« ПретходнаНастави »
appear to have been most disgraceful affairs, the two combatants smashing their swords, and being allowed to scuffle about on the ground, hacking each other with the broken bits.
This was a trying time for the young Sheridan in his twenty-first year. He was utterly destitute. He had no profession. He had twice risked his life against Mathews; but the vindication of his honour was considered most incomplete. Married,-his marriage was concealed,-he was not allowed to see his bride. And he had taken at the instance of his father an equivocal oath that he never would marry Miss Lindley. He was her husband, yet kept from every opportunity of seeing her. She was singing at Covent Garden ; and her beauty and celebrity attracted hosts of lovers. Often at this time did he disguise himself as a hackney coachman to drive her home. At length perseverance had its reward. Mr. Lindley consented, and the lovers were married a second time, in March 13, 1773. A few weeks previously he had entered his name as a student of the Middle Temple.
He at once attached himself to literature, and in 1775, the immortal play of “The Rivals,” was produced at Covent Garden.
When will Sir Lucius O’Trigger be forgotten, who enters into a quarrel by expressing his difference in opinion from Captain Absolute, before the latter has spoken; and who, when Bob Acres' courage has oozed out at the palms of his hands, insists on his fighting Faulkland, or any one else on the ground. Who can forget Mrs. Malaprop and her similes, “headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile ;" or Lydia Languish, so romantic, that she refuses to marry her lover, unless there be an elopement without consent of friends. The moral of the play and the epilogue is that on the world's great stage woman rules. As spoken by a lady, the epilogue says:
“One moral's plain without more fuss,
In 1776, he became with others, the purchaser of Garrick's half share in Drury-lane Theatre. The total nominal price was £35,000. Sheridan's share was £10,000. It never has been ascertained from what sources this sum was advanced by him. He certainly had not one shilling of his own.
The “Duenna” next appeared, for many years considered the best opera of the day. In 1777, the “School for Scandal,” was acted at Drury-lane. Sheridan was then only six-and-twenty years of age. Sheridan has often been accused of indolence. It is perfectly marvellous how often this play was written, and re-written ; characters, .plot, names, dialogue, language changed.
In the note-books which Moore has epitomized, Sheridan has shown the most singular labour and patience in collecting-no doubt frequently from the gossip of the day—witty sayings, and writing and re
writing them over and over again. So true it is, “Nil sine magno labore Deus dedit hominibus."
No play has ever been so often acted in the theatre, so much read in the drawing-room ; none has received so much analysis and criticism. We are charmed with the endless vivacity of the dialogue. Sir Peter Teazle differs from all similar characters in the English or Spanish School of dramatists, by being made a thorough old gentleman, invested with dignity, tenderness, and a perfect sense of honour. We finally forgive Lady Teazle. We forgive Joseph Surface. And we delight that Sir Peter becomes a happy husband after all his troubles.
Prosperity was now apparently smiling upon Sheridan. He was reconciled with his father, who became manager of the theatre. In 1778 he purchased Mr. Lacy's share in Drury Lane for £45,000. No one now can tell how the money was procured, except by the happy art of putting the future in pawn for the supply of the present. He was now in the best London society, flattered and courted by the great and fair. The“ Critic” appeared in 1779. “Lord Burleigh” is better known by his shake of the head than many great characters upon whose speeches dramatists have lavished their genius and research through a five-act tragedy. Who can forget “Puff," and his description of the puff direct, preliminary, collateral, and conclusive. “Sneer” is remembered by his query as to the plot, "No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, I hope ?”
Sheridan was now rapidly to unite the domain of politics with that of literature. He had become the friend of Fox, of Burke, of Windham. Lord John Townshend gives this remarkable account of the first meeting of Fox and Sheridan :—“The first interview I shall never forget. Fox told me, after breaking up from dinner, that he had always thought Hare-after my uncle, Charles Townshend--the wittiest man he had ever met with, but that Sheridan surpassed them both infinitely : and Sheridan told me next day that he was quite lost in admiration of Fox; and that it was a puzzle to him to say what he admired most his commanding superiority of talents and universal knowledge, or his playful fancy, artless manner, and benevolence of heart, which showed itself in every word he uttered.” Sheridan now became a frequent and welcome guest at Devonshire House. He wrote for the Englishman, then the organ of the advanced Liberal party. In 1780 he was elected M.P. for Stafford. In six short years, by the mere force of genius, he had become one of the leaders of his party, and the dramatic muse was abandoned for a time.
When Sheridan entered political life the American Revolution—the greatest event in modern history, was proceeding, and was near its triumphant close. The wonderful excitement of the contest had results upon not only the politics but the literature and oratory of the day. There are no bar speeches in England or Ireland before the latter end of the eighteenth century. Parliamentary oratory in Eng
land commences with Pitt, and Fox, and Burke, and Sheridan. The eloquence of the English bar commences with Erskine. In Ireland forensic and parliamentary history commences in 1782.
Sheridan's first speech was a failure. Woodfall used to relate the story that Sheridan, after he had spoken, came up to him in the gallery, and asked him how he had done. Woodfall said, “I am sorry to say I do not think this is in your line; you had much better have stuck to your former pursuits.” On hearing this, Sheridan rested his head on his hands for a few minutes, and said, with an oath, “ It's in me, and shall come out !" .
Sheridan's connection with the stage was, in the commencement of his political career, a constant source of annoying sarcasm. Pitt so far forgot himself as to allude to it in the debate on the preliminary articles of peace. “No one more admired than he did the abilities of the Right Honourable Gentleman; the eloquent sallies of his thought, his dramatic turns, if they were reserved for the proper stage, it would be his fortune — sui plausu gaudere theatri."" Sheridan retorted :—“On the personality he need not make any comment. The propriety, the taste of it must have been obvious to the house. But I meet the allusion with the most sincere good humour. And if ever again I engage in the compositions to which he alludes, I may attempt an improvement on one of Ben Jonson's best characters— the Angry Boy in the Alchemist.'”