Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

-written to Mr. Linley in November, he had not only at that time finished his play of the Rivals, but was on the point of

sending a book to the press :"

*

DEAR SIR,

Nov. 17th, 1774. “ If I were to attempt to make as many apologies as my long omission in writing to you requires, I should have no room for any other subject. One excuse only I shall bring forward, which is, that I have been exceedingly employed, and I believe very profitably. However, before I explain how, I must ease my mind on a subject, that much more nearly concerns me than any point of business or profit. I must premise to you that Betsey is now very well, before I tell you abruptly that she has encountered another disappointment, and consequent indisposition. * *

* However, she is now getting entirely over it, and she shall never take any journey of the kind again. I inform you of this now,

that you may not be alarmed by any accounts from some other quarter, which might lead you to fear she was going to have such an illness as last year, of which I assure you, upon my honour, there is not the least apprehension. If I did not write now, Betsey would write herself, and in a day she will make you quite easy on this head.

“I have been very seriously at work on a book, which I am just now sending to the press, and which I think will do me some credit, if it leads to nothing else. However, the profitable affair is of another nature. There will be a Comedy of mine in rehearsal at Covent-Garden within a few days. I did not set to work on it till within a few days of ting out for Crome, so you may think I have not, for these last six weeks, been very idle. I have done it at Mr. Harris's (the manager's) own request; it is now complete in his hands, and preparing for the stage. He, and some of his friends also who have heard it, assure me in the most flattering terms that there is not a doubt of its success. well played, and Harris tells me that the least shilling I shall get (if it succeeds) will be six hundred pounds. I shall make no secret of it towards the time of representation, that

my set

It will be very

it may not lose any support my friends can give it. I had not written a line of it two months ago, except a scenę or two, which I believe you have seen in an odd act of a little farce.

"Mr. Stanley was with me a day or two ago on the subject of the oratorios. I find Mr. Smith has declined, and is retiring to Bath. Mr. Stanley informed me that on his applying to the king for the continuance of his favour, he was desired by his Majesty to make me an offer of Mr. Smith's situation and partnership in them, and that he should continue his protection, &c.— I declined the matter very civilly and very peremptorily. I should imagine that Mr. Stanley would apply to you ;-I started the subject to him, and said you had twenty Mrs. Sheridans more. However, he said very little :-if he does, and you wish to make an alteration in your system at once, I should think you may stand in Smith's place.

I would not listen to him on any other terms, and I should think the King might be made to signify his pleasure for such an arrangement. On this you will reflect, and if any way strikes you that I can move in it, I need not add how happy I shall be in its success.

* "I hope you will let me have the pleasure to hear from you soon, as I shall think any delay unfair-unless you can plead that you are writing an opera, and a folio on music beside. Accept Betsey's love and duty.

“ Your sincere and affectionate

“R. B. SHERIDAN."

[ocr errors]

*

*

What the book here alluded to was, I cannot with any accuracy ascertain.

Besides a few sketches of plays and poems, of which I shall give some account in a subsequent Chapter, there exist among his papers several fragments of Essays and Letters, all of which—including the unfinished plays and poems-must have been written by him in the interval between 1769, when he left Harrow, and the present year ; though at what precise dates during that period there are no means of judging.

Among these are a few political Letters, evidently designed for the newspapers ;-some of them but half copied out, and probably never sent. One of this description, which must have been written immediately on his leaving school, is a piece of irony against the Duke of Grafton, giving reasons why that nobleman should not lose his head, and, under the semblance of a defence, exaggerating all the popular charges against him.

The first argument (he says) of the Duke's adversaries, " is founded on the regard which ought to be paid to justice, and on the good effects which, they affirm, such an example would have, in suppressing the ambition of any future minister. But if I can prove that his might be made a much greater example of by being suffered to live, I think I may without vanity affirm that their whole argument will fall to the ground. By pursuing the methods which they propose, viz. chopping off his —'s head, I allow the impression would be stronger at first; but we should consider how soon that wears off. If, indeed, his -'s crimes were of such a nature, as to entitle his head to a place on TempleBar, I should allow some weight to their argument. But, in the present case, we should reflect how apt mankind are to relent after they have inflicted punishment;-50 that, perhaps, the same men who would have detested the noble Lord, while alive and in prosperity, pointing him as a scarcecrow to their children, might, after being witnesses to the miserable fate that had overtaken him, begin in their hearts to pity him; and from the fickleness so common to human nature, perhaps, by way of compensation, acquit him of part of his crimes; insinuate, that he was dealt hardly with, and. thus, by the remembrance of their compassion on this occasion, be led to show more indulgence to any future offender in the same circumstances." There is a clearness of thought and style here very remarkable in so young a writer.

In affecting to defend the Duke against the charge of fickleness and unpunctuality, he says, “I think I could bring several instances which should seem to promise the greatest steadiness and resolution. I have known him make the Council wait, on the business of the whole nation, when he has had an appointment to Newmarket. Surely, this is an instance of the greatest honour ;-and, if we see him so punctual in private appointments, must we not conclude that he is infinitely more so in greater matters ? Nay, when W* came over, is it not notorious that the late Lord Mayor went to His Grace on that evening, proposing a scheme which, by securing this fire-brand, might have put an end to all the troubles he has caused. But His Grace did not see him ; no, he was a man of too much honour ;-he had promised that evening to attend Nancy Parsons to Ranelagh, and he would not disappoint her, but made three thousand people witnesses of his punctuality.”

There is another Letter, which happens to be dated (1770), addressed to “ Novus,"—some writer in Woodfall's Public Advertiser,--and appearing to be one of a series to the same correspondent. From the few political allusions introduced in this letter, (which is occupied chiefly in an attack upon the literary style of “ Novus,”) we can collect that the object of Sheridan was to defend the new ministry of Lord North, who had, in the beginning of that year, succeeded the Duke of Grafton. Junius was just then in the height of his power and reputation ; and, as, in English literature, one great voice always produces a multitude of echoes, it was thought at that time indispensable to every letter-writer in a news-paper, to be a close copyist of the style of Junius : of course, our young political tyro followed this “ mould of form" as well as the rest. Thus, in addressing his correspondent :gloomy seriousness in your style,-that seeming consciousness of superiority, together with the consideration of the infinite pains it must have cost you to have been so elaborately wrong,will not suffer me to attribute such numerous errors to any thing but real ignorance, joined with most consummate vanity.” The following is a specimen of his acuteness in criticising the absurd style of his adversary :-“You leave it rather dubious whether you were most pleased with the glorious opposition to Charles I. or the dangerous designs of that monarch, which you emphatically call the arbitrary projects of a Stuart's nature.' What do you mean by the projects of a man's nature ? A man's natural disposition may urge him to the commission of some actions ;-Nature may instigate and encourage, but I believe you are the first that ever made her a projector.”

“ That

* Wilkes.

It is amusing to observe, that, while he thus criticises the style and language of his correspondent, his own spelling, in every second line, convicts him of deficiency in at least one common branch of literary acquirement :-we find thing always spelt think ;-whether, where, and which, turned into wether, were, and wich ;-—and double m's and s's almost invariably reduced to single blessedness.” This sign of a neglected education remained with him to a very late period, and, in his hasty writing, or scribbling, would occasionally reçur, to the last.

From these Essays for the newspapers it may be seen how early was the bias of his mind towards politics. It was, indeed, the rival of literature in his affections during all the early part of his life, and, at length,whether luckily for himself or not it is difficult to say,-gained the mastery.

There are also among his manuscripts some commencements of Periodical Papers, under various names, “ The Detector," “ The Dramatic Censor," &c. ;none of them, apparently, carried beyond the middle of the first number. But one of the most curious of these youthful productions is a Letter to the Queen, recommending the establishment of an Institution, for the instruction and maintenance of young females in the better classes of life, who, from either the loss of their parents or from poverty, are without the means of being brought up suitably to their station. He refers to the asylum founded by Madame de Maintenon, at St. Cyr, as a model, and proposes that the establishment should be placed under the patronage of Her Majesty, and entitled “The Royal Sanctuary.” The reader, however, has to arrive at the practical part of the plan, through long and flowery windings of panegyric, on the

« AnteriorContinuar »