In Irish soil romance thrives nobly; the Irishman knows, as does no other man, now to raise it above the dull level of hum-drum sentiment. And Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irishman to his finger-tips. He was a genius - delightful, lovable, and utterly irresponsible. But he was always aspiring after the unattainable, and, although fame, true fame, often was within his reach, he seems to have been incapable of grasping it. He failed to become as great as he might have been, or, indeed, as he should have been. Fate played with him, tantalised him, but always withheld from him the great opportunity.
Posterity, for the most part, therefore, is content to regard him as an interesting man and as the author of "The School for Scandal." But Sheridan was more than this. He was a great man, and a splendid member of that gorgeous constellation of wits, beaux, and politicians which illuminated England during the reign of George III.
Moreover, not as a playwright, not as a man of letters, did Sheridan desire to perpetuate his name, but as a statesman. The impeachment of Warren Hastings he conducted with consummate skill; his speeches,
Pitt himself declared, "surpassed the eloquence of ancient and modern times." But in the arena of politics Sheridan never rose into the first rank. He lacked ballast: he was incapable of managing his own affairs; his nature was wildly extravagant, and of the existence of a line of demarcation between the pos-sible and the impossible he had no idea. In short, Sheridan was an Irishman: his ancestors before him were Irishmen; and his father, in addition to being irresponsible and improvident. was a talented actor with ideas on education. This, however, not the occasion. nor is there space here, to deal with Sheridan's ancestry or his early years, with his life in Dublin, with his life in London at his father's house in Henrietta Street - a house which was the centre of a brilliant, intellectual society, of which Dr. Johnson and Samuel Richardson were the presiding genii - or with his years at Harrow. Sheridan the lover is the subject of this article, and Sheridan the lover did not come into existence until 1771, when the man was twenty years of age.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan. This brilliant and versatile Irishman was not only a playwright, but a wit. an orator. and a man of fashion
By Sir foshua Reynolds
For several years past his father's great ambition had been the compilation of "A Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language." To Dr. Johnson's delight, however, he failed to secure Royal support for his great under-taking. "What, sir," asked the doctor, "entitled Sheridan to fix the pronunciation of English?" In 1771, however, still undaunted, the old man decided to set out for Bath, and there seriously to concentrate his attention on his work.
At Bath, which in those days was a most fashionable resort, Richard rose rapidly in social favour.
He was a handsome man - tall, well set - up, and graceful. "The upper part of his face," declared Byron, "was that of a god - a forehead most expansive, an eye of peculiar brilliancy and fire." He was, moreover, a brilliant conversationalist, and at the house of Lady Miller he shone particularly. There, according to Horace Walpole, "all the flux of quality contended for prizes gained for rhymes and themes."
Mrs. Ella Wheeler Wilcox Guy & Hancock
Elizabeth Anne Linley (Mrs. Sheridan). The lovely "Maid of Bath," whose elopement and secret marriage with Sheridan was one of the most romantic love stories of the 18th century by Reynolds, in the Glasgow Corporation Gallery
It was at Bath that Richard Sheridan came in contact with the Linley family. Mr. Linley was a composer, and his visits to Bath, although of a professional nature, were not infrequent. Indeed, his daughters, "a nest of nightingales," were the rage of the town, especially Elizabeth, the eldest, who filled the vole of prima donna at her father's concerts. She was a lovely girl, and the beauty of her face was rivalled only by the beauty of her voice.
Although at this time she was but seventeen years of age, she had received many offers of matrimony, and her admirers were legion. Sheridan immediately fell an easy victim to the girl's charms, but he had many rivals. In the first place, there was a Mr. Long, an esti-mable old gentleman, possessed of consider-able means; secondly, there was his own brother, Charles; thirdly, there was a Mr. Halhed; and last, but not least, there was the villain of the piece, a wealthy married man named Mat-hews.
Of these Long was the most eligible, and, apparently, an alliance had been arranged between him and Elizabeth. Long, however, was not merely an eligible old man, but also an honourable old man, for when Elizabeth told him candidly that she could never be happy with him, he took upon himself the responsibility of breaking off the engagement, and even went so far as to present the girl with 3,000, in order to appease her father, who was about to institute proceedings for breach of promise. Richard Sheridan now elected to appoint himself the guardian of the fascinating