« PreviousContinue »
A curious instance of the indolence and procrastinating habits of Sheridan used to be related by Woodfall, as having occurred about this time. A statement of his conduct in the duels having appeared in one of the Bath papers, so false and calumnious as to require an immediate answer, he called upon Woodfall to request that his paper might be the medium of it. But wishing, as he said, that the public should have the whole matter fairly before them, he thought it right that the offensive statement should first be inserted, and in a day or two after be followed by his answer, which would thus come with more relevancy and effect. In compliance with his wish, Woodfall lost not a moment, in transcribing the calumnious article into his columns-not doubting, of course, that the refutation of it would be furnished with still greater eagerness. Day after day, however, elapsed, and, notwithstanding frequent applications on the one side, and promises on the other, not a line of the answer was ever sent by Sheridan,—who, having expended all his activity in assisting the circulation of the poison, had not industry enough left to supply the antidote. Throughout his whole life, indeed, he but too consistently acted upon the principles, which the first Lord Holland used playfully to impress upon his son :—“ Never do to-day what you can possibly put off till to-morrow, nor ever do, yourself, what you can get any one else to do for you."
Domestic circumstances.-Fragments of essays found among his papers. Comedy of " The Rivals."--Answer to “Taxation no Tyranny.”—Farce of "St. Patrick's Day."
A FEW weeks previous to his marriage, Sheridan had been entered a student of the Middle Temple. It was not, however, to be expected that talents like his, so sure of a quick return of fame and emolument, would wait for the distant and dearly-earned emoluments, which a life of labour in this profession promises. Nor, indeed, did his circumstances admit of any such patient speculation. A part of the sum which Mr. Long had settled upon Miss Linley, and occasional assistance from her father (his own having withdrawn all countenance from him,) were now VOL. I.
the only resources, beside his own talents, left him. The celebrity of Mrs. Sheridan as a singer was, it is true, a ready source of wealth; and offers of the most advantageous kind were pressed upon them, by managers of concerts both in town and country. But with a pride and delicacy, which received the tribute of Dr. Johnson's praise, he rejected at once all thoughts of allowing her to re-appear in public; and, instead of profiting by the display of his wife's talents, adopted the manlier resolution of seeking an independence by his own. An engagement had been made for her some months before by her father, to perform at the music-meeting that was to take place at Worcester this summer. But Sheridan, who considered that his own claims upon her had superseded all others, would not suffer her to keep this engagement.
How decided his mind was upon the subject will appear from the following letter, written by him to Mr. Linley about a month after his marriage, and containing some other interesting particulars, that show the temptations with which his pride had, at this time, to struggle :
East Burnham, May 12, 1773.
"I purposely deferred writing to you till I should have settled all matters in London, and in some degree settled ourselves at our little home. Some unforseen delays prevented my finishing with Swale till Thursday last, when every thing was concluded. I likewise settled with him for his own account, as he brought it to me, and for a friendly bill, it is pretty decent.-Yours of the 3d instant did not reach me till yesterday, by reason of its missing us at Morden. As to the principal point it treats of, I had given my answer some days ago to Mr. Isaac of Worcester. He had inclosed a letter to Storace for my wife, in which he dwells much on the nature of the agreement you had made for her eight months ago, and adds, that 'as this is no new application, but a request that you (Mrs. S.) will fulfil a positive engagement, the breach of which would prove of fatal consequence to our meeting, I hope Mr. Sheridan will think his honour in some degree concerned in fulfilling it.'--Mr. Storace, in order to enforce Mr. Isaac's argument, showed me his letter on the same subject to him, which begins with saying, 'We must have Mrs. Sheridan, somehow or other, if possible!'-the plain English of which is, that, if her husband is not willing to let her per
form, we will persuade him that he acts dishonourably in preventing her from fulfilling a positive engagement. This I conceive to be the very worst mode of application that could have been taken; as there really is not common sense in the idea that my honour can be concerned in my wife's fulfilling an engagement, which it is impossible she should ever ave made.—Nor (as I wrote Mr. Isaac) can you, who gave the promise, whatever it was, be in the least charged with the breach of it, as your daughter's marriage was an event which must always have been looked to by them as quite as natural a period to your right over her as her death. And, in my opinion, it would have been just as reasonable to have applied to you to fulfil your engagement in the latter case as in the former. As to the imprudence of declining this engagement, I do not think, even were we to suppose that my wife should ever on any occasion appear again in public, there would be the least at present. For instance, I have had a gentleman with me from Oxford (where they do not claim the least right as from an engagement,) who has endeavoured to place the idea of my complimenting the University with Betsey's performance in the strongest light of advantage to me. This he said, on my declining to let her perform on any agreement. He likewise informed me, that he had just left Lord North (the Chancellor,) who, he assured me, would look upon it as the highest compliment, and had expressed himself so to him. Now, should it be a point of inclination or convenience to me to break my resolution with regard to Betsey's performing, there surely would be more sense in obliging Lord North (and probably from his own application) and the University, than Lord Coventry and Mr. Isaac. For, were she to sing at Worcester, there would not be the least compliment in her performing at Oxford. Indeed, they would have a right to claim it--particularly, as that is the mode of application they have chosen from Worcester. I have mentioned the Oxford matter merely as an argument, that I can have no kind of inducement to accept of the proposal from Worcester. And, as I have written fully on the subject to Mr. Isaac, I think there will be no occasion for you to give any further reasons to Lord Coventry-only that I am sorry I cannot accept of his proposal, civilities, &c. &c., and refer him for my motives to Mr. Isaac, as what I have said to you on the subject I mean for you only, and if more remains to be argued on the subject
in general, we must defer it till we meet, which you have given us reason to hope will not be long first.
"As this is a letter of business chiefly, I shall say little of our situation and arrangement of affairs, but that I think we are as happy as those who wish us best could desire. There is but one thing that has the least weight upon me, though it is one I was prepared for. But time, while it strengthens the other blessings we possess, will, I hope, add that to the number. You will know that I speak with regard to my father. Betsey informs me you have written to him again-have you heard from him?
"I should hope to hear from you very soon, and I assure you, you shall now find me a very exact correspondent; though I hope you will not give me leave to confirm my character in that respect before we meet.
"As there is with this a letter for Polly and you, I shall only charge you with mine and Betsey's best love to her, mother, and Tom, &c. &c. and believe me your sincere friend and affectionate son,
"R. B. SHERIDAN."
At East Burnham, from whence this letter is dated, they were now living in a small cottage, to which they had retired immediately on their marriage, and to which they often look back with a sigh in after-times, when they were more prosperous, but less happy. It was during a very short absence from this cottage, that the following lines were written by him
"Teach me, kind Hymen, teach,-for thou
* It will be perceived that the eight following lines are the foundation of the song "What bard, oh Time," in the Duenna.
Still o'er the gay and o'er the young
True, she is mine, and, since she's mine,
Towards the winter they went to lodge for a short time with Storace, the intimate friend of Mr. Linley, and in the following year attained that first step of independence, a house to themselves;-Mr. Linley having kindly supplied the furniture of their new residence, which was in Orchard-Street, Portman-Square. During the summer of 1774, they passed some time at Mr. Canning's and Lord Coventry's; but, so little did these visits interfere with the literary industry of Sheridan, that, as appears from the following letter 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:”
Nov. 17th, 1774.
"If I were to attempt to make as many apologies as my