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MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR.
It is not so generally true as may be supposed, that the lives of literary men afford few materials for the biographer. Ofthose who grace the annals of our own country, a very great part were connected with the most conspicuous public men who flourished in their times,or had themselves some share in the events of the period. Milton, Cowley, Addisson, and fifty others, among whom is the subject of our short Memoir, were deeply involved in the politics of the day,and would have afforded in their fortunes sufficient matter for the biographer,withouttheaddition of their literary history. But a more important interest belongs to the Memoirs of such men, than that which is derived from the popular circumstances of their career. Genius, both in its right path, and in its erring courses, is a noble object of contemplation, and the light which shines around it is our best guide in judging of the good and evil tendencies of human passions. The great book of the world is written for the most part in confused and indistinct characters, but the few passages which record the fate of the poet and the philosopher are glowing and intelligible, because they shew humanity in its most perfect and most vivid expression. The men, also, who have enlightened their race, either by the power of their imagination, or the vigour of their reason and extended knowledge, have not only an irreversible right to our gratitude, but ensure our sympathy throughout every period of their lives. It is by these feelings of respect for those who have aided the advancement of knowledge and general refinement, that the literature of a country becomes regarded as something possessing an actual and real value; and, as it is in truth, a rich and golden stream poured from the deepest heart of the nation.
But while a popular respect for men of genius is in
every view just and desirable , it ought never to blind us to those sure distinctions of virtue and vice, which, as we have said, the lustre of great abilities is so far from obscuring, that it renders them more evident and palpable. Neither the highest admiration, nor the most sincere sympathy, is incompatible with the most perfect moral justice in our sentiments and judgment; and noerror in the proper discernment of character, ought ever to be received as a compliment to great and distinguished talent. Bearing this in mind, the subject of the present Biographical Sketch stands before us in his true light a man of genius, but an erring, and, through his errors, an unfortunate one.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN was born in September, 1751, in Dorset-street, Dublin. His family, at the time of his birth, possessed some degree of literary celebrity. His grandfather had been an intimate friend of Dean Swift, his father was known for his works of education, and his mother was the author of a pathetic tale, called Sidney Biddulph, the popular romance of Nourjahad, and several dramatic pieces. At the age of seven, Richard was placed under the care of a Mr. Whyte, who resided in the neigbourhood; but his pupil left him at the end of a year, with the character of an 'impenetrable dunce. He was subsequently sent to Harrow, where he gained the affections of his schoolfellows by the cheerfulness and constant good humour of his disposition, but still evincing few signs of the shining talents, which, in a comparatively few years, rendered him so conspicuous in the world. But little as it was generally supposed that such would be the case, there was one eye more penetrating than the rest, and Dr. Parr, at that time one of the masters at Harrow, prophesied, against all appearances, the future celebrity of his pupil.
Sheridan continued at Harrow till he was eighteen, and then removed to his father's, who had taken up his residence in London. Here he began to shew signs of that activity of mind and desire of reputation, which afterwards appeared as the component parts of his