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Memoirs of the Life of Rt. Hon. Richard Brinsley Sheridan Vol 2 by Thomas Moore

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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session of 1791-2, repealed taxes to the amount of 200,000_l_. 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.

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

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.

Of the events of the private life of Mr. Sheridan, during this stormy
part of his political career, there remain but few memorials among his
papers. As an illustration, however, of his love of betting--the only
sort of gambling in which he ever indulged--the following curious list
of his wagers for the year is not unamusing:--

_"25th May, 1793._--Mr. Sheridan bets Gen. Fitzpatrick one hundred
guineas to fifty guineas, that within two years from this date some
measure is adopted in Parliament which shall be (_bona fide_)
considered as the adoption of a Parliamentary Reform.

"_29th January, 1793._--Mr. S. bets Mr. Boothby Clopton five hundred
guineas, that there is a Reform in the Representation of the people of
England within three years from the date hereof.

"_29th January, 1793_.--Mr. S. bets Mr. Hardy one hundred guineas to
fifty guineas, that Mr. W. Windham does not represent Norwich at the next
general election.

"_29th January, 1793._--Mr. S. bets Gen. Fitzpatrick fifty guineas,
that a corps of British troops are sent to Holland within two months of
the date hereof.

"_18th March, 1793._--Mr. S. bets Lord Titchfield two hundred
guineas, that the D. of Portland is at the head of an Administration on
or before the 18th of March, 1796; Mr. Fox to decide whether any place
the Duke may then fill shall _bona fide_ come within the meaning of
this bet.

"_25th March, 1793_.--Mr. S. bets Mr. Hardy one hundred guineas,
that the three per cent. consols are as high this day twelvemonth as at
the date hereof.

"Mr. S. bets Gen. Tarleton one hundred guineas to fifty guineas, that Mr.
Pitt is first Lord of the Treasury on the 28th of May, 1795.--Mr. S. bets
Mr. St. A. St. John fifteen guineas to five guineas, ditto.--Mr. S. bets
Lord Sefton one hundred and forty guineas to forty guineas, ditto.

_"19th March, 1793_.--Lord Titchfield and Lord W. Russell bet Mr. S.
three hundred guineas to two hundred guineas, that Mr. Pitt is first Lord
of the Treasury on the 19th of March, 1795.

"_18th March, 1793_.--Lord Titchfield bets Mr. S. twenty-five
guineas to fifty guineas, that Mr. W. Windham represents Norwich at the
next general election."

As a sort of moral supplement to this strange list, and one of those
insights into character and conduct which it is the duty of a biographer
to give, I shall subjoin a letter, connected evidently with one of the
above speculations:--


"I am very sorry that I have been so circumstanced as to have been
obliged to disappoint you respecting the payment of the five hundred
guineas: when I gave the draughts on Lord * * I had every reason to be
assured he would accept them, as * * had also. I enclose you, as you will
see by his desire, the letter in which he excuses his not being able to
pay me this part of a larger sum he owes me, and I cannot refuse him any
time he requires, however inconvenient to me. I also enclose you two
draughts accepted by a gentleman from whom the money will be due to me,
and on whose punctuality I can rely. I extremely regret that I cannot at
this juncture command the money.

"At the same time that I regret your being put to any inconvenience by
this delay, I cannot help adverting to the circumstance which perhaps
misled me into the expectation that you would not unwillingly allow me
any reasonable time I might want for the payment of this bet. The
circumstance I mean, however discreditable the plea, is the total
inebriety of some of the party, particularly of myself, when I made this
preposterous bet. I doubt not you will remember having yourself observed
on this circumstance to a common friend the next day, with an intimation
that you should not object to being off; and for my part, when I was
informed that I had made such a bet and for such a sum,--the first, such
folly on the face of it on my part, and the latter so out of my
practice,--I certainly should have proposed the cancelling it, but that,
from the intimation imparted to me, I hoped the proposition might come
from you.

"I hope I need not for a moment beg you not to imagine that I am now
alluding to these circumstances as the slightest invalidation of your
due. So much the contrary, that I most perfectly admit that from your not
having heard any thing further from me on the subject, and especially
after I might have heard that if I desired it the bet might be off, you
had every reason to conclude that I was satisfied with the wager, and
whether made in wine or not, was desirous of abiding by it. And this was
further confirmed by my receiving soon after from you 100_l_, on
another bet won by me.

"Having, I think, put this point very fairly, I again repeat that my only
motive for alluding to the matter was, as some explanation of my seeming
dilatoriness, which certainly did in part arise from always conceiving
that, whenever I should state what was my real wish the day after the bet
was made, you would be the more disposed to allow a little time;--the
same statement admitting, as it must, the bet to be as clearly and as
fairly won as possible; in short, as if I had insisted on it myself the
next morning.

"I have said more perhaps on the subject than can be necessary; but I
should regret to appear negligent to an application for a just claim.

"I have the honor to be,


"Your obedient servant,

"_Hertford St. Feb. 26._


Of the public transactions of Sheridan at this time, his speeches are the
best record. To them, therefore, I shall henceforward principally refer
my readers,--premising, that though the reports of his latter speeches
are somewhat better, in general, than those of his earlier displays, they
still do great injustice to his powers, and exhibit little more than the
mere _Torso_ of his eloquence, curtailed of all those accessories
that lent motion and beauty to its form. The attempts to give the
terseness of his wit particularly fail, and are a strong illustration of
what he himself once said to Lord * *. That Nobleman, who among his many
excellent qualities does not include a very lively sense of humor, having
exclaimed, upon hearing some good anecdote from Sheridan, "I'll go and
tell that to our friend * *." Sheridan called him back instantly and
said, with much gravity, "For God's sake, don't, my dear * *: a joke is
no laughing matter in your mouth."

It is, indeed, singular, that all the eminent English orators--with the
exception of Mr. Burke and Mr. Windham--should have been so little
anxious for the correct transmission of their eloquence to posterity. Had
not Cicero taken more care of even his extemporaneous effusions, we
should have lost that masterly burst of the moment, to which the clemency
of Caesar towards Marcellus gave birth. The beautiful fragments we have
of Lord Chatham are rather traditional than recorded;--there are but two,
I believe, of the speeches of Mr. Pitt corrected by himself, those on the
Budget of 1792, and on the Union with Ireland;--Mr. Fox committed to
writing but one of his, namely, the tribute to the memory of the Duke of
Bedford;--and the only speech of Mr. Sheridan, that is known with
certainty to have passed under his own revision, was that which he made
at the opening of the following session, (1794,) in answer to Lord

In the course of the present year he took frequent opportunities of
expressing his disgust at that spirit of ferocity which had so deeply
disgraced the cause of the Revolution. So earnest was his interest in the
fate of the Royal Family of France, that, as appears from one of his
speeches, he drew up a paper on the subject, and transmitted it to the
republican rulers;--with the view, no doubt, of conveying to them the
feelings of the English Opposition, and endeavoring to avert, by the
influence of his own name and that of Mr. Fox, the catastrophe that
awaited those Royal victims of liberty. Of this interesting document I
cannot discover any traces.

In one of his answers to Burke on the subject of the French Revolution,
adverting to the charge of Deism and Atheism brought against the
republicans, he says,

"As an argument to the feelings and passions of men, the Honorable Member
had great advantages in dwelling on this topic; because it was a subject
which those who disliked everything that had the air of cant and
profession on the one hand, or of indifference on the other, found it
awkward to meddle with. Establishments, tests, and matters of that
nature, were proper objects of political discussion in that House, but
not general charges of Atheism and Deism, as pressed upon their
consideration by the Honorable Gentleman. Thus far, however, he would
say, and it was an opinion he had never changed or concealed, that,
although no man can command his conviction, he had ever considered a
deliberate disposition to make proselytes in infidelity as an
unaccountable depravity. Whoever attempted to pluck the belief or the
prejudice on this subject, style it which he would, from the bosom of one
man, woman, or child, committed a brutal outrage, the motive for which he
had never been able to trace or conceive."

I quote these words as creditable to the feeling and good sense of
Sheridan. Whatever may be thought of particular faiths and sects, a
belief in a life beyond this world is the only thing that pierces through
the walls of our prison-house, and lets hope shine in upon a scene, that
would be otherwise bewildered and desolate. The proselytism of the
Atheist is, indeed, a dismal mission. That believers, who have each the
same heaven in prospect, should invite us to join them on their
respective ways to it, is at least a benevolent officiousness,--but that
he, who has no prospect or hope himself, should seek for companionship in
his road to annihilation, can only be explained by that tendency in human
creatures to count upon each other in their despair, as well as their

In the speech upon his own motion relative to the existence of seditious
practices in the country, there is some lively ridicule, upon the panic
then prevalent. For instance:--

"The alarm had been brought forward in great pomp and form on Saturday
morning. At night all the mail-coaches were stopped; the Duke of Richmond
stationed himself, among other curiosities, at the Tower; a great
municipal officer, too, had made a discovery exceedingly beneficial to
the people of this country. He meant the Lord Mayor of London, who had
found out that there was at the King's Arms at Cornhill a Debating
Society, where principles of the most dangerous tendency were propagated;
where people went to buy treason at sixpence a head; where it was
retailed to them by the glimmering of an inch of candle; and five
minutes, to be measured by the glass, were allowed to each traitor to
perform his part in overturning the State."

It was in the same speech that he gave the well-known and happy turn to
the motto of the Sun newspaper, which was at that time known to be the
organ of the Alarmists. "There was one paper," he remarked, "in
particular, said to be the property of members of that House, and
published and conducted under their immediate direction, which had for
its motto a garbled part of a beautiful sentence, when it might, with
much more propriety, have assumed the whole--

"Solem quis dicere falsum
Audeat? Ille etiam cacos instare tumultus
Saepe monet, fraudemque et operta tumescere bella."

Among the subjects that occupied the greatest share of his attention
during this Session, was the Memorial of Lord Auckland to the
States-General,--which document he himself brought under the notice of
Parliament as deserving of severe reprobation for the violent and
vindictive tone which it assumed towards the Commissioners of the
National Convention. It was upon one of the discussions connected with
this subject that a dispute, as to the correct translation of the word
"_malheureux_" was maintained with much earnestness between him and
Lord Melville--two persons, the least qualified, perhaps, of any in the
House, to volunteer as either interpreters or pronouncers of the French
language. According to Sheridan, "_ces malheureux_" was to be
translated "these wretches," while Lord Melville contended, to the no
small amusement of the House, that "_mollyroo_" (as he pronounced
it,) meant no more than "these unfortunate gentlemen."

In the November of this year Mr. Sheridan lost by a kind of death which
must have deepened the feeling of the loss, the most intimate of all his
companions, Tickell. If congeniality of dispositions and pursuits were
always a strengthener of affection, the friendship between Tickell and
Sheridan ought to have been of the most cordial kind; for they resembled
each other in almost every particular--in their wit, their wants, their
talent, and their thoughtlessness. It is but too true, however, that
friendship in general gains far less by such a community of pursuit than
it loses by the competition that naturally springs out of it; and that
two wits or two beauties form the last sort of alliance, in which we
ought to look for specimens of sincere and cordial friendship. The
intercourse between Tickell and Sheridan was not free from such
collisions of vanity. They seem to have lived, indeed, in a state of
alternate repulsion and attraction; and, unable to do without the
excitement of each other's vivacity, seldom parted without trials of
temper as well as of wit. Being both, too, observers of character, and
each finding in the other rich materials for observation, their love of
ridicule could not withstand such a temptation, and they freely
criticised each other to common friends, who, as is usually the case,
agreed with both. Still, however, there was a whim and sprightliness even
about their mischief, which made it seem rather an exercise of ingenuity
than an indulgence of ill nature; and if they had not carried on this
intellectual warfare, neither would have liked the other half so well.

The two principal productions of Tickell, the "Wreath of Fashion" and
"Anticipation," were both upon temporary subjects, and have accordingly
passed into oblivion. There are, however, some graceful touches of
pleasantry in the poem; and the pamphlet, (which procured for him not
only fame but a place in the Stamp-office,) contains passages of which
the application and the humor have not yet grown stale. As Sheridan is
the hero of the Wreath of Fashion, it is but right to quote the verses
that relate to him; and I do it with the more pleasure, because they also
contain a well-merited tribute to Mrs. Sheridan. After a description of
the various poets of the day that deposit their offerings in Lady
Millar's "Vase of Sentiment," the author thus proceeds:--

"At Fashion's shrine behold a gentler bard
Gaze on the mystic vase with fond regard--
But see, Thalia checks the doubtful thought,
'Canst thou, (she cries,) with sense, with genius fraught,
Canst thou to Fashion's tyranny submit,
Secure in native, independent wit?
Or yield to Sentiment's insipid rule,
By Taste, by Fancy, chac'd through Scandal's school?
Ah no--be Sheridan's the comic page,
Or let me fly with Garrick from the stage.
Haste then, my friend, (for let me boast that name,)
Haste to the opening path of genuine fame;
Or, if thy muse a gentler theme pursue,
Ah, 'tis to love and thy Eliza due!
For, sure, the sweetest lay she well may claim,
Whose soul breathes harmony o'er all her frame;
While wedded love, with ray serenely clear,
Beams from her eye, as from its proper sphere."

In the year 1781, Tickell brought out at Drury-Lane an opera called "The
Carnival of Venice," on which there is the following remark in Mrs.
Crouch's Memoirs:--"Many songs in this piece so perfectly resemble in
poetic beauty those which adorn The Duenna, that they declare themselves
to be the offspring of the same muse." I know not how far this conjecture
may be founded, but there are four pretty lines which I remember in this
opera, and which, it may be asserted without hesitation, Sheridan never
wrote. He had no feeling for natural scenery, [Footnote: In corroboration
of this remark, I have been allowed to quote the following passage of a
letter written by a very eminent person, whose name all lovers of the
Picturesque associate with their best enjoyment of its beauties:--

"At one time I saw a good deal of Sheridan--he and his first wife passed
some time here, and he is an instance that a taste for poetry and for
scenery are not always united. Had this house been in the midst of
Hounslow Heath, he could not have taken less interest in all around it:
his delight was in shooting, all and every day, and my game-keeper said
that of all the gentlemen he had ever been out with he never knew so bad
a shot."] nor is there a trace of such a sentiment discoverable through
his poetry. The following, as well as I can recollect, are the lines:--

"And while the moon shines on the stream,
And as soft music breathes around,
The feathering oar returns the gleam,
And dips in concert to the sound."

I have already given a humorous Dedication of the Rivals, written by
Tickell on the margin of a copy of that play in my possession. I shall
now add another piece of still more happy humor, with which he has
filled, in very neat hand-writing, the three or four first pages of the
same copy.

"The Rivals, a Comedy--one of the best in the English language--written
as long ago as the reign of George the Third. The author's name was
Sheridan--he is mentioned by the historians of that age as a man of
uncommon abilities, very little improved by cultivation. His confidence
in the resources of his own genius and his aversion to any sort of labor
were so great that he could not be prevailed upon to learn either to read
or write. He was, for a short time, Manager of one the play-houses, and
conceived the extraordinary and almost incredible project of composing a
play extempore, which he was to recite in the Green-room to the actors,
who were immediately to come on the stage and perform it. The players
refusing to undertake their parts at so short a notice, and with so
little preparation, he threw up the management in disgust.

"He was a member of the last Parliaments that were summoned in England,
and signalized himself on many occasions by his wit and eloquence, though
he seldom came to the House till the debate was nearly concluded, and
never spoke, unless he was drunk. He lived on a footing of great intimacy
with the famous Fox, who is said to have concerted with him the audacious
attempt which he made, about the year 1783, to seize the whole property
of the East India Company, amounting at that time to above
12,000,000_l_. sterling, and then to declare himself Lord Protector
of the realm by the title of Carlo Khan. This desperate scheme actually
received the consent of the lower House of Parliament, the majority of
whom were bribed by Fox, or intimidated by his and Sheridan's threats and
violence: and it is generally believed that the Revolution would have
taken place, if the Lords of the King's Bedchamber had not in a body
surrounded the throne and shown the most determined resolution not to
abandon their posts but with their lives. The usurpation being defeated,
Parliament was dissolved and loaded with infamy. Sheridan was one of the
few members of it who were re-elected:--the Burgesses of Stafford, whom
he had kept in a constant state of intoxication for near three weeks,
chose him again to represent them, which he was well qualified to do.

"Fox's Whig party being very much reduced, or rather almost annihilated,
he and the rest of the conspirators remained quiet for some time; till,
in the year 1788, the French, in conjunction with Tippoo Sultan, having
suddenly seized and divided between themselves the whole of the British
possessions in India, the East India Company broke, and a national
bankruptcy was apprehended. During this confusion Fox and his partisans
assembled in large bodies, and made a violent attack in Parliament on
Pitt, the King's first minister:--Sheridan supported and seconded him.
Parliament seemed disposed to inquire into the cause of the calamity: the
nation was almost in a state of actual rebellion; and it is impossible
for us, at the distance of three hundred years, to form any judgment what
dreadful consequences might have followed, if the King, by the advice of
the Lords of the Bedchamber, had not dissolved the Parliament, and taken
the administration of affairs into his own hands, and those of a few
confidential servants, at the head of whom he was pleased to place one
Mr. Atkinson, a merchant, who had acquired a handsome fortune in the
Jamaica trade, and passed universally for a man of unblemished integrity.
His Majesty having now no farther occasion for Pitt, and being desirous
of rewarding him for his past services, and, at the same time, finding an
adequate employment for his great talents, caused him to enter into holy
orders, and presented him with the Deanery of Windsor; where he became an
excellent preacher, and published several volumes of sermons, all of
which are now lost.

"To return to Sheridan:--on the abrogation of Parliaments, he entered
into a closer connection than ever with Fox and a few others of lesser
note, forming together as desperate and profligate a gang as ever
disgraced a civilized country. They were guilty of every species of
enormity, and went so far as even to commit robberies on the highway,
with a degree of audacity that could be equalled only by the ingenuity
with which they escaped conviction. Sheridan, not satisfied with eluding,
determined to mock the justice of his country, and composed a Masque
called 'The Foresters,' containing a circumstantial account of some of
the robberies he had committed, and a good deal of sarcasm on the
pusillanimity of those whom he had robbed, and the inefficacy of the
penal laws of the kingdom. This piece was acted at Drury-Lane Theatre
with great applause, to the astonishment of all sober persons, and the
scandal of the nation. His Majesty, who had long wished to curb the
licentiousness of the press and the theatres, thought this a good
opportunity. He ordered the performers to be enlisted into the army, the
play-house to be shut up, and all theatrical exhibitions to be forbid on
pain of death, Drury-Lane play-house was soon after converted into a
barrack for soldiers, which it has continued to be ever since. Sheridan
was arrested, and, it was imagined, would have suffered the rack, if he
had not escaped from his guard by a stratagem, and gone over to Ireland
in a balloon with which his friend Fox furnished him. Immediately on his
arrival in Ireland, he put himself at the head of a party of the most
violent Reformers, commanded a regiment of Volunteers at the siege of
Dublin in 1791, and was supposed to be the person who planned the scheme
for tarring and feathering Mr. Jenkinson, the Lord Lieutenant, and
forcing him in that condition to sign the capitulation of the Castle. The
persons who were to execute this strange enterprise had actually got into
the Lord Lieutenant's apartment at midnight, and would probably have
succeeded in their project, if Sheridan, who was intoxicated with
whiskey, a strong liquor much in vogue with the Volunteers, had not
attempted to force open the door of Mrs. ----'s bed-chamber, and so given
the alarm to the garrison, who instantly flew to arms, seized Sheridan
and every one of his party, and confined them in the castle-dungeon.
Sheridan was ordered for execution the next day, but had no sooner got
his legs and arms at liberty, than he began capering, jumping, dancing,
and making all sorts of antics, to the utter amazement of the spectators.
When the chaplain endeavored, by serious advice and admonition, to bring
him to a proper sense of his dreadful situation, he grinned, made faces
at him, tried to tickle him, and played a thousand other pranks with such
astonishing drollery, that the gravest countenances became cheerful, and
the saddest hearts glad. The soldiers who attended at the gallows were so
delighted with his merriment, which they deemed magnanimity, that the
sheriffs began to apprehend a rescue, and ordered the hangman instantly
to do his duty. He went off in a loud horse-laugh, and cast a look
towards the Castle, accompanied with a gesture expressive of no great

"Thus ended the life of this singular and unhappy man--a melancholy
instance of the calamities that attend the misapplication of great and
splendid ability. He was married to a very beautiful and amiable woman,
for whom he is said to have entertained an unalterable affection. He had
one son, a boy of the most promising hopes, whom he would never suffer to
be instructed in the first rudiments of literature. He amused himself,
however, with teaching the boy to draw portraits with his toes, in which
he soon became so astonishing a proficient that he seldom failed to take
a most exact likeness of every person who sat to him.

"There are a few more plays by the same author, all of them excellent.

"For further information concerning this strange man, vide 'Macpherson's
Moral History,' Art. '_Drunkenness_.'"



In the year 1794, the natural consequences of the policy pursued by Mr.
Pitt began rapidly to unfold themselves both at home and abroad.
[Footnote: See, for a masterly exposure of the errors of the War, the
Speech of Lord Lansdowne this year on bringing forward his Motion for

I cannot let the name of this Nobleman pass, without briefly expressing
the deep gratitude which I feel to him, not only for his own kindness to
me, when introduced, as a boy, to his notice, but for the friendship of
his truly Noble descendant, which I, in a great degree, owe to him, and
which has long been the pride and happiness of my life.] The confederated
Princes of the Continent, among whom the gold of England was now the sole
bond of union, had succeeded as might be expected from so noble an
incentive, and, powerful only in provoking France, had by every step they
took but ministered to her aggrandizement. In the mean time, the measures
of the English Minister at home were directed to the two great objects of
his legislation--the raising of supplies and the suppressing of sedition;
or, in other words, to the double and anomalous task of making the people
pay for the failures of their Royal allies, and suffer for their sympathy
with the success of their republican enemies. It is the opinion of a
learned Jesuit that it was by _aqua regia_ the Golden Calf of the
Israelites was dissolved--and the cause of Kings was the Royal solvent,
in which the wealth of Great Britain now melted irrecoverably away. While
the successes, too, of the French had already lowered the tone of the
Minister from projects of aggression to precautions of defence, the
wounds which in the wantonness of alarm, he had inflicted on the
liberties of the country, were spreading an inflammation around them that
threatened real danger. The severity of the sentence upon Muir and Palmer
in Scotland, and the daring confidence with which charges of High Treason
were exhibited against persons who were, at the worst, but indiscreet
reformers, excited the apprehensions of even the least sensitive friends
of freedom. It is, indeed, difficult to say how far the excited temper of
the Government, seconded by the ever ready subservience of state-lawyers
and bishops, might have proceeded at this moment, had not the acquittal
of Tooke and his associates, and the triumph it diffused through the
country, given a lesson to Power such as England is alone capable of
giving, and which will long be remembered, to the honor of that great
political safeguard,--that Life-preserver in stormy times,--the Trial by

At the opening of the Session, Mr. Sheridan delivered his admirable
answer to Lord Mornington, the report of which, as I have already said,
was corrected for publication by himself. In this fine speech, of which
the greater part must have been unprepared, there is a natural
earnestness of feeling and argument that is well contrasted with the able
but artificial harangue that preceded it. In referring to the details
which Lord Mornington had entered into of the various atrocities
committed in France, he says:--

"But what was the sum of all that he had told the House? that great and
dreadful enormities had been committed, at which the heart shuddered, and
which not merely wounded every feeling of humanity, but disgusted and
sickened the soul. All this was most true; but what did all this prove?
What, but that eternal and unalterable truth which had always presented
itself to his mind, in whatever way he had viewed the subject, namely,
that a long established despotism so far degraded and debased human
nature, as to render its subjects, on the first recovery of their rights,
unfit for the exercise of them. But never had he, or would he meet but
with re probation that mode of argument which went, in fact, to
establish, as an inference from this truth, that those who had been long
slaves, ought therefore to remain so for over! No; the lesson ought to
be, he would again repeat, a tenfold horror of that despotic form of
government, which had so profaned and changed the nature of civilized
man, and a still more jealous apprehension of any system tending to
withhold the rights and liberties of our fellow-creatures. Such a form of
government might be considered as twice cursed; while it existed, it was
solely responsible for the miseries and calamities of its subjects; and
should a day of retribution come, and the tyranny be destroyed, it was
equally to be charged with all the enormities which the folly or frenzy
of those who overturned it should commit.

"But the madness of the French people was not confined to their
proceedings within their own country; we, and all the Powers of Europe,
had to dread it. True; but was not this also to be accounted for? Wild
and unsettled as their state of mind was, necessarily, upon the events
which had thrown such power so suddenly into their hands, the surrounding
States had goaded them into a still more savage state of madness, fury,
and desperation. We had unsettled their reason, and then reviled their
insanity; we drove them to the extremities that produced the evils we
arraigned; we baited them like wild beasts, until at length we made them
so. The conspiracy of Pilnitz, and the brutal threats of the Royal
abettors of that plot against the rights of nations and of men, had, in
truth, to answer for all the additional misery, horrors, and iniquity,
which had since disgraced and incensed humanity. Such has been your
conduct towards France, that you have created the passions which you
persecute; you mark a nation to be cut off from the world; you covenant
for their extermination; you swear to hunt them in their inmost recesses;
you load them with every species of execration; and you now come forth
with whining declamations on the horror of their turning upon you with
the fury which you inspired."

Having alluded to an assertion of Condorcet, quoted by Lord Mornington,
that "Revolutions are always the work of the minority," he adds

"--If this be true, it certainly is a most ominous thing for the enemies
of Reform in England; for, if it holds true, of necessity, that the
minority still prevails, in national contests, it must be a consequence
that the smaller the minority the more certain must be the success. In
what a dreadful situation then must the Noble Lord be and all the
Alarmists!--for, never surely was a minority so small, so thin in number
as the present. Conscions, however, that M. Condorcet was mistaken in our
object, I am glad to find that we are terrible in proportion as we are
few; I rejoice that the liberality of secession which has thinned our
ranks has only served to make us more formidable. The Alarmists will hear
this with new apprehensions; they will no doubt return to us with a view
to diminish our force, and encumber us with their alliance in order to
reduce us to insignificance."

We have here another instance, in addition to the many that have been
given, of the beauties that sprung up under Sheridan's correcting hand.
This last pointed sentence was originally thus: "And we shall swell our
numbers in order to come nearer in a balance of insignificance to the
numerous host of the majority."

It was at this time evident that the great Whig Seceders would soon yield
to the invitations of Mr. Pitt and the vehement persuasions of Burke, and
commit themselves still further with the Administration by accepting of
office. Though the final arrangements to this effect were not completed
till the summer, on account of the lingering reluctance of the Duke of
Portland and Mr. Windham, Lord Loughborough and others of the former
Opposition had already put on the official livery of the Minister. It is
to be regretted that, in almost all cases of conversion to the side of
power, the coincidence of some worldly advantage with the change should
make it difficult to decide upon the sincerity or disinterestedness of
the convert. That these Noble Whigs were sincere in their alarm there is
no reason to doubt; but the lesson of loyalty they have transmitted would
have been far more edifying, had the usual corollary of honors and
emoluments not followed, and had they left at least one instance of
political conversion on record, where the truth was its own sole reward,
and the proselyte did not subside into the placeman. Mr. Sheridan was
naturally indignant at these desertions, and his bitterness overflows in
many passages of the speech before us. Lord Mornington having contrasted
the privations and sacrifices demanded of the French by their Minister of
Finance with those required of the English nation, he says in answer:--

"The Noble Lord need not remind us, that there is no great danger of our
Chancellor of the Exchequer making any such experiment. I can more easily
fancy another sort of speech for our prudent Minister. I can more easily
conceive him modestly comparing himself and his own measures with the
character and conduct of his rival, and saying,--'Do I demand of you,
wealthy citizens, to lend your hoards to Government without interest? On
the contrary, when I shall come to propose a loan, there is not a man of
you to whom I shall not hold out at least a job in every part of the
subscription, and an usurious profit upon every pound you devote to the
necessities of your country. Do I demand of you, my fellow-placemen and
brother-pensioners, that you should sacrifice any part of your stipends
to the public exigency? On the contrary; am I not daily increasing your
emoluments and your numbers in proportion as the country becomes unable
to provide for you? Do I require of you, my latest and most zealous
proselytes, of you who have come over to me for the special purpose of
supporting the war--a war, on the success of which you solemnly protest,
that the salvation of Britain, and of civil society itself, depend--do I
require of you, that you should make a temporary sacrifice, in the cause
of human nature, of the greater part of your private incomes? No,
gentlemen, I scorn to take advantage of the eagerness of your zeal; and
to prove that I think the sincerity of your attachment to me needs no
such test, I will make your interest co-operate with your principle: I
will quarter many of you on the public supply, instead of calling on you
to contribute to it; and, while their whole thoughts are absorbed in
patriotic apprehensions for their country, I will dexterously force upon
others the favorite objects of the vanity or ambition of their lives.

* * * * *

"Good God, Sir, that he should have thought it prudent to have forced
this contrast upon our attention; that he should triumphantly remind us
of everything that shame should have withheld, and caution would have
buried in oblivion! Will those who stood forth with a parade of
disinterested patriotism, and vaunted of the _sacrifices_ they had
made, and the _exposed situation_ they had chosen, in order the
better to oppose the friends of Brissot in England--will they thank the
Noble Lord for reminding us how soon these lofty professions dwindled
into little jobbing pursuits for followers and dependents, as unfit to
fill the offices procured for them, as the offices themselves were unfit
to be created?--Will the train of newly titled alarmists, of
supernumerary negotiators, of pensioned paymasters, agents and
commissaries, thank him for remarking to us how profitable their panic
has been to themselves, and how expensive to their country? What a
contrast, indeed, do we exhibit!--What! in such an hour as this, at a
moment pregnant with the national fate, when, pressing as the exigency
may be, the hard task of squeezing the money from the pockets of an
impoverished people, from the toil, the drudgery of the shivering poor,
must make the most practised collector's heart ache while he tears it
from them--can it be that people of high rank, and professing high
principles, that _they_ or _their families_ should seek to
thrive on the spoils of misery and fatten on the meals wrested from
industrious poverty? Can it be that that should be the case with the very
persons, who state the _unprecedented peril of the country_ as the
_sole_ cause of their being found in the ministerial ranks? The
Constitution is in danger, religion is in danger, the very existence of
the nation itself is endangered; all personal and party considerations
ought to vanish; the war must be supported by every possible exertion,
and by every possible sacrifice; the people must not murmur at their
burdens, it is for their salvation, their all is at stake. The time is
come, when all honest and disinterested men should rally round the Throne
as round a standard;--for what? ye honest and disinterested men, to
receive, for your own private emolument, a portion of those very taxes
wrung from the people on the pretence of saving them from the poverty and
distress which you say the enemy would inflict, but which you take care
no enemy shall be able to aggravate. Oh! shame! shame! is this a time for
selfish intrigues, and the little dirty traffic for lucre and emolument?
Does it suit the honor of a gentleman to ask at such a moment? Does it
become the honesty of a Minister to grant? Is it intended to confirm the
pernicious doctrine, so industriously propagated by many, that all public
men are impostors, and that every politician has his price? Or even where
there is no principle in the bosom, why does not prudence hint to the
mercenary and the vain to abstain a while at least, and wait the fitting
of the times? Improvident impatience! Nay, even from those who seem to
have no direct object of office or profit, what is the language which
their actions speak? The Throne is in danger!--'we will support the
Throne; but let us share the smiles of Royalty;'--the order of Nobility
is in danger!--'I will fight for Nobility,' says the Viscount, 'but my
zeal would be much greater if I were made an Earl.' 'Rouse all the
Marquis within me,' exclaims the Earl, 'and the peerage never turned
forth a more undaunted champion in its cause than I shall prove.' 'Stain
my green riband blue,' cries out the illustrious Knight, 'and the
fountain of honor will have a fast and faithful servant.' What are the
people to think of our sincerity?--What credit are they to give to our
professions?--Is this system to be persevered in? Is there nothing that
whispers to that Right Honorable Gentleman that the crisis is too big,
that the times are too gigantic, to be ruled by the little hackneyed and
every-day means of ordinary corruption?"

The discussions, indeed, during the whole of this Session, were marked by
a degree of personal acrimony, which in the present more sensitive times
would hardly be borne. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Sheridan came, most of all, into
collision; and the retorts of the Minister not unfrequently proved with
what weight the haughty sarcasms of Power may descend even upon the
tempered buckler of Wit.

It was in this Session, and on the question of the Treaty with the King
of Sardinia, that Mr. Canning made his first appearance, as an orator, in
the House. He brought with him a fame, already full of promise, and has
been one of the brightest ornaments of the senate and the country ever
since. From the political faith in which he had been educated, under the
very eyes of Mr. Sheridan, who had long been the friend of his family,
and at whose house he generally passed his college vacations, the line
that he was to take in the House of Commons seemed already, according to
the usual course of events, marked out for him. Mr. Sheridan had, indeed,
with an eagerness which, however premature, showed the value which he and
others set upon the alliance, taken occasion in the course of a laudatory
tribute to Mr. Jenkinson, [Footnote: Now Lord Liverpool] on the success
of his first effort in the House, to announce the accession which his own
party was about to receive, in the talents of another gentleman,--the
companion and friend of the young orator who had now distinguished
himself. Whether this and other friendships, formed by Mr. Canning at the
University, had any share in alienating him from a political creed, which
he had hitherto, perhaps, adopted rather from habit and authority than
choice--or, whether he was startled at the idea of appearing for the
first time in the world, as the announced pupil and friend of a person
who, both by the vehemence of his politics and the irregularities of his
life, had put himself, in some degree, under the ban of public
opinion--or whether, lastly, he saw the difficulties which even genius
like his would experience, in rising to the full growth of its ambition,
under the shadowing branches of the Whig aristocracy, and that
superseding influence of birth and connections, which had contributed to
keep even such men as Burke and Sheridan out of the Cabinet--_which_
of these motives it was that now decided the choice of the young
political Hercules, between the two paths that equally wooed his
footsteps, none, perhaps, but himself can fully determine. His decision,
we know, was in favor of the Minister and Toryism; and, after a friendly
and candid explanation to Sheridan of the reasons and feelings that urged
him to this step, he entered into terms with Mr. Pitt, and was by him
immediately brought into Parliament.

However dangerous it might be to exalt such an example into a precedent,
it is questionable whether, in thus resolving to join the ascendant side,
Mr. Canning has not conferred a greater benefit on the country than he
ever would have been able to effect in the ranks of his original friends.
That Party, which has now so long been the sole depository of the power
of the State, had, in addition to the original narrowness of its
principles, contracted all that proud obstinacy, in antiquated error,
which is the invariable characteristic of such monopolies; and which,
however consonant with its vocation, as the chosen instrument of the
Crown, should have long since _invalided_ it in the service of a
free and enlightened people. Some infusion of the spirit of the times
into this body had become necessary, even for its own preservation,--in
the same manner as the inhalement of youthful breath has been
recommended, by some physicians, to the infirm and superannuated. This
renovating inspiration the genius of Mr. Canning has supplied. His first
political lessons were derived from sources too sacred to his young
admiration to be forgotten. He has carried the spirit of these lessons
with him into the councils which he joined, and by the vigor of the
graft, which already, indeed, shows itself in the fruits, bids fair to
change altogether the nature of Toryism.

Among the eminent persons summoned as witnesses on the Trial of Horne
Tooke, which took place in November of this year, was Mr. Sheridan; and,
as his evidence contains some curious particulars, both with regard to
himself and the state of political feeling in the year 1790, I shall here
transcribe a part of it:--

"He, (Mr. Sheridan,) said he recollects a meeting to celebrate the
establishment of liberty in France in the year 1790. Upon that occasion
he moved a Resolution drawn up the day before by the Whig club. Mr. Horne
Tooke, he says, made no objection to his motion, but proposed an
amendment. Mr. Tooke stated that an unqualified approbation of the French
Revolution, in the terms moved, might produce an ill effect out of doors,
a disposition to a revolution in this country, or, at least, be
misrepresented to have that object; he adverted to the circumstance of
their having all of them national cockades in their hats; he proposed to
add some qualifying expression to the approbation of the French
Revolution, a declaration of attachment to the principles of our own
Constitution; he said Mr. Tooke spoke in a figurative manner of the
former Government of France; he described it as a vessel so foul and
decayed, that no repair could save it from destruction, that in
contrasting our state with that, he said, thank God, the main timbers of
our Constitution are sound; he had before observed, however, that some
reforms might be necessary; he said that sentiment was received with
great disapprobation, and with very rude interruption, insomuch that Lord
Stanhope, who was in the chair, interfered; he said it had happened to
him, in many public meetings, to differ with and oppose the prisoner, and
that he has frequently seen him received with very considerable marks of
disapprobation, but he never saw them affect him much; he said that he
himself objected to Mr. Tooke's amendment; he thinks he withdrew his
amendment, and moved it as a separate motion; he said it was then carried
as unanimously as his own motion had been; that original motion and
separate motion are in these words:--'That this meeting does most
cordially rejoice in the establishment and confirmation of liberty in
France; and it beholds with peculiar satisfaction the sentiments of amity
and good will which appear to pervade the people of that country towards
this kingdom, especially at a time when it is the manifest interest of
both states that nothing should interrupt the harmony which at present
subsists between them, and which is so essentially necessary to the
freedom and happiness, not only of the French nation, but of all mankind.'

"Mr. Tooke wished to add to his motion some qualifying clause, to guard
against misunderstanding and misrepresentation:--that there was a wide
difference between England and France; that in France the vessel was so
foul and decayed, that no repair could save it from destruction, whereas,
in England, we had a noble and stately vessel, sailing proudly on the
bosom of the ocean; that her main timbers were sound, though it was true,
after so long a course of years, she might want some repairs. Mr. Tooke's
motion was,--'That we feel equal satisfaction that the subjects of
England, by the virtuous exertions of their ancestors, have not so
arduous a task to perform as the French have had, but have only to
maintain and improve the Constitution which their ancestors have
transmitted to them.'--This was carried unanimously."

The trial of Warren Hastings still "dragged its slow length along," and
in the May of this year Mr. Sheridan was called upon for his Reply on the
Begum Charge. It was usual, on these occasions, for the Manager who spoke
to be assisted by one of his brother Managers, whose task it was to carry
the bag that contained his papers, and to read out whatever Minutes might
be referred to in the course of the argument. Mr. Michael Angelo Taylor
was the person who undertook this office for Sheridan; but, on the
morning of the speech, upon his asking for the bag that he was to carry,
he was told by Sheridan that there was none--neither bag nor papers.
They must manage, he said, as well as they could without them;--and when
the papers were called for, his friend must only put the best countenance
he could upon it. As for himself "he would abuse Ned Law--ridicule
Plumer's long orations--make the Court laugh--please the women, and, in
short, with Taylor's aid would get triumphantly through his task." His
opening of the case was listened to with the profoundest attention; but
when he came to contrast the evidence of the Commons with that adduced by
Hastings, it was not long before the Chancellor interrupted him, with a
request that the printed Minutes to which he referred should be read.
Sheridan answered that his friend Mr. Taylor would read them; and Mr.
Taylor affected to send for the bag, while the orator begged leave, in
the meantime, to proceed. Again, however, his statements rendered a
reference to the Minutes necessary, and again he was interrupted by the
Chancellor, while an outcry after Mr. Sheridan's bag was raised in all
directions. At first the blame was laid on the solicitor's clerk--then a
messenger was dispatched to Mr. Sheridan's house. In the meantime, the
orator was proceeding brilliantly and successfully in his argument; and,
on some further interruption and expostulation from the Chancellor,
raised his voice and said, in a dignified tone, "On the part of the
Commons, and as a Manager of this Impeachment, I shall conduct my case as
I think proper. I mean to be correct, and Your Lordships, having the
printed Minutes before you, will afterwards see whether I am right or

During the bustle produced by the inquiries after the bag, Mr. Fox,
alarmed at the inconvenience which, he feared, the want of it might
occasion Sheridan, ran up from the Managers' room, and demanded eagerly
the cause of this mistake from Mr. Taylor; who, hiding his mouth with his
hand, whispered him, (in a tone of which they alone, who have heard this
gentleman relate the anecdote, can feel the full humor,) "The man has no

The whole of this characteristic contrivance was evidently intended by
Sheridan to raise that sort of surprise at the readiness of his
resources, which it was the favorite triumph of his vanity to create. I
have it on the authority of Mr. William Smythe, that, previously to the
delivery of this speech, he passed two or three days alone at Wanstead,
so occupied from morning till night in writing and reading of papers, as
to complain in the evenings that he "had motes before his eyes." This
mixture of real labor with apparent carelessness was, indeed, one of the
most curious features of his life and character.

Together with the political contests of this stormy year, he had also on
his mind the cares of his new Theatre, which opened on the 21st of April,
with a prologue, not by himself, as might have been expected, but by his
friend General Fitzpatrick. He found time, however, to assist in the
rapid manufacture of a little piece called "The Glorious First of June,"
which was acted immediately after Lord Howe's victory, and of which I
have found some sketches [Footnote: One of these is as follows:--

"SCENE I.--Miss _Leake_--Miss _Decamp--Walsh_.

"Short dialogue--Nancy persuading Susan to go to the Fair, where there is
an entertainment to be given by the Lord of the Manor--Susan melancholy
because Henry, her lover, is at sea with the British Admiral--_Song_
--Her old mother scolds from the cottage--her little brother (_Walsh_)
comes from the house, with a message--laughs at his sister's fears and

"SCENE II.--_The Fair_

"Puppet show--dancing bear--bells--hurdy-gurdy--recruiting party--song
and chorus.


"Susan says she has no pleasure, and will go and take a solitary walk.

"SCENE III.--_Dark Wood._

"Susan--gipsy--tells her fortune--recitative and ditty.


"SEA-FIGHT--hell and the devil!

"Henry and Susan meet--Chorus introducing burden,

"Rule Britannia."

Among other occasional trifles of this kind, to which Sheridan
condescended for the advantage of the theatre, was the pantomime of
Robinson Crusoe, brought out, I believe, in 1781, of which he is
understood to have been the author. There was a practical joke in this
pantomime, (where, in pulling off a man's boot, the leg was pulled off
with it,) which the famous Delpini laid claim to as his own, and publicly
complained of Sheridan's having stolen it from him. The punsters of the
day said it was claimed as literary property--being "in usum

Another of these inglorious tasks of the author of The School for
Scandal, was the furnishing of the first outline or _Programme_ of
"The Forty Thieves." His brother in law, Ward, supplied the dialogue, and
Mr. Colman was employed to season it with an infusion of jokes. The
following is Sheridan's sketch of one of the scenes--


"Bannister called out of the cavern boldly by his son--comes out and
falls on the ground a long time, not knowing him--says he would only have
taken a little gold to Keep off misery and save his son, &c.

"Afterwards, when he loads his asses, his son reminds him to be
moderate--but it was a promise made to thieves--'it gets nearer the
owner, if taken from the stealer'--the son disputes this morality--'they
stole it, _ergo_, they have no right to it; and we steal it from the
stealer, _ergo_, our title is twice as bad as theirs.'"] in
Sheridan's hand-writing,--though the dialogue was, no doubt, supplied (as
Mr. Boaden says,) "by Cobb, or some other such _pedissequus_ of the
Dramatic Muse. This piece was written, rehearsed, and acted within three
days. The first operation of Mr. Sheridan towards it was to order the
mechanist of the theatre to get ready two fleets. It was in vain that
objections were started to the possibility of equipping these pasteboard
armaments in so short an interval--Lord Chatham's famous order to Lord
Anson was not more peremptory. [Footnote: For the expedition to the coast
of France, after the Convention of Closter seven. When he ordered the
fleet to be equipped, and appointed the time and place of its rendezvous,
Lord Anson said it would be impossible to have it prepared so soon. "It
may," said Mr. Pitt, "be done, and if the ships are not ready at the time
specified, I shall signify Your Lordship's neglect to the King, and
impeach you in the House of Commons." This intimation produced the
desired effect--the ships were ready. See Anecdotes of Lord Chatham,
vol. i] The two fleets were accordingly ready at the time, and the Duke
of Clarence attended the rehearsal of their evolutions. This mixture of
the cares of the Statesman and the Manager is one of those whimsical
peculiarities that made Sheridan's own life so dramatic, and formed a
compound altogether too singular ever to occur again.

In the spring of the following year, (1795,) we find Mr. Sheridan paying
that sort of tribute to the happiness of a first marriage which is
implied by the step of entering into a second. The lady to whom he now
united himself was Miss Esther Jane Ogle, daughter of the Dean of
Winchester, and grand-daughter, by the mother's side, of the former
Bishop of Winchester. We have here another proof of the ready mine of
wealth which the theatre opened,--as in gratitude it ought,--to him who
had endowed, it with such imperishable treasures. The fortune of the lady
being five thousand pounds, he added to it fifteen thousand more, which
he contrived to raise by the sale of Drury-Lane shares; and the whole of
the sum was subsequently laid out in the purchase from Sir W. Geary of
the estate of Polesden, in Surrey, near Leatherhead. The Trustees of this
settlement were Mr. Grey, (now Lord Grey,) and Mr. Whitbread.

To a man at the time of life which Sheridan had now attained--four years
beyond that period, at which Petrarch thought it decorous to leave off
writing love-verses [Footnote: See his Epistle, "ad Posteritatem," where,
after lamenting the many years which he had devoted to love, he adds:
"Mox vero ad _quadragesimum annum_ appropinquans, dum adhuc et
caloris satis esset," &c.]--a union with a young and accomplished girl,
ardently devoted to him, must have been like a renewal of his own youth;
and it is, indeed, said by those who were in habits of intimacy with him
at this period, that they had seldom seen his spirits in a state of more
buoyant vivacity. He passed much of his time at the house of his
father-in-law near Southampton;--and in sailing about with his lively
bride on the Southampton river, (in a small cutter called the Phaedria,
after the magic boat in the "Fairy Queen,") forgot for a while his debts,
his theatre, and his politics. It was on one of these occasions that my
friend Mr. Bowles, who was a frequent companion of his parties,
[Footnote: Among other distinguished persons present at these excursions
were Mr. Joseph Richardson, Dr. Howley, now Bishop of London, and Mrs.
Wilmot, now Lady Dacre, a lady, whose various talents,--not the less
delightful for being so feminine,--like the group of the Graces, reflect
beauty on each other.] wrote the following verses, which were much
admired, as they well deserved to be, by Sheridan, for the sweetness of
their thoughts, and the perfect music of their rhythm:--

"Smooth went our boat upon the summer seas,
Leaving, (for so it seem'd.) the world behind,
Its cares, its sounds, its shadows: we reclin'd
Upon the sunny deck, heard but the breeze
That o'er us whispering pass'd or idly play'd
With the lithe flag aloft.--A woodland scene
On either side drew its slope line of green,
And hung the water's shining edge with shade.
Above the woods, Netley! thy ruins pale
Peer'd, as we pass'd; and Vecta's [1] azure hue
Beyond the misty castle [2] met the view;
Where in mid channel hung the scarce-seen sail.
So all was calm and sunshine as we went
Cheerily o'er the briny element.
Oh! were this little boat to us the world,
As thus we wander'd far from sounds of care,
Circled with friends and gentle maidens fair,
Whilst morning airs the waving pendant curl'd,
How sweet were life's long voyage, till in peace
We gain'd that haven still, where all things cease!"

[Footnote 1: Isle of Wight]
[Footnote 2: Kelshot Castle]

The events of this year but added fresh impetus to that reaction upon
each other of the Government and the People, which such a system of
misrule is always sure to produce. Among the worst effects, as I have
already remarked, of the rigorous policy adopted by the Minister, was the
extremity to which it drove the principles and language of Opposition,
and that sanction which the vehement rebound against oppression of such
influencing spirits as Fox and Sheridan seemed to hold out to the
obscurer and more practical assertors of freedom. This was at no time
more remarkable than in the present Session, during the discussion of
those arbitrary measures, the Treason and Sedition Bills, when sparks
were struck out, in the collision of the two principles, which the
combustible state of public feeling at the moment rendered not a little
perilous. On the motion that the House should resolve itself into a
Committee upon the Treason Bill, Mr. Fox said, that "if Ministers were
determined, by means of the corrupt influence they already possessed in
the two Houses of Parliament, to pass these Bills, in violent opposition
to the declared sense of the great majority of the nation, and they
should be put in force with all their rigorous provisions,--if his
opinion were asked by the people as to their obedience, he should tell
them, that it was no longer a question of moral obligation and duty, but
of prudence." Mr. Sheridan followed in the bold footsteps of his friend,
and said, that "if a degraded and oppressed majority of the people
applied to him, he would advise them to acquiesce in those bills only as
long as resistance was imprudent." This language was, of course, visited
with the heavy reprobation of the Ministry;--but their own partisans had
already gone as great lengths on the side of absolute power, and it is
the nature of such extremes to generate each other. Bishop Horsley had
preached the doctrine of passive obedience in the House of Lords,
asserting that "man's abuse of his delegated authority is to be borne
with resignation, like any other of God's judgments; and that the
opposition of the individual to the sovereign power is an opposition to
God's providential arrangements." The promotion of the Right Reverend
Prelate that followed, was not likely to abate his zeal in the cause of
power; and, accordingly, we find him in the present session declaring, in
his place in the House of Lords, that "the people have nothing to do with
the laws but to obey them."

The government, too, had lately given countenance to writers, the absurd
slavishness of whose doctrines would have sunk below contempt, but for
such patronage. Among the ablest of them was Arthur Young,--one of those
renegades from the cause of freedom, who, like the incendiary that set
fire to the Temple with the flame he had stolen from its altar, turn the
fame and the energies which they have acquired in _defence_ of
liberty _against_ her. This gentleman, to whom his situation as
Secretary to the Board of Agriculture afforded facilities for the
circulation of his political heresies, did not scruple, in one of his
pamphlets, roundly to assert, that unequal representation, rotten
boroughs, long parliaments, extravagant courts, selfish Ministers, and
corrupt majorities, are not only intimately interwoven with the practical
freedom of England, but, in a great degree, the causes of it.

But the most active and notorious of these patronized advocates of the
Court was Mr. John Reeves,--a person who, in his capacity of President of
the Association against Republicans and Levellers, had acted as a sort of
Sub-minister of Alarm to Mr. Burke. In a pamphlet, entitled "Thoughts on
the English Government," which Mr. Sheridan brought under the notice of
the House, as a libel on the Constitution, this pupil of the school of
Filmer advanced the startling doctrine that the Lords and Commons of
England derive their existence and authority from the King, and that the
Kingly government could go on, in all its functions, without them. This
pitiful paradox found an apologist in Mr. Windham, whose chivalry in the
new cause he had espoused left Mr. Pitt himself at a wondering distance
behind. His speeches in defence of Reeves, (which are among the proofs
that remain of that want of equipoise observable in his fine, rather than
solid, understanding,) have been with a judicious charity towards his
memory, omitted in the authentic collection by Mr. Amyot.

When such libels against the Constitution were not only promulgated, but
acted upon, on one side, it was to be expected, and hardly, perhaps, to
be regretted, that the repercussion should be heard loudly and warningly
from the other. Mr. Fox, by a subsequent explanation, softened down all
that was most menacing in his language; and, though the word
"Resistance," at full length, should, like the hand-writing on the wall,
be reserved for the last intoxication of the Belshazzars of this world, a
letter or two of it may, now and then, glare out upon their eyes, without
producing any thing worse than a salutary alarm amid their revels. At all
events, the high and constitutional grounds on which Mr. Fox defended the
expressions he had hazarded, may well reconcile us to any risk incurred
by their utterance. The tribute to the house of Russell, in the grand and
simple passage beginning, "Dear to this country are the descendants of
the illustrious Russell," is as applicable to that Noble family now as it
was then; and will continue to be so, I trust, as long as a single
vestige of a race, so pledged to the cause of liberty, remains.

In one of Mr. Sheridan's speeches on the subject of Reeves's libel, there
are some remarks on the character of the people of England, not only
candid and just, but, as applied to them at that trying crisis,

"Never was there," he said, "any country in which there was so much
absence of public principle, and at the same time so many instances of
private worth. Never was there so much charity and humanity towards the
poor and the distressed; any act of cruelty or oppression never failed to
excite a sentiment of general indignation against its authors. It was a
circumstance peculiarly strange, that though luxury had arrived to such a
pitch, it had so little effect in depraving the hearts and destroying the
morals of people in private life; and almost every day produced some
fresh example of generous feelings and noble exertions of benevolence.
Yet amidst these phenomena of private virtue, it was to be remarked, that
there was an almost total want of public spirit, and a most deplorable
contempt of public principle.

* * * * *

"When Great Britain fell, the case would not be with her as with Rome in
former times. When Rome fell, she fell by the weight of her own vices.
The inhabitants were so corrupted and degraded, as to be unworthy of a
continuance of prosperity, and incapable to enjoy the blessings of
liberty; their minds were bent to the state in which a reverse of fortune
placed them. But when Great Britain falls, she will fall with a people
full of private worth and virtue; she will be ruined by the profligacy of
the governors, and the security of her inhabitants,--the consequence of
those pernicious doctrines which have taught her to place a false
confidence in her strength and freedom, and not to look with distrust and
apprehension to the misconduct and corruption of those to whom she has
trusted the management of her resources."

To this might have been added, that when Great Britain falls, it will not
be from either ignorance of her rights, or insensibility to their value,
but from that want of energy to assert them which a high state of
civilization produces. The love of ease that luxury brings along with
it,--the selfish and compromising spirit, in which the members of a
polished society countenance each other, and which reverses the principle
of patriotism, by sacrificing public interests to private ones,--the
substitution of intellectual for moral excitement, and the repression of
enthusiasm by fastidiousness and ridicule,--these are among the causes
that undermine a people,--that corrupt in the very act of enlightening
them; till they become, what a French writer calls "_esprits exigeans
et caracteres complaisans_," and the period in which their rights are
best understood may be that in which they most easily surrender them. It
is, indeed, with the advanced age of free States, as with that of
individuals,--they improve in the theory of their existence as they grow
unfit for the practice of it; till, at last, deceiving themselves with
the semblance of rights gone by, and refining upon the forms of their
institutions after they have lost the substance, they smoothly sink into
slavery, with the lessons of liberty on their lips.

Besides the Treason and Sedition Bills, the Suspension of the Habeas
Corpus Act was another of the momentous questions which, in this as well
as the preceding Session, were chosen as points of assault by Mr.
Sheridan, and contested with a vigor and reiteration of attack, which,
though unavailing against the massy majorities of the Minister, yet told
upon public opinion so as to turn even defeats to account.

The marriage of the Prince of Wales to the Princess Caroline of Brunswick
having taken place in the spring of this year, it was proposed by His
Majesty to Parliament, not only to provide an establishment for their
Royal Highnesses, but to decide on the best manner of liquidating the
debts of the Prince, which were calculated at 630,000_l_. On the
secession of the leading Whigs, in 1792, His Royal Highness had also
separated himself from Mr. Fox, and held no further intercourse either
with him or any of his party,--except, occasionally, Mr. Sheridan,--till
so late, I believe, as the year 1798. The effects of this estrangement
are sufficiently observable in the tone of the Opposition throughout the
debates on the Message of the King. Mr. Grey said, that he would not
oppose the granting of an establishment to the Prince equal to that of
his ancestors; but neither would he consent to the payment of his debts
by Parliament. A refusal, he added, to liberate His Royal Highness from
his embarrassments would certainly prove a mortification; but it would,
at the same time, awaken a just sense of his imprudence. Mr. Fox asked,
"Was the Prince well advised in applying to that House on the subject of
his debts, after the promise made in 1787?"--and Mr. Sheridan, while he
agreed with his friends that the application should not have been made to
Parliament, still gave it as his "positive opinion that the debts ought
to be paid immediately, for the dignity of the country and the situation
of the Prince, who ought not to be seen rolling about the streets, in his
state-coach, as an insolvent prodigal." With respect to the promise given
in 1787, and now violated, that the Prince would not again apply to
Parliament for the payment of his debts, Mr. Sheridan, with a
communicativeness that seemed hardly prudent, put the House in possession
of some details of the transaction, which, as giving an insight into
Royal character, are worthy of being extracted.

"In 1787, a pledge was given to the House that no more debts should be
contracted. By that pledge the Prince was bound as much as if he had
given it knowingly and voluntarily. To attempt any explanation of it now
would be unworthy of his honor,--as if he had suffered it to be wrung
from him, with a view of afterwards pleading that it was against his
better judgment, in order to get rid of it. He then advised the Prince
not to make any such promise, because it was not to be expected that he
could himself enforce the details of a system of economy; and, although
he had men of honor and abilities about him, he was totally unprovided
with men of business, adequate to such a task. The Prince said he could
not give such a pledge, and agree at the same time to take back his
establishment. He (Mr. Sheridan) drew up a plan of retrenchment, which
was approved of by the Prince, and afterwards by His Majesty; and the
Prince told him that the promise was not to be insisted upon. In the
King's Message, however, the promise was inserted,--by whose advice he
knew not. He heard it read with surprise, and, on being asked next day by
the Prince to contradict it in his place, he inquired whether the Prince
had seen the Message before it was brought down. Being told that it had
been read to him, but that he did not understand it as containing a
promise, he declined contradicting it, and told the Prince that he must
abide by it in whatever way it might have been obtained. By the plan
then settled, Ministers had a check upon the Prince's expenditure, which
they never exerted, nor enforced adherence to the plan.

* * * * *

"While Ministers never interfered to check expenses, of which they could
not pretend ignorance, the Prince had recourse to means for relieving
himself from his embarrassments, which ultimately tended to increase
them. It was attempted to raise a loan for him in foreign countries, a
measure which he thought unconstitutional, and put a stop to; and, after
a consultation with Lord Loughborough, all the bonds were burnt, although
with a considerable loss to the Prince. After that, another plan of
retrenchment was proposed, upon which he had frequent consultations with
Lord Thurlow, who gave the Prince fair, open, and manly advice. That
Noble Lord told the Prince, that, after the promise he had made, he must
not think of applying to Parliament;--that he must avoid being of any
party in politics, but, above all, exposing himself to the suspicion of
being influenced in political opinion by his embarrassments;--that the
only course he could pursue with honor, was to retire from public life
for a time, and appropriate the greater part of his income to the
liquidation of his debts. This plan was agreed upon in the autum of 1792.
Why, it might be asked, was it not carried into effect? About that period
his Royal Highness began to receive unsolicited advice from another
quarter. He was told by Lord Loughborough, both in words and in writing,
that the plan savored too much of the advice given to M. Egalite, and he
could guess from what quarter it came. For his own part, he was then of
opinion, that to have avoided meddling in the great political questions
which were then coming to be discussed, and to have put his affairs in a
train of adjustment, would have better become his high station, and
tended more to secure public respect to it, than the pageantry of

The few occasions on which the name of Mr. Sheridan was again connected
with literature, after the final investment of his genius in political
speculations, were such as his fame might have easily dispensed
with;--and one of them, the forgery of the Shakspeare papers, occurred in
the course of the present year. Whether it was that he looked over these
manuscripts with the eye more of a manager than of a critic, and
considered rather to what account the belief in their authenticity might
be turned, than how far it was founded upon internal evidence;--or
whether, as Mr. Ireland asserts, the standard at which he rated the
genius of Shakspeare was not so high as to inspire him with a very
watchful fastidiousness of judgment; certain it is that he was, in some
degree, the dupe of this remarkable imposture, which, as a lesson to the
self-confidence of criticism, and an exposure of the fallibility of
taste, ought never to be forgotten in literary history.

The immediate payment of 300_l_. and a moiety of the profits for the
first sixty nights, were the terms upon which Mr. Sheridan purchased the
play of Vortigern from the Irelands. The latter part of the conditions
was voided the first night; and, though it is more than probable that a
genuine tragedy of Shakspeare, if presented under similar circumstances,
would have shared the same fate, the public enjoyed the credit of
detecting and condemning a counterfeit, which had passed current through
some of the most learned and tasteful hands of the day. It is but
justice, however, to Mr. Sheridan to add, that, according to the account
of Ireland himself, he was not altogether without misgivings during his
perusal of the manuscripts, and that his name does not appear among the
signatures to that attestation of their authenticity which his friend Dr.
Parr drew up, and was himself the first to sign. The curious statement of
Mr. Ireland, with respect to Sheridan's want of enthusiasm for
Shakspeare, receives some confirmation from the testimony of Mr. Boaden,
the biographer of Kemble, who tells us that "Kemble frequently expressed
to him his wonder that Sheridan should trouble himself _so little_
about Shakspeare." This peculiarity of taste,--if it really existed to
the degree that these two authorities would lead us to infer,--affords a
remarkable coincidence with the opinions of another illustrious genius,
lately lost to the world, whose admiration of the great Demiurge of the
Drama was leavened with the same sort of heresy.

In the January of this year, Mr. William Stone--the brother of the
gentleman whose letter from Paris has been given in a preceding
Chapter--was tried upon a charge of High Treason, and Mr. Sheridan was
among the witnesses summoned for the prosecution. He had already in the
year 1794, in consequence of a reference from Mr. Stone himself, been
examined before the Privy Council, relative to a conversation which he
had held with that gentleman, and, on the day after his examination, had,
at the request of Mr. Dundas, transmited to that Minister in writing the
particulars of his testimony before the Council. There is among his
papers a rough draft of this Statement, in comparing which with his
evidence upon the trial in the present year, I find rather a curious
proof of the faithlessness of even the best memories. The object of the
conversation which he had held with Mr. Stone in 1794--and which
constituted the whole of their intercourse with each other--was a
proposal on the part of the latter, submitted also to Lord Lauderdale and
others, to exert his influence in France, through those channels which
his brother's residence there opened to him, for the purpose of averting
the threatened invasion of England, by representing to the French rulers
the utter hopelessness of such an attempt. Mr. Sheridan, on the trial,
after an ineffectual request to be allowed to refer to his written
Statement, gave the following as part of his recollections of the

"Mr. Stone stated that, in order to effect this purpose, he had
endeavored to collect the opinions of several gentlemen, political
characters in this country, whose opinions he thought would be of
authority sufficient to advance his object; that for this purpose he had
had interviews with different gentlemen; he named Mr. Smith and, I think,
one or two more, whose names I do not now recollect. He named some
gentlemen connected with Administration--if the Counsel will remind me of
the name--"

Here Mr. Law, the examining Counsel, remarked, that "upon the
cross-examination, if the gentlemen knew the circumstance, they would
mention it." The cross-examination of Sheridan by Sergeant Adair was as

"You stated in the course of your examination that Mr. Stone said there
was a gentleman connected with Government, to whom he had made a similar
communication, should you recollect the name of that person if you were
reminded of it?--I certainly should.--Was it General Murray?--General
Murray certainly."

Notwithstanding this, however, it appears from the written Statement in
my possession, drawn up soon after the conversation in question, that
this "gentleman connected with Government," so difficult to be
remembered, was no other than the Prime Minister, Mr. Pitt himself. So
little is the memory to be relied upon in evidence, particularly when
absolved from responsibility by the commission of its deposit to writing.
The conduct of Mr. Sheridan throughout this transaction appears to have
been sensible and cautious. That he was satisfied with it himself may be
collected from the conclusion of his letter to Mr. Dundas:--"Under the
circumstances in which the application, (from Mr. Dundas,) has been made
to me, I have thought it equally a matter of respect to that application
and of respect to myself, as well as of justice to the person under
suspicion, to give this relation more in detail than at first perhaps
might appear necessary. My own conduct in the matter not being in
question, I can only say that were a similar case to occur, I think I
should act in every circumstance precisely in the manner I did on this

The parliamentary exertions of Mr. Sheridan this year, though various and
active, were chiefly upon subordinate questions; and, except in the
instance of Mr. Fox's Motion of Censure upon Ministers for advancing
money to the Emperor without the consent of Parliament, were not
distinguished by any signal or sustained displays of eloquence. The grand
questions, indeed, connected with the liberty of the subject, had been so
hotly contested, that but few new grounds were left on which to renew the
conflict. Events, however,--the only teachers of the great mass of
mankind,--were beginning to effect what eloquence had in vain attempted.
The people of England, though generally eager for war, are seldom long in
discovering that "the cup but sparkles near the brim;" and in the
occurrences of the following year they were made to taste the full
bitterness of the draught. An alarm for the solvency of the Bank, an
impending invasion, a mutiny in the fleet, and an organized rebellion in
Ireland,--such were the fruits of four years' warfare, and they were
enough to startle even the most sanguine and precipitate into reflection.

The conduct of Mr. Sheridan on the breaking out of the Mutiny at the Nore
is too well known and appreciated to require any illustration here. It is
placed to his credit on the page of history, and was one of the happiest
impulses of good feeling and good sense combined, that ever public man
acted upon in a situation demanding so much of both. The patriotic
promptitude of his interference was even more striking than it appears in
the record of his parliamentary labors; for, as I have heard at but one
remove from his own authority, while the Ministry were yet hesitating as
to the steps they should take, he went to Mr. Dundas and said.--"My
advice is that you cut the buoys on the river--send Sir Charles Grey down
to the coast, and set a price on Parker's head. If the Administration
take this advice instantly, they ill save the country--if not, they will
lose it; and, on their refusal, I will impeach them in the House of
Commons this very evening."

Without dwelling on the contrast which is so often drawn--less with a
view to elevate Sheridan than to depreciate his party--between the
conduct of himself and his friends at this fearful crisis, it is
impossible not to concede that, on the scale of public spirit, he rose as
far superior to them as the great claims of the general safety transcend
all personal considerations and all party ties. It was, indeed, a rare
triumph of temper and sagacity. With less temper, he would have seen in
this awful peril but an occasion of triumph over the Minister whom he had
so long been struggling to overturn--and, with less sagacity, he would
have thrown away the golden opportunity of establishing himself for ever
in the affections and the memories of Englishmen, as one whose heart was
in the common-weal, whatever might be his opinions, and who, in the
moment of peril, could sink the partisan in the patriot.

As soon as he had performed this exemplary duty, he joined Mr. Fox and
the rest of his friends who had seceded from Parliament about a week
before, on the very day after the rejection of Mr. Grey's motion for a
reform. This step, which was intended to create a strong sensation, by
hoisting, as it were, the signal of despair to the country, was followed
by no such striking effects, and left little behind but a question as to
its prudence and patriotism. The public saw, however, with pleasure, that
there were still a few champions of the constitution, who did not "leave
her fair side all unguarded" in this extremity. Mr. Tierney, among
others, remained at his post, encountering Mr. Pitt on financial
questions with a vigor and address to which the latter had been hitherto
unaccustomed, and perfecting by practice that shrewd power of analysis,
which has made him so formidable a sifter of ministerial sophistries ever
since. Sir Francis Burdett, too, was just then entering into his noble
career of patriotism; and, like the youthful servant of the temple in
Euripides, was aiming his first shafts at those unclean birds, that
settle within the sanctuary of the Constitution and sully its treasures:--

"ptaenon t'agalas
A blaptusae
Semn' anathaemata"]

By a letter from the Earl of Moira to Col. M'Mahon in the summer of this
year it appears, that in consequence of the calamitous state of the
country, a plan had been in agitation among some members of the House of
Commons, who had hitherto supported the measures of the Minister, to form
an entirely new Administration, of which the Noble Earl was to be the
head, and from which both Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, as equally obnoxious to
the public, were to be excluded. The only materials that appear to have
been forthcoming for this new Cabinet were Lord Moira himself, Lord
Thurlow, and Sir William Pulteney--the last of whom it was intended to
make Chancellor of the Exchequer. Such a tottering balance of parties,
however, could not have been long maintained; and its relapse, after a
short interval, into Toryism, would but have added to the triumph of Mr.
Pitt, and increased his power. Accordingly Lord Moira, who saw from the
beginning the delicacy and difficulty of the task, wisely abandoned it.
The share that Mr. Sheridan had in this transaction is too honorable to
him not to be recorded, and the particulars cannot be better given than
in Lord Moira's own words:--

"You say that Mr. Sheridan has been traduced, as wishing to abandon Mr.
Fox, and to promote a new Administration. I had accidentally a
conversation with that gentleman at the House of Lords. I remonstrated
strongly with him against a principle which I heard Mr. Fox's friends
intended to lay down, namely, that they would support a new
Administration, but that not any of them would take part in it. I
solemnly declare, upon my honor, that I could not shake Mr. Sheridan's
conviction of the propriety of that determination. He said that he and
Mr. Fox's other friends, as well as Mr. Fox himself, would give the most
energetic support to such an Administration as was in contemplation; but
that their acceptance of office would appear an acquiescence under the
injustice of the interdict supposed to be fixed upon Mr. Fox. I did not
and never can admit the fairness of that argument. But I gained nothing
upon Mr. Sheridan, to whose uprightness in that respect I can therefore
bear the most decisive testimony. Indeed I am ashamed of offering
testimony, where suspicion ought not to have been conceived."



The theatrical season of 1798 introduced to the public the German drama
of "The Stranger," translated by Mr. Thompson, and (as we are told by
this gentleman in his preface) altered and improved by Sheridan. There is
reason, however, to believe that the contributions of the latter to the
dialogue were much more considerable than he was perhaps willing to let
the translator acknowledge. My friend Mr. Rogers has heard him, on two
different occasions, declare that he had written every word of the
Stranger from beginning to end; and, as his vanity could not be much
interested in such a claim, it is possible that there was at least some
virtual foundation for it.

The song introduced in this play, "I have a silent sorrow here," was
avowedly written by Sheridan, as the music of it was by the Duchess of
Devonshire--two such names, so brilliant in their respective spheres, as
the Muses of Song and Verse have seldom had the luck to bring together.
The originality of these lines has been disputed; and that expedient of
borrowing which their author _ought_ to have been independent of in
every way, is supposed to have been resorted to by his indolence on this
occasion. Some verses by Tickell are mentioned as having supplied one of
the best stanzas; but I am inclined to think, from the following
circumstances, that this theft of Sheridan was of that venial and
domestic kind--from himself. A writer, who brings forward the accusation
in the Gentleman's Magazine, (vol. lxxi. p. 904,) thus states his

"In a song which I purchased at Bland's music-shop in Holborn in the year
1794, intitled, 'Think not, my love' and professing to be set to music by
Thomas Wright. (I conjecture, Organist of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and
composer of the pretty Opera called Rusticity.) are the following words:--

"The song to which the writer alludes, "Think not, my love," was given to
me, as a genuine production of Mr. Sheridan, by a gentleman nearly
connected with his family; and I have little doubt of its being one of
those early love-strains which, in his _tempo de' dolci sospiri_, he
addressed to Miss Linley. As, therefore, it was but "a feather of his
own" that the eagle made free with, he may be forgiven. The following is
the whole of the song:--

"This treasured grief, this loved despair,
My lot forever be;
But, dearest, may the pangs I bear
Be never known to thee!'

"Now, without insisting that the opening thought in Mr. Sheridan's famous
song has been borrowed from that of 'Think not, my love,' the second
verse is manifestly such a theft of the lines I have quoted as entirely
overturns Mr. Sheridan's claim to originality in the matter, unless
'Think not, my love,' has been written by him, and he can be proved to
have only stolen from himself."

"Think not, my love, when secret grief
Preys on my saddened heart,
Think not I wish a mean relief.
Or would from sorrow part.

"Dearly I prize the sighs sincere,
That my true fondness prove.
Nor would I wish to check the tear,
That flows from hapless love!

"Alas! tho' doom'd to hope in vain
The joys that love requite,
Yet will I cherish all its pain,
With sad, but dear delight.

"This treasured grief, this lov'd despair,
My lot for ever be;
But, dearest, may the pangs I bear
Be never known to thee!"

Among the political events of this year, the rebellion of Ireland holds a
memorable and fearful preeminence. The only redeeming stipulation which
the Duke of Portland and his brother Alarmists had annexed to their
ill-judged Coalition with Mr. Pitt was, that a system of conciliation and
justice should, at last, be adopted towards Ireland. Had they but carried
thus much wisdom into the ministerial ranks with them, their defection
might have been pardoned for the good it achieved, and, in one respect at
least, would have resembled the policy of those Missionaries, who join in
the ceremonies of the Heathen for the purpose of winning him over to the
truth. On the contrary, however, the usual consequence of such coalitions
with Power ensued,--the good was absorbed in the evil principle, and, by
the false hope which it created, but increased the mischief. Lord
Fitzwilliam was not only deceived himself, but, still worse to a noble
and benevolent nature like his, was made the instrument of deception and
mockery to millions. His recall, in 1795, assisted by the measures of his
successor, drove Ireland into the rebellion which raged during the
present year, and of which the causes have been so little removed from
that hour to this, that if the people have become too wise to look back
to it, as an example, it is assuredly not because their rulers have much
profited by it as a lesson.

I am aware that, on the subject of Ireland and her wrongs, I can ill
trust myself with the task of expressing what I feel, or preserve that
moderate, historical tone, which it has been my wish to maintain through
the political opinions of this work. On every other point, my homage to
the high character of England, and of her institutions, is prompt and
cordial;--on this topic alone, my feelings towards her have been taught
to wear "the badge of bitterness." As a citizen of the world, I would
point to England as its brightest ornament,--but, as a disfranchised
Irishman, I blush to belong to her. Instead, therefore, of hazarding any
farther reflections of my own on the causes and character of the
Rebellion of 1798, I shall content myself with giving an extract from a
Speech which Mr. Sheridan delivered on the subject, in the June of that

"What! when conciliation was held out to the people of Ireland, was there
any discontent? When the government of Ireland was agreeable to the
people, was there any discontent? After the prospect of that conciliation
was taken away,--after Lord Fitzwilliam was recalled,--after the hopes
which had been raised were blasted,--when the spirit of the people was
beaten down, insulted, despised, I will ask any gentleman to point out a
single act of conciliation which has emanated from the Government of
Ireland? On the contrary; has not that country exhibited one continual
scene of the most grievous oppression, of the most vexatious proceedings;
arbitrary punishments inflicted; torture declared necessary by the
highest authority in the sister-kingdom next to that of the legislature?
And do gentlemen say that the indignant spirit which is roused by such
exercise of government is unprovoked? Is this conciliation? Is this
lenity? Has everything been done to avert the evils of rebellion? It is
the fashion to say, and the Address holds the same language, that the
rebellion which now rages in the sister-kingdom has been owing to the
machinations of 'wicked men.' Agreeing to the amendment proposed, it was
my first intention to move that these words should be omitted. But, Sir,
the fact they assert is true. It is, indeed, to the measures of wicked
men that the deplorable state of Ireland is to be imputed. It is to those
wicked Ministers who have broken the promises they held out, who betrayed
the party they seduced into their views, to be the instruments of the
foulest treachery that ever was practised against any people. It is to
those wicked Ministers who have given up that devoted country to
plunder,--resigned it a prey to this faction, by which it has so long
been trampled upon, and abandoned it to every species of insult and
oppression by which a country was ever overwhelmed, or the spirit of a
people insulted, that we owe the miseries into which Ireland is plunged,
and the dangers by which England is threatened. These evils are the
doings of wicked Ministers, and applied to them, the language of the
Address records a fatal and melancholy truth."

The popularity which the conduct of Mr. Sheridan, on the occasion of the
Mutiny, had acquired for him,--everywhere but among his own immediate
party,--seems to have produced a sort of thaw in the rigor of his
opposition to Government; and the language which he now began to hold,
with respect to the power and principles of France, was such as procured
for him, more than once in the course of the present Session, the
unaccustomed tribute of compliments from the Treasury-bench. Without, in
the least degree, questioning his sincerity in this change of tone, it
may be remarked, that the most watchful observer of the tide of public
opinion could not have taken it at the turn more seasonably or skilfully.
There was, indeed, just at this time a sensible change in the feeling of
the country. The dangers to which it had been reduced were great, but the
crisis seemed over. The new wings lent to Credit by the paper-currency,
--the return of the navy to discipline and victory,--the disenchantment
that had taken place with respect to French principles, and the growing
persuasion, since strengthened into conviction, that the world has never
committed a more gross mistake than in looking to the French as teachers
of liberty,--the insulting reception of the late pacific overtures at
Lisle, and that never-failing appeal to the pride and spirit of
Englishmen, which a threat of invading their sacred shore brings with
it,--all these causes concurred, at this moment, to rally the people of
England round the Government, and enabled the Minister to extract from
the very mischiefs which himself had created the spirit of all others
most competent to bear and surmount them. Such is the elasticity of a
free country, however, for the moment, misgoverned,--and the only glory
due to the Minister under whom such a people, in spite of misgovernment,
flourishes, is that of having proved, by the experiment, how difficult it
is to ruin them.

While Mr. Sheridan took these popular opportunities of occasionally
appearing before the public, Mr. Fox persevered, with but little
interruption, in his plan of secession from Parliament altogether. From
the beginning of the Session of this year, when, at the instance of his
constituents, he appeared in his place to oppose the Assessed Taxes Bill,
till the month of February, 1800, he raised his voice in the House but
upon two questions,--each "dignus vindice,"--the Abolition of the
Slave-Trade, and a Change of System in Ireland. He had thrown into his
opposition too much real feeling and earnestness to be able, like
Sheridan, to soften it down, or shape it to the passing temper of the
times. In the harbor of private life alone could that swell subside; and,
however the country missed his warning eloquence, there is little doubt
that his own mind and heart were gainers by a retirement, in which he had
leisure to "prune the ruffled wings" of his benevolent spirit,--to
exchange the ambition of being great for that of being useful, and to
listen, in the stillness of retreat, to the lessons of a mild wisdom, of
which, had his life been prolonged, his country would have felt the full

From one of Sheridan's speeches at this time we find that the change
which had lately taken place in his public conduct had given rise to some
unworthy imputations upon his motives. There are few things less politic
in an eminent public man than a too great readiness to answer accusations
against his character. For, as he is, in general, more extensively read
or heard than his accusers, the first intimation, in most cases, that the
public receives of any charge against him will be from his own answer to
it. Neither does the evil rest here;--for the calumny remains embalmed in
the defence, long after its own ephemeral life is gone. To this unlucky
sort of sensitiveness Mr. Sheridan was but too much disposed to give way,
and accordingly has been himself the chronicler of many charges against
him, of which we should have been otherwise wholly ignorant. Of this
nature were the imputations founded on his alleged misunderstanding with
the Duke of Portland, in 1789, to which I have already made some
allusion, and of which we should have known nothing but for his own
notice of it. His vindication of himself, in 1795, from the suspicion of
being actuated by self-interest, in his connection with the Prince, or of
having received from him, (to use his own expressions,) "so much as the
present of a horse or a picture," is another instance of the same kind,
where he has given substance and perpetuity to rumor, and marked out the
track of an obscure calumny, which would otherwise have been forgotten.
At the period immediately under our consideration he has equally enabled
us to collect, from his gratuitous defence of himself, that the line
lately taken by him in Parliament, on the great questions of the Mutiny
and Invasion, had given rise to suspicions of his political steadiness,
and to rumors of his approaching separation from Mr. Fox.

"I am sorry," he said, on one occasion, "that it is hardly possible for
any man to speak in this House, and to obtain credit for speaking from a
principle of public spirit; that no man can oppose a Minister without
being accused of faction, and none, who usually opposed, can support a
Minister, or lend him assistance in anything, without being accused of
doing so from interested motives. I am not such a coxcomb as to say, that
it is of much importance what part I may take; or that it is essential

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