« PreviousContinue »
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.
BIRTH AND EDUCATION OF MR. SHERIDAN. - HIS FIRST
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN was born in the month of September, 1751, at No. 12. Dorset Street, Dublin, and baptized in St. Mary's Church, as appears by the register of the parish, on the fourth of the following month. His grandfather, Dr. Sheridan, and his father, Mr.
* He was christened also by the name of Butler after the Earl of Lanesborough.
CHAP. Thomas Sheridan, have attained a celebrity, independent of that which he has conferred on them, by the friendship and correspondence with which the former was honoured by Swift, and the competition and even rivalry which the latter so long maintained with Garrick. His mother, too, was a woman of considerable talents, and affords one of the few instances that have occurred, of a female indebted for a husband to her literature; as it was a pamphlet she wrote concerning the Dublin theatre that first attracted to her the notice of Mr. Thomas Sheridan. affecting novel, Sidney Biddulph, could boast among its warm panegyrists Mr. Fox and Lord North; and in the Tale of Nourjahad she has employed the graces of Eastern fiction to inculcate a grave and important moral, — putting on a fairy disguise, like her own Mandane, to deceive her readers into a taste for true happiness and virtue. Besides her two plays, The Discovery and The Dupe,-the former of which Garrick pronounced to be "one of the best comedies he ever read," she wrote a comedy also, called The Trip to Bath, which was never either acted or published, but which has been supposed by some of those sagacious persons, who love to look for flaws in the titles of fame, to have passed, with her other papers, into the possession of her son, and, after a transforming sleep, like that of
the chrysalis, in his hands, to have taken wing CHAP. at length in the brilliant form of The Rivals. The literary labours of her husband were less fanciful, but not, perhaps, less useful, and are chiefly upon subjects connected with education, to the study and profession of which he devoted the latter part of his life. Such dignity, indeed, did his favourite pursuit assume in his own eyes. that he is represented (on the authority, however, of one who was himself a schoolmaster) to have declared, that "he would rather see his two sons at the head of respectable academies, than one of them prime minister of England, and the other at the head of affairs in Ireland."
At the age of seven years, Richard Brinsley Sheridan was, with his elder brother, Charles Francis, placed under the tuition of Mr. Samuel Whyte, of Grafton Street, Dublin, an amiable and respectable man, who, for near fifty years after, continued at the head of his profession in that metropolis. To remember our school-days with gratitude and pleasure, is a tribute at once to the zeal and gentleness of our master, which none ever deserved more truly from his pupils than Mr. Whyte, and which the writer of these pages, who owes to that excellent person all the instructions in English literature he has ever received, is happy to take this opportunity of paying. The young Sheridans, however, were
CHAP. little more than a year under his care- and it may be consoling to parents who are in the first crisis of impatience, at the sort of hopeless stupidity which some children exhibit, to know, that the dawn of Sheridan's intellect was as dull and unpromising as its meridian day was bright; and that in the year 1759, he who, in less than thirty years afterwards, held senates enchained by his eloquence and audiences fascinated by his wit, was, by common consent both of parent and preceptor, pronounced to be "a most impenetrable dunce."
From Mr. Whyte's school the boys were removed to England, where Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan had lately gone to reside, and in the year 1762 Richard was sent to Harrow-Charles being kept at home as a fitter subject for the instructions of his father, who, by another of those calculations of poor human foresight, which the deity, called Eventus by the Romans, takes such wanton pleasure in falsifying, considered his elder son as destined to be the brighter of the two brother stars. At Harrow, Richard was remarkable only as a very idle, careless, but, at the same time, engaging boy, who contrived to win the affection, and even admiration, of the whole school, both masters and pupils, by the mere charm of his frank and genial manners, and by the occasional gleams of superior intellect, which
broke through all the indolence and indifference of his character.
Harrow, at this time, possessed some peculiar advantages, of which a youth like Sheridan might have powerfully availed himself. At the head of the school was Doctor Robert Sumner, a man of fine talents, but, unfortunately, one of those, who have passed away without leaving any trace behind, except in the admiring recollection of their contemporaries. His taste is said to have been of a purity almost perfect, combining what are seldom seen together, that critical judgment which is alive to the errors of genius, with the warm sensibility that deeply feels its beauties. At the same period, the distinguished scholar, Dr. Parr, who, to the massy erudition of a former age, joined all the free and enlightened intelligence of the present, was one of the under masters of the school; and both he and Dr. Sumner endeavoured, by every method they could devise, to awaken in Sheridan a consciousness of those powers, which, under all the disadvantages of indolence and carelessness, it was manifest to them that he possessed. But remonstrance and encouragement were equally thrown away upon the good-humoured but immovable indifference of their pupil; and though there exist among Mr. Sheridan's papers some curious proofs of a degree of industry in study