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convicted deficiency ! Had no attempt been made to establish some more effectual system of police, in order that we might still depend upon the remedy of the bayonet, and that the military power might be called in to the aid of contrived weakness and deliberate inattention ?”
One of the few instances in which he ever differed with his friend, Mr. Fox, occurred during this session, upon the subject of a Bill which the latter introduced for the Repeal of the Marriage Act, and which he prefaced by a speech as characteristic of the ardour, the simplicity, the benevolence and fearlessness of his disposition, as any ever pronounced by him in public. Some parts, indeed, of this remarkable speech are in a strain of feeling so youthful and romantic, that they seem more fit to be addressed to one of those Parliaments of Love, which were held during the times of Chivalry, than to a grave assembly employed about the sober realities of life, and legislating with a view to the infirmities of human nature.
The hostility of Mr. Fox to the Marriage Act was hereditary, as it had been opposed with equal vehemence by his father, on its first introduction in 1753, when a debate not less memorable took place, and when Sir Dudley Ryder, the Attorney-general of the day, did not hesitate to advance, as one of his arguments in favour of the Bill, that it would tend to keep the aristocracy of the country pure, and prevent their mixture by intermarriage with the mass of the people. However this anxiety for the “streams select” of noble blood, or views, equally questionable, for the accumulation of property in great families, may have influenced many of those with whom the Bill originated,-however cruel, too, and mischievous, some of its enactments may be deemed, yet the general effect which the measure was intended to produce, of diminishing as much as possible the number of im. prudent marriages, by allowing the pilotage of parental authority to continue till the first quicksands of youth are passed, is, by the majority of the civilised world, acknowledged to be desirable and beneficial. Mr. Fox, however, thought otherwise, and though—“bowing," as he said, “ to the prejudices of mankind,”-he consented to fix the age at which young people should be marriageable without the consent of parents, at sixteen years for the woman and eighteen for the man, his own opinion was decidedly for removing all restriction whatever, and for leaving the “heart of youth” which, in these cases, was “ wiser than the head of age,” without limit or controul, to the choice which its own desires dictated.
He was opposed in his arguments, not only by Mr. Sheridan, but by Mr. Burke, whose speech on this occasion was found among his manuscripts after his death, and is enriched, though short, by some of those golden sentences, which he “ scattered from his urn" upon every subject that came before him.* Mr. Sheridan, for whose opinions upon this subject the well-known history of his own marriage must have secured no ordinary degree of attention, remarked that
“ His honourable friend, who brought in the Bill, appeared not to be aware that, if he carried the clause enabling girls to marry at sixteen, he would do an injury to that liberty of which he had always shown himself the friend, and promote domestic tyranny, which he could consider only as little less intolerable than public tyranny. If girls were allowed to marry at sixteen, they would, he conceived, be abridged of that happy freedom of intercourse, which modern custom had introduced between the youth of both sexes ; and which was, in his opinion, the best nursery of happy marriages. Guardians would, in that case, look on their wards with a jealous eye, from a fear that footmen and those about them might take advantage of their tender years and immature judgment, and persuade them into marriage, as soon as they attained the age of sixteen."
It seems somewhat extraordinary that, during the very busy interval which passed between Mr. Sheridan's first appearance in Parliament and his appointment under Lord Rockingham's administration in 1782, he should so rarely have taken a part in the debates that occurred-interesting
* In alluding to Mr. Fox's too favourable estimate of the capability of very young persons to choose for themselves, he pays the following tribute to his powers :-"He is led into it by a natural and to him inevitable and real mistake, that the ordinary race of mankind advance as fast towards maturity of judgment and understanding as he has done.” His concluding words are:-“Have mercy on the youth of both sexes; protect them from their ignorance and inexperience ; protect one part of life by the wisdom of another; protect them by the wisdom of laws and the care of nature."
as they were, not only from the importance of the topics discussed, but from the more than usual animation now infused into the warfare of parties, by the last desperate struggles of the Ministry and the anticipated triumph of the Opposition. Among the subjects, upon which he appears to have been rather unaccountably silent, was the renewal of Mr. Burke's Bill for the Regulation of the Civil List, an occasion memorable as having brought forth the maiden speech of Mr. Pitt, and witnessed the first accents of that eloquence, which was destined, ere long, to sound, like the shell of Misenus, through Europe, and call kings and nations to battle by its note. The debate upon the legality of peti. tions from delegated bodies, in which Mr. Dunning sustained his high and rare character of a patriot lawyer ;-the bold proposal of Mr. Thomas Pitt, that the Commons should withhold the supplies, till pledges of amendment in the administration of public affairs should be given ;-the Bill for the exclusion of Excise Officers and Contractors from Parliament, which it was reserved for a Whig Administration to pass ;-these and other great constitutional questions, through which Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox fought, side by side, lavishing at every step the inexhaustible ammunition of their intellect, seem to have passed away without once calling into action the powers of their new and brilliant auxiliary, Sheridan.
The affairs of Ireland, too, had assumed at this period, under the auspices of Mr. Grattan and the example of America, a character of grandeur, as passing as it was bright---but which will long be remembered with melancholy pride by her sons, and as long recall the memory of that admirable man, to whose patriotism she owed her brief day of freedom, and upon whose name that momentary sunshine of her sad history rests. An opportunity of adverting to the events, which had lately taken place in Ireland, was afforded by Mr. Fox in a motion for the re-commitment of the Mutiny Bill; and on this subject, perhaps, the silence of Mr. Sheridan may be accounted for, from his reluctance to share the unpopularity attached by his countrymen to
those high notions of the supremacy of England, which, on the great question of the independence of the Irish Parliament, both Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke were known to entertain.*
Even on the subject of the American war, which was now the important point that called forth all the resources of attack and defence on both sides, the co-operation of Mr. Sheridan appears to have been but rare and casual. The only occasions, indeed, connected with this topic upon which I can trace him as having spoken at any length, were the charges brought forward by Mr. Fox against the Admiralty for their mismanagement of the naval affairs of 1781, and the Resolution of censure on His Majesty's Ministers moved by Lord John Cavendish. His remarks in the latter debate upon the two different sets of opinions, by which (as by the double soul, imagined in Xenophon) the speaking and the voting of Mr. Rigby, were actuated, are very happy :
« The Right Hon. Gentleman, however, had acted in this day's debate with perfect consistency. He bad assured the House that he thought the Noble Lord ought to resign his office; and yet he would give his vote for his remaining in it. In the same manner he had long declared, that he thought the American war ought to be abandoned; yet had uniformly given his vote for its continuance. He did not mean, however, to insinuate any motives for such conduct ;-he believed the Right Hon. Gentleman to have been sincere; he believed that, as a member of Parliament, as a Privy counsellor, as a private gentleman, he had always detested the American war as much as any man; but that he had never been able to
* As the few beautiful sentences spoken by Burke on this occasion, in support of his friend's motion, have been somewhat strangely omitted in the professed collection of all his Speeches, I shall give them here as they are reported in the Parliamentary History :-"Mr. Burke said, so many and such great revolutions had happened of late, that he was not much surprised to hear the Right Hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jenkinson) treat the loss of the supremacy of this country over Ireland as a matter of very little consequence. Thus, one star, and that the brightest ornament of our orrery, having been suffered to be lost, those who were accustomed to inspect and watch our political heaven ought not to wonder that it should be followed by the loss of another.
So star would follow star, and : "
persuade the Paymaster that it was a bad war; and unfortunately, in whatever character he spoke, it was the Paymaster who always voted in that House."
The infrequency of Mr. Sheridan's exertions upon the American question combines with other circumstances to throw some doubts upon an anecdote, which has been, however, communicated to me as coming from an authority worthy in every respect of the most implicit belief. He is said to have received, towards the close of this war, a letter from one of the leading persons of the American Government, expressing high admiration of his talents and political principles, and informing him that the sum of twenty thousand pounds had been deposited for him in the hands of a certain banker, as a mark of the value which the American people attached to his services in the cause of liberty. To this Mr. S. returned an answer (which, as well as the letter, was seen, it is said, by the person with whom the anecdote originated) full of the most respectful gratitude for the opinion entertained of his services, but begging leave to decline a gift under such circumstances. That this would have been the nature of his answer, had any such proposal occurred, the generally high tone of his political conduct forbids us to feel any doubt,—but, with respect to the credibility of the transaction altogether, it is far less easy to believe that the Americans had so much money to give, than that Mr. Sheridan should have been sufficiently high-minded to refuse it.
Not only were the occasions very few and select, on which he offered himself to the attention of the House at this period, but, whenever he did speak, it was concisely and unpretendingly, with the manner of a person who came to learn a new road to fame, not of one who laid claim to notice upon the credit of the glory he brought with him. Mr. Fox used to say that he considered his conduct in this respect as a most striking proof of his sagacity and good taste ;—such rare and unassuming displays of his talents being the only effectual mode he could have adopted, to win on the attention of his audience, and gradually establish himself in their favour. He had, indeed, many difficulties and disadvantages to en