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It was about this period that the writer of these pages. had, for the first time, the gratification of meeting Mr. Sheridan, at Donington-Park, the seat of the present Marquis of Hastings;-a circumstance which he recalls, not only with those lively impressions, that our first admiration of genius leaves behind, but with many other dreams of youth and hope, that still endear to him the mansion where that meeting took place, and among which gratitude to its noble owner is the only one, perhaps, that has not faded. Mr. Sheridan, I remember was just then furnishing a new house, and talked of a plan he had of levying contributions on his friends for a library. A set of books from each would, he calculated, amply accomplish it, and already the intimation of his design had begun to "breathe a soul into the silent walls."* The splendid and well-chosen library of Donington was, of course, not slow in furnishing its contingent; and little was it foreseen into what badges of penury these gifts of friendship would be converted at last.
As some acknowledgment of the services which Sheridan had rendered to the Ministry, (though professedly as a tribute to his public character in general,) Lord St. Vincent, about this time, made an offer to his son, Mr. Thomas Sheridan, of the place of Registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court of Malta,-an office which, during a period of war, is supposed to be of considerable emolument. The first impulse of Sheridan, when consulted on the proposal, was, as I have heard, not unfavourable to his son's acceptance of it. But on considering the new position which he had, himself, lately taken in politics, and the inference that might be drawn against the independence of his motives, if he submitted to an obligation which was but too liable to be interpreted, as less a return for past services than a lien upon him for future ones, he thought it safest for his character to sacrifice the advantage, and, desirable as was the provision for his son, obliged him to decline it.
The following passages of a letter to him from Mrs. She
ridan on this subject do the highest honour to her generosity, spirit, and good sense. They also confirm what has generally been understood, that the King, about this time, sent a most gracious message to Sheridan, expressive of the approbation with which he regarded his public conduct, and of the pleasure he should feel in conferring upon him some mark of his Royal favour :—
"I am more anxious than I can express about Tom's welfare. It is, indeed, unfortunate that you have been obliged to refuse these things for him, but surely there could not be two opinions; yet why will you neglect to observe those attentions that honour does not compel you to refuse? Don't you know that when once the King takes offence, he was never known to forgive? I suppose it would be impossible to have your motives explained to him, because it would touch his weak side, yet any thing is better than his attributing your refusal to contempt and indifference. Would to God I could bear these necessary losses instead of Tom, particularly as I so entirely approve of your conduct."
"I trust you will be able to do something positive for Tom about money. I am willing to make any sacrifice in the world for that purpose, and to live in any way whatever. Whatever he has now ought to be certain, or how will he know how to regulate his expenses?"
The fate, indeed, of young Sheridan was peculiarly tantalizing. Born and brought up in the midst of those bright hopes, which so long encircled his father's path, he saw them all die away as he became old enough to profit by them, leaving difficulty and disappointment, his only inheritance, behind. Unprovided with any profession by which he could secure his own independence, and shut out, as in this instance, from those means of advancement, which, it was feared, might compromise the independence of his father, he was made the victim even of the distinction of
his situation, and paid dearly for the glory of being the son of Sheridan. In the expression of his face, he resembled much his beautiful mother, and derived from her also the fatal complaint of which he died. His popularity in society was unexampled,-but he knew how to attach as well as amuse; and, though living chiefly with that class of persons, who pass over the surface of life, like Camilla over the corn, without leaving any impression of themselves behind, he had manly and intelligent qualities, that deserved a far better destiny. There are, indeed, few individuals, whose lives have been so gay and thoughtless, whom so many remember with cordiality and interest; and, among the numerous instances of discriminating good nature, by which the private conduct of His Royal Highness the Duke of York is distinguished, there are none that do him more honour than his prompt and efficient kindness to the interesting family that the son of Sheridan has left behind him.
Soon after the Declaration of War against France, when an immediate invasion was threatened by the enemy, the Heir Apparent, with the true spirit of an English Prince, came forward to make an offer of his personal service to the country. A correspondence upon the subject, it is well known, ensued, in the course of which His Royal Highness addressed letters to Mr. Addington, to the Duke of York, and the King. It has been sometimes stated that these letters were from the pen of Mr. Sheridan; but the first of the series was written by Sir Robert Wilson, and the remainder by Lord Hutchinson.
The death of Joseph Richards which took place this year, was felt as strongly by Sheridan as any thing can be felt, by those who, in the whirl of worldly pursuits, revolve too rapidly round Self, to let any thing rest long upon their surface. With a fidelity to his old habits of unpunctuality, at which the shade of Richardson might have smiled, he arrived too late at Bagshot for the funeral of his friend, but succeeded in persuading the good-natured clergyman to perform the ceremony over again. Mr. John Taylor, a
gentleman, whose love of good-fellowship and wit has made him the welcome associate of some of the brightest men of his day, was one of the assistants at this singular scene, and also joined in the party at the inn at Bedfont afterwards, where Sheridan, it is said, drained the "Cup of Memory" to his friend, till he found oblivion at the bottom.
At the close of the session of 1803, that strange diversity of opinions, into which the two leading parties were decomposed by the resignation of Mr. Pitt, had given way to new varieties, both of cohesion and separation, quite as little to be expected from the natural affinities of the ingredients concerned in them. Mr. Pitt, upon perceiving, in those to whom he had delegated his power, an inclination to surround themselves with such strength from the adverse ranks as would enable them to contest his resumption of the trust, had gradually withdrawn the sanction which he at first afforded them, and taken his station by the side of the other two parties in opposition, without, however, encumbering himself, in his views upon office, with either. By a similar movement, though upon different principles, Mr. Fox and the Whigs, who had begun by supporting the Ministry against the strong War-party of which Lord Grenville and Mr. Windham were the leaders, now entered into close co-operation with this new Opposition, and seemed inclined to forget both recent and ancient differences in a combined assault upon the tottering Administration of Mr. Addington.
The only parties, perhaps, that acted with consistency through these transactions, were Mr. Sheridan and the few who followed him on one side, and Lord Grenville and his friends on the other. The support which the former had given to the Ministry,-from a conviction that such was the true policy of his party,-he persevered in, notwithstanding the suspicions it drew down upon him, to the last; and, to the last, deprecated the connexion with the Grenvilles, as entangling his friends in the same sort of hollow partnership, out of which they had come bankrupts in character
and confidence before. the Opposition, of which Lord Grenville was the head, held a course direct and undeviating from beginning to end. Unfettered by those reservations in favour of Addington, which so long embarrassed the movements of their former leader, they at once started in opposition to the Peace and the Ministry, and, with not only Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, but the whole people of England against them, persevered till they had ranged all these several parties on their side:nor was it altogether without reason that this party afterwards boasted that, if any abandonment of principle had occurred in the connection between them and the Whigs, the surrender was assuredly not from their side.
In like manner, it must be owned
Early in the year 1804, on the death of Lord Elliot, the office of Receiver of the Duchy of Cornwall, which had been held by that nobleman, was bestowed by the Prince of Wales upon Mr. Sheridan, " as a trifling proof of that sincere friendship His Royal Highness had always professed and felt for him through a long series of years." His Royal Highness also added, in the same communication, the very cordial words, "I wish to God it was better worth your acceptance."
The following letter from Sheridan to Mr. Addington, communicating the intelligence of this appointment, shows pretty plainly the terms on which he not only now stood, but was well inclined to continue, with that Minister:
"DEAR SIR, George-Street, Tuesday evening. "Convinced as I am of the sincerity of your good will towards me, I do not regard it as an impertinent intrusion to inform you that the Prince has, in the most gracious manner, and wholly unsolicited, been pleased to appoint me
In a letter written this year by Mr. Thomas Sheridan to his father, there is the following passage :
"I am glad you intend writing to Lord -; he is quite right about politics,-reprobates the idea most strongly of any union with the Grenvilles, &c. which, he says, he sees is Fox's leaning. I agreed with your father perfectly on the subject, when I left him in town; but when I saw Charles at St. Ann's Hill, I perceived he was wrong and obstinate.'"