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of the critics, was expressed by Doctor Johnson when he said, in proposing Sheridan for membership in the famous Literary Club, “He who has written the two best comedies of his age [The Rivals and The Duenna] is surely a considerable

man.' In June, 1776, Garrick retired from the managership of the Drury Lane Theatre. Sheridan, Mr. Linley, and a friend, Doctor Ford, bought Garrick's half-interest in the theatre, and Sheridan, aged twenty-five, of Drury


Lane. was given the important post of manager. This position he retained, with varying degrees of success and failure, virtually throughout the rest of his life.

The public awaited with high expectations the next play from the hands of the new manager. After a considerable delay this came on May 8, 1777, as The School

The School for Scandal. It more than filled the expectations for Scandal. of the audience, and added greatly to the reputation of its author. It is a better play than The Rivals, and stands without dispute as Sheridan's masterpiece. Even to-day it maintains its popularity with playgoers, and holds a prominent place among the stock-comedies of our stage.

On October 30, 1779, Sheridan produced The Critic, a comedy modeled on the Duke of Buckingham's Rehearsal. It is clever throughout, and though now rarely acted, was at the time a notable success. It deserves to rank next to The Rivals and The School for Scandal as Sheridan's best work.

Sheridan, though still in his twenties, had shown himself to be the greatest playwright of the age. He was the son of an actor, was the manager of the Drury Abandons Lane Theatre, and was a large shareholder in its play-writ,

Ing for pollpatent. Everything seemed to mark out for him a tics. brilliant career as a dramatist. Suddenly, however, he abandoned this promising career. He had written his last original play, and though he continued to be manager of Drury Lane, he turned all his energies to politics. In 1780 he secured a seat.in Parliament. Eleven days later he made his first speech, and revealed his powers of oratory. Two months later he was elected a member of Brooks's

Tho Critic.

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an orator.

Club, the most powerful and exclusive political club of the day, at whose meetings the leaders of the Whig Party decided affairs of state. Two years later he was given the important office of Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. His career in politics cannot interest us in its minute details; suffice it to say that for a quarter of a century he was one of the most conspicuous figures in Parliament, and one of its most brilliant orators, sharing fame with Charles Fox, William Pitt, the younger, and Edmund Burke.

The climax of his career was marked by his two brilliant orations against Warren Hastings. Their effect may be ilPower as

lustrated by a quotation from Sir Gilbert Elliot,

first Earl of Minto, at the time a member of Parliament. After hearing Sheridan's speech he wrote to his wife : “ This last night, though the House was up soon after one, and I was in bed before two, I have not slept one wink. Nothing whatever was the matter with me, except the impression of what had been passing still vibrating on my brain. ... Sheridan opened his charge, and spoke exactly five hours and a half, with such fluency and rapidity that I think his speech could not be read in double the time. You may imagine the quantity of matter it contained. It was by many degrees the most excellent and astonishing performance I ever heard, and surpasses all I ever imagined possible in eloquence and ability. This is the universal sense of all who heard it. You will conceive how admirable it was when I tell you that he surpassed, I think, Pitt, Fox, and even Burke, in his finest and most brilliant orations. . . . It is impossible to describe the feelings he excited. The bone rose repeatedly in my throat, and tears in my eyes —not of grief, but merely of strongly excited sensibility; so they were in Dudley Long's, who is not, I should think, particularly tearful. The conclusion, in which the whole force of the case was collected, and where his whole powers were employed to their utmost stretch, and indeed his own feelings wound to the utmost pitch, worked the House up into such a paroxysm of passionate enthusiasm on the subject, and of admiration for him, that the moment he sat down there was a universal shout, nay, even clapping, for half-a

second; every man was on the floor, and all his friends throwing themselves on his neck in raptures of joy and exultation. This account is not at all exaggerated, and hardly does justice to, I daresay, the most remarkable scene ever exhibited, either there or in any other popular assembly.”l That Sir Gilbert did not exaggerate we have ample evidence. Burke declared that the speech was “the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit united, of which there was any record or tradition”; Pitt wrote that it was "without exception one of the most wonderful performances I ever heard, and almost the greatest imaginable exertion of the human mind”; and Fox, with characteristic enthusiasm, asserted that “all that he had ever heard, all that he had ever read, when compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapour before the sun." Parliament voted to adjourn until the next day, for the avowed reason that its members could not fairly and dispassionately vote on the question while under the spell of the oration. Yet when Sheridan's speeches are read nowadays they are strangely disappointing, and when compared with the speeches of Burke they seem pale and ineffectual. Accordingly Mr. Saintsbury has referred to his oratory as “ theatrical and rather brassy.” It cannot be denied, however, that Sheridan exercised over his hearers a power of oratory unsurpassed in the records of Parliament.

Naturally Sheridan's intense interest in politics led to his neglect of Drury Lane. In fact, the only thing that saved his management from disaster was the brilliant group of actors he had got together. gers and

Pizarro, Finally, to retrieve the finances of the theatre after a series of misfortunes, he turned his hand again to the playwright's art. This time he contented himself with adapting from the German two comedies of Kotzebue, The Strangers (1798) and Pizarro (1799). Though adaptations, and consequently not to be reckoned in his list of original works, these plays showed clearly that he had lost none of his skill as a dramatist. They created a sensation

1 From Life and Letters of Sir Gilbert Elliot, first Earl of Minto, i, 123-4. Quoted in Rae, Life, ii, 60.

The Stran


among the playgoers, and for the time replenished the empty coffers of the theatre. The last years of Sheridan's life were clouded in do

mestic, political, and pecuniary troubles. He lost Last years.

his wife, and married again somewhat unhappily; he watched his beloved son Tom yield slowly to the ravages of consumption; he himself suffered continuously from a painful disorder. In politics he formed a baleful friendship with the unworthy Prince of Wales; his party was out of power; and his alliances within the party were unfortunate. In his pecuniary affairs he became involved in difficulties that led to his ultimate ruin. In 1791 Drury Lane Theatre was condemned as unsafe, and had to be reconstructed at a heavy expense. In 1809 it was totally destroyed by fire, and with it a large part of Sheridan's fortune. When the theatre was rebuilt, new officials assumed charge, and Sheridan was forced out. Moreover, the sum of money due him for his share was wrongfully withheld. By 1812 Sheridan's affairs were in so bad a state that he could not pay the expenses of a re-election to Parliament. In 1813 he was actually arrested for debt, and for a short time confined in a sponging-house. His career was now over. Shut out from the theatre and from politics, besieged by creditors, harassed by domestic sorrows, and suffering from a painful malady, he dragged his life to an unhappy end. Even as he lay dying, a sheriff with a writ of debt took up lodging in the house. He passed away quietly on July 7, 1816, at the age of sixty-five. From the shore of Lake Geneva Byron wrote: A mighty Spirit is eclipsed

- a Power
Hath passed from day to darkness to whose hour
Of light no likeness is bequeathed
Focus at once of all the rays of Fame!
The flash of Wit — the bright Intelligence,
The beam of Song the blaze of Eloquence,
Set with their Sun, but still have left behind

The enduring produce of immortal Mind.
His funeral was attended with magnificent pomp, and he
was laid with honor in the Poets' Corner of Westminster

- no name,



The Rivals is “a comedy of intrigue” in which the action turns upon humorous deception. The audience is let into the secret at the outset, and thus allowed to enjoy A comedy the pleasure of witnessing those not in the secret of intrigue. make themselves ridiculous; of anticipating the surprise of the ultimate discovery; of relishing the innumerable doubleentendres ; and of sympathizing with the hero when he is treading, so to speak, on thin ice. There is a continual bustle of action, mixed with surprises, and an ever-complicating plot. In many respects the play is strikingly like the comedies of Terence and Plautus, in which the young hero and heroine, by a series of ingenious devices, outwit their parents or guardians; and the similarity is heightened by the presence of clever servants.

Secondly, The Rivals is “a comedy of humours,” a type developed by Ben Jonson and frequently employed throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

A comedy The term “humour” was applied to some habit- of huual oddity of character or of manner which rendered a person more or less absurd. In The Rivals most of the dramatis persona exhibit for our amusement clearly marked "humours": Acres in his foppishness and his “referential oaths" ; Mrs. Malaprop, in her misuse of big words, and her refrain “don't become a young woman"; Sir Anthony Absolute, in his irascibility — his "absolutism"; Lydia Languish, in her ultra-romantic temperament; Sir Lucius O’Trigger, in his self-assurance and his love of quarrels; and Faulkland, in his absurd jealousy and alternating moods. These “humours are well sustained throughout the play.

Thirdly, The Rivals is "a comedy of wit.” Interest, it is true, is maintained in the plot; but the life of the play is in the dialogue. We delight primarily in the A comedy volleys of wit, in the keen but good-natured of wit. satire, and in the all-pervading spirit of fun. Many of the


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