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Sheridan,) drew up a plan of retrenchment, which was approved of by the Prince, and afterwards by His Majesty; and the Prince told him that the promise was not to be insisted upon. In the King's Message, however, the promise was inserted, by whose advice he knew not. He heard it read with surprise, and, on being asked next day by the Prince to contradict it is his place, he enquired whether the Prince had seen the Message before it was brought down. Being told that it had been read to him, but that he did not understand it as containing a promise, he declined contradicting it, and told the Prince that he must abide by it, in whatever way it might have been obtained. By the plan then settled, Ministers had a check upon the Prince's expenditure, which they never exerted, nor enforced adherence to the plan.
While Ministers never interfered to check expenses, of which they could not pretend ignorance, the Prince had recourse to means for relieving himself from his embarrassments, which ultimately tended to increase them. It was attempted to raise a loan for him in foreign countries, a measure which he thought unconstitutional, and put a stop to; and, after a consultation with Lord Loughborough, all the bonds were burnt, although with a considerble loss to the Prince. After that, another plan of retrenchment was proposed, upon which he had frequent consultations with Lord Thurlow, who gave the Prince fair, open, and manly advice. That Noble Lord told the Prince, that, after the promise he had made, he must not think of applying to Parliament;-that he must avoid being of any party in politics, but, above all, exposing himself to the suspicion of being influenced in political opinion by his embarrassments;-that the only course he could pursue with honour, was to retire from public life for a time, and appropriate the greater part of his income to the liquidation of his debts. This plan was agreed upon in the autumn of 1792. Why, it might be asked, was it not carried into effect? About that period His Royal Highness began to receive unsolicited advice from another quarter. He was told by Lord Loughborough, both in words and in writing, that the plan savoured too much of the advice given to M. Egalité, and he could guess from what quar ter it came. For his own part, he was then of opinion, that to have avoided meddling in the great political questions which were then coming to be discussed, and to have put his affairs in a train of adjustment, would have better become his high station, and tended more to secure public respect to it, than the pageantry of state-liveries.”
The few occasions on which the name of Mr. Sheridan was again connected with literature, after the final investment of his genius in political speculations, were such as his fame might have easily dispensed with;-and one of them, the forgery of the Shakspeare papers, occurred in the course of the present year. Whether it was that he looked over these manuscripts with the eye more of a manager than
of a critic, and considered rather to what account the belief in their authenticity might be turned, than how far it was founded upon internal evidence ;--or whether, as Mr. Ireland asserts, the standard at which he rated the genius of Shakspeare was not so high as to inspire him with a very watchful fastidiousness of judgment ;-certain it is that he was, in some degree, the dupe of this remarkable imposture, which, as a lesson to the self-confidence of criticism, and an exposure of the fallibility of taste, ought never to be forgotten in literary history.
The immediate payment of 300l. and a moiety of the profits for the first sixty nights, were the terms upon which Mr. Sheridan purchased the play of Vortigern from the Irelands. The latter part of the conditions was voided the first night; and, though it is more than probable that a genuine tragedy of Shakspeare, if presented under similar circumstances, would have shared the same fate, the public enjoyed the credit of detecting and condemning a counterfeit, which had passed current through some of the most learned and tasteful hands of the day. It is but justice, however, to Mr. Sheridan to add, that, according to the account of Ireland himself, he was not altogether without misgivings during his perusal of the manuscripts, and that his name does not appear among the signatures to that attestation of their authenticity, which his friend Dr. Parr drew up, and was himself the first to sign. The curious statement of Mr. Ireland, with respect to Sheridan's want of enthusiasm for Shakspeare, receives some confirmation from the testimony of Mr. Boaden, the biographer of Kemble, who tells us that "Kemble frequently expressed to him his wonder that Sheridan should trouble himself so little about Shakspeare." This peculiarity of taste,—if it really existed to the degree that these two authorities would lead us to infer,-affords a remarkable coincidence with the opinions of another illustrious genius, lately lost to the world, whose admiration of the great Demiurge of the Drama was leavened with the same sort of heresy.
In the January of this year, Mr. William Stone-the
brother of the gentleman whose letter from Paris has been given in a preceding Chapter-was tried upon a charge of High Treason, and Mr. Sheridan was among the witnesses. summoned for the prosecution. He had already in the year 1794, in consequence of a reference from Mr. Stone himself, been examined before the Privy Council, relative to a conversation which he had held with that gentleman, and, on the day after his examination, had, at the request of Mr. Dundás, transmitted to that Minister in writing the particulars of his testimony before the Council. There is among his papers a rough draft of this Statement, in comparing which with his evidence upon the trial in the present year, I find rather a curious proof of the faithlessness of even the best memories. The object of the conversation which he had held with Mr. Stone in 1794-and which constituted the whole of their intercourse with each other-was a proposal on the part of the latter, submitted also to Lord Lauderdale and others, to exert his influence in France, through those channels which his brother's residence there opened to him, for the purpose of averting the threatened invasion of England, by representing to the French rulers the utter hopelessness of such an attempt. Mr. Sheridan, on the trial, after an ineffectual request to be allowed to refer to his written Statement, gave the following as part of his recollections of the conversation:
"Mr. Stone stated that, in order to effect this purpose, he had endeavoured to collect the opinions of several gentlemen, political characters in this country, whose opinions he thought would be of authority sufficient to advance his object; that for this purpose he had had interviews with different gentlemen; he named Mr. Smith and, I think, one or two more, whose names I do not now recollect. He named some gentleman connected with Administration-if the Counsel will remind me of the name
Here Mr. Law, the examining Counsel, remarked, that "upon the cross-examination, if the gentlemen knew the circumstance, they would mention it." The cross-examination of Sheridan by Sergeant Adair was as follows:—
"You stated in the course of your examination that Mr. Stone said there
was a gentleman connected with Government, to whom he had made a similar communication, should you recollect the name of that person if you were reminded of it?-I certainly should.-Was it General Murray?-General Murray certainly.
Notwithstanding this, however, it appears from the writ ten Statement in my possessión, drawn up soon after the conversation in question, that this "gentleman connected with Government," so difficult to be remembered, was no other than the Prime Minister, Mr. Pitt himself. So little is the memory to be relied upon in evidence, particularly when absolved from responsibility by the commission of its deposit to writing. The conduct of Mr. Sheridan throughout this transaction appears to have been sensible and cautious. That he was satisfied with it himself may be collected from the conclusion of his letter to Mr. Dundas:"Under the circumstances in which the application, (from Mr. Dundas,) has been made to me, I have thought it equally a matter of respect to that application and of respect to myself, as well as of justice to the person under suspicion, to give this relation more in detail than at first perhaps might appear necessary. My own conduct in the matter not being in question, I can only say that were a similar case to occur, I think I should act in every circumstance precisely in the manner I did on this occasion."
The parliamentary exertions of Mr. Sheridan this year, though various and active, were chiefly upon subordinate questions; and, except in the instance of Mr. Fox's Motion of Censure upon Ministers for advancing money to the Emperor without the consent of Parliament, were not distinguished by any signal or sustained displays of eloquence. The grand questions, indeed, connected with the liberty of the subject, had been so hotly contested, that but few new grounds were left on which to renew the conflict. Events, however, the only teachers of the great mass of mankind, -were beginning to effect what eloquence had in vain attempted. The people of England, though generally eager for war, are seldom long in discovering that the cup but
sparkles near the brim;" and in the occurrences of the fol lowing year they were made to taste the full bitterness of the draught. An alarm for the solvency of the Bank, an impending invasion, a mutiny in the fleet, and an organised rebellion in Ireland,—such were the fruits of four years' warfare, and they were enough to startle even the most sanguine and precipitate into reflection.
The conduct of Mr. Sheridan on the breaking out of the Mutiny at the Nore is too well known and appreciated to require any illustration here. It is placed to his credit on the page of history, and was one of the happiest impulses of good feeling and good sense combined, that ever public man acted upon in a situation demanding so much of both. The patriotic promptitude of his interference was even more striking than it appears in the record of his parlia mentary labours; for, as I have heard at but one remove from his own authority, while the Ministry were yet hesitating as to the steps they should take, he went to Mr. Dundas and said,-" My advice is that you cut the buoys on the river-send Sir Charles Grey down to the coast, and set a price on Parker's head. If the Administration take this advice instantly, they will save the country-if not, they will lose it; and, on their refusal, I will impeach them in the House of Commons this very evening."
Without dwelling on the contrast which is so often drawn -less with a view to elevate Sheridan than to depreciate his party-between the conduct of himself and his friends at this fearful crisis, it is impossible not to concede that, on the scale of public spirit, he rose as far superior to them as the great claims of the general safety transcend all per sonal considerations and all party ties. It was, indeed, a rare triumph of temper and sagacity. With less temper, he would have seen in this awful peril but an occasion of triumph over the Minister whom he had so long been struggling to overturn-and, with less sagacity, he would have thrown away the golden opportunity of establishing himself for ever in the affections and the memories of Englishmen,