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ward to the highest distinctions of combined to add their impulses to the genius, and hope
infatuation of splendid extravagance ; "To rival all but Shakespeare's name below."
a passion fairly entitled to its place
among those moral diseases for which Though it is easy for the thoughtful there is no cure but ruin. moralist to discern even among the The social temperament which leads sources of his prosperity, the fine taint to the excesses of pleasure and expence of disease, and to trace the causes of is among the most prominent disposireverse; yet it cannot be denied that the tions of our nature, and at all times to chances of the game of life were in be illustrated from every scene of his favor ; and it may be permitted to human life. But if we may be underthe biographer to look with a subdued stood comparatively, it was peculiarly complacency on the splendid elevation the feature of that generation. Wit of so many talents, and so many amia- was then a passport to the heart of ble and attractive dispositions, into society, for it gave a fascination to contheir appropriate position in the world. viviality ; it usurped a wizard influence
His means were at this time sensibly over those orgies which held a spell improved. His command of money now happily forgotten, over the tastes of encreased from different sources. of the aristocracy. Wine held its place these, however, it is to be admitted, with woman in the song, and flowing some were not consistent with pru- bowls were celebrated in conjunction dence. With the improvidence which with sparkling eyes : good fellowship belonged to his temperament, he began was the praise and ambition of ordiearly to draw upon the future, and to nary men, and to be a thoroughly good live upon those resources which his fellow was to combine a moderately popular attractions, and his wit laid fair reputation as a drunkard, a game: open to him. But of this we shall ster and a rake. Much of the truth have too much to say. During the of this might be made to appear from present interval he is thought to have the numerous memoirs of the time. partly lived by periodical writing, in But we must content ourselves with which he received some assistance the reference we have made to its from the talent of his wife. Another songs ;-the song is always sure to source of income must have been still
contain a strong reflection of the spirit more productive. Though he had of the age. The charm in which care refused to permit the public exhibition and the tedium of life were drowned, of his wife as a singer; yet the free- was heightened by the cordial expan. dom of his expenditure made any en- sion of the exbilarated breast, and crease to his means too important to enlivened by the electric overflow of be rejected ; the method of private wit, or humour. Then were these concerts was soon adopted, and as his noctes cænæque, of which the faint own popularity enforced the attractions echo does not linger in the hall
, and of Mrs. Sheridan's voice, beauty, and brother wits, in the fulness of the skill, it is probable that, after all, no- heart, were called Dick, and Ned, and thing was lost by the confinement of Tom, and cracked jokes, or played gay these resources to the benefit of their
pranks on each other with the maliciproprietors. The style in which they ous pleasantry of schoolboys. It is soon began to live, was, however, pro- easy to understand the adaptation of fuse, and Sheridan was by nature both such scenes, for unfolding and illushospitable and generous. He never, trating the peculiar social powers at any period of his life, had any sense Sheridan. The refined and graceful of the value of money, and with his allusion, the play of sentiment, the reself-reliance of temper, he entertained partee of unrivalled pungency, the no fear of want. He, therefore, began, humor of comic narration, and the as he continued to lavish such re- adroit practical humbug of which so sources as he could command. The
many instances are universally known. class from which both himself and his These must of themselves have amount wife were just emerging, is, by all its ed to a ruling influence over the spirit habits, addicted to expense ; revelry is of life. There was not then, as there its profession-dissipation its babit- had been in the former reign, and has its taste is festivity. With this, the since in a measure returned, the chilling ambition of genius, the temper social hauteur which guards the passes of priby nature, and the love of elegance vilege and fashion. The distinctions, too, that was native to a taste like his,
of mind, while they had a higher social
value, were not yet depreciated by abun- was weaving its meshes round him at dance and universal diffusion. Litera- every advance, and the almost festal ture had not expanded into a wholesale abandonment of his home circle, and manufacture of headless and heartless his brilliant increase in reputation and workhouse ware : and there was more infuence. His house was the home of real power in Grub-street, than is now gay attraction ; and those hours which sufficient to supply the daily wisdom of were not engaged in the earnest and a literary nation. The gold of that gay absorbing whirl of politics and party, generation has been, by a liberal alloy, were given to mirth and frolic dissipamultiplied into brass, and retaining its tion. Drury-lane, although contracting use has ceased to be ornamental. "We and accumulating embarrassment not to may, indeed, aptly apply to literature be retrieved, was yet supplying a re. of every class, and to every department spectable income; and this was sunk, of mental effort, what Mr. Moore says as it was received, in the splendour of of poetry :
hospitality that knew no bounds. · Besides, in poetry the temptation of Of this prosperous interval Mr. distinction no longer exists : the common- Moore has amassed an interesting ness of that talent in the market, at pre- collection of facts and anecdotes, in sent, being such as to reduce the value of the perusal of which the above reflecan elegant copy of verses very far below tions have been suggested. There are the price it was at, when Mr. Hayley letters to and from his wife, which exenjoyed an almost exclusive monopoly of hibit the steadiness of his domestic the article,”
affections, and while they afford an Sheridan's house became a centre of occasional indication of ihe morbid wit, song, and gay festivity ; a splendid sensitiveness to which we have already income, dissipated without control, or traced so much, they show the amiaprovidence of the future, added its bility and generosity of a character substantial attractions to the fascination which there was much to corrupt and of elegance, beauty, and genius. His much to pervert in the habits of his hand was not more lavish to spend, life. than free to give ; and had a little pru- Besides that conversational wit which dence governed his lifc--or if events is preserved in his writings, Sheridan peculiarly unfortunate, bad not con- was, as might be imagined, equally enspired with his own imprudence, he dowed with that adroit spirit of frolic might have been commemorated as one and facetious mischief which consists in formed to ornament prosperity by mu- practical jokes. These he was in the nificence and the virtues of splendid habit of pursuing occasionally to a very bospitality, rather than “to point a extreme length.* His biographers have moral” by the bright promise of his preserved some amusing specimens. beginning, and the sad realization of his We must now return to the detail of decline.
that portion of his life, by which his It is, indeed, a curious, but melan- place among the illustrious names of choly reflection in his history, that the British talent must be fixed. The most causes of ruin, and those of advancing splendid of his dramatic successes are prosperity, were at this early period before us, and he was yet to produce advancing with a coordinate progress; the first comedy in any language. We as the seed of some latent fatal disease, cannot, with due regard to the scale which must ere long destroy life, grows on which these sketches are written, into strength and virulence with the and the abundance of our subject, af. growth of the living powers. And ford to lead the reader's mind through to the reflecting reader, there is a strong the anxious and interesting interval and feeling contrast, between the con- spent in the preparation of “ The dition of pecuniary entanglement, which Duenna." To do adequate justice
Among his own immediate associates, the gaiety of his spirits amounted almost to boyishness. He delighted in all sorts of dramatic tricks and disguises; and the lively parties, with which his country-house was always filled, were kept in momentary expectation of some new device for their mystification or amusement.
It was not unusual to despatch a man and horse seven or eight miles for a piece of crape or a mask, or some other such trifle for these frolics. His friends Tickeil and Richardson, both men of wit and humour, and the former possessing the same degree of light animal spirits as himself, were the constant companions of a! his social hours, and kept up with him that ready rebound of pleasantry, without which the play of wit languishes.—Moore's Life of Sheridan.
to this most important portion of lite- of sympathies, and an earnest suspense rary history, requires the ample space of interest, which soon becomes impaof a voluminous work, as it can only be tient of the play of fancy; the song effected by a detail in which nothing becomes inappropriate, and the jest is too minute to be important. Mr. impertinent, while tragic terrors are Moore has been enabled to trace the yet impending, and human affections progress of the successful dramatist by are yet writhing in the suspense of a succession of authentic documents, jealous doubt. Any plot not absurd for which, if we had space-yet it enough to divert attention too forcibly, would be a matter of doubt whether or to untune the spirits for the play of we could fairly appropriate that which humor, and the fascination of song, is gives its principal value to an able all that is to be desired to create an work, to which we must acknowledge excuse for the clegant triling of the our obligations. Sheridan's correspon- comic muse ; a playful and fantastic dence with Mr. Linley exhibits bis turn is given to the incidents, which judgment, his earnest anxiety, and the thus not only do not impede, but diligence of his preparation. He heighten the effect of the whole. seems to have labored much under the The Duenna came out on the 21st usual embarrassment of those who of Nov., 1775, at Covent-Garder. have to fit their labors to the capabili. Its success was prodigious and unpreties and caprices of actors. And cedented; it ran for ninety-five nights. these seem to have been aggravated One cause contributed, it is said, (we by a peculiar embarrassment in this think by Mr. Moore,) to its success; instance. Leoni, an eminent singer, the adaptation of the songs to popular who was to act Don Carlos, could not airs. The electric etřect of a favourite speak English well enough for the pur- air, on a crowded theatre, is too well pose of the dialogue, and it was there- known for comment; and the manner fore impossible to assign him that part in which the effect thus produced is in the dialogue which a principal part heightened by surprise, will occur to in the drama might demand. Sheri- every one. dan's ingenuity conquered this obsta- In the same year he entered into a cle. After all, on consideration, it treaty with Garrick, for Drury Lane. may not appear so great. A musical This extraordinary man, still in the drama cannot be dependant on the vigor of his great powers, had made interest of the plot, in the degree up his mind to retire into private life. which might be inferred from the lan- He had, by talent and prudence, reaguage of the critics of this piece. Its lized a fortune, which may well have plot is praised by some and censured excited the most golden dreams in a by others. We shall here give our own successor's imagination. Sheridan had reason for thinking it just what it should been introduced to Garrick by Res. have been, for the purpose intended. nolds, at whose table, the centre of the The fault often found with the Duen- wit and talent of the day, they had an na is the exaggeration of its characters, opportuuity of ripening mutual admiraand the absurdity of its incidents, when tion into friendship. It was, therefore, measured by the test of nature or real probably by the advice of Garrick, life. Now, all this is in truth a consis. ibat Sheridan resolved to embark in a tent artifice of the design. It is not speculation so fraught with extreme within the scope of legitimate art to contingencies. Garrick probably found attempt to excite the attention, by the increasing difficulty of controlling several distinct interests. This want the humors and reconciling the broils of harmony and unity of effect could of these “children of a larger growth" only tend to einbarrass the spectator, who “strut and fret their hour" in no and dissipate the attention. The in- figurative import, in the green room, tent of the Duenna is to delight by as well as on the stage. He thought, inusic, and to relieve attention by the however, that the splendid powers of intervals of humour and playful wit. Sheridan as a writer, and his address The plot is no more than the light as a man, would have the effect of frame for these ; and, consistently with giving renewed attraction to the stage, its purpose, cannot be allowed to at- and governing its petty intestine broils. tract tlie attention from them by con- Sheridan was doubtless of the same centrating the mind of the spectator opinion, and it must be admitted that on the deeper sympathies of human their premises were specious enough. nature. There is, in the progress of a Garrick's friendship smoothed the way well-wrought fiction, an accumulation for an arrangement, which, consider
ing Sheridan's mcans, must have other- brugh's feeble and licentious comedy of wise been attended with serious diffi- the Relapse, must have given much culties, and when the agreement was disappointment. In pruning its licenconcluded, Sheridan's £10,000 was tiousness he evaporated the little advanced by two intimate friends of humour it contained, and substituted Mr. Garrick, on two mortgages of bis nothing of his own. share in the theatre.* After some nc. It is Mr. Moore's opinion, and his gociation the following arrangement facts support it, that the first sketch was effected. Sheridan paid £10,000; of the School for Scandal was among Mr. Linley the same ; Dr. Ford the earliest dramatic efforts of Sheri£15,000; the rest of the estate re- dan. Aud the finished composition, maining in Mr. Lacy, who had been all perfect in its kind as it is, is not Mr. Garrick's partner. Sheridan's more deserving of admiration than the confidence in the success of this specu- history of its growth is worthy of the lation is strongly expressed in the fol- student's attention. It indeed exhibits, lowing extract of a letter to Mr. Lin- on a scale of unusual breadth, the seley :
crets of the midnight lamp. In ex“ The truth is, that, in all undertak- tenuation of an exposure which has ings which depend principally upon our- given offence to the sympathies of selves
, the surest way not to fail is to authorship, we have already said determine to succeed."
enough. Sheridan's ambition to excel
has, nevertheless, supplied very aggraSuch determinations are, we believe, vated instances. But it is the propermore frequent than their fulfilment; ty of genius to be capable of indefiand, however essentially they may nite improvement, and it may be useform a part of the resolution that ful to ambitious mediocrity to learn this leads to success, must depend for truth, that no toil or time could have their entire value on the prudent and achieved those excellencies which the persevering activity which can alone dull may presume to attribute to any ensure it. So far as his ambition sup- effort within their compass. The vulplied the motive, and his vanity the sti- gar adage about silk purse out of a mulus, no one could be more laborious sow's ear,” has a justness of applicaor persevering ; hence the anxious di- tion that may excuse its homeliness. ligence in the elaboration of his There cannot in truth be a surer test dramas. But for money, he had no of high ideal excellence, than this longfeelings; his heart could not be en- continued progress of successful regaged in the commercial details of life; fining; and it will be but fair to oband, though his sagacity was prompt serve and admit how small are the imto seize upon an apparent advantage, provements which the toil of years and his fancy to be dazzled by the can add to the first conception of the ambitious dream of realizing afluence, moment. They who would lessen the yet it was but the ardor of speculation value of the ultimate result, by the which seldom follows out the dream of charge of labor, would in few instances future splendor, into the wearisome be competent to distinguish the merit of paths by which it is to be acquired. changes, which can only be appreNothing can be more at variance, than ciated by the eye of disciplined taste. the spirit that loves the splendor of A thousand years of labor could not affluence, and the spirit that acquires have enabled Hayley to write “Comus," it. The impulse continued not long, or Cumberland the “ School for Scanbut it was, for a while, seconded by dal.” those of a different kind. The position We have attributed something of in which he was now placed, was one the turn of Sheridan's wit to his sothat placed him under the influences journ in Bath. Mr. Moore confirms of the public, and he bad yet in reserve the notion by his critical history of a conservative supply of strength, in his this piece. The sketch out of which it long-projected and uufinished dramas, may be said to have grown, bears which lay ripening in his mind. strong evidence to the source.
His first efforts were not such as to bodies the living spirit of the scene answer the very high expectations of with a force and a fidelity which leaves his friends. The alteration of Van- no room for doubt. Bath, the indiscri
• It is fair to apprize the reader that Mr. Moore dissents from this. We, of course, adopt our own judgment. The matter is not important enough for extracts. minate concourse of every rank, in aspect and form of language, and which so much of the ordinary con- changed from place to place, until it straints of human character have been was placed to the best advantage. conventionally softened, has always There was throughout a running atbeen the fertile scene of satire. The tendance of stray points, which foiloved human character is masked by manners in the margin, for preferment to vacant and the etiquettes of social life, and speeches. Thus was worked out a the slightest relaxation of these ex. comedy which, for keen and polisbed poses a world of follies else unnoticea- wit and delicate delineation of human ble. The humbler classes assert their views and follies, as well as for the claim by ostentatious affectations which consummate finish of its simple and set off vulgarity in a broader light, and pointed style, must place its author their superiors compensate themselves above all 'rivalry as a comic writer, by laughter. The infirm are brought unless indeed we should assign the into contact with youth and gaiety – palm to the more natural, easy and the adventurer with the orderly—the characteristic dramas of Goldsmith, in wit with the laughable and the simple: whom much that was sought with art while the ordinary restraints of social by others, seems to be the spontaneous convention are lost in the vast and in- felicity of nature. discriminate contacts of this vast vanity- What we have said of the Duenna, fair of England. What folly, vice, is applicable to the School for Scandal. envy, diseased minds and bodies, would Its interest is not in the plot, but in conceal-scandal, the child of idleness the workings of character, and the inand spleen, does not fail to spy with imitable satire ; the moral of the piece its thousand eyes, and whisper about can, however, only be defended by with the amplification of its thousand evasion, The best defence that can tongues.* And this is the very essence be offered is that mentioned by Mr. of the “ School for Scandal". the Moore, that there was worse before it. truest yet severest picture of life that It was not a corruption, but an ameliever came from mortal band.
oration. Mr. Moore only thinks it We cannot agree in the opinion necessary to defend "the gay cbarm which imputes to Sheridan the borrow. thrown around the irregularities of ing of anything from Wycherly, The Charles.” The “poetical justice exerassumption is unnecessary. Much of cised upon the Turtuffe of sentiment," his education must be referred to his (Joseph Surface,) he places in the opearly acquaintance with the drama. posite scale, as “a service done io And there is an involuntary and una- inorals.” The time is past when this voidable reproduction of acquired no- would be worth disputing by argument ; tious, from which it is unnecessary to but we must strongly record our prodefend him. But bis real affluence of test against the fallacy. No one so wit, the abundance of his materials, well acquainted with life as Mr. Moore, and the industry of his observation, can be ignorant that the real effect of make it altogether unreasonable to Joseph Surface is far worse than that presume that he would incur so need- which he thinks it necessary to defend. less and derogatory an obligation.
The favorite cant of open profligacy Mr. Moore exhibits in detail the is the charge of " hypocrisy:- and the slow steps of the progress, in which only real effect of the character is to two distinct sketches, having different bring the higher decencies of life into plots, became at length combined and ridicule, by painting them as the ostenmoulded into one. And the still more tatious cloak of vice, and contrasting interesting and curious process, by them with the fictitious combination of which point and witty satire became virtue in the guise of airy libertinism. condensed and accumulated by study, We are not so much concerned with the until the whole was kindled into a moral exaggeration of both characters, dazzling excess, that pervades every as with the illusive effect. It is enough sentence, and animates every character. that the dramatist has supplied the light In this Sheridan appears to have and thoughtless with a defence of folly, seized
and treasured every hint. and a weapon against prudence and Every point too was turned in every virtue. The truth of the portraiture
* We subjoin Mr. Moore's singularly happy image, “ that group of slanderers who, like the Chorus of the Eumenides, searching about for their prey, with eyes that drop poison.'”