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The Riverside Literature Series
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
WITH AN INTRODUCTION
JOSEPH QUINCY ADAMS, JR., Ph.D.
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
AND LITERATURE IN CORNELL UNIVERSITY
For the facts of Sheridan's life I am indebted to the biographies by W. Fraser Rae (Sheridan, a Biography, 2 vols., 1896) and Mr. Walter Sichel (Sheridan, From New and Original Material, 2 vols., 1909). For the text I have reprinted a copy of the first edition in my own possession. This reprint, I believe, will have some value as the first accurate reproduction of the edition that Sheridan himself prepared for the press. Since no manuscript of The Rivals exists, this edition is the only authentic version of the play. The notes are original except where explicit credit is given. For the frequent quotations from contemporary newspapers I am indebted to Rae's Sheridan's Plays, now first printed as he wrote them (1902). The best annotated edition of Sheridan is Professor Nettleton's The Major Dramas of Sheridan (The Atheneum Press Series, 1900). I purposely refrained from consulting this edition until my own was ready for the press; I was then able to add from Professor Nettleton's work several notes, for which proper acknowledgment is made. I desire to express my gratitude to my colleagues, Professors James Morgan Hart, Clark S. Northup, and Lane Cooper, for having read in manuscript the Introduction.
J. Q. ADAMS, JR. CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA, N. Y.,
In Sheridan's progenitors we find in ample measure those qualities of mind which made him illustrious in two Hls grand- separate careers as playwright and as parliafather.
mentarian. His grandfather was the Reverend Thomas Sheridan, D.D., of Dublin, well known to contemporaries for his learning and wit, and still remembered as the intimate friend of Dean Swift. The latter found the doctor's companionship so pleasant that for some years he reserved for him at the Deanery a room hospitably named “ Sheridan." His esteem for the doctor may be summed up by quoting the first line of one of his Latin verses :
Deliciæ Sheridan musarum, dulcis amice! The playwright's father, Thomas Sheridan, was likewise a man of great mental vigor, and of such activity as kept
him much in the public eye. For several years he His father.
was conspicuous as the reform manager of the Theatre Royal in Dublin ; later, as an actor, he shared with Garrick the applause of London playgoers; and, finally, he distinguished himself as a fashionable teacher of oratory, and a reformer of pronunciation. For a time his instruction was the rage among persons of rank and fortune. Mr. Sichel observes that " for one of his courses in 1762, no less than sixteen hundred subscribed at a guinea apiece, and bought his publications at 'half-a-guinea in boards.'"1 Both Oxford and Cambridge conferred upon him honorary degrees; the authorities of Edinburgh, upon his visit there, voted him the freedom of the city; and the King, to further his plans of a great pronouncing dictionary, granted him a pension of £200 a year. But his schemes of reforming the spoken language were Quixotic. Doctor Samuel Johnson, who had once been his friend, openly ridiculed his teaching of oratory, and sneered at his proposed dictionary.
1 Walter Sichel, Sheridan, i, 244.
To his mother, however, more than to his father, Sheridan was indebted for his qualities of mind. She was the daughter of a Dublin rector, the Reverend Philip
His mother. Chamberlaine, D. D., a man with a strong personality and a keen sense of humor. Although her father forbade that she be taught the art of writing, at the age of fifteen she became the author of a romance, which, after her death, was published and adapted to the stage. When in 1746 the Kelly rioters wrecked the Theatre Royal in Dublin, she published in prose and verse warm praises of the conduct of Mr. Sheridan, the manager. With these Mr. Sheridan was so much pleased that he at once sought the acquaintance of his young defender, and later persuaded her to become his wife. She was not only skillful with her pen, but also beautiful in person and charming in manner, much admired by Doctor Johnson and by the great novelist Samuel Richardson. The latter, indeed, encouraged her to attempt a novel, The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph. This was published in 1761 under Richardson's patronage, and dedicated to him in affectionate terms. At once it “ took the town," and within three months passed into a second edition. It was highly praised by Doctor Johnson; was enthusiastically pronounced by Charles Fox the best novel of the age ; and was circulated on the Continent, translated into French, and put with success upon the stage in Paris. Stimulated by this triumph, Mrs. Sheridan composed the following year (1762) a comedy, The Discovery, which Garrick accepted and produced with great applause at the Drury Lane Theatre. A second comedy, The Dupe, proved less fortunate, for it was much inferior in quality, and upon its presentation utterly failed. A third comedy, A Journey to Bath, though in parts clever, was refused by Garrick, and never came to the stage. Other literary labors were cut short by her untimely death in 1766 at the age of forty-two.
Of such parents Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dublin in the fall of 1751.' He received his early educa
1 “The precise day, and, indeed, month of Sheridan's birth is unascertained." - Sichel, Sheridan, i, 253.