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look to the hand of genius. It is not my intention therefore to defend Mr. Sheridan from this kind of plagiarism , of which he was guilty in common with the rest of his fellow-descendants from Prometheus , who all steal the spark wherever they can find it. But the instances, just alleged , of his obligations to others, are too questionable and trivial to be taken into any serious account. Contrasts of character, such as Charles and Joseph exhibit , are as common as the lights and shadows of a landscape, and belong neither to Fielding or Sheridan, but to nature. It is in the manner of transferring them to the canvas that the whole difference between the master and the copyist lies; and Charles and Joseph would, no doubt, have been what they are, if Tom Jones had never existed. With respect to the hint supposed to be taken from the novel of his mother, he at least had a right to consider any aid from that quarter as “ son bien ”—talent being the only patrimony to which he had succeeded. But the use made of the return of a relation in the play is wholly different from that to which the same incident is applied in the novel. Besides, in those golden times of Indian delinquency, the arrival of a wealthy relative from the East was no very unobvious ingredient in a story.
The imitation of Molière (if, as I take for granted, the Misanthrope be the play, in which the origin of the famous scandal scene is said to be found ) is equally faint and remote, and, except in the common point of scandal, untraceable. Nothing, indeed, can be more unlike than the manner in which the two scenes are managed. Célimène, in Molière, bears the whole frais of the conversation ; and this female La Bruyère's tedious and solitary dissections of character would be as little borne on the English stage, as the quick and dazzling movement of so many lancets of wit as operate in the School for Scandal would be tolerated on that of the French.
It is frequently said that Mr. Sheridan was a good deal indebted to Wycherley; and he himself gave, in some degree, a colour to the charge, by the suspicious impatience which he betrayed whenever any allusion was made to it. He went so far, indeed, it is said, as to deny having ever read a line of Wycherley (though of Vanbrugh's dialogue he always spoke with the warmest admiration); and this assertion, as well as some others equally remarkable , such as, that he never saw Garrick on the stage, that he never had seen a play throughout in his life, however strange and startling they may appear, are, at least, too curious and characteristic not to be put upon record. His acquaintance with Wycherley was possibly but at second - hand, and confined, perhaps, to Garrick's alteration of the Country Wife, in which the incident, already mentioned as having been borrowed for the Duenna , is preserved. There is , however, a scene in the Plain Dealer (Act. II.), where Nevil and Olivia attack the characters of the persons with whom Nevil had dined, of which it is difficult to believe that Mr. Sheridan was ignorant; as it seems to contain much of that Hyle, or First Matter, out of which his own more perfect creations were formed.
In Congreve's Double Dealer , too, ( Act. III. Scene 10.) there is much which may, at least, have mixed itself with the recollections of Sheridan, and influenced the course of his fancy-it being often found that the images with which the memory is furnished, like those pictures hung up before the eyes of pregnant women at Sparta , produce insensibly a likeness to themselves in the offspring which the imagination brings forth. The admirable drollery in Congreve about Lady Froth's verses on her coachman
" For as the sun shines every day,
So of our Coachman I may say"
is by no means unlikely to have suggested the doggerel of Sir Benjamin Backbite; and the scandalous conversation in this scene, though far inferior in delicacy and ingenuity to that of Sheridan, has somewhat, as the reader will see, of a parental resemblance to
“ Lord Froth. Hee, hee, my dear; have you done? Won't you join with us? We were laughing at my Lady Whifler and Mr. Sneer.
Lady F. Ay, my dear, were you? Oh filthy Mr. Sneer! he is a nauseous figure, a most fulsamick fop. He spent two days together in going about Covent-Garden to suit the lining of his coach with his complexion.
“Ld. F. Oh, silly ! yet his aunt is as fond of him, as if she had brought the ape into the world herself.
"Brisk. Who? my lady Toothless ? Oh, she is a mortifying spectacle ; she's always chewing the cud like an old ewe.
“ Ld. F. Then she's always ready to laugh, when Sneer offers to speak; and sits in expectation of his no jest, with her gums bare, and her mouth open
“Brisk. Like an oyster at low ebb, egad - ha, ha, ha!
“ Cynthia. ( Aside.) Well, I find there are no fools so inconsiderable themselves, but they can render other people contemptible by exposing their infirmities.
Lady. F. Then that t'other great strapping Lady -- I can't hit off her name ; the old fat fool, that paints so exorbitantly.
“Brisk. I know whom you mean-but, deuce take her, I can't hit off her name either-paints, d’ye say ? Why she lays it on with a trowel. Then she has a great beard that bristles through it, and makes her look as if she was plaistered with lime and hair, let me perish.”
It would be a task not uninteresting, to enter into a detailed comparison of the characteristics and merits of Mr. Sheridan , as a dramatic writer, with those of the other great masters of the art; and to consider how far they differed or agreed with each other, in the structure of their plots and management of their dialogue-in the mode of laying the train of their repartee, or pointing the artillery of their wit. But I have already devoted to this part of my subject a much ampler space, than to some of my readers will appear either necessary or agreeable ;-though by others, more interested in such topics, my diffuseness will, I trust, be readily pardoned. In tracking Mr. Sheridan through his two distinct careers of literature and of politics, it is on the highest point of his elevation in each that the eye naturally rests; and the School for Scandal in one, and the Begum speeches in the other, are the two grand heights—the summa biverticis umbra Parnassi” - from which he will stand out to after times, and round which, therefore, his biographer may be excused for lingering with most fondness and delay.
It appears singular that, during the life of Mr. Sheridan, no authorized or correct edition of this play should have been published in England. He had, at one time, disposed of the copyright to Mr. Ridgway of Piccadilly, but, after repeated applications from the latter for the manuscript, he was told by Mr. Sheridan, as an excuse for keeping it back, that he had been nineteen years endeavouring to satisfy himself with the style of the School for Scandal, but had not yet succeeded. Mr. Ridgway, upon this, ceased to give him any further trouble on the subject.
The edition printed in Dublin is, with the exception of a few unimportant omissions and verbal differences , perfectly correct. It appears that, after the success of the comedy in London, he presented a copy of it to his eldest sister, Mrs. Lefanu , to be disposed of, for her own advantage, to the manager of the Dublin Theatre. The sum of a hundred guineas, and free admissions for her family, were the terms upon which Ryder, the manager at that period, purchased from this lady the right of acting the play; and it was from the copy thus procured that the edition afterwards published in Dublin was printed. I have collated this edition with the copy given by Mr. Sheridan to Lady Crewe (the last, I believe, ever revised by himself )' and find it, with the few exceptions already mentioned, correct throughout.
' Among the corrections in this copy (which are in his own hand-writing, and but few in namber), there is one which shows not only the retentiveness of his memory, but the minute attention which he paid to the structure of his sentences. Lady Teazle, in her scene with Sir Peter in the Second Act, says, “That's very true, indeed, Sir Peter; and after having married you, I should never pretend to
The School for Scandal has been translated into most of the languages of Europe, and, among the French particularly, has undergone a variety of metamorphoses. A translation, undertaken, it appears, with the permission of Sheridan himself , was published in London, in the year 1789, by a Mons". Bunell Delille , who , in a Dedication to 6 Milord Macdonald ,” gives the following account of the origin of his task : “ Vous savez, Milord , de quelle manière mystérieuse cette pièce, qui n'a jamais été imprimée que furtivement, se trouva l’été dernier sur ma table , en manuscrit in-folio; et, si vous daignez vous le rappeler, après vous avoir fait part de l'aventure, je courus chez Monsieur Sheridan pour lui demander la permission," etc. etc.
The scenes of the Auction and the Screen were introduced , for the first time, I believe, on the French stage, in a little piece called " Les Deux Neveux,” acted in the year 1788, by the young comedians of the Comte de Beaujolais. Since then, the story has been reproduced under various shapes and names :
66 Les Portraits de Familie,' co Valsain et Florville ,” and, at the Théâtre Français, under the title of the “Tartuffe de Meurs." Lately, too, the taste for the subject has revived. The Vaudeville has founded upon
it successful piece, called “Les Deux Cousins ;” and there is even a melodrame at the Porte St. Martin, entitled “6
L'Ecole du Scandale.
Further Purchase of Theatrical property.—Monody to the Memory of
Garrick.- Essay on metre.—The Critic.—Essay on Absentees.—Political Connections. The “ Englishman.” – Elected for Stafford.
The document in Mr. Sheridan's hand-writing, already mentioned , from which I have stated the sums paid in 1776 by him, Dr. Ford, and Mr. Linley, for Garrick's moiety of the Drury-Lane Theatre, thus mentions the new purchase, by which he extended his interest in this property in the year 1778:
66 Mr. Sheridan afterwards was obliged to buy Mr. Lacy's moiety at a price exceeding 45,0001. : this was in the year 1778.”. He then adds what it may be as well lo cite, while I have the paper before me, though relating to subsequent changes in the property :-“In order to enable Mr. S. to complete this purpose, he afterwards consented to divide his original share between Dr. Ford and Mr. Linley, so as to make up each of theirs a quarter. But the price at which they purchased from Mr. Sheridan was not at the ráte which he bought from Lacy, though at an advance on the price paid to Garrick. Mr. S. has since purchased Dr. Ford's quarter for the sum of 17,0001., subject to the increased incumbrance of the additional renters.”
taste again, I allow.” It was thus that the passage stood at first in Lady Crewe's copy, -as it does still, too, in the Dublin edition , and in that given in the Collection of his Works:—but in his final revision of this copy, the original reading of the sentence, such as I find it in all his earlier manuscript of the play, is restored :--- That's very true, indeed, Sir Peter: and, after having married you, I am sure I should never pretend to ta te again.”
By what spell all these thousands were conjured up, it would be difficult accurately to ascertain. That happy art - in which the people of this country are such adepts — of putting the future in pawn for the supply of the present, must have been the chief resource of Mr. Sheridan in all these later purchases.
Among the visible signs of his increased influence in the affairs of the theatre, was the appointment, this year, of his father to be manager; - a reconciliation having taken place between them, which was facilitated, no doubt, by the brightening prospects of the son, and by the generous confidence which his prosperity gave him in making the first advances towards such a reunion.
One of the novelties of the year was a musical entertainment called The Camp, which was falsely attributed to Mr. Sheridan at the time, and has since been inconsiderately admitted into the Collection of his Works. This unworthy trifle (as appears from a rough copy of it in my possession) was the production of Tickell, and the patience with which his friend submitted to the imputation of having written it was a sort of “martyrdom of fame” which few but himself could afford.
At the beginning of the year 1779 Garrick died, and Sheridan, as chief mourner, followed him to the grave. He also wrote a Monody to his memory, which was delivered by Mrs. Yates, after the play of the West Indian, in the month of March following. During the interment of Garrick in Poets' Corner, Mr. Burke had remarked that the statue of Shakspeare seemed to point to the grave where the great actor of his works was laid. This hint did not fall idly on the ear of Sheridan, as the following fixation of the thought, in the yerses which he afterwards wrote, proved :
“ The throng that mouru’d, as their dead favourite pass'd,
The grac'd respect that claim'd him to the last;
This Monody, which was the longest flight ever sustained by its author in verse, is more remarkable, perhaps, for refinement and elegance, than for either novelty of thought or depth of sentiment. There is, however, a fine burst of poetical eloquence in