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314 MEMOIRS OF R. B. SHERIDAN.
It will be easily believed that, in looking over the remains, both dramatic and poetical, from which the foregoing specimens are taken, I have been frequently tempted to indulge in much ampler extracts. It appeared to me, however, more prudent, to rest satisfied with the selections here given; for, while less would have disappointed the curiosity of the reader, more might have done injustice to the memory of the author.
The period at which Mr. Sheridan entered upon his political career was, in every respect, remarkable. A persevering and vindictive war against America, with the folly and guilt of which the obstinacy of the Court and the acquiescence of the people are equally chargeable, was fast approaching that crisis, which every unbiassed spectator of the contest had long foreseen,--and at which, however humiliating to the haughty pretensions of England, every friend to the liberties of the human race rejoiced. It was, perhaps, as difficult for this country to have been long and virulently opposed to such principles as the Americans asserted in this contest, without being herself corrupted by the cause which she maintained, as it was for the French to have fought, in the same conflict, by the side of the oppressed, without catching a portion of that enthusiasm for liberty, which such an alliance was calculated to inspire. Accordingly, while the voice of Philosophy was heard along the neighbouring shores,
speaking aloud those oracular warnings, which preceded the death of the Great Pan of Despotism, the courtiers and lawyers of England were, with an emulous spirit of servility, advising and sanctioning such strides of power, as would not have been unworthy of the most dark and slavish times.
When we review, indeed, the history of the late reign, and consider how invariably the arms and councils of Great Britain, in her Eastern wars, her conflict with America, and her efforts against revolutionary France, were directed to the establishment and perpetuation of despotic principles, it seems little less than a miracle that her own liberty should have escaped with life from the contagion. Never, indeed, can she be sufficiently grateful to the few patriot spirits of this period, to whose courage and eloquence she owes the high station of freedom yet left to her ;never can her sons pay a homage too warm to the memory of such men as a Chatham, a Fox, and a Sheridan; who, however much they may have sometimes sacrificed to false views of expediency, and, by compromise with friends and coalition with foes, too often weakened their hold upon public confidence; however the attraction of the Court may have sometimes made them librate in their orbit, were yet the saving lights of Liberty in those times, and alone preserved the ark of the Constitution from foun
dering in the foul and troubled waters that encompassed it.
Not only were the public events, in which Mr. Sheridan was now called to take a part, of a nature more extraordinary and awful than had often been exhibited on the theatre of politics, but the leading actors in the scene were of that loftier order of intellect, which Nature seems to keep in reserve for the ennoblement of such great occasions. Two of these, Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox, were already in the full maturity of their fame and talent,-while the third, Mr. Pitt, was just upon the point of entering, with the most auspicious promise, into the same splendid career;
" Nunc cuspide Patris Inclytus, Herculeas olim moture sagittas."
Though the administration of that day, like many other ministries of the same reign, chosen inore for the pliancy than the strength of its materials, yet Lord North himself was no ordinary man, and, in times of less difficulty and under less obstinate dictation, might have ranked as a useful and most popular minister. It is true, as the defenders of his ineasures state, that some of the worst aggressions upon the rights of the Colonies had been committed before he ceeded to power. But his readiness to follow in these rash footsteps, and to deepen every fatal impression which they had made ;-his insulting
ou So when dramatic statesmen talk apart,
With practis'd gesture and heroic start,
The following lines seem to belong to the same Epilogue:“ The Campus Martius of St. James's Street,
Where the beau's cavalry pace lo and fro,
He had also begun another Epilogue, directed against female gamesters, of which he himself repeated a couplet or two to Mr. Rogers a short time before his death, and of which there remain some few scattered traces among his
papers :- A night of fretful passion may consume
All that thou hast of beauty's gentle bloom,
Ungrateful blushes and disorder'd sighs,
Gay srniles, which once belong'd to mirth alone,
+ These four lines, as I have already remarked, are takenwith little change of the words, but a total alteration of the sentiment- from the verses which he addressed to Mrs. Sheridan in the year 1773. See page 107.