpse. The laws of your loose manners--your shameful society, good and honest, but, no and shameless sensualities—your utter doubt, somewhat stern and inexorable destitution of all manliness of soullaws, took their usual course, and had and seared callousness alike to princitheir revenge at last on him who had ple and feeling—no man must speak, so often held them in derision. Ri- as he values the character of a gentlechard Brinsley Sheridan was for many man-and no one, it will be said, who years not an honest man. Charity knows how to appreciate genius, and loses both its character and its power mourn over its extinction, will feel any on the unprincipled, and all the friends disposition to remember such things of on earth could not have saved him him, whose sallies of wit were inexfrom ruin. Richardson, we believe, haustible, whose repartees were irreor some one of his many social friends, sistible, whose prologues and epithe stage.
logues could save plays from being and is fatal to interest in the catasdamned, who absolutely wrote some- trophe. thing nearly as good as the Beggar's Jonson in character, Cibber in plot, Opera, and never was known to be at a and Congreve in dialogue, have exhiloss even for a pun in all his life. bited great powers. But their merits
We have now spoken out, freely and are now too remote for admiration on without restraint, and be it, without
Their coarseness is excesmuch consideration ; for on a subject sive; their views of life were taken so notorious, what need of considera- either from books or from an exclution ? Mr Moore has, we think, pitch- sive class of society; with much ad
his tone with sound judgment mirable art, they give but ttle eviright feeling, when speaking of She- dence of having looked into the nature ridan's general character. We have of even their own day; and their coheard him blamed, most absurdly, for medies have thus disappeared from unsparing severity, but no charge can the stage. It is the combination of be more unfounded. He has not hid
singular dexterity of dramatic landen the truth under too deep veil, nei- guage, happy insight into the peculiather has he blazoned it forth. Every- rities of the better rank of society, and body sees what his own opinions and simplicity and strength of plot, that sentiments are, and while he has de- make Sheridan to this hour the received no one, he has, as a biographer, source of the British theatre. endeavoured to present the subject of Sheridan's first comedy,
" The Rihis memoir in as favourable a light as vals,” was brought out at Coventpossible. A more timid and tempo- Garden on the 17th of January 1775. rizing biographer would have left on As he was born in September 1751, our minds a more painful impression ; he was then little more than twentya less sympathizing biographer would three years old. There were theatrihave left sterner thoughts. Men will cal delays, too, in the production of judge for themselves ultimately of the this play. Sheridan, in a preface of merits and demerits of Sheridan as a thanks to Harris the manager, menman; but they will not demand the tions his original work as having been utmost justice from the writer of the twice the length, which was kindly Memoirs of such a man as Sheridan. cut down by Mr Harris's judgment to It was his duty not to blind the world, its present size,”-a kindness which, -if, indeed, that had been possible; it however absolutely essential, was perwas his duty, too, to have a kind lean- haps remembered in Puff's agonies, ing towards so highly-gifted a man, -the prompter's double cuts.”and in decidedly showing that, he has All this must have taken time, and in done credit both to his own head and
our conjecture he may be concluded his own heart. He has, on the whole, to have written the play at one-andexecuted a difficult task better-at twenty. least as well as any one we could name; Early instances of skill in comedy and the reception of these volumes, have not been unfrequent; but Shewith all their imperfections, proves, ridan's style has a characteristic knowthat the work is honourable both to ledge of the world, an easy finesse, himself and the unfortunate subject. and a sly severity, that at once dis
Of Sheridan, as a dramatist, there tinguish him from his predecessors, can be but one opinion. He stands at and seem to imply maturity of mixing the head of all comedy since Shak- with mankind. speare. Tried on the three questions, Yet all this may have been withof plot, character, and dialogue, he is out a miracle. We are to recollect, in superior to all of France, Spain, and the first place, Sheridan's genealogy. England. Molière has more humour, He was the son of a theatrical onanaa stronger conception of comic cona ger, and of a popular authoress and trast, and a more decided expression dramatist. He imbibed the drama on of human absurdity ; but he is as both sides. All his early habitudes coarse in his materials, as rude in their were connected with the drama. The management. The variety and inven- family library was a repertorium of tion of Calderon will probably never plays; he probably never heard his be equalled; but his endless intrica- father speak of anything with respect cy of adventure supersedes character, but a stock-piece, nor the family cirVOL. XIX.
cle, in their most confidential moods, In the third place, he was deep converse upon anything with more en- read in the whole catalogue of forgot thusiasm than the prospects of “ the ten farces; and as he had no scruples season.” Surrounded on all hands with about them, or anything else that he theatric talk, theatric friends, and thea- could turn to profit, he plundered tric interests, Sheridan's first dream without a pang. His characters he of glory or fcod must have visited him generally stole; his plots always. To in the shape of stage triumph. Here all this, we must add, that the state was the inspiration.
of his family finances, a state which, In the second place, Sheridan's ear- as all the world knows, has been coliest residence was with his family in pied with filial fidelity, supplied of itBath. In the salient time of life, when self an unequalled access to his knowman takes his direction for every fu- ledge of the world. From the first ture year of it, when the sight of a drawing of
“ bill, not to be paid,” militia parade incites him into the fu- to the final clearance by the legislatoture conqueror of India or the Penin- rial abstersion, the whole is a course sula, or the sight of the four-and-twen- of education. The pleasant subterty" prebendaries,” each snug in his fuge, the ready invention, the direct stall,
encounter, and the dexterous retreat, “ With the Dean, the Bishop, and Vicars
are all incomparable sharpeners of the choral,'
wit that lieth in a man ; and perhaps
the merest rustic would find the six involves his soul in visions of Lawn, weeks of his prison institute place him or the procession of the Judges to the on a rank with the intellects of even County-hall, inflames him with rival- an attorney who had never enjoyed ry of the Hales and Blackstones, and the same advantage. In matters of the love of black-letter and buzz wigs, this order, Sheridan was au fait. His to the end of his days; or last and first knowledge of money was obvimost visionary, when the sight of wo- ously in its issue from a Jew's pocket, man in her graces makes him mad, and he never wanted a guinea while guilty of stanzas to the moon, nay, there was a Jew to lend it. Accordingrashly resolute enough for matrimony. ly, we find that his habitual thoughts -In that day of vivid impressions, are borrowed from the same source as Sheridan lived-in Bath !
his treasure ; his choicest witticisms We know no spot on earth which turn upon the bill trade, on indorsemore deserves a panegyrist. What is ments, protests, post-obits, securities, our modern boast of charity, with its flying kites, men of straw, and the Bedlams and Bethesdas, the largest of whole mystery of Hebrew dealings. them incapable of holding more than His plays always have a prominent a very few thousand patients ?-What Jew, or a Christian a Jew in everyare our houses of refuge and hospi- thing but beard and Shibboleth. Yet tals, compared to the sweeping bene- the generosity of his nature, gives volence of Beau Nash, when he devo- good words, all that he had to give; ted a whole city to the purpose ; when and he deals not unjustly with the he erected in the swamps of Somerset character of the ancient nation ; his a caravansera five miles round for the Moses and his Isaac are both pleasant halt in mind and body, for the incu. fellows, and though a little roguish, a rably idle, the desperately card-play- sacrifice to truth of character, yet aling, and the inveterately splenetic; a together not much of a different degreat and unrivalled receptacle for the scription from the shaven part of manturgid with idleness, opulence, and kind. bile, and the tribes that prey upon It is well known that this clever them by the laws of nature and the play, with all the advantages of the diploma of the college in Warwick- manager's especial confidence of sucLane? The language of this assem- cess, of the whole force of his excelblage of gossips and hypochondriacs, lent company, and of all the fame of of the poor living by their wits, and all the Sheridans, yet failed ; was, in the rich panting through a round of fact, all but d-d, and was withpills, whist, and mutual sneer, was drawn. Mr Moore attributes this diechoing in Sheridan's ear from morn- saster to the bad acting of Lee in ing till night. Here he found his dia- Sir Lucius. But potent as a single logue.
unlucky actor may be in the over