To say that, with all this, she was not happy, nor escaped the censure of the world, is but to assign to her that share of shadow, without which nothing bright ever existed on this earth. United not only by marriage, but by love, to a man who was the object of universal admiration, and whose vanity and passions too often led him to yield to the temptations by which he was surrounded, it was but natural that, in the consciousness of her own power to charm, she should be now and then piqued into an appearance of retaliation, and seem to listen with complaisance to some of those numerous worshippers, who crowd around such beautiful and unguarded shrines. Not that she was at any time unwatched by Sheridan,—on the contrary, he followed her with a lover's eyes throughout; and it was believed of both, by those who knew them best, that, even when they seemed most attracted by other objects, they would willingly, had they consulted the real wishes of their hearts, have given up every one in the world for each other. So wantonly do those, who have happiness in their grasp, trifle with that rare and delicate treasure, till, like the careless hand playing with the rose,
"In swinging it rudely, too rudely, alas, They snap it—it falls to ground."
They had, immediately after their marriage, as we have seen, passed some time in a little cottage at Eastburnham, and it was a period, of course, long remembered by them both for its happiness. I have been told by a friend of Sheridan, that he once overheard him exclaiming to himself, after looking for some moments at his wife, with a pang, no doubt, of melancholy self-reproach,—"Could anything bring back those first feelings?" then adding with a sigh, "Yes, perhaps, the cottage at Eastburnham might." In this as well as in some other traits of the same kind, there is assuredly any thing but that common-place indifference, which too often clouds over the evening of married life. On the contrary, it seems rather the struggle of affection with its own remorse; and, like the humorist who mourned over the extinction of his intellect so eloquently as to prove that it was still in full vigor, shows love to be still warmly alive in the very act of lamenting its death.
I have already presented the reader with some letters of Mrs. Sheridan, in which the feminine character of her mind very interestingly displays itself. Their chief charm is unaffectedness, and the total absence of that literary style, which in the present day infects even the most familiar correspondence. I shall here give a few more of her letters, written at different periods to the elder sister of Sheridan,—it being one of her many merits to have kept alive between her husband and his family, though so far separated, a constant and cordial intercourse, which, unluckily, after her death, from his own indolence and the new connections into which he entered, was suffered to die away, almost entirely. The first letter, from its allusion to the Westminster Scrutiny, must have been written in the year 1784, Mr. Fox having gained his great victory over Sir Cecil Wray on the 17th of May, and the Scrutiny having been granted on the same day.
"MY DEAR LISSY,
"London, June 6.
"I am happy to find by your last that our apprehensions on Charles's account were useless. The many reports that were circulated here of his accident gave us a good deal of uneasiness; but it is no longer wonderful that he should be buried here, when Mr. Jackman has so barbarously murdered him with you. I fancy he would risk another broken head, rather than give up his title to it as an officer of the Crown. We go on here wrangling as usual, but I am afraid all to no purpose. Those who are in possession of power are determined to use it without the least pretence to justice or consistency. They have ordered a Scrutiny for Westminster, in defiance of all law or precedent, and without any other hope or expectation but that of harassing and tormenting Mr. Fox and his friends, and obliging them to waste their time and money, which perhaps they think might otherwise be employed to a better purpose in another cause. We have nothing for it but patience and perseverance, which I hope will at last be crowned with success, though I fear it will be a much longer trial than we at first expected. I hear from every body that your ... are vastly disliked—but are you not all kept in awe by such beauty? I know she flattered herself to subdue all your Volunteers by the fire of her eyes only:—how astonished she must be to find that they have not yet laid down their arms! There is nothing would tempt me to trust my sweet person upon the water sooner than the thoughts of seeing you; but I fear my friendship will hardly ever be put to so hard a trial. Though Sheridan is not in office, I think he is more engaged by politics than ever.
"I suppose we shall not leave town till September. We have promised to pay many visits, but I fear we shall be obliged to give up many of our schemes, for I take it for granted Parliament will meet again as soon as possible. We are to go to Chatsworth, and to another friend of mine in that neighborhood, so that I doubt our being able to pay our annual visit to Crewe Hall. Mrs. Crewe has been very ill all this winter with your old complaint, the rheumatism—she is gone to Brightelmstone to wash it away in the sea. Do you ever see Mrs. Greville? I am glad to hear my two nephews are both in so thriving a way. Are you still a nurse? I should like to take a peep at your bantlings. Which is the handsomest? have you candor enough to think any thing equal to your own boy? if you have, you have more merit than I can claim. Pray remember me kindly to Bess, Mr. L., &c., and don't forget to kiss the little squaller for me when you have nothing better to do. God bless you.
"The inclosed came to Dick in one of Charles's franks; he said he should write to you himself with it, but I think it safest not to trust him."
In another letter, written in the same year, there are some touches both of sisterly and of conjugal feeling, which seem to bespeak a heart happy in all its affections.
"MY DEAR LISSY,
Putney, August 16.
"You will no doubt be surprised to find me still dating from this place, but various reasons have detained me here from day to day, to the great dissatisfaction of my dear Mary, who has been expecting me hourly for the last fortnight. I propose going to Hampton-Court tonight, if Dick returns in any decent time from town.
"I got your letter and a half the day before yesterday, and shall be very well pleased to have such blunders occur more frequently. You mistake, if you suppose I am a friend to your tarrers and featherers:—it is such wretches that always ruin a good cause. There is no reason on earth why you should not have a new Parliament as well as us:—it might not, perhaps, be quite as convenient to our immaculate Minister, but I sincerely hope he will not find your Volunteers so accommodating as the present India troops in our House of Commons. What! does the Secretary at War condescend to reside in any house but his own?—'Tis very odd he should turn himself out of doors in his situation. I never could perceive any economy in dragging furniture from one place to another; but, of course, he has more experience in these matters than I have.
"Mr. Forbes dined here the other day, and I had a great deal of conversation with him on various subjects relating to you all. He says, Charles's manner of talking of his wife, &c. is so ridiculous, that, whenever he comes into company, they always cry out,—'Now S——a, we allow you half an hour to talk of the beauties of Mrs. S.——, half an hour to your child, and another half hour to your farm,—and then we expect you will behave like a reasonable person.'
"So Mrs. —— is not happy: poor thing, I dare say, if the truth were known, he teazes her to death. Your very good husbands generally contrive to make you sensible of their merit somehow or other.
"From a letter Mr. Canning has just got from Dublin, I find you have been breaking the heads of some of our English heroes. I have no doubt in the world that they deserved it; and if half a score more that I know had shared the same fate, it might, perhaps become less the fashion among our young men to be such contemptible coxcombs as they certainly are.
"My sister desired me to say all sorts of affectionate things to you, in return for your kind remembrance of her in your last. I assure you, you lost a great deal by not seeing her in her maternal character:—it is the prettiest sight in the world to see her with her children:—they are both charming creatures, but my little namesake is my delight:—'tis impossible to say how foolishly fond of her I am. Poor Mary! she is in a way to have more;—and what will become of them all is sometimes a consideration that gives me many a painful hour. But they are happy, with their little portion of the goods of this world:—then, what are riches good for? For my part, as you know, poor Dick and I have always been struggling against the stream, and shall probably continue to do so to the end of our lives,—yet we would not change sentiments or sensations with ... for all his estate. By the bye, I was told t'other day he was going to receive eight thousand pounds as a compromise for his uncle's estate, which has been so long in litigation;—is it true?—I dare say it is, though, or he would not be so discontented as you say he is. God bless you.—Give my love to Bess, and return a kiss to my nephew for me. Remember me to Mr. L. and believe me
The following letter appears to have been written in 1785, some months after the death of her sister, Miss Maria Linley. Her playful allusions to the fame of her own beauty might have been answered in the language of Paris to Helen:—
"Minor est tua gloria vero Famaque de forma pene maligna est."
"Thy beauty far outruns even rumor's tongue, And envious fame leaves half thy charms unsung."
"MY DEAR LISSY,
"Delapre Abbey, Dec. 27.
"Notwithstanding your incredulity, I assure you I wrote to you from Hampton-Court, very soon after Bess came to England. My letter was a dismal one; for my mind was at that time entirely occupied by the affecting circumstance of my poor sister's death. Perhaps you lost nothing by not receiving my letter, for it was not much calculated to amuse you.
"I am still a recluse, you see, but I am preparing to launch for the winter in a few days. Dick was detained in town by a bad fever:—you may suppose I was kept in ignorance of his situation, or I should not have remained so quietly here. He came last week, and the fatigue of the journey very nearly occasioned a relapse:—but by the help of a jewel of a doctor that lives in this neighborhood we are both quite stout and well again, (for I took it into my head to fall sick again, too, without rhyme or reason.)
"We purpose going to town to-morrow or next day. Our own house has been painting and papering, and the weather has been so unfavorable to the business, that it is probable it will not be fit for us to go into this month; we have, therefore, accepted a most pressing invitation of General Burgoyne to take up our abode with him, till our house is ready; so your next must be directed to Bruton-Street, under cover to Dick, unless Charles will frank it again. I don't believe what you say of Charles's not being glad to have seen me in Dublin. You are very flattering in the reasons you give, but I rather think his vanity would have been more gratified by showing every body how much prettier and younger his wife was than the Mrs. Sheridan in whose favor they have been prejudiced by your good-natured partiality. If I could have persuaded myself to trust the treacherous ocean, the pleasure of seeing you and your nursery would have compensated for all the fame I should have lost by a comparison. But my guardian sylph, vainer of my beauty, perhaps, than myself, would not suffer me to destroy the flattering illusion you have so often displayed to your Irish friends. No,—I shall stay till I am past all pretensions, and then you may excuse your want of taste by saying, 'Oh, if you had seen her when she was young!'
"I am very glad that Bess is satisfied with my attention to her. The unpleasant situation I was in prevented my seeing her as often as I could wish. For her sake I assure you I shall be glad to have Dick and your father on good terms, without entering into any arguments on the subject; but I fear, where one of the parties, at least, has a tincture of what they call in Latin damnatus obstinatus mulio, the attempt will be difficult, and the success uncertain. God bless you, and believe me
"Mrs. Lefanu, Great Cuff-Street, Dublin.
The next letter I shall give refers to the illness with which old Mr. Sheridan was attacked in the beginning of the year 1788, and of which he died in the month of August following. It is unnecessary to direct the reader's attention to the passages in which she speaks of her lost sister, Mrs. Tickell, and her children:—they have too much of the heart's best feelings in them to be passed over slightly.
"MY DEAR LISSY,
"London, April 5.
"Your last letter I hope was written when you were low spirited, and consequently inclined to forebode misfortune. I would not show it to Sheridan:—he has lately been much harassed by business, and I could not bear to give him the pain I know your letter would have occasioned. Partial as your father has always been to Charles, I am confident he never has, nor ever will feel half the duty and affections that Dick has always exprest. I know how deeply he will be afflicted, if you confirm the melancholy account of his declining health;—but I trust your next will remove my apprehensions, and make it unnecessary for me to wound his affectionate heart by the intelligence. I flatter myself likewise, that you have been without reason alarmed about poor Bess. Her life, to be sure, must be dreadful;—but I should hope the good nature and kindness of her disposition will support her, and enable her to continue the painful duty so necessary, probably, to the comfort of your poor father. If Charles has not or does not do every thing in his power to contribute to the happiness of the few years which nature can allow him, he will have more to answer to his conscience than I trust any of those dear to me will have. Mrs. Crewe told us, the other day, she had heard from Mrs. Greville, that every thing was settled much to your father's satisfaction. I will hope, therefore, as I have said before, you were in a gloomy fit when you wrote, and in the mean time I will congratulate you on the recovery of your own health and that of your children.
"I have been confined now near two months:—I caught cold almost immediately on coming to town, which brought on all those dreadful complaints with which I was afflicted at Crewe-Hall. By constant attention and strict regimen I am once more got about again; but I never go out of my house after the sun is down, and on those terms only can I enjoy tolerable health. I never knew Dick better. My dear boy is now with me for his holydays, and a charming creature he is, I assure you, in every respect. My sweet little charge, too, promises to reward me for all my care and anxiety. The little ones come to me every day, though they do not at present live with me. We think of taking a house in the country this summer as necessary for my health and convenient to S., who must be often in town. I shall then have all the children with me, as they now constitute a very great part of my happiness. The scenes of sorrow and sickness I have lately gone through have depressed my spirits, and made me incapable of finding pleasure in the amusements which used to occupy me perhaps too much. My greatest delight is in the reflection that I am acting according to the wishes of my ever dear and lamented sister, and that by fulfilling the sacred trust bequeathed me in her last moments, I insure my own felicity in the grateful affection of the sweet creatures,—whom, though I love for their own sakes, I idolize when I consider them as the dearest part of her who was the first and nearest friend of my heart! God bless you, my dear Liss:—this is a subject that always carries me away. I will therefore bid you adieu,—only entreating you as soon as you can to send me a more comfortable letter. My kind love to Bess, and Mr. L.
"Yours, ever affectionately."
I shall give but one more letter; which is perhaps only interesting as showing how little her heart went along with the gayeties into which her husband's connection with the world of fashion and politics led her.
"MY DEAR LISSY,
"I have only time at present to write a few lines at the request of Mrs. Crewe, who is made very unhappy by an account of Mrs. Greville's illness, as she thinks it possible Mrs. G. has not confessed the whole of her situation. She earnestly wishes you would find out from Dr. Quin what the nature of her complaint is, with every other particular you can gather on the subject, and give me a line as soon as possible.
"I am very glad to find your father is better. As there has been a recess lately from the Trial, I thought it best to acquaint Sheridan with his illness. I hope now, however, there is but little reason to be alarmed about him. Mr. Tickell has just received an account from Holland, that poor Mrs. Berkeley, (whom you know best as Betty Tickell,) was at the point of death in a consumption.
"I hope in a very short time now to get into the country. The Duke of Norfolk has lent us a house within twenty miles of London; and I am impatient to be once more out of this noisy, dissipated town, where I do nothing that I really like, and am forced to appear pleased with every thing odious to me. God bless you. I write in the hurry of dressing for a great ball given by the Duke of York to night, which I had determined not to go to till late last night, when I was persuaded that it would be very improper to refuse a Royal invitation, if I was not absolutely confined by illness. Adieu. Believe me truly yours.
"You must pay for this letter, for Dick has got your last with the direction; and any thing in his hands is irrecoverable!"
The health of Mrs. Sheridan, as we see by some of her letters, had been for some time delicate; but it appears that her last, fatal illness originated in a cold, which she had caught in the summer of the preceding year. Though she continued from that time to grow gradually worse, her friends were flattered with the hope that as soon as her confinement should take place, she would be relieved from all that appeared most dangerous in her complaint. That event, however, produced but a temporary intermission of the malady, which returned after a few days with such increased violence, that it became necessary for her, as a last hope, to try the waters of Bristol.
The following affectionate letter of Tickell must have been written at this period:—
"MY DEAR SHERIDAN,
"I was but too well prepared for the melancholy intelligence contained in your last letter, in answer to which, as Richardson will give you this, I leave it to his kindness to do me justice in every sincere and affectionate expression of my grief for your situation, and my entire readiness to obey and further your wishes by every possible exertion.
"If you have any possible opportunity, let me entreat you to remember me to the dearest, tenderest friend and sister of my heart. Sustain yourself, my dear Sheridan,
"And believe me yours,
"Most affectionately and faithfully,
The circumstances of her death cannot better be told than in the language of a lady whose name it would be an honor to mention, who, giving up all other cares and duties, accompanied her dying friend to Bristol, and devoted herself, with a tenderness rarely equalled even among women, to the soothing and lightening of her last painful moments. From the letters written by this lady at the time, some extracts have lately been given by Miss Lefanu [Footnote: The talents of this young lady are another proof of the sort of garet kind of genius allotted to the whole race of Sheridan. I find her very earliest poetical work, "The Sylphid Queen," thus spoken of in a letter from the second Mrs. Sheridan to her mother, Mrs. Lefanu—"I should have acknowledged your very welcome present immediately, had not Mr. Sheridan, on my telling him what it was, run off with it, and I have been in vain endeavoring to get it from him ever since. What little I did read of it, I admired particularly, but it will be much more gratifying to you and your daughter to hear that he read it with the greatest attention, and thought it showed a great deal of imagination."] in her interesting Memoirs of her grandmother, Mrs. Frances Sheridan. But their whole contents are so important to the characters of the persons concerned, and so delicately draw aside the veil from a scene of which sorrow and affection were the only witnesses, that I feel myself justified not only in repeating what has already been quoted, but in adding a few more valuable particulars, which, by the kindness of the writer and her correspondent, I am enabled to give from the same authentic source. The letters are addressed to Mrs. H. Lefanu, the second sister of Mr. Sheridan.
"Bristol, June 1, 1792.
* * * * *
"I am happy to have it in my power to give you any information on a subject so interesting to you, and to all that have the happiness of knowing dear Mrs. Sheridan; though I am sorry to add, it cannot be such as will relieve your anxiety, or abate your fears. The truth is, our poor friend is in a most precarious state of health, and quite given over by the faculty. Her physician here, who is esteemed very skilful in consumptive cases, assured me from the first that it was a lost case; but as your brother seemed unwilling to know the truth, he was not so explicit with him, and only represented her as being in a very critical situation. Poor man! he cannot bear to think her in danger himself, or that any one else should; though he is as attentive and watchful as if he expected every moment to be her last. It is impossible for any man to behave with greater tenderness, or to feel more on such an occasion, than he does.
* * * * *
"At times the dear creature suffers a great deal from weakness, and want of rest. She is very patient under her sufferings, and perfectly resigned. She is well aware of her danger, and talks of dying with the greatest composure. I am sure it will give you and Mr. Lefanu pleasure to know that her mind is well prepared for any change that may happen, and that she derives every comfort from religion that a sincere Christian can look for."
On the 28th of the same month Mrs. Sheridan died; and a letter from this lady, dated July 19th, thus touchingly describes her last moments. As a companion-picture to the close of Sheridan's own life, it completes a lesson of the transitoriness of this world, which might sadden the hearts of the beautiful and gifted, even in their most brilliant and triumphant hours. Far happier, however, in her death than he was, she had not only his affectionate voice to soothe her to the last, but she had one devoted friend, out of the many whom she had charmed and fascinated, to watch consolingly over her last struggle, and satisfy her as to the fate of the beloved objects which she left behind.
"July 19, 1792.
"Our dear departed friend kept her bed only two days, and seemed to suffer less during that interval than for some time before. She was perfectly in her senses to the last moment, and talked with the greatest composure of her approaching dissolution; assuring us all that she had the most perfect confidence in the mercies of an all-powerful and merciful Being, from whom alone she could have derived the inward comfort and support she felt at that awful moment! She said, she had no fear of death, and that all her concern arose from the thoughts of leaving so many dear and tender ties, and of what they would suffer from her loss. Her own family were at Bath, and had spent one day with her, when she was tolerably well. Your poor brother now thought it proper to send for them, and to flatter them no longer. They immediately came;—it was the morning before she died. They were introduced one at a time at her bed-side, and were prepared as much as possible for this sad scene. The women bore it very well, but all our feelings were awakened for her poor father. The interview between him and the dear angel was afflicting and heart-breaking to the greatest degree imaginable. I was afraid she would have sunk under the cruel agitation:—she said it was indeed too much for her. She gave some kind injunction to each of them, and said everything she could to comfort them under this severe trial. They then parted, in the hope of seeing her again in the evening, but they never saw her more! Mr. Sheridan and I sat up all that night with her:—indeed he had done so for several nights before, and never left her one moment that could be avoided. About four o'clock in the morning we perceived an alarming change, and sent for her physician. [Footnote: This physician was Dr. Bain, then a very young man, whose friendship with Sheridan began by this mournful duty to his wife, and only ended with the performance of the same melancholy office for himself. As the writer of the above letters was not present during the interview which she describes between him and Mrs. Sheridan, there are a few slight errors in her account of what passed, the particulars of which, as related by Dr. Bain himself, are as follows:—On his arrival, she begged of Sheridan and her female friend to leave the room, and then, desiring him to lock the door after them, said, "You have never deceived me:—tell me truly, shall I live over this night." Dr. Bain immediately felt her pulse, and, finding that she was dying, answered, "I recommend you to take some laudanum;" upon which she replied, "I understand you:—then give it me."
Dr. Bain fully concurs with the writer of these letters in bearing testimony to the tenderness and affection that Sheridan evinced on this occasion:—it was, he says, quite "the devotedness of a lover." The following note, addressed to him after the sad event was over, does honor alike to the writer and the receiver:—
"MY DEAR SIR,
"I must request your acceptance of the inclosed for your professional attendance. For the kind and friendly attentions, which have accompanied your efforts, I must remain your debtor. The recollection of them will live in my mind with the memory of the dear lost object, whose sufferings you soothed, and whose heart was grateful for it.
"Very sincerely yours,
"R. B. Sheridan."] She said to him, 'If you can relieve me, do it quickly;—if not do not let me struggle, but give me some laudanum.' His answer was, 'Then I will give you some laudanum.' She desired to see Tom and Betty Tickell before she took it, of whom she took a most affecting leave! Your brother behaved most wonderfully, though his heart was breaking; and at times his feelings were so violent, that I feared he would have been quite ungovernable at the last. Yet he summoned up courage to kneel by the bed-side, till he felt the last pulse of expiring excellence, and then withdrew. She died at five o'clock in the morning, 28th of June.
"I hope, my dear Mrs. Lefanu, you will excuse my dwelling on this most agonizing scene. I have a melancholy pleasure in so doing, and fancy it will not be disagreeable to you to hear all the particulars of an event so interesting, so afflicting, to all who knew the beloved creature! For my part, I never beheld such a scene—never suffered such a conflict—much as I have suffered on my own account. While I live, the remembrance of it and the dear lost object can never be effaced from my mind.
"We remained ten days after the event took place at Bristol; and on the 7th instant Mr. Sheridan and Tom, accompanied by all her family (except Mrs. Linley), Mr. and Mrs. Leigh, Betty Tickell and myself, attended the dear remains [Footnote: The following striking reflection, which I have found upon a scrap of paper, in Sheridan's handwriting, was suggested, no doubt, by his feelings on this occasion—
"The loss of the breath from a beloved object, long suffering in pain and certainly to die, is not so great a privation as the last loss of her beautiful remains, if they remain so. The victory of the Grave is sharper than the Sting of Death."] to Wells, where we saw her laid beside her beloved sister in the Cathedral. The choir attended; and there was such a concourse of people of all sorts assembled on the occasion that we could hardly move along. Mr. Leigh read the service in a most affecting manner. Indeed, the whole scene, as you may easily imagine, was awful and affecting to a very great degree. Though the crowd certainly interrupted the solemnity very much, and, perhaps, happily for us abated somewhat of our feelings, which, had we been less observed, would not have been so easily kept down.
"The day after the sad scene was closed we separated, your brother choosing to be left by himself with Tom for a day or two. He afterwards joined us at Bath, where we spent a few days with our friends, the Leighs. Last Saturday we took leave of them, and on Sunday we arrived at Isleworth, where with much regret, I left your brother to his own melancholy reflections, with no other companions but his two children, in whom he seems at present entirely wrapped up. He suffered a great deal in returning the same road, and was most dreadfully agitated on his arrival at Isleworth. His grief is deep and sincere, and I am sure will be lasting. He is in very good spirits, and at times is even cheerful, but the moment he is left alone he feels all the anguish of sorrow and regret. The dear little girl is the greatest comfort to him:—he cannot bear to be a moment without her. She thrives amazingly, and is indeed a charming little creature. Tom behaves with constant and tender attention to his father:—he laments his dear mother sincerely, and at the time was violently affected;—but, at his age, the impressions of grief are not lasting; and his mind is naturally too lively and cheerful to dwell long on melancholy objects. He is in all respects truly amiable and in many respects so like his dear, charming mother, that I am sure he will be ever dear to my heart. I expect to have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Sheridan again next week, when I hope to find him more composed than when I took leave of him last Sunday."
To the mention which is made, in this affecting letter, of the father of Mrs. Sheridan, whose destiny it had been to follow to the grave, within a few short years, so many of his accomplished children, [Footnote: In 1778 his eldest son Thomas was drowned, while amusing himself in a pleasure-boat at the seat of the Duke of Ancaster. The pretty lines of Mrs. Sheridan to his violin are well known. A few years after, Samuel, a lieutenant in the navy, was carried off by a fever. Miss Maria Linley died in 1785, and Mrs. Tickell in 1787.
I have erroneously stated, in a former part of this work, that Mr. William Linley is the only surviving branch of this family;—there is another brother, Mr. Ozias Linley, still living.] I must add a few sentences more from another letter of the same lady, which, while they increase our interest in this amiable and ingenious man, bear testimony to Sheridan's attaching powers, and prove how affectionate he must have been to her who was gone, to be thus loved by the father to whom she was so dear:—
"Poor Mr. Linley has been here among us these two months. He is very much broke, but is still a very interesting and agreeable companion. I do not know any one more to be pitied than he is. It is evident that the recollection of past misfortunes preys on his mind, and he has no comfort in the surviving part of his family, they being all scattered abroad. Mr. Sheridan seems more his child than any one of his own, and I believe he likes being near him and his grandchildren." [Footnote: In the Memoirs of Mrs. Crouch I find the following anecdote:—"Poor Mr. Linley after the death of one of his sons, when seated at the harpsichord in Drury-Lane theatre, in order to accompany the vocal parts of an interesting little piece taken from Prior's Henry and Emma, by Mr. Tickell, and excellently represented by Paduer and Miss Farren,—when the tutor of Henry, Mr. Aikin gave an impressive description of a promising young man, in speaking of his pupil Henry, the feelings of Mr. Linley could not be suppressed. His tears fell fast—nor did he weep alone."
In the same work Mrs. Crouch is made to say that, after Miss Maria Linley died, it was melancholy for her to sing to Mr. Linley, whose tears continually fell on the keys as he accompanied her; and if, in the course of her profession, she was obliged to practise a song which he had been accustomed to hear his lost daughter sing, the similarity of their manners and their voices, which he had once remarked with pleasure, then affected him to such a degree, that he was frequently forced to quit the instrument and walk about the room to recover his composure.]
Towards the autumn, (as we learn from another letter of this lady,) Mr. Sheridan endeavored to form a domestic establishment for himself at Wanstead.
"Wanstead, October 22, 1792.
"Your brother has taken a house in this village very near me, where he means to place his dear little girl to be as much as possible under my projection. This was the dying request of my beloved friend; and the last effort of her mind and pen [Footnote: There are some touching allusions to these last thoughts of Mrs. Sheridan, in an Elegy, written by her brother, Mr. William Linley, soon after the news of the sad event reached him in India:—
"Oh most beloved! my sister and my friend! While kindred woes still breathe around thine urn, Long with the tear of absence must I blend The sigh, that speaks thou never shall return. * * * * "'Twas Faith, that, bending o'er the bed of death, Shot o'er thy pallid cheek a transient ray, With softer effort soothed thy laboring breath, Gave grace to anguish, beauty to decay. "Thy friends, thy children, claim'd thy latest care; Theirs was the last that to thy bosom clung; For them to heaven thou sent'st the expiring prayer, The last that falter'd on thy trembling tongue."] was made the day before she expired, to draw up a solemn promise for both of us to sign, to ensure the strict performance of this last awful injunction: so anxious was she to commit this dear treasure to my care, well knowing how impossible it would be for a father, situated as your brother is, to pay that constant attention to her which a daughter so articularly requires. * * * You may be assured I shall engage in the task with the greatest delight and alacrity:—would to God that I were in the smallest degree qualified to supply the place of that angelic, all-accomplished mother, of whose tender care she has been so early 'deprived. All I can do for her I will do; and if I can succeed so far as to give her early and steady principles of religion, and to form her mind to virtue, I shall think my time well employed, and shall feel myself happy in having fulfilled the first wish of her beloved mother's heart.
* * * * *
"To return to your brother, he talks of having his house here immediately furnished and made ready for the reception of his nursery. It is a very good sort of common house, with an excellent garden, roomy and fit for the purpose, but will admit of no show or expense. I understand he has taken a house in Jermyn-street, where he may see company, but he does not intend having any other country-house but this. Isleworth he gives up, his time being expired there. I believe he has got a private tutor for Tom—somebody very much to his mind. At one time he talked of sending him abroad with this gentleman, but I know not at present what his determinations are. He is too fond of Tom's society to let him go from him for any time; but I think it would be more to his advantage if he would consent to part with him for two or three years. It is impossible for any man to be more devotedly attached to his children than he is and I hope they will be a comfort and a blessing to him, when the world loses its charms. The last time I saw him, which was for about five minutes, I thought he looked remarkably well, and seemed tolerably cheerful. But I have observed in general that this affliction has made a wonderful alteration in the expression of his countenance and in his manners. [Footnote: I have heard a Noble friend of Sheridan say that, happening about this time to sleep in the room next to him, he could plainly hear him sobbing throughout the greater part of the night.] The Leighs and my family spent a week with him at Isleworth the beginning of August, where we were indeed most affectionately and hospitably entertained. I could hardly believe him to be the same man. In fact, we never saw him do the honors of his house before; that, you know, he always left the dear, elegant creature, who never failed to please and charm every one who came within the sphere of her notice. Nobody could have filled her place so well:—he seemed to have pleasure in making much of those whom she loved, and who, he knew, sincerely loved her. We all thought he never appeared to such advantage. He was attentive to every body and every thing, though grave and thoughtful; and his feelings, poor fellow, often ready to break forth in spite of his efforts to suppress them. He spent his evenings mostly by himself. He desired me, when I wrote, to let you know that she had by will made a little distribution of what she called 'her own property,' and had left you and your sister rings of remembrance, and her fausse montre, containing Mr. Sheridan's picture to you, [Footnote: This bequest is thus announced by Sheridan himself in a letter to his sister, dated June 3, 1794:—"I mean also to send by Miss Patrick a picture which has long been your property, by a bequest from one whose image is not often from my mind, and whose memory, I am sure, remains in yours."]—Mrs. Joseph Lefanu having got hers. She left rings also to Mr. and Mrs. Leigh, my sister, daughter, and myself, and positively forbids any others being given on any pretence, but these I have specified,—evidently precluding all her fine friends from this last mark of her esteem and approbation. She had, poor thing, with some justice, turned from them all in disgust, and I observed, during her illness, never mentioned any of them with regard or kindness."
The consolation which Sheridan derived from his little daughter was not long spared to him. In a letter, without a date, from the same amiable writer, the following account of her death is given:—
"The circumstances attending this melancholy event were particularly distressing. A large party of young people were assembled at your brother's to spend a joyous evening in dancing. We were all in the height of our merriment,—he himself remarkably cheerful, and partaking of the amusement, when the alarm was given that the dear little angel was dying. It is impossible to describe the confusion and horror of the scene:—he was quite frantic, and I knew not what to do. Happily there were present several kind, good-natured men, who had their recollection, and pointed out what should be done. We very soon had every possible assistance, and for a short time we had some hope that her precious life would have been spared to us—but that was soon at an end!
"The dear babe never throve to my satisfaction:—she was small and delicate beyond imagination, and gave very little expectation of long life; but she had visibly declined during the last month. * * * Mr. Sheridan made himself very miserable at first, from an apprehension that she had been neglected or mismanaged; but I trust he is perfectly convinced that this was not the case. He was severely afflicted at first. The dear babe's resemblance to her mother after her death was so much more striking, that it was impossible to see her without recalling every circumstance of that afflicting scene, and he was continually in the room indulging the sad remembrance. In this manner he indulged his feelings for four or five days; then, having indispensable business, he was obliged to go to London, from whence he returned, on Sunday, apparently in good spirits and as well as usual. But, however he may assume the appearance of ease or cheerfulness, his heart is not of a nature to be quickly reconciled to the loss of any thing he loves. He suffers deeply and secretly; and I dare say he will long and bitterly lament both mother and child."
The reader will, I think, feel with me, after reading the foregoing letters, as well as those of Mrs. Sheridan, given in the course of this work, that the impression which they altogether leave on the mind is in the highest degree favorable to the characters both of husband and wife. There is, round the whole, an atmosphere of kindly, domestic feeling, which seems to answer for the soundness of the hearts that breathed in it. The sensibility, too, displayed by Sheridan at this period, was not that sort of passionate return to former feelings, which the prospect of losing what it once loved might awaken in even the most alienated heart;—on the contrary, there was a depth and mellowness in his sorrow which could proceed from long habits of affection alone. The idea, indeed, of seeking solace for the loss of the mother in the endearments of the children would occur only to one who had been accustomed to find happiness in his home, and who therefore clung for comfort to what remained of the wreck.
Such, I have little doubt, were the natural feelings and dispositions of Sheridan; and if the vanity of talent too often turned him aside from their influence, it is but another proof of the danger of that "light which leads astray," and may console those who, safe under the shadow of mediocrity, are unvisited by such disturbing splendors.
The following letters on this occasion, from his eldest sister and her husband, are a further proof of the warm attachment which he inspired in those connected with him:—
"MY DEAREST BROTHER,
"Charles has just informed me that the fatal, the dreaded event has taken place. On my knees I implore the Almighty to look down upon you in your affliction, to strengthen your noble, your feeling heart to bear it. Oh my beloved brother, these are sad, sad trials of fortitude. One consolation, at least, in mitigation of your sorrow, I am sure you possess,—the consciousness of having done all you could to preserve the dear angel you have lost, and to soften the last painful days of her mortal existence. Mrs. Canning wrote to me that she was in a resigned and happy frame of mind: she is assuredly among the blest; and I feel and I think she looks down with benignity at my feeble efforts to soothe that anguish I participate. Let me then conjure you, my dear brother, to suffer me to endeavor to be of use to you. Could I have done it, I should have been with you from the time of your arrival at Bristol. The impossibility of my going has made me miserable, and injured my health, already in a very bad state. It would give value to my life, could I be of that service I think I might be of, if I were near you; and as I cannot go to you, and as there is every reason for your quitting the scene and objects before you, perhaps you may let us have the happiness of having you here, and my dear Tom; I will write to him when my spirits are quieter. I entreat you, my dear brother, try what change of place can do for you: your character and talents are here held in the highest estimation; and you have here some who love you beyond the affection any in England can feel for you.
"Cuff-Street, 4th July.
"MY DEAR GOOD SIR,
"Wednesday, 4th July, 1792.
"Permit me to join my entreaties to Lissy's to persuade you to come over to us. A journey might be of service to you, and change of objects a real relief to your mind. We would try every thing to divert your thoughts from too intensely dwelling on certain recollections, which are yet too keen and too fresh to be entertained with safety, at least to occupy you too entirely. Having been so long separated from your sister, you can hardly have an adequate idea of her love for you. I, who on many occasions have observed its operation, can truly and solemnly assure you that it far exceeds any thing I could ever have supposed to have been felt by a sister towards a brother. I am convinced you would experience such soothing in her company and conversation as would restore you to yourself sooner than any thing that could be imagined. Come, then, my dear Sir, and be satisfied you will add greatly to her comfort, and to that of your very affectionate friend,
DRURY-LANE THEATRE.—SOCIETY OF "THE FRIENDS OF THE PEOPLE."—MADAME DE GENLIS.—WAR WITH FRANCE.—WHIG SECEDERS.—SPEECHES IN PARLIAMENT.—DEATH OF TICKELL.
The domestic anxieties of Mr. Sheridan, during this year, left but little room in his mind for public cares. Accordingly, we find that, after the month of April, he absented himself from the House of Commons altogether. In addition to his apprehensions for the safety of Mrs. Sheridan, he had been for some time harassed by the derangement of his theatrical property, which was now fast falling into a state of arrear and involvement, from which it never after entirely recovered.
The Theatre of Drury-Lane having been, in the preceding year, reported by the surveyors to be unsafe and incapable of repair, it was determined to erect an entirely new house upon the same site; for the accomplishment of which purpose a proposal was made, by Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Linley, to raise the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds, by the means of three hundred debentures, of five hundred pounds each. This part of the scheme succeeded instantly; and I have now before me a list of the holders of the 300 shares, appended to the proposal of 1791, at the head of which the names of the three Trustees, on whom the Theatre was afterwards vested in the year 1793, stand for the following number of shares:—Albany Wallis, 20; Hammersley, 50; Richard Ford, 20. But, though the money was raised without any difficulty, the completion of the new building was delayed by various negotiations and obstacles, while, in the mean time, the company were playing, at an enormous expense, first in the Opera-House, and afterwards at the Haymarket-Theatre, and Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Linley were paying interest for the first instalment of the loan.
To these and other causes of the increasing embarrassments of Sheridan is to be added the extravagance of his own style of living, which became much more careless and profuse after death had deprived him of her, whose maternal thoughtfulness alone would have been a check upon such improvident waste. We are enabled to form some idea of his expensive habits, by finding, from the letters which have just been quoted, that he was, at the same time, maintaining three establishments,—one at Wanstead, where his son resided with his tutor; another at Isleworth, which he still held, (as I learn from letters directed to him there,) in 1793; and the third, his town-house, in Jermyn Street. Rich and ready as were the resources which the Treasury of the theatre opened to him, and fertile as was his own invention in devising new schemes of finance, such mismanaged expenditure would exhaust even his magic wealth, and the lamp must cease to answer to the rubbing at last.
The tutor, whom he was lucky enough to obtain for his son at this time, was Mr. William Smythe, a gentleman who has since distinguished himself by his classical attainments and graceful talent for poetry. Young Sheridan had previously been under the care of Dr. Parr, with whom he resided a considerable time at Hatton; and the friendship of this learned man for the father could not have been more strongly shown than in the disinterestedness with which he devoted himself to the education of the son. The following letter from him to Mr. Sheridan, in the May of this year, proves the kind feeling by which he was actuated towards him:—
"I hope Tom got home safe, and found you in better spirits. He said something about drawing on your banker; but I do not understand the process, and shall not take any step. You will consult your own convenience about these things; for my connection with you is that of friendship and personal regard. I feel and remember slights from those I respect, but acts of kindness I cannot forget; and, though my life has been passed far more in doing than receiving services, yet I know and I value the good dispositions of yourself and a few other friends,—men who are worthy of that name from me.
"If you choose Tom to return, he knows and you know how glad I am always to see him. If not, pray let him do something, and I will tell you what he should do.
"Believe me, dear Sir,
In the spring of this year was established the Society of "The Friends of the People," for the express purpose of obtaining a Parliamentary Reform. To this Association, which, less for its professed object than for the republican tendencies of some of its members, was particularly obnoxious to the loyalists of the day, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Grey, and many others of the leading persons of the Whig party, belonged. Their Address to the People of England, which was put forth in the month of April, contained an able and temperate exposition of the grounds upon which they sought for Reform; and the names of Sheridan, Mackintosh, Whitbread, &c., appear on the list of the Committee by which this paper was drawn up.
It is a proof of the little zeal which Mr. Fox felt at this period on the subject of Reform, that he withheld the sanction of his name from a Society, to which so many of his most intimate political friends belonged. Some notice was, indeed, taken in the House of this symptom of backwardness in the cause; and Sheridan, in replying to the insinuation, said that "they wanted not the signature of his Right Honorable friend to assure them I of his concurrence. They had his bond in the steadiness of his political principles and the integrity of his heart." Mr. Fox himself, however, gave a more definite explanation of the circumstance. "He might be asked," he said, "why his name was not on the list of the Society for Reform? His reason was, that though he saw great and enormous grievances, he did not see the remedy." It is to be doubted, indeed, whether Mr. Fox ever fully admitted the principle upon which the demand for a Reform was founded. When he afterward espoused the question so warmly, it seems to have been merely as one of those weapons caught up in the heat of a warfare, in which Liberty itself appeared to him too imminently endangered to admit of the consideration of any abstract principle, except that summary one of the right of resistance to power abused. From what has been already said, too, of the language held by Sheridan on this subject, it may be concluded that, though far more ready than his friend to inscribe Reform upon the banner of the party, he had even still less made up his mind as to the practicability or expediency of the measure. Looking upon it as a question, the agitation of which was useful to Liberty, and at the same time counting upon the improbability of its objects being ever accomplished, he adopted at once, as we have seen, the most speculative of all the plans that had been proposed, and flattered himself that he thus secured the benefit of the general principle, without risking the inconvenience of any of the practical details.
The following extract of a letter from Sheridan to one of his female correspondents, at this time, will show that he did not quite approve the policy of Mr. Fox in holding aloof from the Reformers:—
"I am down here with Mrs. Canning and her family, while all my friends and party are meeting in town, where I have excused myself, to lay their wise heads together in this crisis. Again I say there is nothing but what is unpleasant before my mind. I wish to occupy and fill my thoughts with public matters, and to do justice to the times, they afford materials enough; but nothing is in prospect to make activity pleasant, or to point one's efforts against one common enemy, making all that engage in the attack cordial, social, and united. On the contrary, every day produces some new schism and absurdity. Windham has signed a nonsensical association with Lord Mulgrave; and when I left town yesterday, I was informed that the Divan, as the meeting at Debrett's is called, were furious at an authentic advertisement from the Duke of Portland against Charles Fox's speech in the Whig Club, which no one before believed to be genuine, but which they now say Dr. Lawrence brought from Burlington-House. If this is so, depend on it there will be a direct breach in what has been called the Whig Party. Charles Fox must come to the Reformers openly and avowedly; and in a month four-fifths of the Whig Club will do the same."
The motion for the Abolition of the Slave-trade, brought forward this year by Mr. Wilberforce, (on whose brows it may be said, with much more truth than of the Roman General, "Annexuit Africa lauros,") was signalized by one of the most splendid orations that the lofty eloquence of Mr. Pitt ever poured forth. [Footnote: It was at the conclusion of this speech that, in contemplating the period when Africa would, he hoped, participate in those blessings of civilization and knowledge which were now enjoyed by more fortunate regions, he applied the happy quotation, rendered still more striking, it is said, by the circumstance of the rising sun just then shining in through the windows of the House:—
"Nos ... primus equis Oriens afflavit anhelis, Illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper."] I mention the Debate, however, for the mere purpose of remarking, as a singularity, that, often as this great question was discussed in Parliament, and ample as was the scope which it afforded for the grander appeals of oratory, Mr. Sheridan was upon no occasion tempted to utter even a syllabic on the subject,— except once for a few minutes, in the year 1787, upon some point relating to the attendance of a witness. The two or three sentences, however, which he did speak on that occasion were sufficient to prove, (what, as he was not a West-India proprietor, no one can doubt,) that the sentiments entertained by him on this interesting topic were, to the full extent, those which actuated not only his own party, but every real lover of justice and humanity throughout the world. To use a quotation which he himself applied to another branch of the question in 1807:—
"I would not have a slave to till my ground, To fan me when I sleep, and tremble when I wake, for all that human sinews, bought And sold, have ever earn'd."
The National Convention having lately, in the first paroxysm of their republican vanity, conferred the honor of Citizenship upon several distinguished Englishmen, and, among others, upon Mr. Wilberforce and Sir James Mackintosh, it was intended, as appears by the following letter from Mr. Stone, (a gentleman subsequently brought into notice by the trial of his brother for High Treason,) to invest Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan with the same distinction, had not the prudent interference of Mr. Stone saved them from this very questionable honor.
The following is the letter which this gentleman addressed to Sheridan on the occasion.
"Paris, Nov. 18, Year 1, of the French Republic.
"I have taken a liberty with your name, of which I ought to give you notice, and offer some apology. The Convention, having lately enlarged their connections in Europe, are ambitious of adding to the number of their friends by bestowing some mark of distinction on those who have stood forth in support of their cause, when its fate hung doubtful. The French conceive that they owe this obligation very eminently to you and Mr. Fox; and, to show their gratitude, the Committee appointed to make the Report has determined to offer to you and Mr. Fox the honor of Citizenship. Had this honor never been conferred before, had it been conferred only on worthy members of society, or were you and Mr. Fox only to be named at this moment, I should not have interfered. But as they have given the title to obscure and vulgar men and scoundrels, of which they are now very much ashamed themselves, I have presumed to suppose that you would think yourself much more honored in the breach than the observance, and have therefore caused your nomination to be suspended. But I was influenced in this also by other considerations, of which one was, that, though the Committee would be more careful in their selection than the last had been, yet it was probable you would not like to share the honors with such as would be chosen. But another more important one that weighed with me was, that this new character would not be a small embarrassment in the route which you have to take the next Session of Parliament, when the affairs of France must necessarily be often the subject of discussion. No one will suspect Mr. Wilberforce of being seduced, and no one has thought that he did any thing to render him liable to seduction; as his superstition and devotedness to Mr. Pitt have kept him perfectly a l'abri from all temptations to err on the side of liberty, civil or religious. But to you and Mr. Fox the reproach will constantly be made, and the blockheads and knaves in the House will always have the means of influencing the opinions of those without, by opposing with success your English character to your French one; and that which is only a mark of gratitude for past services will be construed by malignity into a bribe of some sort for services yet to be rendered. You may be certain that, in offering the reasons for my conduct, I blush that I think it necessary to stoop to such prejudices. Of this, however, you will be the best judge, and I should esteem it a favor if you would inform me whether I have done right, or whether I shall suffer your names to stand as they did before my interference. There will be sufficient time for me to receive your answer, as I have prevailed on the Reporter, M. Brissot, to delay a few days. I have given him my reasons for wishing the suspension, to which he has assented. Mr. O'Brien also prompted me to this deed, and, if I have done wrong, he must take half the punishment. My address is "Rose, Huissier," under cover of the President of the National Convention.
"I have the honor to be
"Your most obedient
"And most humble servant,
It was in the month of October of this year that the romantic adventure of Madame de Genlis, (in the contrivance of which the practical humor of Sheridan may, I think, be detected,) occurred on the road between London and Dartford. This distinguished lady had, at the dose of the year 1791, with a view of escaping the turbulent scenes then passing in France, come over with her illustrious pupil, Mademoiselle d'Orleans, and her adopted daughter, Pamela, [Footnote: Married at Tournay in the month of December, 1792, to Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Lord Edward was the only one, among the numerous suitors of Mrs. Sheridan, to whom she is supposed to have listened with any thing like a return of feeling; and that there should be mutual admiration between two such noble specimens of human nature, it is easy, without injury to either of them, to believe.
Some months before her death, when Sheridan had been describing to her and Lord Edward a beautiful French girl whom he had lately seen, and added that she put him strongly in mind of what his own wife had been in the first bloom of her youth and beauty, Mrs. Sheridan turned to Lord Edward, and said with a melancholy smile, "I should like you, when I am dead, to marry that girl." This was Pamela, whom Sheridan had just seen during his visit of a few hours to Madame de Genlis, at Bury, in Suffolk, and Whom Lord Edward married in about a year after.] to England, where she received both from Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan, all that attention to which her high character for talent, as well as the embarrassing nature of her situation at that moment, claimed for her.
The following letter from her to Mr. Fox I find inclosed in one from the latter to Mr. Sheridan:—
"You have, by your infinite kindness, given me the right to show you the utmost confidence. The situation I am in makes me desire to have with me, during two days, a person perfectly well instructed in the Laws, and very sure and honest. I desire such a person that I could offer to him all the money he would have for this trouble. But there is not a moment to be lost on the occasion. If you could send me directly this person, you would render me the most important service. To calm the most cruel agitation of a sensible and grateful soul shall be your reward.—Oh could I see you but a minute!—I am uneasy, sick, unhappy; surrounded by the most dreadful snares of the fraud and wickedness; I am intrusted with the most interesting and sacred charge!—All these are my claims to hope your advices, protection and assistance. My friends are absent in that moment; there is only two names in which I could place my confidence and my hopes, Pardon this bad language. As Hypolite I may say,
"'Songez que je vous parle une langue etrangere,'
but the feelings it expresses cannot be strangers to your heart.
"Sans avoir l'avantage d'etre connue de Monsieur Fox, je prens la liberte de le supplier de comuniquer cette lettre a Mr. Sheridan, et si ce dernier n'est pas a Londres, j'ose esperer de Monsieur Fox la meme bonte que j'attendois de Mr. Sheridan dans l'embarras ou je me trouve. Je m'adresse aux deux personnes de l'Angleterre que j'admire le plus, et je serois doublement heureuse d'etre tiree de cette perplexite et de leur en avoir l'obligation. Je serai peut etre a Londres incessament. Je desirerois vivement les y trouver; mais en attendant je souhaite avec ardeur avoir ici le plus promptement possible l'homme de loi, ou seulement en etat de donner de bons conseils que je demande. Je renouvelle toutes mes excuses de tant d'importunites."
It was on her departure for France in the present year that the celebrated adventure to which I have alluded, occurred; and as it is not often that the post boys between London and Dartford are promoted into agents of mystery or romance, I shall give the entire narrative of the event in the lady's own words,—premising, (what Mr. Sheridan, no doubt discovered,) that her imagination had been for some time on the watch for such incidents, as she mentions, in another place, her terrors at the idea of "crossing the desert plains of Newmarket without an escort."
"We left London," says Madame de Genlis, "on our return to France the 20th of October, 1792, and a circumstance occurred to us so extraordinary, that I ought not, I feel, to pass it over in silence. I shall merely, however, relate the fact, without any attempt to explain it, or without adding to my recital any of those reflections which the impartial reader will easily supply. We set out at ten o'clock in the morning in two carriages, one with six horses, and the other, in which were our maids, with four. I had, two months before, sent off four of my servants to Paris, so that we had with us only one French servant, and a footman, whom we had hired to attend us as far as Dover. When we were about a quarter of a league from London, the French servant, who had never made the journey from Dover to London but once before, thought he perceived that we were not in the right road, and on his making the remark to me, I perceived it also. The postillions, on being questioned, said that they had only wished to avoid a small hill, and that they would soon return into the high road again. After an interval of three quarters of an hour, seeing that we still continued our way through a country that was entirely new to me, I again interrogated both the footman and the postillions, and they repeated their assurance that we should soon regain the usual road.
"Notwithstanding this, however, we still pursued our course with extreme rapidity, in the same unknown route; and as I had remarked that the post-boys and footman always answered me in a strange sort of laconic manner, and appeared as if they were afraid to stop, my companions and I began to look at each other with a mixture of surprise and uneasiness. We renewed our inquiries, and at last they answered that it was indeed true they had lost their way, but that they had wished to conceal it from us till they had found the cross-road to Dartford (our first stage,) and that now, having been for an hour and a half in that road, we had but two miles to go before we should reach Dartford. It appeared to us very strange that people should lose their way between London and Dover, but the assurance that we were only half a league from Dartford dispelled the sort of vague fear that had for a moment agitated us. At last, after nearly an hour had elapsed, seeing that we still were not arrived at the end of the stage, our uneasiness increased to a degree which amounted even to terror. It was with much difficulty that I made the post-boys stop opposite a small village which lay to our left; in spite of my shouts they still went on, till at last the French servant, (for the other did not interfere,) compelled them to stop. I then sent to the village to ask how far we were from Dartford, and my surprise may be guessed when I received for answer that we were now 22 miles, (more than seven leagues,) distant from that place. Concealing my suspicions, I took a guide in the village, and declared that it was my wish to return to London, as I found I was now at a less distance from that city than from Dartford. The post-boys made much resistance to my desire, and even behaved with an extreme degree of insolence, but our French servant, backed by the guide, compelled them to obey.
"As we returned at a very slow pace, owing to the sulkiness of the postboys and the fatigue of the horses, we did not reach London before nightfall, when I immediately drove to Mr. Sheridan's house. He was extremely surprised to see me returned, and on my relating to him our adventure, agreed with us that it could not have been the result of mere chance. He then sent for a Justice of the Peace to examine the post-boys, who were detained till his arrival under the pretence of calculating their account; but in the meantime, the hired footman disappeared and never returned. The post-boys being examined by the Justice according to the legal form, and in the presence of witnesses, gave their answers in a very confused way, but confessed that an unknown gentleman had come in the morning to their masters, and carrying them from thence to a public-house, had, by giving them something to drink, persuaded them to take the road by which we had gone. The examination was continued for a long time, but no further confession could be drawn from them. Mr. Sheridan told me, that there was sufficient proof on which to ground an action against these men, but that it would be a tedious process, and cost a great deal of money. The post-boys were therefore dismissed, and we did not pursue the inquiry any further. As Mr. Sheridan saw the terror I was in at the very idea of again venturing on the road to Dover, he promised to accompany us thither himself, but added that, having some indispensable business on his hands, he could not go for some days. He took us then to Isleworth, a country-house which he had near Richmond, on the banks of the Thames, and as he was not able to dispatch his business so quickly as he expected, we remained for a month in that hospitable retreat, which both gratitude and friendship rendered so agreeable to us."
It is impossible to read this narrative, with the recollection, at the same time, in our minds of the boyish propensity of Sheridan to what are called practical jokes, without strongly suspecting that he was himself the contriver of the whole adventure. The ready attendance of the Justice,—the "unknown gentleman" deposed to by the post-boys,—the disappearance of the laquais, and the advice given by Sheridan that the affair should be pursued no further,—all strongly savor of dramatic contrivance, and must have afforded a scene not a little trying to the gravity of him who took the trouble of getting it up. With respect to his motive, the agreeable month at his country-house sufficiently explains it; nor could his conscience have felt much scruples about an imposture, which, so far from being attended with any disagreeable consequences, furnished the lady with an incident of romance, of which she was but too happy to avail herself, and procured for him the presence of such a distinguished party, to grace and enliven the festivities of Isleworth. [Footnote: In the Memoirs of Madame Genlis, lately published, she supplies a still more interesting key to his motives for such a contrivance. It appears, from the new recollections of this lady, that "he was passionately in love with Pamela," and that, before her departure from England, the following scene took place—"Two days before we set out, Mr. Sheridan made, in my presence, his dedication of love to Pamela, who was affected by his agreeable manner and high character, and accepted the offer of his hand with pleasure. In consequence of this, it was settled that he was to marry her on our return from France, which was expected to take place in a fortnight." I suspect this to be but a continuation of the Romance of Dartford.]
At the end of the month, (adds Madame de Genlis,)
"Mr. Sheridan having finished his business, we set off together for Dover, himself, his son, and an English friend of his, Mr. Reid, with whom I was but a few days acquainted. It was now near the end of the month of November, 1792. The wind being adverse, detained us for five days at Dover, during all which time Mr. Sheridan remained with us. At last the wind grew less unfavorable, but still blew so violently that nobody would advise me to embark. I resolved, however, to venture, and Mr. Sheridan attended us into the very packet-boat, where I received his farewell with a feeling of sadness which I cannot express. He would have crossed with us, but that some indispensable duty, at that moment, required his presence in England. He, however, left us Mr. Reid, who had the goodness to accompany us to Paris."
In 1793 war was declared between England and France. Though hostilities might, for a short time longer, have been avoided, by a more accommodating readiness in listening to the overtures of France, and a less stately tone on the part of the English negotiator, there could hardly have existed in dispassionate minds any hope of averting the war entirely, or even of postponing it for any considerable period. Indeed, however rational at first might have been the expectation, that France, if left to pass through the ferment of her own Revolution, would have either settled at last into a less dangerous form of power, or exhausted herself into a state of harmlessness during the process, this hope had been for some time frustrated by the crusade proclaimed against her liberties by the confederated Princes of Europe. The conference at Pilnitz and the Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick had taught the French people what they were to expect, if conquered, and had given to that inundation of energy, under which the Republic herself was sinking, a vent and direction outwards that transferred all the ruin to her enemies. In the wild career of aggression and lawlessness, of conquest without, and anarchy within, which naturally followed such an outbreak of a whole maddened people, it would have been difficult for England, by any management whatever, to keep herself uninvolved in the general combustion,—even had her own population been much less heartily disposed than they were then, and ever have been, to strike in with the great discords of the world.
That Mr. Pitt himself was slow and reluctant to yield to the necessity of hostile measures against France, appears from the whole course of his financial policy, down to the very close of the session of 1792. The confidence, indeed, with which he looked forward to a long continuance of peace, in the midst of events, that were audibly the first mutterings of the earthquake, seemed but little indicative of that philosophic sagacity, which enables a statesman to see the rudiments of the Future in the Present. [Footnote: From the following words in his Speech on the communication from France in 1800, he appears, himself, to have been aware of his want of foresight at the commencement of the war:—
"Besides this, the reduction of our Peace Establishment in the year 1791, and continued to the subsequent year, is a fact, from which the inference is indisputable; a fact, which, I am afraid, shows not only that we were not waiting for the occasion of war, but that, in our partiality for a pacific system, we had indulged ourselves in a fond and credulous security, which wisdom and discretion would not have dictated."] "It is not unreasonable," said he on the 21st of February, 1792, "to expect that the peace which we now enjoy should continue at least fifteen years, since at no period of the British history, whether we consider the internal situation of this kingdom or its relation to foreign powers, has the prospect of war been farther removed than at present."
In pursuance of this feeling of security, he, in the course of the session of 1791-2, repealed taxes to the amount of 200,000l. a year, made considerable reductions in the naval and military establishments, and allowed the Hessian Subsidy to expire, without any movement towards its renewal. He likewise showed his perfect confidence in the tranquillity of the country, by breaking off a negotiation into which he had entered with the holders of the four per cents, for the reduction of their stock to three per cent.—saying, in answer to their demand of a larger bonus than he thought proper to give, "Then we will put off the reduction of this stock till next year." The truth is, Mr. Pitt was proud of his financial system;—the abolition of taxes and the Reduction of the National Debt were the two great results to which he looked as a proof of its perfection; and while a war, he knew, would produce the very reverse of the one, it would leave little more than the name and semblance of the other.
The alarm for the safety of their establishments, which at this time pervaded the great mass of the people of England, earned the proof of its own needlessness in the wide extent to which it spread, and the very small minority that was thereby left to be the object of apprehension. That in this minority, (which was, with few exceptions, confined to the lower classes,) the elements of sedition and insurrection were actively at work, cannot be denied. There was not a corner of Europe where the same ingredients were not brought into ferment; for the French Revolution had not only the violence, but the pervading influence of the Simoom, and while it destroyed where it immediately passed, made itself felt every where. But, surrounded and watched as were the few disaffected in England, by all the rank, property and power of the country,—animated at that moment by a more than usual portion of loyalty,—the dangers from sedition, as yet, were by no means either so deep or extensive, as that a strict and vigilant exercise of the laws already in being, would not have been abundantly adequate to all the purposes of their suppression.
The admiration, indeed, with which the first dawn of the Revolution was hailed had considerably abated. The excesses into which the new Republic broke loose had alienated the worship of most of its higher class of votaries, and in some, as in Mr. Windham, had converted enthusiastic admiration into horror;—so that, though a strong sympathy with the general cause of the Revolution was still felt among the few Whigs that remained, the profession of its wild, republican theories was chiefly confined to two classes of persons, who coincide more frequently than they themselves imagine,—the speculative and the ignorant.
The Minister, however, gave way to a panic which, there is every reason to believe, he did not himself participate, and in going out of the precincts of the Constitution for new and arbitrary powers, established a series of fatal precedents, of which alarmed Authority will be always but too ready to avail itself. By these stretches of power he produced—what was far more dangerous than all the ravings of club politicians—that vehement reaction of feeling on the part of Mr. Fox and his followers, which increased with the increasing rigor of the government, and sometimes led them to the brink of such modes and principles of opposition, as aggressions, so wanton, upon liberty alone could have either provoked or justified.
The great promoters of the alarm were Mr. Burke, and those other Whig Seceders, who had for some time taken part with the administration against their former friends, and, as is usual with such proselytes, outran those whom they joined, on every point upon which they before most differed from them. To justify their defection, the dangers upon which they grounded it, were exaggerated; and the eagerness with which they called for restrictions upon the liberty of the subject was but too worthy of deserters not only from their post but from their principles. One striking difference between these new pupils of Toryism and their master was with respect to the ultimate object of the war.—Mr. Pitt being of opinion that security against the power of France, without any interference whatever with her internal affairs, was the sole aim to which hostilities should be directed; while nothing less than the restoration of the Bourbons to the power which they possessed before the assembling of the Etats Genereaux could satisfy Mr. Burke and his fellow converts to the cause of Thrones and Hierarchies. The effect of this diversity of objects upon the conduct of the war—particularly after Mr. Pitt had added to "Security for the future," the suspicious supplement of "Indemnity for the past"—was no less fatal to the success of operations abroad than to the unity of councils at home. So separate, indeed, were the views of the two parties considered, that the unfortunate expedition, in aid of the Vendean insurgents in 1795, was known to be peculiarly the measure of the Burke part of the cabinet, and to have been undertaken on the sole responsibility of their ministerial organ, Mr. Windham.
It must be owned, too, that the obect of the Alarmists in the war, however grossly inconsistent with their former principles, had the merit of being far more definite than that of Mr. Pitt; and, had it been singly and consistently pursued from the first, with all the vigor and concentration of means so strenuously recommended by Mr. Burke, might have justified its quixotism in the end by a more speedy and less ruinous success. As it was, however, the divisions, jealousies and alarms which Mr. Pitt's views towards a future dismemberment of France excited not only among the Continental powers, but among the French themselves, completely defeated every hope and plan for either concert without or co operation within. At the same time, the distraction of the efforts of England from the heart of French power to its remote extremities, in what Mr. Windham called "a war upon sugar Islands," was a waste of means as unstatesmanlike as it was calamitous, and fully entitled Mr. Pitt to the satire on his policy, conveyed in the remark of a certain distinguished lady, who said to him, upon hearing of some new acquisition in the West Indies, "I protest, Mr. Pitt, if you go on thus, you will soon be master of every island in the world except just those two little ones, England and Ireland." [Footnote: Mr. Sheridan quoted this anecdote in one of his speeches in 1794.]
That such was the light in which Mr. Sheridan himself viewed the mode of carrying on the war recommended by the Alarmists, in comparison with that which Mr. Pitt in general adopted, appears from the following passage in his speech upon Spanish affairs in the year 1808:—
"There was hardly a person, except his Right Honorable Friend near him, (Mr. Windham,) and Mr. Burke, who since the Revolution of France had formed adequate notions of the necessary steps to be taken. The various governments which this country had seen during that period were always employed in filching for a sugar-island, or some other object of comparatively trifling moment, while the main and principal purpose was lost and forgotten,"
Whatever were the failures of Mr. Pitt abroad, at home his ascendancy was fixed and indisputable; and, among all the triumphs of power which he enjoyed during his career, the tribute now paid to him by the Whig Aristocracy, in taking shelter under his ministry from the dangers of Revolution, could not have been the least gratifying to his haughty spirit. The India Bill had ranged on his side the King and the People, and the Revolution now brought to his banner the flower of the Nobility of both parties. His own estimate of rank may be fairly collected both from the indifference which he showed to its honors himself, and from the depreciating profusion with which he lavished them upon others. It may be doubted whether his respect for Aristocracy was much increased, by the readiness which he now saw in some of his high-born opponents, to volunteer for safety into his already powerful ranks, without even pausing to try the experiment, whether safety might not have been reconcilable with principle in their own. It is certain that, without the accession of so much weight and influence, he never could have ventured upon the violations of the Constitution that followed—nor would the Opposition, accordingly, have been driven by these excesses of power into that reactive violence which was the natural consequence of an effort to resist them. The prudent apprehensions, therefore, of these Noble Whigs would have been much more usefully as well as honorably employed, in mingling with, and moderating the proceedings of the friends of Liberty, than in ministering fresh fuel to the zeal and vindictiveness of her enemies. [Footnote: The case against these Noble Seceders is thus spiritedly stated by Lord Moira:—
"I cannot ever sit in a cabinet with the Duke of Portland. He appears to me to have done more injury to the Constitution and to the estimation of the higher ranks in this country than any man on the political stage. By his union with Mr. Pitt he has given it to be understood by the people, that either all the constitutional charges which he and his friends for so many years urged against Mr. Put were groundless, or that, being solid, there was no difficulty in waving them when a convenient partition of powers and emoluments was proposed. In either case the people must infer that the constitutional principle which can be so played with is unimportant, and that parliamentary professions are no security." —Letter from the Earl of Moira to Colonel M'Mahon, in 1797. Parliamentary History.]
It may be added, too, that in allowing themselves to be persuaded by Burke, that the extinction of the ancient Noblesse of France portended necessarily any danger to the English Aristocracy, these Noble persons did injustice to the strength of their own order, and to the characteristics by which it is proudly distinguished from every other race of Nobility in Europe. Placed, as a sort of break-water, between the People and the Throne, in a state of double responsibility to liberty on one side, and authority on the other, the Aristocracy of England hold a station which is dignified by its own great duties, and of which the titles transmitted by their ancestors form the least important ornament. Unlike the Nobility of other countries, where the rank and privileges of the father are multiplied through his offspring, and equally elevate them all above the level of the community, the very highest English Nobleman must consent to be the father but of commoners. Thus, connected with the class below him by private as well as public sympathies, he gives his children to the People as hostages for the sincerity of his zeal in their cause—while on the other hand, the People, in return for these pledges of the Aristocracy, sends a portion of its own elements aloft into that higher region, to mingle with its glories and assert their claim to a share in its power. By this mutual transfusion an equilibrium is preserved, like that which similar processes maintain in the natural world, and while a healthy, popular feeling circulates through the Aristocracy, a sense of their own station in the scale elevates the People.
To tremble for the safety of a Nobility so constituted, without much stronger grounds for alarm than appear to have existed in 1793, was an injustice not only to that class itself, but the whole nation. The world has never yet afforded an example, where this artificial distinction between mankind has been turned to such beneficial account; and as no monarchy can exist without such an order, so, in any other shape than this, such an order is a burden and a nuisance. In England, so happy a conformation of her Aristocracy is one of those fortuitous results which time and circumstances have brought out in the long-tried experiment of her Constitution; and, while there is no chance of its being ever again attained in the Old World, there is but little, probability of its being attempted in the New,—where the youthful nations now springing into life, will, if they are wise, make the most of the free career before them, and unencumbered with the costly trappings of feudalism, adopt, like their northern neighbors, that form of government, whose simplicity and cheapness are the best guarantees for its efficacy and purity.
In judging of the policy of Mr. Pitt, during the Revolutionary war, his partisans, we know, laud it as having been the means of salvation to England, while his opponents assert that it was only prevented by chance from being her ruin—and though the event gives an appearance of triumph to the former opinion, it by no means removes or even weakens the grounds of the latter. During the first nine years of his administration, Mr. Pitt was, in every respect, an able and most useful minister, and, "while the sea was calm, showed mastership in floating." But the great events that happened afterwards took him by surprise. When he came to look abroad from his cabinet into the storm that was brewing through Europe, the clear and enlarged view of the higher order of statesman was wanting. Instead of elevating himself above the influence of the agitation and alarm that prevailed, he gave way to it with the crowd of ordinary minds, and even took counsel from the panic of others. The consequence was a series of measures, violent at home and inefficient abroad—far short of the mark where vigor was wanting, and beyond it, as often, where vigor was mischievous.
When we are told to regard his policy as the salvation of the country—when, (to use a figure of Mr. Dundas,) a claim of salvage is made for him—it may be allowed us to consider a little the nature of the measures by which this alleged salvation was achieved. If entering into a great war without either consistency of plan, or preparation of means, and with a total ignorance of the financial resources of the enemy [Footnote: Into his erroneous calculations upon this point he is supposed to have been led by Sir Francis D'Ivernois.]—if allowing one part of the Cabinet to flatter the French Royalists, with the hope of seeing the Bourbons restored to undiminished power, while the other part acted, whenever an opportunity offered, upon the plan of dismembering France for the aggrandizement of Austria, and thus, at once, alienated Prussia at the very moment of subsidizing him, and lost the confidence of all the Royalist party in France, [Footnote: Among other instances, the Abbe Maury is reported to have said at Rome in a large company of his countrymen—"Still we have one remedy—let us not allow France to be divided—we have seen the partition of Poland we must all turn Jacobins to preserve our country."] except the few who were ruined by English assistance at Quiberon—if going to war in 1793 for the right of the Dutch to a river, and so managing it that in 1794 the Dutch lost their whole Seven Provinces—if lavishing more money upon failures than the successes of a century had cost, and supporting this profusion by schemes of finance, either hollow and delusive, like the Sinking Fund, or desperately regardless of the future, like the paper issues—if driving Ireland into rebellion by the perfidious recall of Lord Fitzwilliam, and reducing England to two of the most, fearful trials, that a nation, depending upon Credit and a navy, could encounter, the stoppage of her Bank and a mutiny in her fleet—if, finally, floundering on from effort to effort against France, and then dying upon the ruins of the last Coalition he could muster against her—if all this betokens a wise and able minister, then is Mr. Pitt most amply entitled to that name;—then are the lessons of wisdom to be read, like Hebrew, backward, and waste and rashness and systematic failure to be held the only true means of saving a country.
Had even success, by one of those anomalous accidents, which sometimes baffle the best founded calculations of wisdom, been the immediate result of this long monotony of error, it could not, except with those to whom the event is every thing—"Eventus, stultorum magister" [Footnote: A saying of the wise Fabius.]—reflect back merit upon the means by which it was achieved, or, by a retrospective miracle, convert that into wisdom, which chance had only saved from the worst consequences of folly. Just as well might we be called upon to pronounce Alchemy a wise art, because a perseverance in its failures and reveries had led by accident to the discoveries of Chemistry. But even this sanction of good-luck was wanting to the unredeemed mistakes of Mr. Pitt. During the eight years that intervened between his death and the termination of the contest, the adoption of a far wiser policy was forced upon his more tractable pupils; and the only share that his measures can claim in the successful issue of the war, is that of having produced the grievance that was then abated—of having raised up the power opposed to him to the portentous and dizzy height, from which it then fell by the giddiness of its own elevation, [Footnote:
—"summisque negatum Stare din."
LUCAN.] and by the reaction, not of the Princes, but the People of Europe against its yoke.
What would have been the course of affairs, both foreign and domestic, had Mr. Fox—as was, at one time, not improbable—been the Minister during this period, must be left to that superhuman knowledge, which the schoolmen call "media scientia," and which consists in knowing all that would have happened, had events been otherwise than they have been. It is probable that some of the results would not have been so different as the respective principles of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox might naturally lead us, on the first thought, to assert. If left to himself, there is little doubt that the latter, from the simple and fearless magnanimity of his nature, would have consulted for the public safety with that moderation which true courage inspires; and that, even had it been necessary to suspend the Constitution for a season, he would have known how to veil the statue of Liberty, [Footnote: "Il y a des cas ou il faut mettre pour un moment un voile sur la Liberte, comme l'on cache les statues des dieux."—MONTESQUIEU, liv. xii. chap. 20.] without leaving like his rival, such marks of mutilation on its limbs. But it is to be recollected that he would have had to encounter, in his own ranks, the very same patrician alarm, which could even to Mr. Pitt give an increase of momentum against liberty, and which the possession of power would have rendered but more sensitive and arbitrary. Accustomed, too, as he had long been, to yield to the influence of Burke, it would have required more firmness than habitually belonged to Mr. Fox, to withstand the persevering impetuosity of such a counsellor, or keep the balance of his mind unshaken by those stupendous powers, which, like the horses of the Sun breaking out of the ecliptic, carried every thing they seized upon, so splendidly astray:—
"quaque impetus egit, Hac sine lege ruunt, altoque sub aethere fixis Incursant stellis, rapiuntque per avia currum."
Where'er the impulse drives, they burst away In lawless grandeur;—break into the array Of the fix'd stars, and bound and blaze along Their devious course, magnificently wrong!
Having hazarded these general observations, upon the views and conduct of the respective parties of England, during the Crusade now begun against the French people, I shall content myself with briefly and cursorily noticing the chief questions upon which Mr. Sheridan distinguished himself, in the course of the parliamentary campaigns that followed. The sort of guerilla warfare, which he and the rest of the small band attached to Mr. Fox carried on, during this period, against the invaders of the Constitution, is interesting rather by its general character than its detail; for in these, as usual, the episodes of party personality are found to encroach disproportionately on the main design, and the grandeur of the cause, as viewed at a distance, becomes diminished to our imaginations by too near an approach. Englishmen, however, will long look back to that crisis with interest; and the names of Fox, of Sheridan, and of Grey will be affectionately remembered, when that sort of false elevation, which party-feeling now gives to the reputations of some who were opposed to them, shall have subsided to its due level, or been succeeded by oblivion. They who act against the general sympathies of mankind, however they may be artificially buoyed up for the moment, have the current against them in the long run of fame; while the reputation of those, whose talents have been employed upon the popular and generous side of human feelings, receives, through all time, an accelerating impulse from the countless hearts that go with it in its course. Lord Chatham, even now, supersedes his son in fame, and will leave him at an immeasurable distance with posterity.