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Brinsley Butler, Lord Lanesborough, governor of the county of Cavan, and a particular friend of the family.
At the age of seven years he was, with his elder brother, Charles Francis, placed under the tuition of Mr. Samuel Whyte, of Grafton Street, Dublin; but they remained little more than a year under his care.
From Mr. Whyte's school the boys were removed to England, where Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan had lately gone to reside, and in the year 1762 Richard was sent to Harrow-Charles being kept at home as a fitter subject for the instructions of his father, who, by one of those calculations of poor human foresight, which the deity called Eventus by the Romans takes such wanton pleasure in falsifying, considered his elder son as destined to be the brighter of the two brother stars. At Harrow, Richard contrived to win the affection, and even admiration, of the whole school, both masters and pupils, by the mere charm of his frank and genial manners, and by the occasional gleams of superior intellect, which broke through all the indolence and indifference of his character.
Harrow, at this time, possessed some peculiar advantages, of which a youth like Sheridan might have powerfully availed himself. At the head of the school was Dr. Robert Sumner, a man of fine talents, but unfortunately one of those who have passed away without leaving any trace behind, except in the admiring recollection of their contemporaries. At the same period, the distinguished scholar, Dr. Parr, who, to the massy erudition of a former age, joined all the free and enlightened intelligence of the present, was one of the under-masters of the school; and both he and Dr. Sumner endeavoured, by every method they could devise, to awaken in Sheridan a consciousness of those powers which, under all the disadvantages of indolence and carelessness, it was manifest to them that he possessed.
The following is an extract from a letter written by Dr. Parr, on the subject of Sheridan's youth
“Sumner and I saw in him vestiges of a superior intellect. His eye, his countenance, his general manner, were striking.
dis answers to any common question were prompt and acute. We knew the esteem, and even admiration, which, somehow or other, all his schoolfellows felt for him. He was mischievous enough, but his pranks were accompanied by a sort of vivacity and cheerfulness which delighted Sumner and myself. I had much talk with him about his apple-loft, for the supply of which all the gardens in the neighbourhood were taxed, and some of the lower boys were employed to furnish it. I threatened, but without asperity, to trace the depredators, through his associates, up to their leader. He, with perfect good-humour, set me at defiance, and I never could bring the charge home to him. All boys and all masters were pleased with him. I often praised him as a lad of great talents—often exhorted him to use them well; but my exhortations were fruitless. I take for granted that his taste was silently improved, and that he knew well the little which he did know. He was removed from school too soon by his father, who was the intimate friend of Sumner, and whom I often met at his house. The father, you know, was a wrong-headed, whimsical man, and, perhaps, his scanty circumstances were one of the reasons which prevented him from sending Richard to the University. He must have been aware, as Sumner and I were, that Richard's mind was not cast in any ordinary mould.
“Let me assure you that Richard, when a boy, was by no means vicious. The sources of his infirmities were a scanty and precarious allowance from the father ; the want of a regular plan for some profession; and, above all, the act of throwing him upon the town, when he ought to have been pursuing his studies at the University. He would have done little among mathematicians at Cambridge ; he would have been a rake, or an idler, or a trifler, at Dublin ; but I am inclined to think that at Oxford he would have become an excellent scholar."
During the greater part of Richard's stay at Harrow, his father had been compelled by the embarrassment of his affairs to reside with the remainder of the family in France, and it was at Blois, in the September of 1766, that Mrs. Sheridan died
leaving behind her that best kind of fame, which results from a life of usefulness and purity, and which it requires not the aid of art or eloquence to blazon.
As a supplement to Dr. Parr's letter, I subjoin an extract from a letter, which Sheridan's eldest sister, Mrs. Lefanu, wrote a few months after his death, to Mrs. Sheridan, in consequence of a wish expressed by the latter that Mrs. Lefanu would communicate such particulars as she remembered of his early days. After giving an account of the residence of the family in France, she continues :"We returned to England, when I may say I first became acquainted with my brother-for faint and imperfect were my recollections of him, as might be expected from my age. I saw him; and my childish attachment revived with double force. He was handsome, not merely in the eyes of a partial sister, but generally allowed to be so. His cheeks had the glow of health, his eyes—the finest in the world --the brilliancy of genius, and were soft as a tender and affectionate heart could render them. The same playful fancy, the same sterling and innoxious wit, that was shown afterwards in his writings, cheered and delighted the family circle. I admired -I almost adored him. I would most willingly have sacrificed my life for him, as I, in some measure, proved to him at Bath, where we resided for some time, and where events that you must have heard of engaged him in a duel. My father's displeasure threatened to involve me in the denunciations against him, for committing what he considered as a crime. Yet I risked everything, and in the event was made happy by obtaining forgiveness for my brother. *** * You may perceive, dear sister, that very little indeed have I to say on a subject so near your heart, and near mine also. That for years I lost sight of a brother whom I loved with unabated affection-a love that neither absence nor neglect could chill-I always consider as a great misfortune.”
On his leaving Harrow, where he continued till near his eighteenth year, he was brought home by his father, who, with the elder son, Charles, had lately returned from France, and
taken a house in London. Here the two brothers for some time received private tuition from Mr. Lewis Kerr, an Irish gentleman. However inattentive to his studies he may have been at Harrow, it appears that in poetry, which is usually the first exercise in which these young athletæ of intellect try their strength, he had already distinguished himself--and, in conjunction with his friend Nathaniel Halhed, had translated the seventh Idyl, and many of the lesser poems of Theocritus. This literary partnership was resumed soon after their departure from Harrow. In the year 1770, when Halhed was at Oxford, and Sheridan residing with his father at Bath, they entered into a correspondence (of which, unluckily, only Halhed's share remains), and, with all the hope and spirit of young adventurers, began and prosecuted a variety of works together, of which none but their translations of “Aristænetus" ever saw the light.
“Aristænetus” made its appearance in August, 1771, and although treated with much favour by the reviewers was a pecuniary failure.
It was about this time that Sheridan first met Miss Linley, the celebrated singer, generally known as the Maid of Bath. Her personal charms, her exquisite musical talents, and the full light of publicity which her profession threw upon both, naturally attracted round her a crowd of admirers, in whom the sympathy of a common pursuit soon kindled into rivalry, till she became at length an object of vanity as well as of love.
She had been at the early age of sixteen on the point of marriage with Mr. Long, an old gentleman of considerable fortune in Wiltshire, who proved the reality of his attachment to her in a way which few young lovers would be romantic enough to imitate. On her secretly representing to him that she never could be happy as his wife, he generously took upon himself the whole blame of breaking off the alliance, and even indemnified the father, who was proceeding to bring the transaction into court, by settling £3000 upon his daughter. Mr.
Sheridan, who owed to this liberal conduct not only the possession of the woman he loved, but the means of supporting her during the first years of their marriage, spoke invariably of Mr. Long, who lived to a very advanced age, with all the kindness and respect which such a disinterested character merited.
It was about the middle of the year 1770 that the Sheridans took up their residence in King's Mead Street, Bath, where an acquaintance commenced between them and Mr. Linley's family, which the kindred tastes of the young people soon ripened into intimacy. It was not to be expected—though parents,
in general, are as blind to the first approach of these dangers, as they are rigid and unreasonable after they have happened — that such youthful poets and musicians should come together, without Love very soon making one of the party. Accordingly, the two brothers and their friend Halhed became deeply enamoured of Miss Linley.
In love, as in everything else, the power of a mind like Sheridan's must have made itself felt through all difficulties and obstacles. He was not long in winning the entire confidence and affections of the young Queen of Song, though the number and wealth of his rivals, the ambitious views of her father, and the temptations to which she was hourly exposed, kept his jealousies and fears perpetually on the watch.
But, to the honour of her sex, which is, in general, more disinterested than the other, it was found that neither rank nor wealth had influenced her heart in its election; and Halhed, who, like others, had estimated the strength of his rivals by their rent rolls, discovered that his unpretending friend, Sheridan (whose advances in courtship and in knowledge seem to have been equally noiseless and triumphant), was the chosen avourite of her at whose feet so many fortunes lay.
To this period of Mr. Sheridan's life we are indebted for inost of those elegant love- verses, which are so well known and so often quoted. The lines, « Uncouth is this mosscovered grotto of stone,” he addressed to Miss Linley, after having offended her by one of those lectures upon decorum of