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Highness the Prince of Wales to the Receivership of the Duchy of Cornwall, in the Year 1804, to be transmitted by His Royal Highness's Command to Lieutenant-General Lake, Commander-in-chief of the Forces in India.
“ The circumstances attending the original reversionary Grant to General Lake are stated in the brief for Counsel on this occasion by Mr. Bignel, the Prince's solicitor, to be as follow : (No. I.) It was afterwards understood by the Prince that the service he had wished to render General Lake, by this Grant, had been defeated by the terms of it; and so clearly had it been shown that there were essential duties attached to the office, which no Deputy was competent to execute , and that a Deputy, even for the collection of the rents, could not be appointed but by a principal actually in possession of the office, (by having been sworn into it before his Council, ) that upon General Lake's appointment to the Command in India, the Prince could have no conception that General Lake could have left the country under an impression or expectation that the Prince would appoint him, in case of a vacancy, to the place in question. Accordingly, His Royal Highness, on the very day he heard of the death of Lord Elliot, unsolicited, and of his own gracious suggestion, appointed Mr. Sheridan. Mr. Sheridan returned, the next day, in a letter to the Prince, such an answer and acknowledgment as might be expected from him ; and, accordingly, directions were given to make out his patent. On the ensuing His Royal Highness was greatly surprised at receiving the following letter from Mr. Warwick Lake. (No. II.)
“ His Royal Highness immediately directed Mr. Sheridan to see Mr. W. Lake, and to state his situation, and how the office was circumstanced; and for further distinctness to make a minute in writing."
Such were the circumstances that had, at first , embarrassed his enjoyment of this office; but, on the death of Lord Lake, all difficulties were removed, and the appointment was confirmed to Sheridan for his life.
In order to afford some insight into the nature of that friendship which existed so long between the Heir Apparent and Sheridan,
- though unable , of course, to produce any of the numerous letters, on the Royal side of the correspondence, that have been found among the papers in my possession ,- I shall here give, from a rough copy in Sheridan's hand-writing, a letter which he addressed about this time to the Prince :
“ It is matter of surprise to myself, as well as of deep regret, that I should have 'incurred the appearance of ungrateful neglect and disrespect towards the person to whom I am most obliged on earth, to whom I feel the most
dent, dutiful, and affectionate attachment, and in whose service I would readily sacrifice my life. Yet so it is, and to nothing but a perverse combination of circumstances, which would form no excuse were I to recapitulate them, can I attribute a conduct so strange on my part; and from nothing but Your Royal Highness's kindness and benignity alone can I expect an indulgent allowance and oblivion of that conduct : nor could I even hope for this were I not conscious of the unabated and unalterable devotion towards Your Royal Highness which lives in my heart, and will ever continue to be its pride and boast.
" But I should ill deserve the indulgence I request did I not frankly state what has passed in my mind, which, though it cannot justify, may, in some degree, extenuate what must have appeared so strange to Your Royal Highness, previous to Your Royal Highness having actually restored me to the office I had resigned.
“ I was mortified and hurt in the keenest manner by having repeated to me from an authority which I then trusted, some expressions of Your Royal Highness respecting me, which it was impossible I could have deserved. Though I was most solemnly pledged never to reveal the source from which the communication came, I for some time intended to unburthen my mind to my sincere friend and Your Royal Highness's most attached and excellent servant, M‘Mahon—but I suddenly discovered, beyond a doubt, that I had been grossly deceived, and that there had not existed the slightest foundation for the tale that had been imposed on me; and I do humbly ask Your Royal Highness's pardon for having for a moment credited a fiction suggested by mischief and malice. Yet, extraordinary as it must seem, I had so long, under this false impression, neglected the course which duty and gratitude required from me, that I felt an unaccountable shyness and reserve in repairing my error, and to this procrastination other unlucky circumstances contributed. One day when I had the honour of meeting Your Royal Highness on horseback in Oxford-Street, though your manner was as usual gracious and kind to me, you said that I had deserted you privately and politically. I had long before that been assured, though falsely I am convinced, that Your Royal Highness had promised to make a point that I should neither speak nor vote on Lord Wellesley's business. My view of this topic, and my knowledge of the delicate situation in which Your Royal Highness stood in respect to the Catholic question, though weak and inadequate motives I confess, yet encouraged the continuance of that reserve which my original error had commenced. These subjects being passed by,—and sure I am Your Royal Highness would never deliberately ask me to adopt a course of debasing inconsistency, --it was my hope fully and frankly to have explained myself and repaired my fault, when I was informed that a circumstance that happened at Burlington-House, and which must have been heinously misrepresented, had greatly offended you;
and soon after it was stated to me, by an authority which I have no objection to disclose, that Your Royal Highness had quoted, with marked disapprobation, words supposed to have been spoken by me on the Spanish question, and of which words, as there is a God in heaven, I never uttered one syllable.
“ Most justly may Your Royal Highness answer to all this, why have I not sooner stated these circumstances , and confided in that uniform friendship and protection which I have so long experienced at your hands. I can only plead a nervous, procrastinating nature, abetted, perhaps, by sensations of, I trust, no false pride, which, however I may blame myself, impel me involuntarily to fly from the risk of even a cold look from the quarter to which I owe so much, and by whom to be esteemed is the glory and consolation of my private and public life.
“ One point only remains for me to intrude upon Your Royal Highness's consideration, but it is of a nature fit only for personal communication. I therefore conclude, with again entreating Your Royal Highness to continue and extend the indulgence which the imperfections in my character have so often received from you, and yet to be assured that there never did exist to Monarch, Prince, or man, a firmer or purer attachment than I feel, and to my death shall feel, to you, my gracious Prince and Master."
Destruction of the Theatre of Drury-Lane by fire. Mr. Whitbread.
Plan for a third Theatre. Illness of the King. Regency. - Lord Grey and Lord Grenville.-Conduct of Mr. Sheridan.—His vindication of himself.
With the details of the embarrassments of Drury-Lane Theatre, I have endeavoured, as little as possible, to encumber the attention of the reader. This part of my subject would, indeed, require a volume to itself. The successive partnerships entered into with Mr. Grubb and Mr. Richardson ,--the different Trust-deeds for the general and individual property ,—the various creations of Shares,
-the controversies between the Trustees and Proprietors as to the obligations of the Deed of 1793, which ended in a Chancerysuit in 1799,-the perpetual entanglements of the property, which Sheridan's private debts occasioned, and which even the friendship and skill of Mr. Adam were wearied out in endeavouring to rectify, -all this would lead to such a mass of details and correspondence as, though I have waded through it myself, it is by no means necessary to inflict upon others.
The great source of the involvements, both of Sheridan himself and of the concern, is to be found in the enormous excess of the expense of rebuilding the Theatre in 1793, over the amount stated by the architect in his estimate. This amount was 75,000l. ; and the sum of 150,000l., then raised by subscription, would, it was calculated, in addition to defraying this charge, pay off also the mortgage-debts with which the Theatre was encumbered. It was soon found, however, that the expense of building the House alone would exceed the whole amount raised by subscription; and notwithstanding the advance of a considerable sum beyond the estimate, the Theatre was delivered in a very unfinished state into the hands of the proprietors,-only part of the mortgage-debts was paid off, and, altogether, a debt of 70,0001. was left upon the properly. This debt Mr. Sheridan and the other proprietors took , voluntarily, and, as it has been thought, inconsiderately, upon themselves, the builders, by their contracts, having no legal claim upon them, —and the payment of it being at various times enforced, not only against the theatre, but against the private property of Mr. Sheridan, involved both in a degree of embarrassment from which there appeared no hope of extricating them.
Such was the state of this luckless property,—and it would have been difficult to imagine any change for the worse that could befall it, -when, early in the present year, an event occurred, that seemed to fill up at once the measure of its ruin. On the night of the 24th of February, while the House of Commons was occupied with Mr. Ponsonby's motion on the Conduct of the War in Spain, and Mr. Sheridan was in attendance , with the intention, no doubt, of speaking, the House was suddenly illuminated by a blaze of light; and, the Debate being interrupted, it was ascertained that the Theatre of Drury-Lane was on fire. A motion was made to adjourn; but Mr. Sheridan said, with much calmness, that “whatever might be the extent of the private calamity, he hoped it would not interfere with the public business of the country." He then left the House; and, proceeding to Drury-Lane, witnessed, with a fortitude which strongly interested all who observed him, the entire destruction of his property'.
Among his losses on the occasion there was one which, from being associated with feelings of other times, may have affected him, perhaps, more deeply than many that were far more serious. A harpsichord, that had belonged to his first wife, and had long survived her sweet voice in silent widowhood, was, with other articles of furniture that had been moved from Somerset-House to the Theatre, lost in the flames.
The ruin thus brought upon this immense property seemed , for a time, beyond all hope of retrieval. The embarrassments of the concern were known to have been so great, and such a swarm of litigious claims lay slumbering under those ashes, that it is not surprising the public should have been slow and unwilling to touch them. Nothing, indeed, short of the intrepid zeal of Mr. Whitbread could have ventured upon the task of remedying so complex a cala
It is said that, as he sat at the Piazza Coffee-house, daring the fire, taking some refreshment, a friend of his having remarked on the philosophic calmness with which he bore his misfortune , Sheridan answered, “A man may surely be allowed take a glass of wine by his own fire-side.”
Without vouching for the authenticity or novelly of this anecdote, ( which may have been, for aught I know, like the wandering Jew, a regular attendant upon all fires since the time of Hierocles,) I give it as I heard it.
mity; nor could any industry less persevering have compassed the miracle of rebuilding and re-animating that edifice, among the many-tongued claims that beset and perplexed his enterprise.
In the following interesting letter to him from Sheridan, we trace the first steps of his friendly interference on the occasion :
“ MY DEAR WHITBREAD, “ Procrastination is always the consequence of an indolent man's resolving to write a long detailed letter, upon any subject , however important to himself, or whatever may be the confidence he has in the friend he proposes to write to. To this must be attributed your having escaped the statement I threatened you with in my last letter, and the brevity with which I now propose to call your attention to the serious, and to me, most important request, contained in this,-reserving all I meant to have written for personal communication.
“ I pay you no compliment when I say that, without comparison, you are the man living, in my estimation, the most disposed and the most competent to bestow a portion of your time and ability to assist the call of friendship,
-on the condition that that call shall be proved to be made in a cause just and honourable, and in every respect entitled to your protection.
“On this ground alone I make my application to you. You said, some time since, in my house, but in a careless conversation only, that you would be a Member of a Committee for rebuilding Drury-Lane Theatre, if it would serve me; and, indeed, you very kindly suggested, yourself, that there were more persons disposed to assist that object than I might be aware of. I most thankfully accept the offer of your interference, and am convinced of the benefits your friendly exertions are competent to produce. I have worked the whole subject in my own mind, and see a clear way to retrieve a great property, at least to my son and his family, if my plan meets the support I hope it will appear to merit.
“Writing thus to you in the sincerity of private friendship, and the reliance I place on my opinion of your character, I need not ask of you, though eager and active in politics as you are, not to be severe in criticising my palpable neglect of all parliamentary duty. It would not be easy to explain to you, or even to make you comprehend, or any one in prosperous and affluent plight, the private difficulties I have to struggle with. My mind, and the resolute independence belonging to it, has not been in the least subdued by the late calamity; but the consequences arising from it have more engaged and embarrassed me than, perhaps , I have been willing to allow. It has been a principle of my life, persevered in through great difficulties, never to borrow money of a private friend; and this resolution I would starve rather than violate. Of course, I except the political aid of election-subscription. When I ask you to take a part in the settlement of my shattered affairs , I ask you only to do so after a previous investigation of every part of the past circumstances which relate to the trust I wish you to accept, in conjunction with those who wish to serve me, and to whom I think you could not object. I may be again seized with an illness as alarming as that I lately experienced.