Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheridan, Elizabeth Ann

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SHERIDAN, Mrs. ELIZABETH ANN (1754–1792), vocalist and first wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan [q. v.], was second child and eldest daughter of Thomas Linley (1732–1795) [q. v.], composer and teacher of music, and his wife Mary. She was born on 7 Sept. 1754 at 5 Pierrepont Street, Bath. Her remarkably fine voice was so carefully cultivated by herself and trained by her father that she was ranked first among the vocalists of her day. After singing before the king and queen at Buckingham House, in April 1773, the king told Linley ‘that he never in his life heard so fine a voice as his daughter's, nor one so well instructed’ (Biography of Sheridan, i. 262). Her beauty was not less noteworthy. John Wilkes described her when young as ‘the most modest, pleasing, and delicate flower I have seen for a long time’ (Memoirs, ed. Almon, iv. 97). In her later years she was placed by Horace Walpole above all living beauties; Frances Burney chronicles in her diary that ‘the elegance of Mrs. Sheridan's beauty is unequalled by any I ever saw, except Mrs. Crewe;’ while the bishop of Meath styled her ‘the connecting link between woman and angel.’ She sat to Sir Joshua Reynolds for his ‘St. Cecilia’ and for the Virgin in his ‘Nativity.’

She sang at the concerts given by her father in Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, and London, and she took the principal parts in the oratorios which were performed under his direction. The charm of her voice and person attracted some persons whose advances were obnoxious to her. One was an elderly bachelor named Long; another was Major Mathews, who is said to have been married. A growing aversion to appearing in public, coupled with a longing to escape from the distasteful addresses of Major Mathews, led Miss Linley, at the end of March 1772, to secretly escape from Bath, escorted by Richard Brinsley Sheridan [q. v.] , with the intention of boarding in a convent at Lille. The father of Sheridan and the father of Miss Linley were both averse to their marriage, and did their utmost to hinder it, but the pair became man and wife on 13 April 1773 [for fuller details [see under Sheridan, Richard Brinsley].

After her marriage Mrs. Sheridan declined to sing in public. A special exception was made for the personal gratification of Lord North, the prime minister, at his installation as chancellor of the university of Oxford, when she sang in the oratorio ‘The Prodigal's Son.’ On that occasion North said to Sheridan that he ought to have a degree conferred upon him uxoris causâ (Moore, Diary, 6 Jan. 1823). Mrs. Sheridan was always ready, however, to sing at private gatherings of her friends or acquaintance. The lapse of years did not lessen the charm of her voice. Her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Sheridan, wrote in her ‘Journal’ in 1788: ‘Mrs. Sheridan's voice I think as perfect as ever I remember it. That same peculiar tone that I believe is hardly to be equalled in the world, as every one is struck with it in the same way’ (Rae, Biography of Sheridan, ii. 34).

She was of great service to her husband when he became manager of Drury Lane Theatre, keeping the accounts for a time, reading the manuscripts of plays by new hands, and writing verses for some of those which were put on the stage. She was a zealous politician; she appeared on the hustings when Fox was a candidate for parliament in 1790, and she canvassed for him at that election and at others. Many of the documents containing the facts upon which Sheridan based his speeches concerning the begums of Oude were put in order and copied by his wife. An unpublished letter, which she sent to Mrs. Stratford Canning, contains the information that the reply of the Prince of Wales to the proposal of the government to make him regent with limitations, which Sheridan wrote, was copied by her, the copy being signed by the prince and laid before the cabinet.

Mrs. Sheridan was always delicate, and in 1792 she fell into a rapid consumption, dying at Hot Wells, Bristol, on 28 June in that year. Though a clever versifier, she never published anything in her own name, her verses and prose writings being preserved in a volume which she gave before her death to Mrs. Stratford Canning. Some have been printed by Moore in his ‘Memoirs,’ and by the present writer in his ‘Biography of Sheridan.’ A long letter, purporting to be from her pen, appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ for October 1815, but this was shown to be a forgery in the ‘Athenæum’ for 20 Jan. 1895. No other woman of her time possessed in larger measure than Mrs. Sheridan beauty, talent, and virtue. She passed unscathed through terrible temptations. The Duke of Clarence ‘persecuted’ her, to use the word which she wrote to Mrs. Canning, with his attentions, and she was perhaps the only lady for whom he ever sighed in vain. Her devotion to her husband was not the least admirable of her traits, and Sheridan derived from her some of the inspiration which made him a great dramatist.

[Memoir of Lady Dufferin, by the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, 1894; Sheridan: a Biography, by Mr. Fraser Rae. Several dates in the above notice are taken from the Linley family Bible.]

F. R.