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I T is difficult within the narrow compass of
an hour to paint the life of any man.
How much more difficult is it in that time to give even an idea of the many-sided life of Sheridan. I must only try to give a feeble sketch of the man who wrote the best play, who spoke the best speech in the English language, and who has been adopted by cotemporaneous history and literature as the most successful type of the modern Irishman.
In considering the efforts of modern Irishmen to gain a place in oratory or literature, few consider for how short a time we have been speaking the language of Shakespeare and Milton. In Froude's History we acquire some notion of what the best type of Irish society was in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth. The Irish nation has not been speaking the English language for one hundred and fifty years. And it is something that within that time, the genius and fire of the race have produced the crowd of wits, poets, and orators, whose works now form no inconsiderable portion of the English language. It is still more difficult to speak upon a
well-known theme. Sheridan was essentially an Irishman—a Dublin man. He was born in Dorsetstreet, and went to school in Grafton-street. His distinguished relatives live amongst us, and occupy no inconsiderable place in social life and in the literature of the world. And not the least of my difficul. ties is that I speak in the presence of an audience who are familiar with Sheridan's life, with Sheridan's wit, who have read the best passages of his speeches, who have seen "The School for Scandal” acted, and are fully capable of appreciating that wonderful comedy. I therefore candidly claim the indulgence of my audience. I must pass over the details of Sheridan's early life, at school, and whilst growing up to manhood. The child gave little promise of the man. In 1770 his father was living at Bath on a moderate income. And in this year Sheridan became the lover of Miss Lindley, that charmer for beauty and song, one of a nest of nightingales, and whom to see was to love. I have not time to give the names of all who adored her. Annoyed by the persecution of Captain Mathews, one of her admirers, she adopted the romantic resolution of flying secretly to France and taking refuge in a convent. Sheridan was the partner of her flight. The lady apparently changed her intentions on the journey, and the happy pair were married privately near Calais, in March, 1772.
The marriage was kept secret. Mr. Lindley followed and brought back the young lady. Two duels ensued with Captain Mathews. These duels