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But Halhed's was not the only heart, that sighed deeply and hopelessly for the young Maid of Bath, who appears, indeed, to have spread her gentle conquests to an extent almost unparalleled in the annals of beauty. Her personal charms, the exquisiteness of her musical talents, and the full light of publicity which her profession threw upon both, naturally attracted round her a crowd of admirers, in whom the sympathy of a common pursuit soon kindled into rivalry, till she became at length an object of vanity as well as of love. Her extreme youth, too, for she was little more than sixteen when Sheridan first met her,―must have removed, even from minds the most fastidious and delicate, that repugnance they might justly have felt to her profession, if she had lived much longer under its tarnishing influence, or lost, by frequent exhibitions before the public, that fine gloss of feminine modesty, for whose absence not all the talents and accomplishments of the whole sex can atone.
She had been, even at this early age, on the point of marriage with Mr. Long, an old gentleman of considerable fortune in Wiltshire, who proved the reality of his attachment to her in a way which few young lovers would be romantic enough to imitate. On her secretly representing to him that she never could be happy as his wife, he generously took upon himself the whole blame of breaking off the alliance, and even indemnified the father, who was proceeding to bring the transaction into court, by settling 30007. upon his daughter. Mr. Sheridan, who owed to this liberal conduct not only the possession of the woman he loved, but the means of supporting her during the first years of their marriage, spoke invariably of Mr. Long, who lived to a very advanced age, with all the kindness and respect which such a disinterested character merited. It was about the middle of the year 1770 that the Sheridans took
up their residence in King's Mead Street, Bath, where an acquaintance commenced between them and Mr. Linley's family, which the kindred tastes of the young people soon ripened into intimacy. It was not to be expected,—though parents, in general, are as blind to the first approach of these dangers, as they are rigid and unreasonable after they have happened,-that such youthful poets and musicians 2 should come together, without Love very soon making one of the party. Accordingly, the two brothers became deeply enamoured of Miss Linley. Her heart, however, was not so wholly unpreoccupied, as to yield at once to the passion which her destiny had in store for her. One of those transient preferences, which in early youth are mistaken for love, had already taken lively possession of her imagination; and to this the following lines, written at that time by Mr. Sheridan, allude :
To the Recording Angel.
Cherub of Heaven, that from thy secret stand
Oh! if Eliza's steps employ thy hand,
Blot the sad legend with a mortal tear.
Nor, when she errs, through passion's wild extreme,
Nor, when her sad attachment is her theme,
Note down the transports of her erring tongue.
But, when she sighs for sorrows not her own,
Which glistens in the eye úpraised to Heaven?
But in love, as in every thing else, the power of a mind like Sheridan's must have made itself felt through all obstacles and difficulties. He was not long in winning the entire affections of the young "Syren," though the number and wealth of his rivals, the ambitious views of her father, and the temptations to which she herself was hourly exposed, kept his jealousies and fears perpetually on the watch. He is supposed, indeed, to have been indebted to self-observation for that portrait of a wayward and morbidly sensitive lover, which he has drawn so strikingly in the character of Falkland.
With a mind in this state of feverish wakefulness, it is remarkable that he should so long have succeeded in concealing his attachment from the eyes of those most interested in discovering it. Even hiş
They also lived, during a part of their stay at Bath, in New King-Street,
1 Dr. Burney, in his Biographical Sketch of Mr. Linley, written for Rees's Cyclopædia, calls the Linley family "a nest of nightingales." The only surviving member of this accomplished family is Mr. William Linley, whose taste and talent, both in poetry and music, most worthily sustain the reputation of the name that he bears.
brother Charles was for some time wholly unaware of their rivalry, -and went on securely indulging in a passion which it was hardly possible, with such opportunities of intercourse, to resist, and which survived long after Miss Linley's selection of another had extinguished every hope in his heart but that of seeing her happy. Halhed, too, who at that period corresponded constantly with Sheridan, and confided to him the love with which he also had been inspired by this enchantress, was for a length of time left in the same darkness upon the subject, and without the slightest suspicion that the epidemic had reached his friend-whose only mode of evading the many tender enquiries and messages, with which Halhed's letters abounded, was by referring to answers which had, by some strange fatality, miscarried, and which we may conclude, without much uncharitableness, had never been written.
Miss Linley went frequently to Oxford, to perform at the oratorios and concerts; and it may easily be imagined that the ancient 1 allegory of the Muses throwing chains over Cupid was here reversed, and the quiet shades of learning not a little disturbed by the splendour of these" angel visits." The letters of Halhed give a lively idea, not only of his own intoxication, but of the sort of contagious delirium, like that at Abdera described by Lucian, with which the young men of Oxford were affected by this beautiful girl. In describing her singing he quotes part of a Latin letter, which he himself had written to a friend upon first hearing her; and it is a curious proof of the readiness of Sheridan, notwithstanding his own fertility, to avail himself of the thoughts of others, that we find in this extract, word for word, the same extravagant comparison of the effects of music to the process of Egyptian embalmment- extracting the brain through the ears"-which was afterwards transplanted into the dialogue of the Duenna :-"Mortuum quendam ante Egypti medici quam pollincirent cerebella de auribus unco quodam hamo solebant extrahere; sic de meis auribus non cerebrum, sed cor ipsum exhausit lusciniola, etc., etc." He mentions, as the rivals most dreaded by her admirers, Norris, the singer, whose musical talents, it was thought, recommended him to her, and Mr. Watts, a gentleman-commoner, of very large fortune.
While all hearts and tongues were thus occupied about Miss Linley, it is not wonderful that rumours of matrimony and elopement should, from time to time, circulate among her apprehensive admirers; or that the usual ill-compliment should be paid to her sex of supposing that wealth must be the winner of the prize. It was at one moment currently reported at Oxford that she had gone off to Scotland with a young man of 3000l. a-year, and the panic which
the intelligence spread is described in one of these letters to Sheridan (who no doubt shared in it) as producing "long faces" every where. Not only, indeed, among her numerous lovers, but among all who delighted in her public performances, an alarm would naturally be felt at the prospect of her becoming private property ;
"Te juga Taygeti, posito te Manala flebunt
Thee, thee, when hurried from our eyes away,
But, to the honour of her sex, which is, in general, more disinterested than the other, it was found that neither rank nor wealth had influenced her heart in its election; and Halhed, who, like others, had estimated the strength of his rivals by their rent-rolls, discovered at last that his unpretending friend, Sheridan (whose advances in courtship and in knowledge seem to have been equally noiseless and triumphant), was the chosen favourite of her at whose feet so many fortunes lay. Like that Saint, Cecilia, by whose name she was always called, she had long welcomed to her soul a secret visitant 2, whose gifts were of a higher and more radiant kind, than the mere wealthy and lordly of this world can proffer. A letter, written by Halhed on the prospect of his departure for India 3, alludes so delicately to this discovery, and describes the state of his own heart so mournfully, that I must again, in parting with him and his correspondence, express the strong regret that I feel, at not being able to indulge the reader with a perusal of these letters. Not only as a record of the first short flights of Sheridan's genius, but as a picture, from the life, of the various feelings of youth, its desires and fears, its feverish hopes and fanciful melancholy, they could not have failed to be read with the deepest interest.
To this period of Mr. Sheridan's life we are indebted for most of those elegant love-verses, which are so well known and so often quoted. The lines" Uncouth is this moss-covered grotto of stone,"
Claudian. De Rapt. Proserp. Lib. ii. v. 244.
'The youth, found in her chamber, had in his hand two crowns or wreaths, the one of lilies, the other of roses, which he had brought from Paradise."Legend of St. Cecilia.
3 The letter is evidently in answer to one which he had just received from Sheridan, in which Miss Linley had written a few words, expressive of her wishes for his health and happiness. Mr. Halhed sailed for India about the latter end of this year.
were addressed to Miss Linley, after having offended her by one of those lectures upon decorum of conduct, which jealous lovers so frequently inflict upon their mistresses,-and the grotto, immortalized by their quarrel, is supposed to have been in Spring Gardens, then the fashionable place of resort in Bath.
I have elsewhere remarked that the conceit in the following stanza resembles a thought in some verses of Angerianus :—
And thou, stony grot, in thy arch may'st preserve
Two lingering drops of the night-fallen dew,
Let them fall on her bosom of snow, and they'll serve
As tears of my sorrow entrusted to you.
At quum per niveam cervicem influxerit humor
Whether Sheridan was likely to have been a reader of Angerianus is, I think, doubtful—at all events the coincidence is curious.
"Dry be that tear, my gentlest love," is supposed to have been written at a later period; but it was most probably produced at the time of his courtship, for he wrote but few love-verses after his marriage-like the nigtingale (as a French editor of Bonefonious says, in remarking a similar circumstance of that poet) "qui développe le charme de sa voix tant qu'il veut plaire à sa compagne — sont-ils unis? il se tait, il n'a plus le besoin de lui plaire."This song having been hitherto printed incorrectly, I shall give it here, as it is in the copies preserved by his relations.
Dry be that tear, my gentlest love',
Hush'd be that sigh, be dry that tear,
Ask'st thou how long my love will stay,
And does that thought affect thee too,
Must yield that faithful breath?
An Elegy by Halhed, transcribed in one of his letters to Sheridan, begius.
"Dry be that tear, be hush'd that struggling sigh."