Page images

amid the flowers, the fruits, and the trees which he had planted, and with the recollections of the mother who had watched over and matured the promise of his youth." The former hope was accomplished, but the progress of his disease made the fulfilment of the latter impossible. His mind was still vigorous, and his desire and capacity for intellectual labor remained undiminished; but the frail tenement in which the strong spirit was lodged gave evident tokens of approaching dissolution. On the 9th of May, he wrote the last sentence of his history, and during the latter part of the month he drew up a detailed catalogue of his works, which is in some measure an autobiography. On the 8th of June, he corrected the first four proof-sheets of the 29th volume of his history.

"On the 10th, he wrote two letters, one to the son of his old bailiff, at Val Chiusa, to remind him that a small pension which this peasant had engaged to pay to his mother, who was a widow, was due. The other letter, which gave to a Bordelais, employed on a History of the Vaudois, the list which he had asked him for, of the authors which he ought to read, ended with the words of the gladiator to Cæsar, Moriturus te salutat. On the 13th, the dying man still corrected proofs. On the 14th, he added a codicil to his will, in which, acknowledging the blessings which Providence had heaped upon him, he surrenders his soul into the hands of God, and begs his wife, and all those who bestowed their affection on him, to see him depart with love, but without regret, as he himself quits this world, and all in it which he held dear.'

"On the 25th of June, he continued lying down, motionless, and without speaking till about one o'clock; then he asked to get up. He was dressed and laid on a sofa, where he remained quiet, and at three o'clock in the afternoon he ceased to breathe." p.


It is not necessary to make any elaborate attempt to draw the character or write the eulogy of such a man, after furnishing even the most imperfect sketch of his life and undertakings. Those who wish to know more of him must seek information from his own writings. But to show the estimation in which he was held in France, even by those who were not the most capable of appreciating such works as his, we may borrow the conclusion of M. Mignet's éloge, read before the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences on the 17th of May, 1845.

"M. de Sismondi is one of those men who have done most honor to literature by the greatness of their labors and by the dignity of their lives. No one has more earnestly considered the duties of intellect. Amiable in his private relations, devoted in friendship, indulgent towards others, severe to himself, endowed with an activity which never at any time relaxed, with a sincerity which never on any occasion belied itself, he possessed in the highest degree the love of justice and a passion for good. With these noble sentiments he has imbued politics, history, social economy; he made these contribute to the cautious progress of the institutions of states, to the instruction and well-being of nations. For half a century he has thought nothing that was not honorable, written nothing that was not moral, wished nothing that was not useful; thus has he left a glorious memory, which will be ever respected. In him the Academy has lost one of its most eminent associates, Geneva one of her most illustrious citizens, humanity one of its most devoted defenders." — p. 24.

[ocr errors]

ART. III. 1. The Dramatic Works of RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. With a Biographical and Critical Sketch. By LEIGH HUNT. London: Edward Moxon. 8vo. pp. 153.

2. Speeches of the RIGHT HONORABLE RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN. Edited by a Constitutional Friend. London: Henry G. Bohn. 3 vols. 8vo.

THE elegant edition of Sheridan's dramatic works, published by Moxon, betrays one strange blunder, by including the entertainment of The Camp, a feeble farce written by Sheridan's friend Tickell, and altogether unworthy of preservation in any form. The biography furnished by Leigh Hunt possesses little merit beyond an occasional luckiness of phrase and an occasional felicity of criticism. It is written with more than his usual languid jauntiness of style, and with less than his usual sweetness of fancy. Indeed, that cant of good feeling and conceit of heartiness, which, expressed in a certain sparkling flatness of style, constitute so much of the intellectual capital of Hunt's sentimental old age, are as out of place, in a consideration of the sharp, shining wit, the elabo

rate diction, and polished artifice of Sheridan's writings, as in the narration of the brilliant depravities and good-natured good-for-nothingness of Sheridan's character. Like all Hunt's essays, however, it is exceedingly amusing, even in its vivacious presumption and genial pertness; but a man like Sheridan, the dramatist, the orator, the politician, the boon companion,

“The pride of the palace, the bower, and the hall,”

deserved a less supercilious consideration. Hunt's sketch conveys a far more vivid impression of himself than of his subject.

The prominent qualities of Sheridan's character were ambition and indolence, the love of distinction and the love of pleasure; and the method by which he contrived to gratify both may be said to constitute his biography. From the volatility of his mind and conduct, it would be a misuse of language to say that he had good principles or bad principles. He had no principles at all. His life was a life of expedients and appearances, in which he developed a shrewdness and capacity made up of talent and mystification, of ability and trickery which were found equal to almost all emergencies. He most assuredly possessed neither great intellect nor great passions. There was nothing commanding in his mind, nothing deep and earnest in his heart. A good-humored selfishness and a graceful heartlessness were his best substitutes for virtue. His conduct, when not determined by sensuality, was determined by vanity, the sensuality of the intellect; and in both he followed external direction. Yet, such as he was, the son of an actor, indolent, immoral, unlearned, a libertine and a drunkard, without fortune and without connections, he achieved high social, literary, and Parliamentary distinction. His life was one long career of notoriety and sensuality. At the age of twenty-six he had written some of the most sparkling comedies in the English language. From that period he became a politician, and eventually was ranked with Burke, Fox, and Pitt, among the most accomplished orators in the House of Commons. No man with such moral habits, joined to such slender acquirements, ever raised himself to such an elevation by pure force of tact and talent. It might be said that Fox was as dissipated; but then Sheridan, unlike Fox, had not been educated for a leg- No. 138.


[ocr errors]



islator; and more than all, he had none of Fox's power impassioned argumentation, none of his greatness and generosity of soul. Burke, like Sheridan, attained a prominent position in the most aristocratic of parties, without the advantages of birth and connections; but then he had the advantage of being the greatest statesman of his country, and Sheridan could make no pretensions to Burke's force of character and amplitude of comprehension, to his industry, his learning, or to that fiery and flexible imagination which penetrated all with vital life. It must be allowed that Sheridan approached neither of these men in solid reputation, but as his ambition was but one side of his love of pleasure, the notoriety which immediately succeeded his efforts was all he desired. His vanity fed and his senses gratified, there was little left for ambition to seek or pleasure to crave. All that there is in immediate fame to intoxicate the possessor, all that there is in fame which can be enjoyed, he obtained with the smallest possible scorning of delights, and the smallest possible living of laborious days.

Sheridan was essentially a man of wit. By this we do not mean that he was merely a witty man, but that wit was as much the predominant element in his character as it was the largest power of his mind. From his habit of looking at life and its duties through the medium of epigram, he lost all sincerity of thought and earnestness of passion. From his power of detecting what was inconsistent, foolish, and bad in the appearances of things, he gradually came to estimate appearances more than realities, and to do every thing himself for effect. His intellect became an ingenious machine for the manufacture of what would tell on the occasion, without regard to truth or falsehood. The consequence was a wonderful power of contrivance, of shrewdness, of finesse, of brilliant insincerity, without any vitality of thought and principle, without any intellectual character. His moral sense, also, gradually wore away under a habit of sensual indulgence, and a habit of overlooking moral consequences in ludicrous relations. His conscience could give him no pang which a jest could not heal. Vice, therefore, appeared to his mind as pleasantry as well as pleasure, and wit "pandered will." For instance, he was notoriously unfaithful to his marriage vow. To no man could adultery wear a more jocose aspect. "In marriage," he says, "if you possess any thing good, it makes

you eager to get every thing else good of the same sort." He made no scruple of cheating his creditors, but to his mind dishonesty was merely a practical joke. It was the same with every thing else. Crime appeared to him as a kind of mischievous fun, and Belial always reeled into his meditations hand in hand with Momus. Blasphemy, intemperance, adultery, sloth, licentiousness, trickery, they were mere jests. No man ever violated all the common duties of life with such easy good-nature and absence of malignant passions. He became un-moral rather than immoral.

In considering Sheridan's career, we continually meet this wit as a disposition of character as well as a power of mind. It gives a lightness and airiness to the many rascalities and insincerities of his life. No man's vices have been more leniently treated, because their very relation provokes a smile. He fascinates posterity as he fascinated his contemporaries. Falsehood, heartlessness, sensuality, finesse, all those qualities which bring contempt on other men, in him wear an attractive aspect; and in consideration of his being such a "good fellow," the common rules by which we judge of character have been waived in his case by general consent.

It would be impossible to set forth the talents of this remarkable adept in mystification and Regius Professor of appearances, without some sketch of his life. He was the son of Thomas Sheridan, the actor and elocutionist, and was born in Dublin, in the month of September, 1751. His father was a man of no mean capacity, but spoiled by an obstinate conceit of his powers, which made his talents pass with others for less than they were worth. His mother, whom Dr. Parr pronounced quite celestial, was the writer of two or three plays, the novel of Sidney Biddulph, and the Tale of Nourjahad. Her nature was much finer than her husband's, a fact she contrived to conceal almost as much from herself as from him. Richard early displayed an indisposition to learn; and rather than relinquish the sports for the studies of boyhood, he endured with heroical resignation the stigma fastened upon him by his father, of being an "impenetrable dunce." In 1762, he was sent to Harrow, then under the direction of Dr. Robert Sumner, and having for one of its under-masters no less distinguished a person than Dr. Parr. Neither of these eminent scholars could overcome, either by command or persuasion, his indolence and indiffer

« PreviousContinue »