페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

preserved throughout, but that, like the ivory melting in the hands of Pygmalion, it has lost all its first rigidity and roughness, and, assuming at every touch some variety of aspect, seems to have gained new grace by every change.

In respect of mere style, too, the workmanship of so pure a writer of English as Sheridan is well worth the attention of all who would learn the difficult art of combining ease with polish, and being, at the same time, idiomatic and elegant. There is not a page of these manuscripts that does not bear testimony to the fastidious care with which he selected, arranged, and moulded his language, so as to form it into that transparent channel of his thoughts, which it is at present.

His chief objects in correcting were to condense and simplify-to get rid of all unnecessary phrases and epithets, and, in short, to strip away from the thyrsus of his wit every leaf that could render it less light and portable.

The specimen which Sir Benjamin Backbite gives of his poetical talents was taken, it will be seen, from the following verses, which were found in Mr. Sheridan's handwriting-one of those trifles, perhaps, with which he and his friend Tickell were in the constant habit of amusing themselves, and written apparently with the intention of ridiculing some woman of fashion :

“Then, behind, all my hair is done up in a plat,
And so, like a cornet's, tuck'd under my hat.
Then I mount on my palfrey as gay as a lark,
And, follow'd by John, take the dust* in High Park,
In the way I am met by some smart macaroni,
Who rides by my side on a little bay pony-
No sturdy Hibernian, with shoulders so wide,
But as taper and slim as the ponies they ride;
Their legs are as slim, and their shoulders no wider,
Dear sweet little creatures, both pony and rider.

But sometimes, when hotter, I order my chaise,
And manage, myself, my two little greys.

* This phrase is made use of in the dialogue :-“ As Lady Betty Curricle was taking the dust in Hyde Park.”

Sure never were seen two such sweet little ponies,
Other horses are clowns, and these macaronies,
And to give then this title, I'm sure isn't wrong,
Their legs are so slim, and their tails are so long.
In Kensington Gardens to stroll up and down,
You know was the fashion before you left town, –
The thing's well enough, when allowance is made.
For the size of the trees and the depth of the shade
But the spread of their leaves such a shelter affords
To those noisy, impertinent creatures callid birds,
Whose ridiculous chirruping ruins the scene,
Brings the country before me, and gives me the spleen.

Yet, tho' 'tis too rural—to come near the mark,
We all herd in one walk, and that nearest the Park ;
There with ease we may see, as we pass by the wicket,
The chimneys of Knightsbridge and-footmen at cricket.
I must tho', in justice, declare that the grass,
Which, worn by our feet, is diminish'd apace,
In a little time more will be brown and as flat
As the sand at Vauxhall or as Ranelagh mat.
Improving thus fast, perhaps, by degrees,
We may see rolls and butter spread under the trees,
With a small pretty band in each seat of the walk,
To play little tunes and enliven our talk.”

Though Mr. Sheridan appears to have made more easy progress after he had incorporated his two first plots into one, yet, even in the details of the new plan, considerable alterations were subsequently made-whole scenes suppressed or transposed, and the dialogue of some entirely re-written. It was his fate through life-and, in a great degree his

policy -to gain credit for excessive indolence and carelessness, while few persons, with so much natural brilliancy of talents, ever employed more art and circumspection in their display. This was the case, remarkably, in the instance before us. Notwithstanding the labour which he bestowed upon this comedy (or, perhaps, in consequence of that labour) the first representation of the piece was announced before the whole of the copy was in the hands of the actors. The manuscript, indeed, of the five

last scenes bears evident marks of this haste in finishing—there being but one rough draught of them, scribbled upon detached pieces of paper; while, of all the preceding acts, there are numerous transcripts, scattered promiscuously through six or seven books, with new interlineations and memorandums to each. On the last leaf of all, which exists just as we may suppose it to have been despatched by him to the copyist, there is the following curious specimen of doxology, written hastily, ir the hand-writing of the respective parties, at the bottom :“Finished at last, thank God!

“R. B. SHERIDAN. “ Amen

“ W. HOPKINS.”

The success of such a play could not be doubtful. Long after its first uninterrupted run, it continued to be played regularly two or three times a week; and a comparison of the receipts of the first twelve nights, with those of a later period, will show how little the attraction of the piece had abated by repetition :

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The following extracts are taken at hazard from an account

# The prompter.

of the weekly receipts of the theatre, for the year 1778, kept with exemplary neatness and care by Mrs. Sheridan herself :

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Such, indeed, was the predominant attraction of this comedy during the two years subsequent to its first appearance, that, in the official account of receipts for 1779, we find the following remark subjoined by the treasurer :-“School for Scandal damped the new pieces.” It was played with the same unequivocal marks of success through the years 1780 and 1781, the nights of its representation always rivalling those on which the king went to the theatre in the magnitude of their receipts.*

In the year 1778, Mr. Sheridan purchased Mr. Lacy's moiety of the theatre for £45,000, and among the visible signs of his

...

[ocr errors]

* Great as the success of this piece was on its first reception, what would be the thoughts of the author, if he knew that a short time before this book went to press, it had been played at the Vaudeville Theatre, for 404 consecutive nights? The following was the original cast at this theatre :Sir Peter Mr. W. Farren Trip

Mr. Vaughan
Sir Oliver Mr. Horace Wigan Snake

Mr. Mercer
Charles
Mr. H. Neville Careless

Mr. H. Crellin
Joseph Mr. J. Clayton Sir Harry Mr. Elton
Crabtree Mr. Thos. Thorne Lady Teazle Miss Fawcitt
Sir Benjamin... Mr. David James Maria

Miss Marie Rhodes Rowley

Mr. Roberts Lady Sneerwell Miss S. Rignold Moses... Mr. Nye Chart Mrs. Candour ... Miss Oliver Only three persons (Miss M. Oliver, Mr. Farren, and Mr. Roberts) played throughout tha run; but the most important change was in the part of “Charles,” wnich for the final thirty-six nights was played by Mr. Charles Warner, one of the most promising light comedians now on the stage.

...

increased influence in the affairs of the theatre, was the appointment of his father to be manager—a reconciliation having taken place between them.

One of the novelties of the year was a musical entertainment called “The Camp," which was falsely attributed to Mr. Sheridan at the time. This unworthy trifle (as appears from a rough copy of it) was the production of Tickell, and the patience with which his friend submitted to the imputation of having written it, was a sort of “martyrdom of fame " which few but himself could afford.

At the beginning of the year 1779 Garrick died, and Sheridan, as chief mourner, followed him to the grave. He also wrote a monody to his memory, which was delivered by Mrs. Yates, after the play of “ The West Indian,” in the month of March following. During the interment of Garrick in Poet's Corner, Mr. Burke had remarked that the statue of Shakspeare seemed to point to the grave where the great actor of his works was laid. This hint did not fall idly on the ear of Sheridan, as the following fixation of the thought, in the verses which he afterwards wrote, proved :

“The throng that mourn'd as their dead favourite pass’d,
The grac'd respect that claim'd him to the last ;
While Shakspeare's image, from its hallow'd base,
Seem'd to prescribe the grave and point the place."

It was in the course of this same year that he produced the entertainment of “The Critic”-his last legitimate offering on the shrine of the Dramatic Muse. The plan of a Rehearsal was first adopted, for the purpose of ridiculing Dryden, by te Duke of Buckingham.

Fielding tried the same plan in a variety of pieces-in his Pasquin, his Historical Register, his Author's Farce, his Eurydice, &c.,—but without much success, except in the comedy of Pasquin, which had at first a prosperous career, though it has since, except with the few that still read it for its fine tone of pleasantry, fallen into oblivion. It was reserved for Sheridan

« 이전계속 »