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"The Muses call'd, the other morning,
They must give up their trade at last,
To show what all their hopes must end in,
And give them verse much like their own.
"Who has not heard each poet sing
And straight you could both write and spell,
A poem on the miseries of a literary drudge begins thus promisingly:
"Think ye how dear the sickly meal is bought,
By him who works at verse and trades in thought?"
The rest is hardly legible; but there can be little doubt that he would have done this subject justice; for he had himself tasted of the bitter
CHAP. ness with which the heart of a man of genius overflows, when forced by indigence to barter away (as it is here expressed) "the reversion of his thoughts," and
"Forestall the blighted harvest of his brain."
It will be easily believed that, in looking over the remains, both dramatic and poetical, from which the foregoing specimens are taken, I have been frequently tempted to indulge in much ampler extracts. It appeared to me, however, more prudent, to rest satisfied with the selections here given; for, while less would have disappointed the curiosity of the reader, more might have done injustice to the memory of the author.
HIS FIRST SPEECHES IN PARLIAMENT.- ROCKINGHAM AD-
TION FOR STAFFord.
THE period at which Mr. Sheridan entered upon CHAP. his political career was, in every respect, remarkable. A persevering and vindictive war against 1780. America, with the folly and guilt of which the obstinacy of the Court and the acquiescence of the people are equally chargeable, was fast approaching that crisis, which every unbiassed spectator of the contest had long foreseen, and at which, however humiliating to the haughty pretensions of England, every friend to the liberties of the human race rejoiced. It was, perhaps, as difficult for this country to have been long and virulently opposed to such principles as the Americans asserted in this contest, without being herself corrupted by the cause which she maintained, as it was for the French to have fought, in the same conflict, by the side of the oppressed, without catching a portion of that
CHAP. enthusiasm for liberty, which such an alliance was calculated to inspire. Accordingly, while the voice of Philosophy was heard along the neighbouring shores, speaking aloud those oracular warnings, which preceded the death of the Great Pan of Despotism, the courtiers and lawyers of England were, with an emulous spirit of servility, advising and sanctioning such strides of power, as would not have been unworthy of the most dark and slavish times.
When we review, indeed, the history of the late reign, and consider how invariably the arms and councils of Great Britain, in her Eastern wars, her conflict with America, and her efforts against revolutionary France, were directed to the establishment and perpetuation of despotic principles, it seems little less than a miracle that her own liberty should have escaped with life from the contagion. Never, indeed, can she be sufficiently grateful to the few patriot spirits of that period, to whose courage and eloquence she owes the high station of freedom yet left to her; -never can her sons pay a homage too warm to the memory of such men as a Chatham, a Fox, and a Sheridan; who, however much they may have sometimes sacrificed to false views of expediency, and, by compromise with friends and coalition with foes, too often weakened their hold upon public confidence; however the at
traction of the Court may have sometimes made CHAP. them librate in their orbit, were yet the saving lights of Liberty in those times, and alone preserved the ark of the Constitution from foundering in the foul and troubled waters that encompassed it.
Not only were the public events, in which Mr. Sheridan was now called to take a part, of a nature more extraordinary and awful than had often been exhibited on the theatre of politics, but the leading actors in the scene were of that loftier order of intellect, which Nature seems to keep in reserve for the ennoblement of such great occasions. Two of these, Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox, were already in the full maturity of their fame and talent, while the third, Mr. Pitt, was just upon the point of entering, with the most auspicious promise, into the same splendid career :
"Nunc cuspide Patris Inclytus, Herculeas olim moture sagittas."
Though the administration of that day, like many other ministries of the same reign, was chosen more for the pliancy than the strength of its materials, yet Lord North himself was no ordinary man, and, in times of less difficulty and under less obstinate dictation, might have ranked as a useful and most popular minister. It is