Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheridan, Richard Brinsley
SHERIDAN, RICHARD BRINSLEY (1751–1816), statesman and dramatist, born 30 Oct. 1751 at 12 Dorset Street, Dublin, was grandson of Thomas Sheridan (1687–1738) [q. v.], and son of Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788) [q. v.] He received the rudiments of learning from his father, and from the age of seven till eight and a half attended a school in Dublin kept by Samuel Whyte. Then he rejoined his parents, who had migrated to London, and he never revisited his native city. In 1762 he was sent to Harrow school, where he remained till 1768, two years after his mother's death. Subsequently a private tutor, Lewis Ker, directed his studies in his father's house in London, while Angelo instructed him in fencing and horsemanship.
At the end of 1770 Sheridan's father settled in Bath and taught elocution. His children became acquainted with those of Thomas Linley (1732–1795) [q. v.], a composer and teacher of music, who had given Sheridan's mother lessons in singing. One of Sheridan's friends at Harrow was Nathaniel Brassey Halhed [q. v.], who went to Oxford from Harrow. With him Sheridan carried on a correspondence from Bath. They projected a literary periodical called ‘Hernan's Miscellany,’ of which the first number was written but not published; and they prepared a metrical version of the epistles of Aristænetus, which appeared in 1771, and in a second edition in 1773. Halhed translated the epistles, and Sheridan revised and edited them. Another volume of translations from the same author which Sheridan undertook never saw the light. A farce called ‘Ixion’ was written by Halhed, recast by Sheridan, and renamed ‘Jupiter.’ It was offered to Garrick and Foote, but not accepted by either. Sheridan wrote two sets of verses, which appeared in the ‘Bath Chronicle’ during 1771; the title of one set was ‘Clio's Protest, or the Picture Varnished;’ of the other, ‘The Ridotto of Bath,’ which was reprinted and had a large sale.
Sheridan's letters to Halhed have not been preserved; those from Halhed contain many references to Miss Linley, who sang in oratorios at Oxford, and for whom Halhed expressed great admiration, although he failed to excite a corresponding feeling in her. Desiring to escape from the persecution of Major Mathews, an unworthy admirer, Miss Linley appealed to Sheridan to escort her to France, where she hoped to find refuge and repose in a convent. The scheme had the approval and support of Sheridan's sisters. At the end of March 1772 Sheridan, Miss Linley, and a lady's maid left Bath for London, where Mr. Ewart, a friend of Mr. Sheridan, gave them a passage to Dunkirk in one of his vessels. Sheridan's younger sister, Elizabeth, who was in Miss Linley's confidence as well as her brother's, gives the following account of what followed: ‘After quitting Dunkirk, Mr. Sheridan was more explicit with Miss Linley as to his views in accompanying her to France. He told her that he could not be content to leave her in a convent unless she consented to a previous marriage, which had all along been the object of his hopes; and she must be aware that, after the step she had taken, she could not appear in England but as his wife. Miss Linley, who really preferred him greatly to any person, was not difficult to persuade, and at a village not far from Calais the marriage ceremony was performed by a priest who was known to be often employed on such occasions.’ This marriage, if contracted as described, was valid; but neither of the parties to it regarded the ceremony as more binding than a betrothal. Her own feelings were subsequently expressed in a letter to him: ‘You are sensible when I left Bath I had not an idea of you but as a friend. It was not your person that gained my affection. No, it was that delicacy, that tender compassion, that interest which you seemed to take in my welfare, that were the motives which induced me to love you’ (Biography of Sheridan, i. 255).
The lady's father followed the fugitives and took his daughter back to Bath. Meanwhile Mathews had published a letter denouncing Sheridan ‘as a liar and a treacherous scoundrel,’ and on their meeting in London a duel with swords ended with the disarming of Mathews, who was compelled to beg his life and to publish an apology in the ‘Bath Chronicle.’ On 2 July 1772 a second duel was fought, in which Sheridan was seriously wounded. After his recovery, as his father and Mr. Linley both objected to his marrying Miss Linley, he was sent to Waltham Abbey in Essex on 27 Aug. in order that he might continue his studies undisturbed. He remained at Waltham Abbey till April 1773, reading hard and writing many letters to his friends, of whom the chief was Thomas Grenville (1755–1846) [q. v.] He wrote to him: ‘I keep regular hours, use a great deal of exercise, and study very hard. There is a very ingenious man here with whom, besides, I spend two hours every evening in mathematicks, mensuration, astronomy.’ Charles Brinsley, the son of Sheridan by his second marriage, has recorded that his father left behind him ‘six copybooks, each filled with notes and references to mathematics, carefully written by Mr. S. at an early age;’ that is, probably at Waltham Abbey. He told his friend Grenville: ‘I am determined to gain all the knowledge that I can bring within my reach. I will make myself as much master as I can of French and Italian.’ Yet his inclination was for the bar, and he was entered at the Middle Temple on 6 April 1773.
On the 13th of the same month he at length married Miss Linley with her father's consent. His own father looked upon the union, and wrote about it, as a disgrace. The young couple went to live at East Burnham. In the winter of 1773 they lived with Stephen Storace [q. v.] in London, and in the spring of 1774 took a house in Orchard Street. Sheridan wrote much at this period, a scheme for a training school for children of the nobility and comments on Chesterfield's ‘Letters’ being among the subjects he treated; but he published nothing with his name. On 17 Nov. 1774 he informed his father-in-law that a comedy by him would be in rehearsal at Covent Garden Theatre in a few days. This comedy was ‘The Rivals,’ and it was performed for the first time on 17 Jan. 1775. It failed, was withdrawn, and then performed in a revised version on 28 Jan. From that date it has remained one of the most popular among modern comedies. A farce, ‘St. Patrick's Day, or the Scheming Lieutenant,’ was written for the benefit of Mr. Clinch, who had made his mark in the ‘Rivals’ as Sir Lucius O'Trigger, and it was played on 2 May. It was favourably received, and repeated several times at Covent Garden. A comic opera, ‘The Duenna,’ was represented at Covent Garden on 21 Nov. 1775 and on seventy-four other nights during the season, a success which was then unprecedented.
By the end of 1775 Sheridan had become a favourite with playgoers. Before the end of the next year he was manager of Drury Lane Theatre in succession to Garrick, having entered into partnership with Mr. Linley and Dr. Ford, and become the proprietor of Garrick's share in the theatre, for which Garrick received 35,000l. Two years later the share of Lacy, the partner of Garrick, which was valued at the same sum, was bought by the new proprietors. Mr. Brander Matthews has pointed out, in his introduction to Sheridan's ‘Comedies’ (pp. 30, 31), that the money was chiefly raised on mortgage; that when Sheridan bought one-seventh of the shares in 1776 he only had to find 1,300l. in cash; and that when he became the proprietor in 1778 of the half of the shares, this sum was returned to him.
Drury Lane Theatre was opened under Sheridan's management on 21 Sept. 1776. A prelude written for the occasion by Colman, containing a neat compliment to Garrick, was then performed. On 16 Jan. 1777 Sheridan gave ‘The Rivals’ for the first time at Drury Lane, and on 24 Feb. ‘A Trip to Scarborough,’ which he had adapted from Vanbrugh's ‘Relapse;’ but he achieved his crowning triumph as a dramatist on 8 May in that year, when ‘The School for Scandal’ was put on the stage. The play narrowly escaped suppression. Sheridan told the House of Commons on 3 Dec. 1793 that a license for its performance had been refused, and that it was only through his personal influence with Lord Hertford, the lord chamberlain, that the license was granted the day before that fixed for the performance. On 29 Oct. 1779 Sheridan's farce, ‘The Critic,’ and, on 24 May 1799, his patriotic melodrama, ‘Pizarro,’ were produced at Drury Lane. With ‘Pizarro’ his career as a dramatist ended.
Sheridan had meanwhile become as great a favourite in society and in parliament as among playgoers. In March 1777 he was elected a member of the Literary Club on the motion of Dr. Johnson, and he lived to be one of the oldest of the thirty-five members. Having made the acquaintance of Charles James Fox, he joined him in his efforts for political reform, and desired to enter parliament as his supporter. He failed in his candidature for Honiton, but he was returned for Stafford on 12 Sept. 1780. A letter in his favour from the Duchess of Devonshire proved of great service. On the proposition of Fitzpatrick, he was elected a member of Brooks's Club on 2 Nov. 1780. Two years before, he had been twice proposed by Fox and rejected, the first time on 28 Nov. the second on 25 Dec. 1778 (candidates' book, Brooks's Club).
His first speech in parliament was made on 20 Nov. 1780, in defence of a charge of bribery which Whitworth, his defeated opponent at Stafford, had brought against him, and the speech was both well received and successful in its object. The allegation that he had failed was circulated for the first time by Moore forty-five years after the speech was delivered (cf. Fraser Rae, Biography, i. 359). He became a frequent speaker, and by common consent was soon ranked as highly among parliamentary orators as among dramatic writers. His opposition to the war in America was deemed so effective by the representatives of congress that a thank-offering of 20,000l. was made to him. He wisely and gracefully declined to accept the gift (Moore, Diary, i. 212, 213). In 1782 his marked abilities received more practical recognition. Lord Rockingham, who then became premier for the second time, appointed him under-secretary for foreign affairs. After the death of Rockingham on 1 July, Shelburne was appointed prime minister. Sheridan, with other colleagues in the Rockingham administration, refused to serve under him. But he returned to office on 21 Feb. 1783 as secretary to the treasury when the coalition ministry, with the Duke of Portland as figure-head, was formed. The ministry was dismissed by the king on the 18th of the following December. During the brief interval, Sheridan addressed the house twenty-six times on matters concerning the treasury.
Sheridan made the personal acquaintance of the Prince of Wales at Devonshire House soon after he entered parliament, and thenceforth acted as his confidential adviser. He gave advice and drafted documents for the prince in 1788, when the king was suffering from mental disorder, and it was proposed to appoint the prince as regent subject to certain restrictions. With Fox and Lord Loughborough he injudiciously upheld the right of the prince to assume the regency without the sanction of parliament. It was arranged that, should the king not recover and should a whig administration be formed by the regent, the office of treasurer of the navy would be assigned to Sheridan; but the king's recovery rendered the plan nugatory. Sheridan was conspicuous in the proceedings against Warren Hastings [q. v.] He attended the committee which examined witnesses in connection with charges whereupon to frame an impeachment, and when the articles were settled it fell to him to obtain the assent of the house to the one relating to the begums or princesses of Oude. The speech in which he brought the matter before the house on 7 Feb. 1787 occupied five hours and forty minutes in delivery, and was one of the most memorable in the annals of parliament. When he sat down ‘the whole house—the members, peers, and strangers—involuntarily joined in a tumult of applause, and adopted a mode of expressing their approbation, new and irregular in that house, by loudly and repeatedly clapping their hands’ (Parliamentary Hist. xxv. 294). Pitt moved the adjournment of the debate on the ground that the minds of members were too agitated to discuss the question with coolness and judicially. No full report of the speech has been preserved; the best appeared in the ‘London Chronicle’ for 8 Feb. 1787. The excitement which Sheridan had aroused in the House of Commons spread throughout the nation. Sheridan began his speech as a manager of the impeachment in Westminster Hall on 3 June 1788. The event was the topic of the day. Fifty pounds were cheerfully given for a seat. His speech lasted, not, as Macaulay wrote, ‘two days,’ but for several hours on Tuesday the 3rd, Friday the 6th, Tuesday the 10th, and Friday the 13th of June. Gibbon asserted that Sheridan sank back into Burke's arms after uttering the concluding words, ‘My lords, I have done.’ Macaulay repeated this story with embellishments, writing that ‘Sheridan contrived, with a knowledge of stage effect which his father might have envied, to sink back, as if exhausted, into the arms of Burke, who hugged him with the energy of generous admiration’ (Collected Works, vi. 633). Sir Gilbert Elliot, one of the managers who sat beside Sheridan, wrote to his wife, ‘Burke caught him in his arms as he sat down. … I have myself enjoyed that embrace on such an occasion, and know its value’ (Life and Letters, i. 219). Sheridan paid Gibbon a graceful compliment by speaking of ‘his luminous page.’ Moore is responsible for the fiction that Sheridan afterwards said he meant ‘voluminous.’ Dudley Long told Gibbon that Sheridan had spoken about his ‘voluminous pages’ (Sir Gilbert Elliott, Life and Letters, i. 219).
The trial of Hastings lasted till 1794, and Sheridan was constant in attendance. On 14 May in that year he replied to the arguments of Plumer and Law, counsel for Hastings, relative to his charge concerning the begums, and the speech which he then delivered was described by Professor Smyth, who heard it, as an extraordinary rhetorical triumph (Memoir of Mr. Sheridan, pp. 31–5). While the trial was in progress Sheridan suffered much domestic affliction. His father died at Margate on 14 Aug. 1788. Sheridan thereupon took charge of his sister Elizabeth, and, on her marriage with Henry Lefanu, provided for her maintenance. His wife died at Hot Wells on 28 June 1792. He remarried on 27 April 1795, his second wife being Esther Jane, eldest daughter of Newton Ogle, dean of Winchester.
He was unremitting in the discharge of his parliamentary duties, and he gave special attention to finance, saying to Pitt, on 11 March 1793, that he did not require to watch with vigilance all matters relating to the public income and outlay, as ‘he had uniformly acted on that principle upon all revenue questions.’ He laboured to abate the rigour of the game laws and to repress the practice of gaming. Whenever a question relating to social improvement and progress was before the house he gave his support to it, and when, in 1787, the convention of Scottish royal boroughs had failed in getting a sympathiser with their grievances, they enlisted him in their service, and they thanked him in after days for his earnestness in their cause, which he twelve times upheld in the house. What he had vainly urged between 1787 and 1794 was effected for the Scottish burgesses in 1833 in a reformed parliament. The parliamentary reform which rendered this improvement possible had been advocated by Sheridan, and, when others despaired of its attainment, he wrote, on 21 May 1782, to Thomas Grenville: ‘We were bullied outrageously about our poor parliamentary reform; but it will do at last in spite of you all’ (Courts and Cabinets of George III, i. 28).
When the revolution in France tried men's souls in Great Britain and made many friends of progress recant in a panic the convictions of their wiser years, Sheridan stood firm with Fox in maintaining the right of the French to form their own government, and upheld, with him, the duty of this country to recognise and treat with any government which exercised authority there. The Earl of Mornington (afterwards Marquis Wellesley) made an elaborate appeal to the house on 21 Jan. 1794 to prosecute the war with France till the French should have discarded their republican principles. The reply on this occasion was one of Sheridan's finest debating speeches, and a most able argument against illegitimate interference with the domestic concerns of France. He was quite as ready, however, to oppose the French when they began to propagate their principles by the sword. The fleets at Portsmouth and the Nore mutinied in May and June 1797, partly at the instigation of French agents. Then Sheridan gave warm support and good advice to the government, and largely contributed to the removal of the danger which menaced the country. Dundas said on behalf of the ministry that ‘the country was highly indebted to Sheridan for his fair and manly conduct’ (Parliamentary Hist. xxxvi. 804). When invasion was threatened in 1803 by Bonaparte, he urged unconditional resistance, and declared in the house on 10 Aug. that no peace ought to be made so long as a foreign soldier trod British soil. Moreover he urged the house to encourage the volunteers who had assembled in defence of their homes, while he set the example by acting as lieutenant-colonel of the St. James's volunteer corps. The revolt of the Spaniards against the French invaders was lauded by him, and he was earnest in urging the government to send Sir Arthur Wellesley (afterwards Duke of Wellington) to represent ‘the enthusiasm of England’ in the cause of Spain struggling against the yoke of Bonaparte. His last speech in parliament, which was delivered on 21 June 1812, ended with a heart-stirring appeal to persevere in opposing the tyranny to which Bonaparte was subjecting Europe, and with the assertion that, if the British nation were to share the fate of others, the historian might record that, when after spending all her treasure and her choicest blood the nation fell, there fell with her ‘all the best securities for the charities of human life, for the power and honour, the fame, the glory, and the liberties of herself and the whole civilised world.’
Sheridan was conspicuous and energetic among the opponents of the union between Great Britain and Ireland. He said on 23 Jan. 1799, when the subject was formally brought before the house, ‘My country has claims upon me which I am not more proud to acknowledge than ready to liquidate to the full measure of my ability.’ He held that the bargain concluded in 1782 between the two countries was final, and also that, if a new arrangement were to be made, it should be based on ‘the manifest, fair, and free consent and approbation of the parliaments of the two countries.’ Twenty-five members of parliament followed his lead. Mr. Lecky affirms that he fought ‘a hopeless battle in opposition with conspicuous earnestness and courage’ (History of England in Eighteenth Century, viii. 356).
After the union was carried and Addington had succeeded Pitt as prime minister, it was in Sheridan's power, as it may have been previously, to enter the House of Lords by changing the party to which he had belonged since entering political life, but he then declined, as he phrased it, ‘to hide his head in a coronet’ (Memoir of Lady Dufferin, by her son, p. 17). He sometimes dined with Addington when he was premier, and Addington records that one night Sheridan said to him, ‘My visits to you may possibly be misunderstood by my friends; but I hope you know, Mr. Addington, that I have an unpurchasable mind’ (Life of Lord Sidmouth, ii. 105). When Pitt died in 1806 and the ministry of ‘all the talents’ was formed, Sheridan held the office in it of treasurer of the navy, with the rank of privy councillor. After Fox's death in the same year he succeeded him as member for Westminster; but he was not called, as he had a right to anticipate he would have been, to lead the whig party in the commons.
He was rejected for Westminster at the general election in 1807, and found a seat at Ilchester which he held till 1812. He had been proposed in 1807 as a candidate for the county of Wexford without his knowledge, and his election seemed assured, as the electors expressed their readiness to vote for ‘the great Sheridan.’ Mr. Colclough, who proposed him as a fellow candidate, was challenged by Mr. Alcock, one of his opponents, to fight a duel, and was shot through the heart. The supporters of both Colclough and Sheridan consequently held aloof from the poll, and Mr. Alcock and Colonel Ram were declared to have been duly elected (Personal Sketches of his Own Times, by Sir Jonah Barrington, i. 302, 305). Sheridan endeavoured in 1812 to be returned again for Stafford; but the younger generation of burgesses was as little disposed as the elder to vote for any candidate unless he paid each of them the accustomed fee of five guineas, and, as Sheridan had not the money, he lost the election.
As a dramatic writer Sheridan had no equal among his contemporaries, and as manager and chief proprietor of Drury Lane Theatre he maintained the popularity of the theatre and obtained from it an average income of 10,000l. In 1791 the theatre was pronounced unsafe, and it had to be pulled down and rebuilt, and the new house was much larger than the old one. The estimated cost was 150,000l.; this was exceeded, however, by 75,000l. While the theatre was rebuilding, the company played at the theatre in the Haymarket, and the expenses there exceeded the receipts. The first performance in the new building took place on 21 April 1794. With mistaken chivalry Sheridan rashly undertook to defray out of his own pocket the liabilities which had been incurred owing to the expenses exceeding the estimate. Whatever prospect he may have had of achieving this chivalrous but quixotic undertaking was dashed to the ground on 24 Feb. 1809, when the new theatre was destroyed by fire. When the news reached the House of Commons that the theatre was burning, the unusual compliment was paid him by Lord Temple and Mr. Ponsonby of moving the adjournment of the debate ‘in consequence of the extent of the calamity which the event just communicated to the house would bring upon a respectable individual, a member of that house.’ While grateful for the kindness displayed towards himself, he objected to the motion on the ground that ‘whatever might be the extent of the individual calamity, he did not consider it of a nature to interrupt their proceedings.’ Two years later the house displayed a like feeling of admiration and sympathy. It was then proposed to authorise the building of another theatre, and Sheridan contended that the proprietors of the Drury Lane patent ought to be the persons entrusted with this privilege. His conduct with regard to Drury Lane Theatre was eulogised by political opponents as well as by political friends, General Tarleton calling upon the house ‘to consider the immortal works of Mr. Sheridan and the stoical philosophy with which in that house he had witnessed the destruction of his property. Surely some indulgence was due to such merit’ (Parl. Debates, xix. 1142, 1145).
None of the many effective speeches which Sheridan delivered in the house did him more honour, or has given him more deserved credit, than those relating to the liberty of the public press at a time when the press had fewer friends among statesmen than at present. He was magnanimous in upholding the liberty of unfettered printing, because, as he declared to Sir Richard Phillips, his life had been made miserable by calumnies in the newspapers. The greater his magnanimity and statesmanship, then, in declaring, as he did in the House of Commons on 4 April 1798, ‘that the press should be unfettered, that its freedom should be, as indeed it was, commensurate with the freedom of the people and the well-being of a virtuous State; on that account he thought that even one hundred libels had better be ushered into the world than one prosecution be instituted which might endanger the liberty of the press of this country.’ At a later day he condemned the conduct of the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, and shamed them into rescinding a regulation which they had passed for excluding from the bar any member of the inn who contributed to newspapers.
His monetary affairs, after the burning of Drury Lane Theatre in 1809, were greatly involved, and the sums owing to him were withheld while his creditors clamoured for payment. A committee, presided over by Mr. Whitbread, for rebuilding the theatre gave him shares for much of the amount due to him, but by retaining 12,000l. in cash hindered him from being returned to parliament for Stafford, and caused him to be arrested for debt in August 1813, when he became an inmate of a sponging-house in Took's Court, Cursitor Street, till Whitbread handed over the sum required. It was not known till after Whitbread's self-inflicted death, on 6 July 1815, that a disease of the brain was the explanation of some actions which would have been otherwise inexplicable. Sheridan's own health had been impaired several years before his life ended. He had long suffered from insomnia; in his later years varicose veins in his legs gave him much pain and made walking difficult. He had always been a jovial companion, and few who enjoyed his society could have surmised that in private he was subject to fits of depression which made life a burden. In common with his contemporaries he frequently drank wine to excess, yet without drinking as much as many others, a small quantity affecting him more seriously. Sir Gilbert Elliot records that at a dinner in 1788 Sheridan drank much wine, but that Grey drank far more. Sheridan preferred claret till his later and darker years, and then brandy had a baneful fascination for him. Nevertheless, he weaned himself from the bad habit, and he became very temperate latterly, drinking nothing but water.
Mental worries about the health of his elder son Tom, who went to the Cape of Good Hope in 1813, without being cured there of consumption, and about the means wherewith to satisfy the demands of inexorable creditors, to which an abscess in the throat added a physical torment, compelled him to take to his bed in the spring of 1816. He was then occupying the house at 17 Savile Row. A writ was served upon him when he could no longer leave the house, and the sheriff's officer consented to remain there, and, by so doing, hindered other creditors from giving further annoyance. It was incorrectly announced in the newspapers that Sheridan was in dire poverty, and offers of assistance were made; but these were declined because they were not required. Sheridan died on 7 July 1816. Several years afterwards the story was circulated by Croker, on the authority of George IV, to the effect that Sheridan died a neglected pauper. The story is the reverse of the truth. Charles Brinsley, the son of Sheridan by his second marriage, wrote from Fulham Palace, on Sunday, 16 July 1816, where his mother and he were staying, to his half-brother at the Cape, nine days after their father's death, that ‘you will be soothed by learning that our father's death was unaccompanied by suffering, that he almost slumbered into death, and that the reports which you may have seen in the newspapers of the privations and the want of comforts which he endured are unfounded; that he had every attention and comfort that could make a deathbed easy.’ Mrs. Parkhurst, who was acquainted with the Sheridans, wrote to Dublin from London to Mrs. Lefanu, his elder sister, a fortnight after his death: ‘Mr. Sheridan wanted neither medical aid, the attention of true affection, the consolations of piety, nor the exertions of friendship. He had three of the first physicians of London every day; his wife, his son, and his brother-in-law were constantly with him; the bishop of London (Howley, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury) saw him many times, and (Lord) Lauderdale did all he could for the regulation of his affairs.’
The funeral was arranged by Lord Lauderdale and Peter Moore [q. v.], member for Coventry, both being Sheridan's old and attached friends, and the coffin was taken, for the sake of convenience, to Peter Moore's house in Great George Street. The remains were laid in Westminster Abbey, and the funeral was on a far grander scale than those of Pitt and Fox, the flower of the nobility uniting with the most notable men of letters and learning in paying the last homage to Sheridan. The Duke of Wellington and his brother, the Marquis Wellesley, who were absent, expressed in writing their regret that their absence was unavoidable.
As a dramatist Sheridan carried the comedy of manners in this country to its highest pitch, and his popularity as a writer for the stage is exceeded by that of Shakespeare alone. As an orator he impressed the House of Commons more deeply than almost any predecessor, and as a politician in a venal age he preserved his independence and purity. He left debts which were trifling compared with those of Pitt, and which, unlike those of Pitt, were defrayed by his family. He never received a pension, though he was as much entitled to one as Burke. The Prince of Wales induced him to accept the office of receiver of the duchy of Cornwall, with a salary of about 800l., and this he enjoyed for the last few years of his life. His widow and his son by her inherited a property in land which he had bought, and which sufficed to maintain them during the remainder of their lives.
Throughout life Sheridan was the victim of misrepresentation. He declared to Sir Richard Phillips in his closing years that his life ‘had been miserable by calumnies.’ To these words, taken from a manuscript by Sir Richard supplied to Moore, but suppressed, may be added the following from a manuscript which Sheridan left behind him: ‘It is a fact that I have scarcely ever in my life contradicted any one calumny against me … I have since on reflection ceased to approve my own conduct in these respects. Were I to lead my life over again, I should act otherwise.’ After his death many stories about him have been circulated and accepted as genuine, though they are counterfeit. They begin when he was seven years old, and end when he was in his coffin; the first being that his mother told Samuel Whyte he was an ‘impenetrable dunce,’ a statement for which not a shadow of proof has been given; and the last that he was arrested for debt when laid out for burial, a statement which is as ridiculous and unauthentic as the other. The story is often told of his hoaxing the House of Commons, and many correspondents of ‘Notes and Queries’ have exercised their ingenuity in describing the kind of spurious or imitation Greek which he is assumed to have used, the truth being that he once corrected Lord Belgrave, who misapplied a passage of Demosthenes, which he had quoted in the original. He is finely characterised in a few words written by Mrs. Parkhurst in the letter from which a quotation has been made above: ‘He took away with him a thousand charitable actions, a heart in which there was no hard part, a spirit free from envy and malice, and he is gone in the undiminished brightness of his talent, gone before pity had withered admiration.’ On the morning after his death the ‘Times’ eulogised him as a member of the legislature in terms which could not be justly applied to many of his colleagues and contemporaries: ‘Throughout a period fruitful of able men and trying circumstances [he was regarded] as the most popular specimen in the British senate of political consistency, intrepidity, and honour.’
Sheridan's portrait was painted more than once by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The finest example belonged to H. N. Pym., esq., of Brasted; another portrait by Sir Joshua was engraved by W. Read. Both these are reproduced in Mr. Rae's ‘Biography,’ together with a pencil sketch attributed to the same artist. The portrait by John Russell, R.A., is at the National Portrait Gallery, and a drawing of Sheridan in old age was engraved by the artist George Clint. John Hoppner painted the second Mrs. Sheridan with her infant son Charles (d. 1843).
A collected edition of Sheridan's plays appeared at Dublin in 1792–3, and in London 1794. Of later editions, one was edited by Moore (2 vols. 1821); to another (1840) Leigh Hunt contributed a biographical notice. Sheridan's speeches were edited ‘by a constitutional friend’ in 1798 (5 vols.), and with a life in 1816 (5 vols.; 2nd edit. 1812, 3 vols.). His speeches in the trial of Warren Hastings were edited by E. A. Bond from the shorthand report, London, 1859–61.
Sheridan's only son by his first wife, Thomas Sheridan (1775–1817), usually called Tom, was born on 17 March 1775, and died, as colonial treasurer, at the Cape of Good Hope, on 12 Sept. 1817. He was very accomplished and a skilful versifier; a poem on the loss of the Saldanha was printed and praised. He entered the army and was for a time aide-de-camp to Lord Moira. In November 1805 he married, with his father's approval, Caroline Henrietta Callander, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. His wife is separately noticed. The eldest son, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (d. 1888), married in 1835 Marcia Maria, only surviving child and heiress of Lieut.-general Sir Colquhoun Grant [q. v.] of Frampton Court, Dorset, and sat in parliament as member for Shaftesbury from 1845 to 1852, and for Dorchester from 1852 to 1868. His son, Algernon Thomas Brinsley Sheridan of Frampton Court, owns many of his great-grandfather's papers.
Tom Sheridan's three daughters were noted for their great beauty and talent. All were married: the eldest became Lady Dufferin, and afterwards Countess of Gifford [see Sheridan, Helen Selina]; the second became the Honourable Caroline Norton [q. v.], and afterwards Lady Stirling-Maxwell of Keir; and the youngest became Lady Seymour, and afterwards Duchess of Somerset [see Seymour, Edward Adolphus].
[The facts concerning Sheridan, as well as many of current fictions, are set forth in detail in the work by the writer of this notice entitled Sheridan: a Biography, London, 1896. Other works in which many of the fictions are set forth as facts are Memoirs of Sheridan by Dr. Watkins (1816) and also by Thomas Moore (1825), and Lives of the Sheridans by Mr. Percy Fitzgerald (1887). Sheridan's Life and Times by an Octogenarian (1859, 2 vols.) contains several grains of fact; but many of the scenes described are inventions. His name was William Earle. Professor Smyth of Cambridge printed for private circulation in 1840 a Memoir of Mr. Sheridan, which contains a few useful facts and many misstatements. Mrs. Oliphant wrote his life in the English Men of Letters series (1883), and repeated many of the unfounded stories of preceding writers. A Life of Sheridan, by L. C. Sanders, in the Great Writers series, has the advantage of a bibliography, by Mr. John P. Anderson of the British Museum, of all the works by and about Sheridan.]
Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.249
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line
|80||i||18||Sheridan, Richard B. : for Mathews read Matthews|
|84||i||3||after required. insert Sheridan died on 7 July 1816.|
|10||for 7 July read 16 July|
|12||for eight read nine|
|85||i||11||after Charles insert (d. 1843)|
|24||after only son insert by his first wife|