Thomas Sheridan, D.D.

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Sheridan, Thomas, D.D., a friend of Dean Swift's, son of Thomas Sheridan before-mentioned, was born in the County of Cavan in 1684. His parents were poor. He was placed by a friend at Trinity College, Dublin, entered the Church, and opened a school in Dublin, at the old Mint house, 27 Capel-street. His good nature, powers of conversation, and literary abilities attracted the attention of Swift, and they became intimate friends. The Dean took a warm interest in his school, occasionally taught classes in it, and materially contributed to its success. Swift wrote of him after his death:

"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 has left behind him a very great collection, in several volumes, of stories, humorous, witty, wise, or some way useful... His chief shining quality was that of a schoolmaster, and here he shone in his proper element. He had so much skill and practice in the physiognomy of boys, that lie rarely mistook at the first view. His scholars loved and feared him. .. 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 the other schools... He was in many things very indiscreet, to say no worse. He acted like too many clergymen who are in haste to get married when very young, and from hence proceeded all the miseries of his life." Sheridan owned Quilca, a small country seat in the County of Cavan, where Swift, who wrote an amusing account of its "blunders and deficiencies," often sojourned with Esther Johnson and Mrs. Dingley. Not content with two residences alone, a fancy sprung in his head, Swift wrote, "that a house near Dublin would be commodious for himself and his boarders to lodge in on Saturdays and Sundays. Immediately, without consulting with any creature, he takes a lease of a rotten house at Rathfarnham, the worst air in Ireland, for 999 years, at £12 a year... He expends about £100 on the house and garden wall, and in less than three years contracts such a hatred to the house that he lets it run to ruin."

Swift was greatly distressed at Sheridan's extravagant habits, and hoping to remove him from a position in life which involved ruinous expenditure, obtained for him a nomination to the mastership of the Royal School of Armagh. This Sheridan unwisely declined, on the advice of some of the Fellows of College. Swift then procured for him a living in the south of Ireland, and a chaplaincy to the Lord- Lieutenant; but Sheridan spoiled all by his foolish imprudence in preaching a sermon at Cork on the King's birth-day, from the text, "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." He was forbidden again to appear at the Castle, although Swift interceded for him in vain. He subsequently obtained the living of Dunboyne, near Dublin, from which, with his unbusiness-like habits, he was able to extract but,£80 a year. His son says his grief for Esther Johnson's loss was almost as great as the Dean's. "He admired her above all human beings, and loved her with a devotion as pure as that which we would pay to angels." His latter years were embittered by a quarrel with Swift, resulting from an overlong visit of his at the deanery. Yet in November 1736, we have a very warm letter of his, dated from Quilca, to Mrs. Whiteway, enquiring after her health and that of the Dean. In it he deplores the Protestant exodus then going on from the north of Ireland to America — "the dismal circumstance of some thousands of families preparing to go off... Some squires will have their whole estates left to themselves and their dogs." Sheridan died at Rathfarnham, 10th October 1738, aged about 54.

His marriage appears to have been most unfortunate. In his will we find but five shillings bequeathed to his "unkind wife, Elizabeth." Dean Swift, in his sketch of Sheridan, penned shortly after his death, speaks of her in the coarsest terms; and we must charitably suppose that nothing but approaching mental illness induced him to reflect as he did upon Sheridan himself in the same document. There are no fewer than 142 references to Sheridan in the index to Scott's Life of Swift. The Earl of Orrery writes of him as "ill-starred, good-natured,improvident, .. a punster, a quibbler, a fiddler, and a wit. Not a day passed without a rebus, an anagram, or a madrigal. His pen and his fiddle-stick were in continual motion, and yet to little or no purpose." In 1725 Dr. Sheridan published a translation of the Philoctetes of Sophocles, and in 1739 the Satires of Persius in English verse.

Sources

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

118. Ecclesiae Hiberniae Fasti: Rev. Henry Cotton: Indices by John R. Garstin, M.A. 5 vols. Dublin, 1851-'60.

196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840-'7.

320a. Swift, Jonathan, Remarks on his Life and Writings: Earl of Orrery. Dublin, 1752.

321. Swift, Jonathan, Works, with Notes, and Life: Sir Walter Scott. 19 vols. Edinburgh, 1824.

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