Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

voice, fine ear, fine taste, and, therefore, pronunciation was frequently the favourite subject between him and Tom Sheridan. I was present at many of their discussions and disputes, and sometimes took a very active part in them,-but Richard was not present. The father, you know, was a wrong-headed, whimsical man, and, perhaps, his scanty cir'cumstances were one of the reasons which prevented him from sending Richard to the University. He must have been aware, as Sumner and I were, that Richard's mind was not cast in any ordinary mould. I ought to have told you that Richard, when a boy, was a great reader of English poetry ; but his exercises afforded no proof of his proficiency. In truth, he, as a boy, was quite careless about literary fame. I should suppose that his father, without any regular system, polished his taste, and supplied his memory with anecdotes about our best writers in our Augustan age. The grandfather, you know, lived familiarly with Swift. I have heard of him, as an excellent scholar. His boys in Ireland once performed a Greek play, and when Sir William Jones and I were talking over this event, I determined to make the experiment in England. I selected some of my best boys, and they performed the Edipus Tyrannus, and the Trachinians of Sophocles. I wrote some Greek lambics to vindicate myself from the imputation of singularity, and grieved I am that I did not keep a copy of them. Milton, you may remember, recommends what I attempted.

“ I saw much of Sheridan's father after the death of Sumner, and after my own removal from Harrow to Stanmer. I respected him,-he really liked me, and did me some important services,-but I never met him and Richard together, I often enquired about Richard, and, from the father's answers, found they were not upon good terms, but neither he nor I ever spoke of his son's talents but in terms of the highest praise."

In a subsequent letter Dr. Parr says :-" I referred you to a passage in the Gentleman's Magazine, where I am represented as discovering and encouraging in Richard Sheridan those intellectual powers, which had not been discovered and

yet he

encouraged by Sumner. But the statement is incorrect. We both of us discovered talents, which neither of us could bring into action while Sheridan was a school-boy. He gave us few opportunities of praise in the course of his school busiDess, and was well aware that we thought highly of him, and anxiously wished more to be done by him than he was disposed to do.

“ I once or twice met his mother,--she was quite celestial. Both her virtues and her genius were highly esteemed by Robert Sumner. I know not whether Tom Sheridan found Richard tractable in the art of speaking, -and, upon such a subject, indolence or indifference would have been resented by the father as crimes quite inexpiable. One of Richard's sisters now and then visited Harrow, and well do I remember that, in the house where I lodged, she triumphantly repeated Dryden's Ode upon St. Cecilia's Day, according to the instruction given to her by her father. Take a sample :

“ None but the brave,

None but the brave,
Not but the brave deserve the fair.”

inê Whatever

may have been the zeal or the proficiency of the sister, naughty Richard, like Gallio, seemed to care nought

for these things.

“ In the later periods of his life Richard did not cast behind him classical reading. He spoke copiously and power* fully about Cicero. He had read, and he had understood

the four orations of Demosthenes read and taught in our public schools. He was at home in Virgil and in Horace. I cannot speak positively about Homer,-but I am very sure that he read the Iliad now and then; not as a professed scholar would do, critically, but with all the strong sympathies of a poet reading a poet.* Richard did not, and could not forget

' It was not one of the least of the triumphs of Sheridan's talent, to have been able to persuade so acute a scholar as Dr. Parr, that the extent of his classical acquirements was so great as is here represented, and to have thus impressed with the idea of his remembering so much, the person who best knew how little he had learned.

what he once knew, but his path to knowledge was his own, -his steps were noiseless,--his progress was scarcely felt by himself,-his movements were rapid but irregular.

“Let me assure you that Richard, when a boy, was by no means vicious. The sources of his infirmities were a scanty and precarious allowance from the father, the want of a regular plan for some profession, and, above all, the act of throwing him upon the town, when he ought to have been pursuing his studies at the University. He would have done little among mathematicians at Cambridge ;-he would have been a rake, or an idler, or a trifler, at Dublin ;-but I am inclined to think that at Oxford he would have become an excellent scholar.

“ I have now told you all that I know, and it amounts to very little.

I am very solicitous for justice to be done to Robert Sumner. He is one of the six or seven persons among my own acquaintance, whose taste I am accustomed to consider perfect, and, were he living, his admiration

* During the greater part of Richard's stay at Harrow, his father had been compelled by the embarrassment of his affairs to reside with the remainder of the family in France, and it was at Blois, in the September of 1766, that Mrs. Sheridan died-leaving behind her that best kind of fame, which results from a life of usefulness and purity, and which it requires not the aid of art or eloquence to blazon. She appears to have been one of those rare women, who, united to men of more pretensions but less real intellect than themselves, meekly conceal this superiority even from their own hearts, and pass their lives without a remonstrance or murmur, in gently endeavouring to repair those evils, which the indiscretion or vanity of their partners has brought upon them.

As a supplement to the interesting communication of Doctor Parr, I shall here subjoin an extract from a letter, which the eldest sister of Sheridan, Mrs. E. Lefanu, wrote a few months after his death to Mrs. Sheridan, in consequence of a

*

*

*

*

*"

+ The remainder of the letter relates to other subjects,

wish expressed by the latter, that Mrs. Lefanu would communicate such particulars as she remembered of his early days. It will show, too, the feeling which his natural good qualities, in spite of the errors by which they were obscured and weakened, kept alive to the last, in the hearts of those connected with him, that sort of retrospective affection, which, when those whom we have loved become altered, whether in mind or person, brings the recollection of what they once were, to mingle with and soften our impression of what they

are.

After giving an account of the residence of the family in France, she continues :-" We returned to England, when I may say I first became acquainted with my brother--for faint and imperfect were my recollections of him, as might be expected from my age. I saw him ; and my childish attachment revived with double force. He was handsome, not merely in the eyes of a partial sister, but generally allowed to be so. His cheeks had the glow of health, his eyes,-the finest in the world, -the brilliancy of genius, and were soft as a tender and affectionate heart could render them. The same playful fancy, the same sterling and innoxious wit, that was shown afterwards in his writings, cheered and delighted the family circle. I admired-I almost adored him. I would most willingly have sacrificed my life for him, as I, in some measure, proved to him at Bath, where we resided for some time, and where events that you must have heard of engaged him in a duel. My father's displeasure threatened to involve me in the denunciations against him, for committing what he considered as a crime. Yet I risked every thing, and in the event was made happy by obtaining forgiveness for my brother. * * * * You may perceive, dear sister, that very little indeed have I to say on a subject so near your heart, and near mine also. That for years I lost sight of a brother whom I loved with unabated affection-a love that neither absence or neglect could chill, I always consider as a great misfortune."

On his leaving Harrow, where he continued till near his eighteenth year, he was brought home by his father, who,

with the elder son, Charles, had lately returned from France, and taken a house in London. Here the two brothers for some time received private tuition from Mr. Lewis Kerr, an Irish gentleman, who had formerly practised as a physician, but having, by loss of health, been obliged to give up his profession, supported himself by giving lessons in Latin and Mathematics. They attended also the fencing and ridingschools of Mr. Angelo, and received instructions from their father in English grammar and oratory. Of this advantage however, it is probable, only the elder son availed himself, as Richard, who seems to have been determined to owe all his exceHence to nature alone, was found as impracticable a pupil at home as at school. But, however inattentive to his studies he may have been at Harrow, it appears, from one of the letters of his school-fellow, Mr. Halhed, that in poetry, which is usually the first exercise, in which these young athletæ of intellect try their strength, he had already distinguished himself-and, in conjunction with his friend Halhed, had translated the seventh Idyl, and many of the lesser poems of Theocritus. This literary partnership was resumed soon after their departure from Harrow. In the year 1770, when Halhed was at Oxford, and Sheridan residing with his father at Bath, they entered into a correspondence, (of which unluckily only Halhed's share remains,) and, with all the hope and spirit of young adventurers, began and prosecuted a variety of works together, of which none but their translation of Aristænetus ever saw the light.

There is something in the alliance between these boys peculiarly interesting Their united ages, as Halhed boasts in one of his letters, did not amount to thirty-eight. They were both abounding in wit and spirits, and as sanguine as the consciousness of talent and youth could make them ; both inspired with a taste for pleasure, and thrown upon their own resources for the means of gratifying it; both carelessly embarking, without rivalry or reserve, their venture of fame in the same bottom, and both, as Halhed discovered at last, passionately in love with the same woman.

It would have given me great pleasure to have been ena

« AnteriorContinuar »