Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheridan, Thomas (1687-1738)
SHERIDAN, THOMAS (1687–1738), schoolmaster, and friend of Swift, was born at Cavan in 1687, and was the son of James Sheridan, fourth and youngest son of the Rev. Dennis Sheridan, who assisted Bishop Bedell in translating the bible into Erse (Appendix to Life of Bedell, by T. W. Jones, p. 210). Thomas Sheridan (fl. 1661–1688) [q. v.], the Jacobite, and William Sheridan [q. v.], bishop of Kilmore, were his uncles. On 18 Oct. 1707 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a pensioner, his uncle, the bishop, helping with funds. He graduated B.A. in 1711, and M.A. in 1714; in 1724 he became B.D. and in 1726 D.D. Shortly after graduating he married Elizabeth, the only child of Charles MacFadden of Quilca House, co. Cavan, and this house became his on MacFadden's death. The property was originally in the possession of the Sheridans, and was forfeited for their adhering to James II, while Charles MacFadden acquired it for his services to King William.
Sheridan, on his marriage, opened a school in King's Mint House, Capel Street, which was attended by sons of the best families in Dublin, and from which he derived an income of 1,000l. Swift made Sheridan's acquaintance in 1713, on arriving in Dublin to take possession of the deanery of St. Patrick's. They became constant companions. A room in the deanery was reserved for Sheridan, while Swift often lived for months together at Quilca, where he planned the ‘Drapier's Letters,’ wrote a part of ‘Gulliver's Travels,’ and edited ‘The Intelligencer’ in concert with his friend. When Sheridan was incapacitated by illness from being present in his school, Swift took his place. When Carteret was lord-lieutenant, Swift appealed to him on Sheridan's behalf, and in response he appointed him, in 1725, to be one of his chaplains and to a living in the county of Cork. Before he was inducted, however, Sheridan preached a sermon at Cork on the text ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,’ a sermon which he had often preached before without complaint. On this occasion Sunday fell on 1 Aug., the day of Queen Anne's death. Richard Tighe, a whig and courtier, heard it; he thought that the sermon confirmed the prevailing notion that the preacher was a Jacobite, and he represented this to the lord-lieutenant, who struck Sheridan's name from the list of his chaplains and forbade his appearing at court. Archdeacon Thomas Russell, in whose pulpit the offending sermon was delivered, presented the absent-minded preacher, by way of compensation, with the manor of Drumlane, co. Cavan, yielding 250l. a year.
Dr. Sheridan was offered the head-mastership of the royal school at Armagh, but elected to remain in Dublin, at the advice of his friends, who afterwards aided in the establishment of a school which emptied his own. In consequence, he felt obliged to leave the city and exchange his living at Dunboyne for the free school at Cavan. In 1738 he disposed of this school and went to stay with Swift at St. Patrick's deanery, where he had a serious illness, and was told after his recovery that his presence was no longer welcome. He had, it is true, alienated Swift by being faithful to a promise made in earlier years to inform him when he showed signs of avarice. Having noted many instances, he gave Swift the paper on which he had written them. After perusal he asked Dr. Sheridan, ‘Did you never read “Gil Blas”? ’ Not long afterwards Sheridan died suddenly at the dinner-table in the house of a former pupil at Rathfarnham on 10 Oct. 1738. By his wife, Elizabeth MacFadden of Ulster, he had issue James, Richard, Thomas (1719–1788) [q. v.], and a daughter, who was the ancestress of Sheridan Knowles.
Sheridan wrote much and published little. Translations of the ‘Satyrs of Persius’ (1728, 8vo) and ‘Satires of Juvenal’ (1739, 8vo), both of which had several editions, and the ‘Philoctetes’ of Sophocles (1725) were the most noteworthy of his productions. His son Thomas prepared a volume of his writings for publication in England, the contents being a translation of ‘Pastor Fido,’ poetical pieces on divers subjects, and a choice collection of apophthegms, bons mots, and jests. The public would not subscribe for the work, which did not appear, while the manuscript itself was lost or destroyed. Swift said that Sheridan ‘shone in his proper element’ at the head of a school; in a letter to Alderman Barber he characterised him as ‘the best scholar in these kingdoms.’ Sir Walter Scott, in his ‘Memoir of Swift,’ writes about ‘the good-natured, light-hearted, and ingenious Sheridan.’ Not a day passed that he did not make a rebus, an anagram, or a madrigal. Idle, poor, and gay, he managed his own affairs badly, and he justly wrote of himself, ‘I am famous for giving the best advice and following the worst.’
[Disparaging statements, mingled with a few facts about Sheridan are to be found in the Earl of Orrery's Remarks on Swift's Life and Writings. Many letters from and to him are contained in Swift's Works, edited by Walter Scott; and authentic particulars of his life are given in the first chapter of the first volume of the Biography of Sheridan by the author of this notice.]