Archive for March 11th, 2012
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( Rich.d Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)
R. B. Sheridan was born in 1751 in Dublin, Ireland, where his family had a house on then-fashionable Dorset Street. His father, Thomas Sheridan, was for a while an actor-manager at the Smock Alley Theatre but, following his move to England in 1758, he gave up acting and wrote a number of books concerning education. His mother also was equally talented and a playwright and novelist. The family moved permanently to England in 1758 when he was aged seven.
In 1772 Richard Sheridan fought a famous duel against Captain Thomas Mathews over one of the most beautiful girls in her day Elizabeth Linley. Mathews had written a newspaper article defaming her character, the woman Sheridan intended to marry, and honour dictated that a duel must be fought. In the second fight he was grievously hurt but fortunately his remarkable constitution pulled him through.
In 1773, Richard Sheridan at age 21 married Elizabeth Ann Linley and set up house in London on a lavish scale with little money and no immediate prospects of any. Sheridan began writing for the stage.
His most famous play The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, 8 May 1777) is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It was followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration play The Rehearsal.
Having quickly made his name and fortune, in 1776 Sheridan bought David Garrick’s share in the Drury Lane patent, and in 1778 the remaining share. His later plays were all produced there.
In 1780, Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He is said to have paid the burgesses of Stafford five guineas apiece for the honour of representing them. As a consequence, his first speech in Parliament had to be a defence against the charge of bribery.
In 1793 during the debates on the Aliens Act designed to prevent French Revolutionary spies and saboteurs from flooding into the country, Edmund Burke made a speech in which he claimed there were thousands of French agents in Britain ready to use weapons against the authorities. To dramatically emphasise his point he threw down a knife onto the floor of the House of Commons. Sheridan is said to have shouted out “Where’s the fork?”, which led to much of the house collapsing in laughter.
When he failed to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, after 32 years, his creditors closed in on him and his last years were harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the American Congress offered Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American War of Independence. The offer was refused.
In December 1815 he became ill, largely confined to bed. Sheridan died in poverty, and such was the esteem he was held in by his contemporaries when he died that he was buried at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. He is known for his plays such as The Rivals, The School for Scandal and A Trip to Scarborough.
In 1825 the Irish writer Thomas Moore published a two-volume sympathetic biography Memoirs of the Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan which became a major influence on subsequent perceptions of him.
On the night of one performance of Sheridan’s farce’ The Critic’ the tragedy writer Cumberland was present. Sheridan asked someone if Cumberland had been seen to laugh. The reply was, ‘No.’
‘Why then,’ remarked Sheridan, ‘that was cursedly ungrateful in him for during his last tragedy I confoundedly laughed at every scene.”
Sheridan’s management of theatre was lackadaisical and his foray into politics was draining his resources. Micawber-like he expected something to turn up even as he got deeper into debts. It so happened he soon found creditors at his door.
A certain creditor from the livery stable physically prevented him from going out on one occasion. Unabashed he sat down with the livery stable keeper going through his unopened letters. Little by little 350 pounds were discovered in them. ‘Lucky dog, Fozard, you’ve hit it this time, ‘was his comment.