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O, that within my cage I had but tarried.'
“The Ode to the Devil,” is in reality a severe satire upon human nature under an unpleasant form. He says that men accuse the devil of being the cause of all the misdoings with which they are themselves solely chargeable, moreover that in truth they are very fond of him, and guilty of gross ingratitude in calling him bad names:-
“O Satan! whatsoever gear
Black, red, or blue, or yellow
A most bewitching fellow.
Howe'er the world may scout thee
They cannot do without thee.” Sheridan was one of those writers to whose pecuniary distresses we owe the rich treasure he has bequeathed. His brother and his best friend confided to him that they were both in love with Miss Linley, a public singer, and his romantic or comic nature suggested to him that while they were competing for the prize, he might clandestinely carry it off. Succeeding in his attempt, he withdrew his wife from her profession, and was ever afterwards in difficulties.
He seems in his comedies to have a love of sudden strokes and surprises, approaching almost to practical jokes, and very successful when upon the stage. A screen is thrown down and Lady Teazle discovered behind it-a sword instead of a trinket drops out of Captain Absolute's coat-the old duenna puts on her mistress' dress all these produce an excellent effect without showing any very great power of humour. But he was celebrated as a wit in society—was full of repartee and pleasantry, and we are surprised to find that his plays only contain a few brilliant passages, and that their tissue is not more generally shot through with threads of gold.
In comparison with the other dramatists of whom we have spoken, we observe in Sheridan the work of a more modern age. We have here no indelicacy or profanity, excepting the occasional oath, then fashionable ; but we meet that satirical play on the manners and sentiments of men, which distinguishes later humour. In Mrs. Malaprop, we have some of that confusion of words, which seems to have been traditional upon the stage. Thus, she says that Captain Absolute is the very “pine-apple of perfection," and that to think of her daughter's marrying a penniless man, gives her the “hydrostatics.” She does not wish her to be a. “progeny of learning, but she should have a “supercilious knowledge” of accounts, and be acquainted with the “contagious countries.” There is a satire, which will come home to most of us in Malaprop, notwithstanding her ignorance and stupidity, giving her opinion authoritatively on education. She says that Lydia Languish has been spoiled by reading novels, in which Sir Anthony agrees. “Madam, a circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge! It blossoms through the year, and depend on it, Mrs. Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves, will long for the fruit at last.” Not only Mrs. Malaprop, but also Sir Anthony, form an entirely wrong estimate of themselves. The latter tells his son that he must marry the woman he selects for him, although she have the “skin of a mummy, and beard of a Jew.” On his son objecting, he tells him not to be angry. “So you will fly out! Can't you be cool like me? What the devil good can a passion do? Passion is of no service, you impudent, violent, over-bearing reprobate. There, you sneer again ! don't provoke me !—but you rely on the mildness of my temper, you do, you dog!”.
kind—very suitable for stage effect, but not exquisite as wit. Hazlitt admits this in very complimentary terms :
“His comic muse does not go about prying into obscure corners, or collecting idle curiosities, but shows her laughing face, and points to her rich treasure the follies of mankind. She is garlanded and crowned with roses and vine leaves. Her eyes sparkle with delight, and her heart runs over with good-natured malice.”
Sheridan often aims at painting his scenes so as to be in antithesis to ordinary life. In Faulkland we have a lover so morbidly sensitive, that even every kindness his mistress shows him, gives him the most exquisite pain. Don Ferdinand is much in the same state. Lydia Languish is so romantic, that she is about to discard her lover—with whom she intended to elope—as soon as she hears he is a man of fortune. In Isaac the Jew, we have a man who thinks he is cheating others, while he is really being cheated. Sir Peter Teazle's bickering with his wife is well known and appreciated. The subject is the oldest which has tempted the comic muse, and still is, unhappily, always fresh. The following extracts are from “ The Duenna”
Isaac says to Father Paul that “he looks the very priest of Hymen !”
Paul. In short I may be called so, for I deal in repen. tance and mortification.
Don Antonio. But thou hast a good fresh colour in thy face, father, i' faith!
Paul. Yes. I have blushed for mankind till the hue of my shame is as fixed as their vices.
Isaac. Good man!
Paul. And I have laboured too, but to what purpose ? they continue to sin under my very nose.
Isaac. Efecks, fasher, I should have guessed as much for your nose seems to be put to the blush more than any other part of your face.
Don Jerome's song is worthy of Gay :“If a daughter you have she's the plague of your life No peace shall you know though you've buried your wife, At twenty she mocks at the duty you taught her, Oh! what a plague is an obstinate daughter!
Sighing and whining,
Dying and pining, Oh, what a plague is an obstinate daughter! “When scarce in their teens they have wit to perplex us,
With letters and lovers for ever they vex us :
Wrangling and jangling,
Flouting and pouting,
One of Sheridan's strong situations is produced in this play. Don Jerome gives Isaac a glowing description of his daughter's charms; but when the latter goes to see her, the Duenna personates her.
Isaac. Madam, the greatness of your goodness over. powers me, that a lady so lovely should deign to turn her beauteous eyes on me, so. (He turns and sees her.)
Duenna. You seem surprised at my condescension.
Isaac. Why yes, madam, I am a little surprised at it. (A side) This can never be Louisa-She's as old as my mother! ...
Duenna. Signor, won't you sit ?
Isaac. Pardon me, Madam, I have scarcely recovered my astonishment at-your condescension, Madam. (Aside) She has the devil's own dimples to be sure.
Duenna. I do not wonder, Sir, that you are surprised at my affability. I own, Signor, that I was vastly prepossessed against you, and being teazed by my father, did