Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXV

The eighteenth century was also rife in Irishmen whose intellects were devoted to literature. It claims its painters in Barrett, who was actually the founder of the Royal Academy in England, and in Barry, the most eminent historical painter of his age; its poets in Parnell, Goldsmith, Wade, O'Keeffe, Moore, and many others; its musician in Kelly, a full list of whose operatic music would fill several pages; its authors in Steele, Swift, Young, O'Leary, Malone, Congreve, Sheridan, and Goldsmith; and its actors in Macklin, Milliken, Barry, Willis, and Woffington.

Sheridan was born in Dublin, in the year 1757. He commenced his career as author by writing for the stage; but his acquaintance with Fox, who soon discerned his amazing abilities, led him in another direction. In 1786 he was employed with Burke in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. The galleries of the House of Lords were filled to overflowing; peers and peeresses secured seats early in the day; actresses came to learn declamation, authors to learn style. Mrs. Siddons, accustomed as she was to the simulation of passion in herself and others, shrieked and swooned while he denounced the atrocities of which Hastings had been guilty. Fox, Pitt, and Byron, were unanimous in their praise. And on the very same night, and at the very same time, when the gifted Celt was thundering justice to India into the. ears of Englishmen, his School for Scandal, one of the best comedies on the British stage, was being acted in one theatre, and his Duenna, one of its best operas, was being performed in another.

Sheridan died in 1816, a victim to intemperance, for which he had not even the excuse of misfortune. Had not his besetting sin degraded and incapacitated him, it is probable he would have been prime-minister on the death of Fox. At the early age of forty he was a confirmed drunkard. The master mind which had led a senate, was clouded over by the fumes of an accursed spirit; the brilliant eyes that had captivated a million hearts, were dimmed and bloodshot; the once noble brain, which had used its hundred gifts with equal success and ability, was deprived of all power of acting; the tongue, whose potent spell had entranced thousands, was scarcely able to articulate. Alas, and a thousand times alas! that man can thus mar his Maker's work, and stamp ruin and wretchedness where a wealth of mental power had been given to reign supreme.