페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

were made, and the play leaped at once into the height of popular favor. By this production, sentimental comedy was given a blow which finally proved fatal; but not without violent protest from its admirers.

In 1774, Sheridan became manager of Drury Lane Theatre, succeeding Garrick. The second play to be produced under the new régime was the celebrated “School for Scandal,” which created a tremendous furore and enjoyed a run unprecedented for those days. In 1779 “The Critic” received its first performance, and also was extremely successful.

In 1780, chiefly through the good offices of Fox and Burke, Sheridan was sent to the House of Commons

member for the borough of Stafford. During the first years of his political life, he produced but little impression. His connection with the stage, moreover, was the cause of many mortifications to him, for he was constantly taunted with it by members of the other party.

In following Fox into opposition, Sheridan became one of his most ardent and valuable supporters. In 1787 his great opportunity

Burke started a subject which afforded the orators of his party an extraordinary occasion for the most brilliant displays of eloquence. This was the impeachment of Warren Hastings. To Sheridan was allotted the charge relating to the spoliation

as

a

came.

of the Begum princesses of Oude. A considerable portion of his speech on this subject will be found in this volume.

Of this magnificent specimen of oratory Mr. Burke declared that it was “the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument and wit united, of which there was any record or tradition.” Mr. Fox said, “all that he had ever heard, all that he had ever read, when compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapor before the sun.” And Mr. Pitt acknowledged that "it surpassed all the eloquence of ancient and modern times, and possessed everything that genius or art could furnish, to agitate and control the human mind.”

Later on, the speech known as the “Begum Speech," was delivered, and created no less excitement. Sheridan was now fully recognized as a very great orator, and he maintained his right to be considered such to the very end of his Parliamentary career. In the extracts from the most famous of his subsequent speeches which we have made, we have endeavored to show the varied extent of his powers, his wit, his eloquence, his humor and his scathing sarcasm.

They have been taken from the best reports obtainable. It is a singular fact, however, and a matter of regret as well, that so few English orators of that time took any pains to have their speeches correctly transmitted to posterity.

Sheridan revised only one of his for publication.

Sheridan's political career closed in 1812. His very last words in Parliament, on his own motion relative to the overtures of peace from France, were as follows:

"Yet, after the general subjugation and ruin of Europe, should there ever exist an independent historian to record the awful events that produced this universal calamity, let that historian have to say—“Great Britain fell, and with her fell all the best securities for the charities of human life, for the power and honor, the fame, the glory, and the liberties, not only of herself, but of the whole civilized world.”

Sheridan was as unique in his personality as he was in his genius. For quickness of wit and readiness of repartee, he has rarely been equalled, never surpassed. The truth of this will readily be recognized by a perusal of the specimens we have collected under the heading of "Anecdotes and Witty Sayings. His powers of fascination, too, were great, and neither dissipation nor his reputed character as a roué could affect his success in this direction.

Over the irregularities of his private life it is perhaps best to draw a veil. Suffice it to say, that he was accused of all sorts of profligacy and undue indulgences, but the stories told of him are probably somewhat

highly colored. It is certain, however, that his intimacy with the dissolute Prince of Wales, afterward George the Fourth, was, to say the least, productive of no benefit to him. But then, Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis. One age has no right to judge the manners and customs of another by its own.

The last years of Sheridan's life were embittered by poverty, the clamors of legal pursuers, and the neglect of former friends. Yet, those who had been heedless of him when alive, focked to do him honor when dead. An unprecedented array of rank and celebrity graced his funeral at Westminster Abbey, where he was buried in the Poets' Corner.

Lord Byron, who was deeply attached to Sheridan, after alluding in the most charitable way to his weaknesses, and saying that “what seemed vice might be but woe,” closes his poem with the following lines:

Long shall we seek his likeness, long in vain, And turn to all of him which may remain, Sighing that nature formed but one such man, And broke the die in moulding Sheridan!"

ARTHUR D. HALL.

Comedies.

« 이전계속 »