Thomas Sheridan, Actor and Author

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Sheridan, Thomas, son of preceding, was born at Quilca, in the County of Cavan, in 1721. Swift was his godfather. He was educated at Westminster School and at Trinity College, where he took the degree of B.A. in 1739. After his father's death he remained without a profession, and was destitute of expectations. He went on the stage, and in January 1743 met with decided success in the character of "Richard III." Next year he played at Covent-garden; and in 1745, with Garrick, at Drury-lane. Returning to Dublin, he leased Smock-alley Theatre (upon the site of which the church of St. Michael and St. John is now built) and effected reforms in the decorum and moralities of the stage. In 1754 he was driven from this theatre by a popular tumult, consequent on his bravely protesting against insults offered by some of the audience to certain actresses. He visited Dublin again in 1756, and in 1759 made a lecturing tour on oratory (his favourite study), in London, Oxford, and Cambridge, also in Scotland.

In 1760 he again appeared at Drury-lane; but disagreements with Garrick led him to abandon the stage. On the accession of George III., a Civil List pension was granted him, whereupon Dr. Johnson exclaimed: "What, give him a pension — then I must give up mine." Johnson had a very low opinion of his talents, according to Boswell, who quotes him as saying: "Why, sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what now see him. Such an excess of stupidity is not in nature... Sheridan cannot bear me. I bring his declamation to a point. I ask him a plain question, 'What do you mean to teach?' Besides, sir, what influence can Mr. Sheridan have upon the language of this great country by his narrow exertions? Sir, it is burning a farthing candle at Dover to show light at Calais." Sheridan was so annoyed at the failure of the public to appreciate his theories regarding oratory, that at one time he purposed emigrating to America.

Late in life he managed Drury-lane for his son, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and his partners; but for a long period father and son were completely estranged. Mr. Sheridan was often obliged to reside on the Continent because of money difficulties. He was the author of numerous works, chiefly on oratory and education. Sheridan's Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1780, which saw many editions, is said by Allibone to be "of more phonetic than philological value." His Life and Works of Jonathan Swift, (17 vols., 1784) has been superseded by later writers. He died 14th August 1788, aged 66, at Margate, where his remains were interred. Dibdin says: "He was an excellent actor, a man of strict honour, and a perfect gentleman;" whilst Macklin writes of "the dissonance of his voice, the laboured quaintness of his emphasis, the incessant flux of his speech." His daughter Alicia married Joseph LeFanu. [See LEFANU, ALICIA.]

Sources

3. Actors, Representative: W. Clark Russell. London,1875.

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

37. Biographical Dictionary: Alexander Chalmers. 32 vols. London, 1812-'17.

46. Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson; with Notes and Illustrations: Edward Malone, London, 1848.

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