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MEMOIRS OF R. B. SHERIDAN.
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.
THE period at which Mr. Sheridan entered upon his political career was, in every respect, remarkable. A persevering and vindictive war against 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 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 suffi– ciently grateful to the few patriot spirits of this 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 attraction of the Court may have sometimes made them librate in their orbit, were yet the saving lights of Liberty in those times, and alone preserved the ark of the Constitution from foun
dering 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 true, as the defenders of his measures state, that some of the worst aggressions upon the rights of the Colonies had been committed before he succeeded to power. But his readiness to follow in these rash footsteps, and to deepen every fatal impression which they had made ;--his insulting
reservation of the Tea Duty, by which he contrived to embitter the only measure of concession that was wrung from him;-the obsequiousness, with which he made himself the channel of the vindictive feelings of the Court, in that memorable declaration (rendered so truly mock-heroic by the event) that "a total repeal of the Port Duties could not be thought of, till America was prostrate at the feet of England;"-all deeply involve him in the shame of that disastrous period, and identify his name with measures as arbitrary and headstrong, as have ever disgraced the annals of the English monarchy.
The playful wit and unvarying good-humour of this nobleman formed a striking contrast to the harsh and precipitate policy, which it was his lot, during twelve stormy years, to enforce :and, if his career was as headlong as the torrent near its fall, it may also be said to have been as shining and as smooth. These attractive qualities secured to him a considerable share of personal popularity; and, had fortune ultimately smiled on his councils, success would, as usual, have reconciled the people of England to any means, however arbitrary, by which it had been attained. But the calamities, and, at last, the hopelessness of the conflict, inclined them to moralise upon its causes and character. The hour of Lord North's ascendant was now passing rapidly. away, and Mr. Sheridan could not have joined