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the same year, from the following allusion to Mr. Gibbon, whose acceptance of a seat at the Board of Trade took place, if I recollect right, in the summer of 1779 :
“ This policy is very evident among the majority in both houses, who, though they make no scruple in private to acknowledge the total incapacity of ministers , yet, in public, speak and vote as if they believed them to have every virtue under heaven; and, on this principle, some gentlemen,-as Mr. Gibbon, for instance,--while, in private, they indulge their opinion pretty freely, will yet, in their zeal for the public good, even condescend to accept a place, in order to give a colour to their confidence in the wisdom of the government."
It is needless to say that Mr. Sheridan had been for some time among the most welcome guests at Devonshire House-that rendezvous of all the wits and beauties of fashionable life, where Politics was taught to wear its most attractive form , and sat enthroned, like Virtue among the Epicureans, with all the graces and pleasures for handmaids.
Without any disparagement of the manly and useful talents , which are at present no where more conspicuous than in the upper ranks of society, it may be owned that for wit, social powers, and literary accomplishements, the political men of the period under consideration formed such an assemblage as it would be flattery to say that our own times can parallel. The natural tendency of the excesses of the French Revolution was to produce in the higher classes of England an increased reserye of manner, and, of course, a proportionate restraint on all within their circle, which have been fatal to conviviality and humour, and not very propitious to witsubduing both manners and conversation to a sort of polished level, to rise above which is often thought almost as vulgar as to sink below it. Of the greater ease of manners that existed some forty or fifty years ago, one trifling, but not the less significant , indication was the habit, then prevalent among men of high station, of calling each other by such familiar names as Dick, Jack, Tom, etc. a mode of address, that brings with it, in its very sound, the notion of conviviality and playfulness, and, however unrefined, implies at least, that ease and sea-room, in which wit spreads its canvas most fearlessly.
Wilh respect to literary accomplishments , too,-in one branch of which, poetry, almost all the leading politicians of that day distinguished themselves—the change that has taken place in the times, independently of any want of such talent, will fully account for the difference that we witness, in this respect, at present. As the public
· Dick Sheridan, Ned Burke, Jack Townshend , Tom Grenville, etc. etc.
mind becomes more intelligent and watchful, statesmen can the less afford to trifle with their talents, or to bring suspicion upon their fitness for their own vocation, by the failures which they risk in deviating into others. Besides, in poetry, the temptation of distinction no longer exists—the commonness of that talent in the market, at present, being such as to reduce the value of an elegant copy of verses , very far below the price it was at, when Mr. Hayley enjoyed an almost exclusive monopoly of the article.
In the clever Epistle, by Tickell, “ from the Hon. Charles Fox, partridge-shooting, to the Hon. John Townshend, cruising,” some of the most shining persons in that assemblage of wits and statesmen, who gave a lustre to Brooks's Club House at the period of which we are speaking, are thus agreeably grouped :
“Soon as to Brooks's' thence thy footsteps bend,
What gratulations thy approach attend !
Ou that auspicious night , supremely grac'd
And Thee more glory, from the next campaign."
* The well-known lines on Brooks himself are perhaps the perfection of this drawing-room style of humour:-
“ And know, I've bought the best champagne from Brooks;
From liberal Brooks, whose speculative skill
be long in fixing. On the one side, his own keen thirst for distinction, and, on the other, a quick and sanguine appreliation of the service that such talents might render in the warfare of party; could not fail to hasten the result that both desired.
His first appearance before the public as a political character was in conjunction with Mr. Fox, at the beginning of the year 1780, when the famous Resolutions on the State of the Representation, signed by Mr. Fox as chairman of the Westminster Committee, together with a Report on the same subject from the Sub-Committee, signed by Sheridan , were laid before the public. Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage were the professed objects of this meeting; and the first of the Resolutions, subscribed by Mr. Fox, stated that 6. Annual Parliaments are the undoubted right of the people of England."
Notwithstanding this strong declaration, it may be doubted whether Sheridan was, any more than Mr. Fox, a very sincere friend to the principle of Reform; and the manner in which he masked his disinclination or indifference to it was strongly characteristic both of his humour and his tact. Aware that the wild scheme of Cartwright and others, which these Resolutions recommended, was wholly impracticable , he always took refuge in it when pressed upon the subject, and would laughingly advise his political friends to do the same :
Whenever any one,” he would say, proposes to you a specific plan of Reform, always answer that you are for nothing short of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage—there you are safe.” He also had evident delight, when talking on this question, in referring to a jest of Burke, who said that there had arisen a new . parly of Reformers, still more orthodox than the rest, who thought Annual Parliaments far from being sufficiently frequent, and who, founding themselves upon the latter words of the statute of Edward III., that “a parliament shall be holden every year once, and more often if need be,” were known by the denomination of the Oftener-if-need-bes. “For my part,” he would add , in relating this, “I am an Oftener-if-need-be.” Even when most serious on the subject (for to the last , he professed himself a warm friend to Reform), his arguments had the air of being ironical and insidious. To Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage, he would say, the principles of representation naturally and necessarily led, -any less extensive proposition was a base compromise and a dereliction of right; and the first encroachment on the people was the act of Henry VI., which limited the power of election to fortyshilling freeholders within the county, whereas the real right was in the “outrageous and excessive” number of people, by whom the preamble recites' that the choice had been made of late. Such were the arguments by which he affected to support his cause, and it is not difficult to detect the eyes of the snake glistening from under them.
The dissolution of parliament that took place in the autumn of this year (1780) afforded at length the opportunity to which his ambition had so eagerly looked forward. It has been said, I know not with what accuracy, that he first tried his chance of election at Honiton-but Stafford was the place destined to have the honour of first choosing him for its representative; and it must have been no small gratification to his independent spirit, that, unfurnished as he was with claims from past political services, he appeared in parliament, not as the nominee of any aristocratic patron, but as member for a borough, which, whatever might be its purity in other respects, at least enjoyed the freedom of choice. Elected conjointly with Mr. Monckton, to whose interest and exertions he chiefly owed his success, he took his seat in the new parliament which met in the month of October ;-and, from that moment giving 'himself up to the pursuit of politics , bid adieu to the worship of the Dramatic Muse for ever :
" Comoedia luget;
Unfinished Plays and Poems.
BEFORE I enter upon the sketch of Mr. Sheridan's political life, I shall take this opportunity of laying before the reader such information with respect to his unfinished literary designs, both dramatic and poetic, as the papers in my possession enable me to communicate.
Some of his youthful attempts in literature have already been mentioned, and there is a dramatic sketch of his , founded on the Vicar of Wakefield, which , from a dale on the manuscript (1768), appears to have been produced at a still earlier age, and when he was only in his seventeenth year. A scene of this piece will be
“ Elections of knights of shires have now of late been made by very great outrageous and excessive number of people, dwelling within the same counties, of the which most part was people of small substance and of no value." 8 H. 6. c. 7. sufficient to show how very soon his talent for lively dialogue displayed itself :-)
“ SCENE II.
“ THORNHILL and ARNOLD.
“ Thornhill. Nay, prithee, Jack, no more of that if you
love me. What, shall I stop short with the game in full view ? Faith, I believe the fellow's turned puritan. What think you of turning methodist , Jack ? You have a tolerable good canting countenance, and, if escaped being taken
up for a Jesuit, you might make a fortune in Moor-fields. “ Arnold. I was serious , Tom.
“ Thorn. Splenetic you mean. Come , fill your glass , and a truce to your preaching. Here's a pretty fellow has let his conscience sleep for these five years, and has now plucked morality from the leaves of his grandmother's bible, beginning to declaim against what he has practised half his life-time. Why, I tell you once more, my schemes are all come to perfection. I am now convinced Olivia loves me-at our last conversa- * tion, she said she would rely wholly on my honour.
" Arn. And therefore you would deceive her.
" Thorn. Why no- -deceive her ?--why-indeed -as to that-butbut, for God's sake, let me hear no more on this subject , for 'faith you make me sad, Jack. If you continue your admonitions, I shall begin to think you have yourself an eye on the girl. You have promised me your assistance, and when you came down into the country, were as hot on the scheme as myself : but, since you have been two or three times with me at Primrose's , you have fallen off strangely. No encroachments, Jack, on my little rosebud—if you have a mind to beat up game in this quarter, there's her sister-but no poaching.
" Arn. I am not insensible to her sister's merit, but have no such views as you have. However, you have promised me that if you
find in this lady that real virtue which you so firmly deny to exist in the sex, you will give up the pursuit, and, foregoing the low considerations of fortune, make atonement by marriage.
“ Thorn. Such is my serious resolution.
“ Arn. I wish you'd forego the experiment. But, you have been so much in raptures with your success, that I have, as yet, had no clear account how you came acquainted in the family.
“ Thorn. Oh, I'll tell you immediately. You know Lady Patchet ?
year, her ladyship's reputation began to suffer a little ; so that she thought it prudent to retire for a while, till people learned better manners or got worse memories. She soon became acquainted with this little family, and, as the wife is a prodigious admirer of quality , grew in a short time to be very
intimate , and imagining that she may one day make her market of the girls, has much ingratiated herself with them. She introduced me-I drank, and abused this degenerate age with the father--promised wonders to the mother for all her brats--praised her gooseberry wine,