Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

He was

labyrinth of dark and winding pas- a striking proof that popularity is a sages, almost a day's journey, until be very uncertain criterion of merit. reached his distant and elevated post. With the exception, perhaps, of Pi“Now, Mr. Holland,” cried Sheridan, zarro and Bluebeard, The Castle Spectre “are you there and ready?" Yes," brought more cash than any piece that was the immediate answer. "Can had been produced for twenty years. you hear me?” Perfectly, perfectly, The ghost, which was expected to be Mr. Sheridan !” “ Then I wish you a the cause of failure, proved the great very good morning.” So saying Sheri- source of attraction. George Frededan disappeared, and was two or three rick Cooke, in his journal, says: “I miles oft before Holland could descend. hope it will not be hereafter believed Another long interval occurred ere he that The Castle Spectre could draw was able to chase the fugitive to his crowded houses when the most sublime lair again.

productions of the immortal Shak. Towards the end of 1795, Sheridan speare were played to empty benches." contracted a second marriage with Reader, pause and ponder over the Miss Esther Jane Ogle, daughter of unfathomable eccentricities of public the Dean of Winchester.

taste. A story is told, that towards then at the ripe age of forty-four, and the end of the season Sheridan and the lady young enough to be his Lewis had some dispute in the greendaughter. She was fascinating and room, when the latter offered, in conhandsome, while constant intemperance firmation of bis arguments, to bet Mr. had made sad inroads on his personal S. all the money which The Castle pretensions. His nose bad become Spectre bad brought that he was right. red, and his cheeks bloated; yet such No,” replied the manager, “I canwere the charms of his manner, mind, not afford to bet so much, Mat. ; but and conversation, that he soon changed I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll bet you the original aversion of his selected all it is worth !This retort was as bride into enthusiastic love. In spite witty as it was ungrateful and illof his pecuniary difficulties, he con- timed, and proves that Sheridan, under trived to raise fifteen thousand pounds any circumstances, could never resist (by selling shares in Drury-lane Thea- the temptation of a joke. tre), which sum the Dean required The Castle Spectre produced but a to be settled upon his daughter and temporary lull in the storm of pecuher children, should she have any, in niary difficulty by which the manageaddition to five thousand which he ment of Drury-lane Theatre was concontributed himself. These conditions tinually beset. Sheridan found himcomprised the sine qua non of his con- self compelled to resume the dramatic sent, and being complied with, an pen he had so long abandoned, and estate called Polesden, at Leatherhead after an interval of twenty years emin Surrey, was purchased with the ployed his genius on an amalgamation money, and carefully invested in the of Kotzebue's two dramas of The Virname of Mrs. Sheridan and her future gin of the Sun and The Death of Rolla; offspring Here was a second love. out of whicb, through the medium of match, not quite so romantic as the previous English translations, with first, but fully as ardent in mutual much original matter, he compounded affection.

the far-famed romantic play of PiSheridan, like many other clever zarro, or The Spaniards in Peru. No people of expanded minds, was prone play has been more abused, yet none to superstition. He had implicit con- was ever so successful. It has been fidence in dreams, with a full reliance called an unworthy prostitution of Sheon lucky and unlucky days. Nothing ridan's brilliant talents, a monstrous could induce him to travel, or allow a melodrama in five acts, an absurd, new play to be brought out, on a Fri- inflated, unnatural farrago, with many day. On the 14th of December, 1797, other vituperative epithets too numea drama was produced, the unexpected rous to detail. Yet what modern ma. run of which relieved for a while the nager would not rejoice to stumble on embarrassments of the theatre, and re- such a mine of gold? We shrewdly plenished the exhausted treasury. This suspect too that if now presented for was The Castle Spectre, by Lewis, the the first time, the interest of the story, author of “The Monk.” The great suc. and the dramatic strength of the leadcess of this piece, which is in truth a ing characters, would carry it over all jumble of absurdity, may be quoted as objections. The first representation took place on the 24th of May, 1799. causes have been assigned for his disIt was so late in the season that there like to the theatre ; some susticiently was no room for more than thirty-one absurd — such as a personal dislike to repetitions, but for several following Sheridan because he was a Whig, a years the attraction continued with partisan of Fox, and an intimate assounabated interest. Many stories are ciate of the Prince of Wales; but the told with respect to the difficulty of most probable one is, that he had comgetting Sheridan to finish the play, on manded two pieces, which, on account which the very existence of the theatre of the complicated machinery, could depended. Neither duns from with. not be acted on the same evening unout, nor disaffection within, could less he chose to wait two or three arouse him from his prevailing, sin of hours between the play and the farce procrastination. It has been said that a delay little suited to the legitithe fifth act was not complete when the mate impatience of royalty. The inticurtain went up for the first, and that mation of the difficulty was given in a the last scene was handed to the actors manner not considered as consonant while the ink was wet, and the paper with court etiquette. blotted with corrections. It has been Mr. Pitt having also been induced also affirmed that Sheridan refused to see Pizarro, was asked his opinion. eight hundred pounds for the copy- “ If you mean,” said he, “ what Sheriright, that he afterwards accepted one dan wrote, there is nothing new in it, thousand, and also that he declined for I have heard it all long ago, in his both offers, and finally published the speeches at Hastings's trial." One of play on his own account. If so, his the finest ideas seems to have been profit must have been enormous, for borrowed from Burke. Rolla says, before the expiration of 1811, twenty- “I am as a blighted plantain, standnine editions, each of one thousand co- ing alone amid the sandy desert — nopies, had passed through the press. thing seeks or lives beneath my shelter. The greater part of his alterations are Thou art a husband and a father.” highly judicious ; and many poetical The reader that can lay his hand on passages are introduced which are Burke's celebrated letter to the Duke pleasing and impressive, whether lis- of Bedford, will find that the writer, tened to from the stage or perused in then a widower, and deprived of his the closet. The scenic effects are nu. only son, makes a similar comparison merous and striking, and the leading in language still more noble and affectpersonages afford great scope to great ing. We do not recollect the precise actors. John Kemble was magnificent words, but their tenor is the same. in Rolla ; and Mrs. Siddons, although Sheridan with becoming though unat first she disliked Elvira, found that usual gallantry, inscribed Pizarro to the part added much to her reputa- his wife, in the following words:tion. She was singularly unfortunate “ To her, whose approbation of this throughout her career in original cha. drama, and whose peculiar delight in racters. This was the best that fell to the applause it has received from the her lot, and by this scale the value of public, has been to me the highest the others may be estimated,

gratification its success has produced, No speech was ever better calculated I dedicate this play.”. to entrap applause than Rolla's address During the high tide of the Pizarro to the soldiers, which is entirely She- mania, a descriptive burlesque song ridan's, and not in the original. It appeared in the papers, and obtained was evidently intended as an ad cap. notoriety enough to be perpetuated in tandum reference to the war with the the “Annual Register." Some said French Republic and a philippic it was written by Colman, others atagainst the principles of the Revolu- tributed it to Porson. The learned tion; yet nothing is said which might professor, though a professed Grecian, not with perfect propriety be addressed was a humorous man withal, and into an army of Peruvians. Such was dulged in jocularity (particularly in the popularity of this tragedy, that the his cups), not always restrained “withKing, George III., could not resist his in the limits of becoming mirth.” The desire to see it. He had not been at deeply studious but eccentric mind Drury-lane for some years. Many which conceived the “ Devil's Walk,"*

* " The Devil'sWalk," so long attributed to Porson, is now claimed as the property of Coleridge.

gay,

and “Lingo drawn for the Militia," by his appointment to the post of might as easily, in the relaxation of Receiver - General of the Duchy of hora subseciva, descend to the following Cornwall for his Royal Highness the jeu d'esprit :

Prince of Wales. During the short

administration of Mr. Fox, in 1806, PIZARRO-AN EXCELLENT NEW SONG. he was made Treasurer of the Navy, "As I walked through the Strand, so careless and The office was inferior to what a per

son of his ability, with more regular I met a young girl who was wheeling a barrow : Choice fruit, sir,' said she, and a bill of the play,'

habits, might have expected; but the So my apples I bought, and set off for Pizarro. salary was acceptable, and his enjoy"When I got to the door I was squeez'd, and cried

ment of it unfortunately brief. On dear me

the 24th of February, 1809, Sheridan I wonder they made the entrance so narrow ;' At last I got in, and found every one near me

experienced the heaviest calamity of Was busily talking of Mr. Pizarro.

his life - Drury-lane being, on that

evening, totally consumed by fire. As “Lo! the hero appears-what a strut and a strideHe might easily pass for Field-Marshal Suwarrow;

this was a Friday in Lent, there had And Elvira so tall, neither virgin nor bride, been no performance. The same caBut the loving companion of gallant Pizarro.

tastrophe had befallen Covent Garden “This Elvira, alas! turn'd so dull and so prosy,

only five months before, on the 19th That I long'd for a hornpipe by little Del Caro ; of September, 1808; so that the two Had I been "mongst the gods, I had surely cried, • Nosey,

great metropolitan theatres were leCome play up a jig, and a fig for Pizarro !' velled to their foundations at the same

time. “ On his wife and his child his affection to pay,

The close recurrence of two Alonzo stood gazing as straight as an arrow;

such conflagrations excited much sus. But of him I have only this little to say,

picion that the second was intentional ; That his boots were much neater than those of Pizarro !

but on a strict examination it appeared

to have resulted, like the first, from " Then the priestess and virgins, in robes white and accident, or fowing,

more properly, from Walked solemnly on, like a sow and her farrow, shameful neglect. It was proved that And politely informed the whole house they were the stove in the upper coffee-room was

going
To entreat heaven's curses on miscreant Pizarro.

of slight construction: the workmen

who had been employed during the "Then at it they went-how they made us all stare :

day had made a much larger fire than One growl'd like a bear, and one chirp'd like a sparrow;

it was customary to make there, the I listened, but all I could learn, I declare,

remains of which were left in it at four War, that vengeance would certainly fall on Pizarro.

o'clock in the afternoon. It is reason.

able to suppose that the fire had com“Rolla made a fine speech, with such logic and

municated with the surrounding woodAs must sure rouse the envy of Counsellor Garrow- work, and had been gaining strength It would sell for five pounds, were it brought to the froin that time until about eleven at

hammerFor it rais'd all Peru against valiant Pizarro. night, when it burst forth. Before

twelve the whole of the interior was "Four acts are tol, lol—but the fifth's my delight,

one blaze; at three the flames had Where history's traced with the pen of a Varro; And Elvira in black, and Alonzo in white,

nearly subsided, and nothing remained Put an end to the piece by killing Pizarro. but a vast congeries of ruins. From "I have finished my song. If I had but a tune

the date of this unfortunate event, Nancy Dawson' won't do, nor • The Sweet Braes Sheridan's fate appears to have been

of YarrowI vow I could sing it from morning to noon,

definitively sealed. The source of im. So much am I charmed with the play of Pizarro!"

mediate supply was cut off; and when

the new theatre opened in 1812, he Pizarro, like the Castle Spectre, ceased to have any connexion with could only feed the endless wants of the management: His conduct while the theatrical exchequer for a limited at the head of this great national period. The usual negligence and in- concern has been too severely conattention to business soon brought demned by Watkins, and too leniently back the ever - recurring difficulties. extenuated by Moore. The balance Many questions and claims required of truth lies between the two statethe interference of the Lord Chan. ments. Sheridan laboured under many cellor, who always decided with as peculiar habits which unfitted him for much delicacy and consideration for the complicated duties of his office; but Sheridan as he could possibly exercise want of capital may be pronounced in consistency with his high office. the overwhelming influence which, The manager's means were increased like Aaron's rod, swallowed up all

gran.mar,

[ocr errors]

his pen.

minor deficiencies. He began in debt, Sheridan left behind him fragments and had no sinking fund to hold out of an unfinished opera, intended to be even a dream of liquidation. He be- called The Foresters. He often alludhaved ill to King, his first deputy ed to this in conversation, particularly manager; worse to Kemble, the se- when any regret was expressed at his cond, and treated authors with sys- having ceased to assist Old Drury with tematic neglect. The performers suf

" Wait,” he would say, fered greatly by his extravagance. smiling, “ until I bring out my Miss Pope, though an economist, was Foresters.” Moore says that the plot at one time compelled to sell stock to of this musical piece, as far as can be meet her current expenses, notwith- judged by the few meagre scenes that standing that a large sum was due to exist, seems to have been intended as her for weekly salary. Others were an improvement upon that of an earsubjected to similar inconvenience lier drama, from which he has given and all were obliged to take twenty- extracts the devils in the first being five per cent. in substitution of arrears, transformed into foresters in the last.

Sheridan was in the House of Com- The similarity will not be easily appamons when news arrived of the de- rent to the reader who compares the struction of the theatre by fire. Every two; but Moore does not seem to eye turned towards him, and a motion have had the least suspicion that Shefor adjournment was immediately made ridan borrowed many of the leading as a token of general respect; but,

circumstances of his drama from The with Roman composure, he said, Goblins of Sir John Suckling. Moore " that whatever might be the extent has given the whole of a love scene of his private calamity, he hoped it between the Huntsman and Regenella. would not be suffered to interfere with A comparison between this and the the public business of the country.” concluding scene of the third act of It appears quite certain that he re- The Goblins, will show that the formained at his post, which destroys all mer is very nearly a literal transcript the anecdotes that have been told of of the latter-Sheridan having merely his joking on his own misfortune. In converted into prose what Suckling 1812 he lost his seat in Parliament, had originally written in the metrical having no longer money, nor offices form. with which to purchase the votes of It was not likely that the ex-manaindependent electors. From that time ger would feel much inclination to forward bis few remaining years pre- enter the walls on sufferance, within sent little to vary the roll of the muf- which he had so long ruled as arbitrary fled drum, and the gradual approach sovereign. The compliment of a priof the funeral bell. He had now no vate box had been offered to Mrs. Shetemporary resource in the nightly re- ridan by the Drury-lane committee, ceipts of the theatre : his person was but three years elapsed before he open to arrest, and he actually under- availed himself of the privilege. At went the indignity of being taken to a the end of that time he was persuaded sponging house. His books, in splen- by the late Earl of Essex to dine witb, did bindings, the gifts of holiday and accompany him afterwards to see friends, were consigned to the shelves Edmund Kean, of whom he had formof the pawnbrokers; the cup, pre- ed a very high opinion, and whom he sented by the constituency of Stafford, had only once heard in private read went after them ; and the portrait of Othello. On this occasion he was bis first wife disappeared from the walls tempted, after the play had terminated, which it had so long graced as a genius to enter the green-room, where his preloci.

sence was most cordially greeted, and The stipulations which regarded where, surrounded by familiar faces, the interest or claims of Sheridan on and the revival of old associations, he the new theatre, were cruelly framed, recalled the remembrance of the happy and still more harshly enforced, by past, indulged in all his fascinating Whitbread, who was a cold, syste- powers of conversation, and snatched matic, calculating, organised embodi- an hour or two from the pressure of ment of business—as different from the brooding nightmare which bauntthe person he had to deal with as ed him without intermission, and was light and darkness. But the broken hurrying him rapidly to his grave. man was obliged to succumb to the Much has been said and written in flourishing capitalist.

abuse of the late King George lV. for

last,

returned."

his alleged ingratitude to Sheridan, and works of benevolence, there was little total desertion of an attached friend left for the casual instances which preand supporter, who had devoted bis sented themselves. But is was not talents to his service. But here, as in royal munificence that was required, many other cases, gross exaggeration it was the assistance of his own immehas superseded truth, which is not to diate family that was denied him. The be found in the harmoniously flowing, whole of his debts did not amount to but bitterly expressed, verses of Moore, five thousand pounds, and Mrs. Sheriwherein he says, with reference to a dan's settlement had been fifteen thou. sum proffered by the King, then Prince sand; and however kind her conduct was Regent, when Sheridan was on his towards him from the first moment of death-bed :

his malady, she does not seem to bave

influenced her friends to step forward “ The pittance which shame had wrung from thee at

to his pecuniary relief. All that has And which found all his wants at an end, was been affirmed of his forlorn situation at

the hour of his death is borne out by That in the lines alluded to, Moore the testimony of those who saw the conveyed the opinions of Sheridan's utter poverty to which he was reduced. friends, is certain ; but it is equally a A neglected house, the most deplorable fact, that when he lost his interest in want of the common necessaries of life, the theatre and his seat in parliament,

of decent control over the servants, the Prince offered, at his own expense,

whose carelessness even of the physi. to get him returned for a borough ; cian's prescriptions, was remarked-do and that he also came forward to inter- not speak of a wife's domestic managepose between him and the harassing ment, however pure may have been her threats of arrest and imprisonment. affections.” It is but fair that this It was said in the Westminster and statement should be considered on the Quarterly Reviews, that he had ac- one side, while such opposite ones are tually presented Sheridan with four put forward on the other. A compathousand pounds, to which statement rison of evidence is the only true mode Moore gives no credit; but the Edin- by which to arrive at a just sentence. burgh Review, in an elaborate notice On Sunday, the 7th of July, 1816, of the sparkling poet's life of the de- Sheridan died in luis destitution, and in ceased orator, thus speaks to the ques. the sixty-fifth year of his age. A retion:-“With regard to the alleged port of a very shocking nature was gift of £4,000 by his Majesty, we have spread, to the effect that the inanimate the most sincere pleasure in saying corpse had been seized and carried off that we have every reason to believe by his creditors. The laws of the counthat the illustrious person is fully en. try would not permit such an abuse, titled to the credit of that act of bene. which never occurred; although it is ficence, though, according to our in- certain that a sheriff's officer had arformation, its unhappy object did not rested the expiring sufferer, and was derive from it the benefit that was in preparing to take him to prison in his intended. The sum, which we have blankets. The rumour of the violaheard was about £3,000, was, by his tion of the dead arose from the circum. Royal Highness's order, placed in the stance of the body having been removed hands of an attorney for Sheridan's be- from Saville-row to Great Georgenefit, but was then either attached by street, Westminster, the residence of his creditors, or otherwise dissipated in Mr. Peter Moore, an attached friend such a manner that very little of it of the deceased, as being nearer to the actually reached its destination. Nor abbey, and more convenient for a is it to be forgotten, that however de- walking funeral.

On the following sirous bis Royal Highness might have Saturday, all that was mortal of the been to assist Sheridan, he was himself once fascinating companion, matchless an embarrassed man; he had been care- orator, and unapproachable wit, was less of his own expenditure, and there conveyed to the grave. Then the great was not in his treasury the means ade- and influential of the land, who had quate to afford the relief he might have held aloof from the bedchamber of the felt an inclination to give. Every por- dying man, came forward to render tion of the Prince's revenue was appro- empty honour to his inanimate repriated long before it was received ; mains. The “long parade of woe and though there was a sum annually was graced by the presence of royalty, devoted to objects of charity and to while princes and nobles eagerly press.

« ПредишнаНапред »