Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheridan, Frances

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601445Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 52 — Sheridan, Frances1897William Fraser Rae

SHERIDAN, Mrs. FRANCES (1724–1766), novelist and dramatist, wife of Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788) [q. v.], was born in Dublin in 1724, her father being the Rev. Dr. Philip Chamberlaine (the son of Walter Chamberlaine), prebendary of Rathmichael, archdeacon of Glendalough, and rector of St. Nicholas Without. Her mother was Anastasia Whyte. Frances was the youngest of five children, three of whom were boys, and her mother died soon after her birth. Dr. Chamberlaine disapproved of his daughter being taught to read and write; but her eldest brother, Walter, who was in holy orders, gave her private instruction, with the result that, at the age of fifteen, she wrote a romance in two volumes called ‘Eugenia and Adelaide,’ which was published after her death, and adapted for the stage as a comic opera by Alicia, her elder daughter. She wrote two sermons also, which, her granddaughter says, ‘were long in the possession of the family, and were reckoned to display considerable ability’ (Lefanu, Memoirs, p. 9).

On the occasion of the Kelly riot in Dublin in 1745, Frances Chamberlaine espoused the side of Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788), manager of the theatre where Kelly had begun the disturbance: early in 1746, she wrote some verses entitled ‘The Owls: a Fable,’ which appeared in ‘Faulkner's Journal,’ and she also wrote a pamphlet, both the verse and prose lauding Sheridan's conduct. Sheridan made her acquaintance, gained her affection, and became her husband in 1747. At 12 Dorset Street, Dublin she gave birth to Charles Francis Sheridan [q. v.], to Richard Brinsley Sheridan [q. v.], and to Alicia, afterwards Mrs. Lefanu [see under Lefanu, Philip].

Owing to misfortunes in Dublin, the married pair moved in 1754 to London, where Sheridan was introduced to many men of letters, Samuel Richardson being one. Richardson read Mrs. Sheridan's unpublished novel, and advised her to write another. In 1756 she placed the manuscript of ‘Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph, extracted from her own Journal,’ in his hands. Being pleased with the novel, he arranged for its publication, and it appeared on 12 March 1761 without the author's name, and with a dedication to Richardson (London, 3 vols. 12mo). Its reception was unexpectedly warm; stern critics like Dr. Johnson read and praised it, the reviewers commended it highly, and statesman like Lord North and Charles James Fox were as emphatic in their praise. In the year after its publication an adaptation of ‘Sidney Bidulph’ was made in French by the Abbé Prevost and published under the title ‘Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de la Vertu. Extraits du Journal d'une Dame.’ A German translation also appeared in 1762. At a later date a translation of the first and second parts was made in French by René Robinet.

A comedy called ‘The Discovery’ (London, 1763, 8vo) was the next of her works. She read it to Garrick, who put it on the stage of Drury Lane, and took the part of Sir Anthony Branville. The first performance took place on 3 Feb. 1763, her husband filling one of the leading parts, and the success was so marked that it was played seventeen nights to full houses. On 10 Dec. in the same year ‘The Dupe’ (1764, 8vo), a second comedy from her pen, was represented at Drury Lane. It was acted three times, and withdrawn in consequence of a cabal, as Mrs. Sheridan and her friends maintained, but really because it was neither well conceived nor well written.

She accompanied her husband to France in September 1764, her two daughters and elder son being of the party. The family settled at Blois, where Mrs. Sheridan wrote the second part of ‘Sidney Bidulph’ (London, 2 vols. 1767, 12mo), and ‘A Journey to Bath,’ a comedy. The comedy was submitted to Garrick, and he declined to accept it, greatly to Mrs. Sheridan;s disappointment. One character in it lives under another name and an improved form, Mrs. Twyfort in ‘A Journey to Bath’ being the prototype of Mrs. Malaprop in ‘The Rivals.’ After an unsuccessful attempt at a tragedy, she next wrote ‘The History of Nourjahad,’ an oriental tale with a good moral, which was published in the year after her death, passed through several editions and translations, and was dramatised by Sophia Lee [q. v.] (London, 1788, 8vo). Mrs. Sheridan died at Blois after a short illness on 26 Sept. 1766.

[Mrs. Lefanu's Memoirs of Mrs. Frances Sheridan, 1824.]

F. R.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.249
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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77 i 5-6 Sheridan, Mrs. Frances: for Sir Oliver Chamberlaine, bart., read Walter Chamberlaine