Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

this nature,-the one, in affairs of business, approaching almost as near to the extreme of rigour as the other to that of laxity. While Sheridan, too,-like those painters, who endeavour to disguise their ignorance of anatomy by an indistinct and furzy outline,-had an imposing method of generalising his accounts and statements, which, to most eyes, concealed the negligence and fallacy of the details, Mr. Whitbread, on the contrary, with an unrelenting accuracy, laid open the minutæ of every transaction, and made evasion as impossible to others, as it was alien and inconceivable to himself. He was, perhaps, the only person, whom Sheridan had ever found proof against his powers of persuasion,-and this rigidity naturally mortified his pride full as much as it thwarted and disconcerted his views.

Among the conditions to which he agreed, in order to facilitate the arrangements of the Committee, the most painful to him was that which stipulated that he, himself, should have no concern or connexion, of any kind whatever, with the new undertaking." This concession, how. ever, he, at first, regarded as a mere matter of form-feel. ing confident that, even without any effort of his own, the necessity under which the new Committee would find themselves of recurring to his advice and assistance, would, ere long, reinstate him in all his former influence. But in this hope he was disappointed-his exclusion from all concern in the new Theatre, (which, it is said, was made a sine-quanon by all who embarked in it,) was inexorably enforced by Whitbread; and the following letter addressed by him to the latter will show the state of their respective feelings on this point:

“MY DEAR WHITBREAD, “ I am not going to write you a controversial or even an argumentative letter, but simply to put down the heads of a few matters which I wish shortly to converse with you upon, in the most amicable and temperate manner, deprecating the impatience which may sometimes have mixed in our discussions, and not contending who has been the age gressor.

The main point you seem to have had so much at heart you have carried, so there is an end of that; and I shall as fairly and cordially endeavour to advise and assist Mr. Benjamin Wyatt in the improving and perfecting his plan as if it had been my own preferable selection, assuming, as I must do, that there cannot exist an individual in England so presumptuous or so void of common sense as not sincerely to solicit the aid of my practical experience on this occasion, even were I not, in justice to the Subscribers, bound spontaneously to offer it.

“But it would be unmanly dissimulation in me to retain the sentiments I do with respect to your doctrine on this subject, and not express what I so strongly feel. That doctrine was, to my utter astonishment, to say no more, first promulgated to me in a letter from you, written in town, in the following terms. Speaking of building and plans, you say to me, 'You are in no way answerable if a bad Theatre is built : it is not you who build it; and if we come to the STRICT RIGHT of the thing, you have NO BUSINESS TO INTERFERE;' and further on you say, Will you but STAND ALOOF, and every thing will go smooth, and a good Theatre shall be built;' and in conversation you put, as a similar case, that, 'if a man sold another a piece of land, it was nothing to the seller whether the purchaser built himself a good or a bad house upon it. Now I declare before God I never felt more amazement than that a man of your powerful intellect, just view of all subjects, and knowledge of the world, should hold such language or resort to such arguments; and I must be convinced, that, although in an impatient moment this opinion may have fallen from you, upon the least reflection or the slightest attention to the reason of the case, you would, albeit unused to the retracting mood, confess the erroneous view you had taken of the subject. Otherwise, I must think, and with the deepest regret would it be, that although you originally engaged in this business from motives of the purest and kindest regard for me and my family,

your ardour and zealous eagerness to accomplish the difficult task you had undertaken have led you, in this instance, to overlook what is due to my feelings, to my honour, and my just interests. For, supposing I were to stand aloof;' totally unconcerned, provided I were paid for my share, whether the new Theatre were excellent or execrable, and that the result should be that the Subscribers, instead of profit, could not, through the misconstruction of the house, obtain one per cent. for their money, do you seriously believe you could find a single man, woman, or child, in the kingdom, out of the Committee, who would believe that I was wholly guiltless of the failure, having been so stultified and proscribed by the Committee, (a Committee of my own nomination,) as to have been compelled to admit, as the condition of my being paid for my share, that "it was nothing to me whether the Theatre was good or bad ?' or, on the contrary, can it be denied that the reproaches of disappointment, through the great body of the Subscribers, would be directed against me and me alone ?

“So much as to character :-now as to my feelings on the subject; I must say that in friendship, at least, if not in strict right, they ought to be consulted, even though the Committee could either prove that I had not to apprehend any share in the discredit and discontent which might follow the ill success of their plan, or that I was entitled to brave whatever malice or ignorance might direct against me. Next, and lastly, as to my just interest in the property I am to part with, a consideration to which, however careless I might be were I alone concerned, I am bound to attend in justice to my own private creditors, observe how the matter stands :- I agree to wave my own strict right to be paid before the funds can be applied to the building, and this in the confidence and on the continued understanding, that my advice should be so far respected, that, even should the subscription not fill, I should at least see a Theatre capable of being charged with and ultimately of discharging what should remain justly due to the proprietors. To illustrate this I refer to the size of the pit, the number of private boxes, and the annexation of a tavern; but in what a situation would the doctrine of your Committee leave me and my son? 'It is nothing to us how the Theatre is built, or whether it prospers or not. These are two circumstances we have nothing to do with; only, unfortunately, upon them may depend our best chance of receiving any payment for the property we part with. It is nothing to us how the ship is refitted or manned, only we must leave all we are worth on board her, and abide the chance of her success. Now I am confident your justice will see, that in order that the Committee should, in strict right,' become entitled to deal thus with us, and bid us stand aloof, they should buy us out, and make good the payment. But the reverse of this has been my own proposal, and I neither repent nor wish to make any change in it.

“ I have totally departed from my intention, when I first began this letter, for which I ought to apologize to you ; but it may save much future talk: other less important matters will do in conversation. You will allow that I have placed in you the most implicit confidence-have the reasonable trust in me that, in any communication I may have with B. Wyatt, my object will not be to obstruct, as you have hastily expressed it, but bona fide to assist him to render his Theatre as perfect as possible, as well with a view to the public accommodation as to profit to the Subscribers; neither of which can be obtained without establishing a reputation for him which must be the basis of his future fortune.

“ And now, after all this statement, you will perhaps be surprised to find how little I require ;-simply some Resolution of the Committee to the effect of that I enclose.

“ I conclude with heartily thanking you for the declaration you made respecting me, and reported to me by Peter Moore, at the close of the last meeting of the Committee. I am convinced of your sincerity ; but as I have before described the character of the gratitude I feel towards you

in a letter written likewise in this house, I have only to say, that every sentiment in that letter remains unabated and unalterable. “Ever, my dear Whitbread,

“ Yours, faithfully. " P. S. The discussion we had yesterday respecting some investigation of the past, which I deem so essential to my character and to my .peace of mind, and your present concurrence with me on that subject, have relieved my mind from great anxiety, though I cannot but still think the better opportunity has been passed by. One word more, and I release you. Tom informed me that hinted to him that any demands, not practicable to be settled by the Committee, must fall on the proprietors. My resolution is to take all such on myself, and to leave Tom's share untouched.”

you had

Another concession, which Sheridan himself had volunteered, namely, the postponement of his right of being paid the amount of his claim, till after the Theatre should be built, was also a subject of much acrimonious discussion between the two friends,-Sheridan applying to this condition that sort of lax interpretation, which would have left him the credit of the sacrifice without its inconvenience, and Whitbread, with a firmness of grasp, to which, unluckily, the other had been unaccustomed in business, holding him to the strict letter of his voluntary agreement with the Subscribers. Never, indeed, was there a more melancholy example than Sheridan exhibited, at this moment, of the last, hard struggle of pride and delicacy against the most deadly foe of both, pecuniary involvement, which thus gathers round its victims, fold after fold, till they are at length crushed in its inextricable clasp.

The mere likelihood of a sum of money being placed at his disposal was sufficient-like the “bright day that brings forth the adder”—to call into life the activity of all his duns; and how liberally he made the fund available among them, appears from the following letter of Whitbread, addressed, not to Sheridan himself, but, apparently, (for the direc

« AnteriorContinuar »