The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 19/Character of Dr. Sheridan

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DOCTOR Thomas Sheridan died at Rathfarnam, the tenth of October 1738, at three of the clock in the afternoon: his diseases were a dropsy and asthma. He was doubtless the best instructor of youth in these kingdoms, or perhaps in Europe; and as great a master of the Greek and Roman languages. He had a very fruitful invention, and a talent for poetry. His English verses were full of wit and humour, but neither his prose nor verse sufficiently correct: however, he would readily submit to any friend who had a true taste in prose or verse. He has left behind him a very great collection, in several volumes, of stories, humorous, witty, wise, or some way useful, gathered from a vast number of Greek, Roman, Italian, Spanish, French, and English writers. I believe I may have seen about thirty, large enough to make as many moderate books in octavo. But among these extracts, there were many not worth regard; for five in six, at least, were of little use or entertainment. He was (as it is frequently the case in men of wit and learning) what the French call a dupe, and in a very high degree. The greatest dunce of a tradesman could impose upon him, for he was altogether ignorant in worldly management. His chief shining quality was that of a schoolmaster; here he shone in his proper element. He had so much skill and practice in the physiognomy of boys, that he rarely mistook at the first view. His scholars loved and feared him. He often rather chose to shame the stupid, but punish the idle, and exposed them to all the lads, which was more severe than lashing. Among the gentlemen in this kingdom who have any share of education, the scholars of Dr. Sheridan infinitely excel, in number and knowledge, all their brethren sent from other schools.

To look on the doctor in some other lights, he was in many things very indiscreet, to say no worse. He acted like too many clergymen, who are in haste to be married when very young; and from hence proceeded all the miseries of his life. The portion he got proved to be just the reverse of 500l. for he was poorer by a thousand: so many incumbrances of a mother-in-law, and poor relations, whom he was forced to support for many years. Instead of breeding up his daughters to housewifery and plain clothes, he got them, at a great expense, to be clad like ladies who had plentiful fortunes; made them only learn to sing and dance, to draw and design, to give them rich silks, and other fopperies; and his two eldest were married, without his consent, to young lads who had nothing to settle on them. However, he had one son, whom the doctor sent to Westminster school, although he could ill afford it. The boy was there immediately taken notice of, upon examination; although a mere stranger, he was by pure merit elected a king's scholar. It is true their maintenance falls something short: the doctor was then so poor, that he could not add fourteen pounds, to enable the boy to finish the year; which, if he had done, he would have been removed to a higher class, and, in another year, would have been sped off (that is the phrase) to a fellowship in Oxford or Cambridge: but the doctor was forced to recall him to Dublin, and had friends in our university to send him there, where he has been chosen of the foundation; and, I think, has gotten an exhibition, and designs to stand for a fellowship.

The doctor had a good church living, in the south parts of Ireland, given him by lord Carteret; who, being very learned himself, encourages it in others. A friend of the doctor's prevailed on his excellency to grant it. The living was well worth 150l. per annum. He changed it very soon for that of Dunboyn; which, by the knavery of the farmers and power of the gentlemen, fell so very low, that he could never get 80l. He then changed that living for the free school of Cavan, where he might have lived well, in so cheap a country, on 80l. salary per annum, beside his scholars: but the air, he said, was too moist and unwholesome, and he could not bear the company of some persons in that neighbourhood. Upon this he sold the school for about 400l. spent the money, grew into diseases, and died.

It would be very honourable, as well as just, in those many persons of quality and fortune, who had the advantage of being educated under doctor Sheridan, if they would please to erect some decent monument over his body, in the church where it is deposited.