Слике страница

domestic life. Her loss to Sheridan was the commencement of ruin.

The following years passed rapidly over. The war with France begun in 1793. The secession of Burke and his friends from the Whig party had the result of giving for years uncontrolled power to Mr. Pitt. Meantime Sheridan worked on. Sheridan's life was the only one that ever combined that of an orator and statesman, with that of a dramatist and theatrical manager. He lived for Parliament, but also for the stage. The succeeding years are crowded with events. Napoleon rose to the height of power. Pitt and Fox passed away from the world.

Although the sayings of Sheridan are so well known it is impossible not to refer to some of them to-day. In his speech against Warren Hastings, he said—“If you peruse the annals of Tacitus, or read the luminous page of Gibbon, you will not find an act of treacherous cruelty to exceed this.” At the conclusion of the speech a Whig friend asked how he came to compliment Gibbon with the epithet luminous. “My dear fellow,” said Sheridan, “I said voluminous.” A noble lord, with a solemn face, having heard a good anecdote from Sheridan, said—“ That's very good, I'll go and tell that to our friend instanter.” “For God's sake, don't,” said Sheridan, “a joke in your mouth is no laughing matter.”

He never had the slightest scruple in appropriating the witty sayings of the day, improving, polishing, and passing them off as his own. As he was walking down to the House with Sir Philip

Francis, on the day when the address of thanks on the peace was moved, Sir Philip Francis observed it was a peace which everyone would be glad of, but no one would be proud of. Sheridan did not appear to attend to the observation, but hurried to the House, made a short speech, in which he said—“Sir, this is a peace which every one will be glad of, but no one can be proud of.” In the same way he was indebted to Sir Arthur Pigott for the observation, that half the debt of England had been incurred in pulling down the Bourbons, and the other half in setting them up. Wit produces wit, and Sheridan met with some good retorts. In speaking at the Westminster election, addressing the mob, he was promising to give his opponents a check. “Oh, d- your checks Sherry,” said a man in the crowd, “they're worth nothing.” On the re-opening of Drury Lane, Whitbread had written an address in which, like the other addresses, there are many allusions to the Phoenix. “But,” said Sheridan, “Whitbread made more of this bird than any of them ; he entered into particulars, and described its wings, beak, and tail ; in short it was a Poulterer's description of a Phenix.” One night coming late out of a tavern, he fell, heavily intoxicated. Being raised by some passengers and asked his name and address, he referred to a coffeehouse, and said—“Gentlemen, I am not often this way—my name is Wilberforce.”

Dining with Lord Thurlow, the Chancellor gave only one bottle of constantia ; Sheridan liked it extremely and wanted another. The Chancellor thought he had given enough of constantia. Sheridan then turned to the gentleman beside him, and said—“Sir, pass me that decanter; for I must return to Madeira, since I cannot double the Cape.”

As regards the subject we are considering, the happiness of Sheridan's life was over ; debts and troubles were gathering fast. His fine features became disfigured with intemperance. It is most painful to look at Gillray's caricatures of him. He was now going fast down the hill.

On the 24th of February, 1809, during the debate on the war with Spain, the House was illuminated with a blaze of light-Drury Lane theatre was on fire. Sheridan left the house, and with most wonderful fortitude witnessed the destruction of his property. He sat at the Piazza Coffee-house, took some refreshment; and a friend, remarking to him how calmly he bore the ruin, Sheridan said—“Surely a man may take a glass of wine at his own fireside.”

Sheridan's political career was now fast drawing to a close. Almost the last words he uttered in the House were—“In fine, I think the situation of Ireland a paramount consideration. If they were to be the last words I should ever utter in this House, I should say, Be just to Ireland, as you value your own honour. Be just to Ireland as you value your own peace.” In 1812 Sheridan had lost both Parliament and the theatre—the two places for which and in which he lived. Debts and troubles were gathering fast, and the fatal habit of intoxica

tion gained complete control. He had some excuses. We might have said with Captain Morris-

“Since many a lad I loved is dead,

And many a lass grown old ;
And when the reason strikes my head,

My weary heart grows cold.

But through the glass's magic glare,

These evils seem less plain ;
And that I think a reason fair

To fill my glass again."

Moore tells us of having seen him in these years, and that in private society, before the rubicon of the cup was passed, he still justified his reputation for wit. Actual beggary now came upon him. His splendid books were pawned. The presentation plate vanished. His pictures, including that of his wife as Saint Cecilia, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, were sold. Writs and executions swept away everything. Moore gives some of his letters during these fatal times— “I am utterly undone and broken-hearted. They are going to put the carpets out of the window, and break into Mrs. S.'s room and take me. For God's sake let me see you. R. B. S.” He was dying. Moore states, that with rare exceptions none of his noble or royal friends ever called at his door, or even sent to inquire after him. He was arrested on his deathbed, but was left in the house. A few days before his death a striking article appeared in the Morning Post—“Oh! delay not to draw aside the curtain within which that proud spirit hides its

sufferings. Prefer ministering in the chamber of sickness, to mustering at the splendid sorrows that adorn the hearse. I say life and succour against Westminister Abbey and a funeral.” The small relief then given, was too late. Death ended his sorrows on the 7th July, 1816. He had a public funeral attended by royal and noble friends, who had utterly forgotten him whilst he was dying, almost without the necessaries of life. It has been well remarked in reference to Sheridan's death and funeral—“France was the place for a man of letters to live in, England the place to die in."

Moore wrote the celebrated satire on the death of Sheridan

“Oh ! it sickens the heart to see bosoms so hollow,

And friendships so false in the great and high-born ; To think what a long line of titles may follow

The relics of him who died friendless and lorn.

How proud they can press to the funeral array

Of him whom they spurn’d in his sickness and sorrow! How bailiffs may seize his last blanket to-day,

Whose pall shall be held up by princes to-morrow.

Was this then the fate of that high-gifted man

The pride of the palace, the bower, and the hall ; The orator, dramatist, minstrel ; who ran

Through each mode of the lyre and was master of all.

Whose eloquence, brightening whatever it tried

Whether reason or fancy, the gay or the grave, Was as rapid, as deep, and as brilliant a tide,

As ever bore freedom aloft on its wave."

I have avoided going into any of the details of

« ПретходнаНастави »