Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Wikis

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Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Rt. Hon. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (30 October 1751 – 7 July 1816) was a Irish born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years, he was also a Member of Parliament aligned with the British Whig Party. Such was the esteem he was held in by his contemporaries when he died that he was buried at Westminister Abbey.

Contents

Life

R. B. Sheridan was born in 1751 in Dublin, Ireland, where his family had a house on then-fashionable Dorset Street. He was a pupil at Harrow Boarding School outside London from 1762 to 1768. His mother, Frances Sheridan, was a playwright and novelist. She had several plays produced in London in the 1760s, though she is best known for her novel The Memoirs of Sidney Biddulph (1761). His father, Thomas Sheridan, was for a while an actor-manager at the Theatre Royal, Dublin but, following his move to England, he gave up acting and wrote a number of books concerning education and, especially, the standardisation of the English language in education. In 1771 the family settled in Bath.[1]

In 1772 Richard Sheridan fought a famous duel against Captain Thomas Mathews. Mathews had written a newspaper article defaming the character of Elizabeth Linley, the woman Sheridan intended to marry, and honour dictated that a duel must be fought. A first duel was fought in London where they agreed to fight in Hyde park, but finding it too crowded they went to the Castle Tavern in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. Far from its romantic image, the duel was short and bloodless. Mathews lost his sword and, according to Sheridan, was forced to 'beg for his life' and sign a retraction of the article. The apology was made public and Mathews, infuriated by the publicity the duel had received, refused to accept his defeat as final and challenged Sheridan to another duel. Sheridan was not obliged to accept this challenge, but would have become a social pariah if he had not. The second duel, fought in August 1772 at Kingsdown near Bath, was a much more ferocious affair. This time both men broke their swords but carried on fighting in a 'desperate struggle for life and honour'. Both were wounded, Sheridan dangerously, being 'borne from the field with a portion of his antagonist's weapon sticking through an ear, his breast-bone touched, his whole body covered with wounds and blood, and his face nearly beaten to jelly with the hilt of Mathews' sword'. Fortunately his remarkable constitution pulled him through, and eight days after this bloody affair the Bath Chronicle was able to announce that he was out of danger. Mathews escaped in a post chaise.

In 1773, Richard Sheridan at age 21 married Elizabeth Linley and set up house in London on a lavish scale with little money and no immediate prospects of any—other than his wife's dowry. The young couple entered the fashionable world and apparently held up their end in entertaining. Less than two years later, his first play, The Rivals, was produced at London's Covent Garden Theatre. It was a success and established him in the favour of fashionable London.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law Thomas Linley, a successful composer, produced the opera, The Duenna. This piece was accorded such a warm reception that it played for seventy-five performances.

In 1776, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner, bought a half interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, bought out the other half. Sheridan was the manager of the theatre for many years, and later became sole owner with no managerial role.

On 8 May 1777, Sheridan directed his masterpiece, A School for Scandal, in the Drury Lane theatre of which he was now manager, with Mrs. Abington in the rôle of Lady Teazle. It was an immediate and lasting success.[1] He wrote the last of his three great comedies, The Critic, in 1779.

In 1780, Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He is said to have paid the burgesses of Stafford five guineas apiece for the honour of representing them. As a consequence, his first speech in Parliament had to be a defence against the charge of bribery. When he failed to be re-elected to Parliament 32 years later, in 1812, his creditors closed in on him and his last years were harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the American Congress offered Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the Revolutionary War. The offer was refused.

He and his wife had two children: Thomas Sheridan, who married Caroline Henrietta Callender, daughter of Col. James Callander Campbell, of Craigforth, Stirling, and was the father of the 4th Baroness of Dufferin and Claneboye, Caroline Sheridan and the 12th Duchess of Somerset; and Edith Marcia Caroline Sheridan (d. 9 April 1876), m. 30 June 1864 to John Francis Thynne, of Haynes Park (17 June 1830 – 30 January 1910, Justice of Peace, of the Marquesses of Bath, and had issue.

Theatre career

When Sheridan settled in London, he began writing for the stage. His first play, The Rivals, produced at Covent Garden in 1775, was a failure on its first night. Sheridan cast a more capable actor for the role of the comic Irishman for its second performance, and it was a smash which immediately established the young playwright's reputation. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

His most famous play The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, 8 May 1777) is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It was followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration play The Rehearsal, which received a memorable revival (performed with Oedipus in a single evening) starring Laurence Olivier as Mr Puff, opening at the New Theatre on 18 October 1945 as part of an Old Vic Theatre Company season.

Having quickly made his name and fortune, in 1776 Sheridan bought David Garrick's share in the Drury Lane patent, and in 1778 the remaining share. His later plays were all produced there [2]. But on 24 February 1809 (despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794) the theatre burned down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan was famously reported to have said: "A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside."[3]

Politics

In Uncorking Old Sherry (1805), James Gillray caricatured Sheridan as a bottle of sherry, uncorked by Pitt and bursting out with puns, invective, and fibs.

Sheridan was also a Whig politician, entering parliament in 1780 as the member for Stafford, under the sponsorship of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. A great public speaker, he remained in parliament until 1812, and was a leading figure in the party.

He held the posts of Receiver-General of the Duchy of Cornwall (1804–1807) and Treasurer of the Navy (1806–1807).

In December 1815 he became ill, largely confined to bed. Sheridan died in poverty, and was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey; his funeral was attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.

Works

He also wrote a selection of poems, and political speeches for his time in parliament.

Adaptations and Cultural References

In The Duchess (2008) film, a biography of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, The School for Scandal is performed.

  • In the Yes Prime Minister episode the Patron of the Arts two of Sheridan's plays are named as one's the prime minister could not see, the rivals "there were too many cabinet ministers after his job" and A School for Scandal "well, not after the education secetary had been found in bed with a married primary school headmistress", later the same prime minister is asked to name a famous English playwrite other than Shakespeare says "Sheridan, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw" and is told, "they were all Irish"
  • In the Blackadder III episode Amy and Amiability Blackadder is asked if he intends to become a highway man and replies sarcastically "no, I'm auditioning for the part of Arnold the bat in Sheridan's new comedy"
  • The very first sentence of Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" is "Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814" ([1]) - which includes two factual mistakes: Sheridan actually lived in No. 14 and died in 1816. Evidently, Verne assumed as a matter of course that a French readership more than half a century later would know who was Sheridan and would need no further explantaion.

References

  1. ^ a b Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 399. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.  
  2. ^ The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, edited by Phyllis Hartnoll, OUP (1951)
  3. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, OUP (1999)
  • Lee, Sidney. "Sheridan, Richard Brinsley" Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. LII, London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1897. (pp. 78–85) Retrieved March 2, 2008
  • Richard Brinsley Sheridan Retrieved March 2, 2008

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
George Canning
Treasurer of the Navy
1806–1807
Succeeded by
George Rose
Parliament of Great Britain
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Richard Whitworth
Member of Parliament for Stafford
1780–1806
Succeeded by
Richard Mansel-Philipps
Preceded by
Earl Percy
Member of Parliament for Westminster
1806–1807
Succeeded by
Lord Cochrane
Preceded by
Sir William Manners
Member of Parliament for Ilchester
1807–1812
Succeeded by
Lord Ward
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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Never say more than is necessary.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (October 30, 1751 - July 7, 1816) was an Irish playwright and Whig statesman.

Contents

Sourced

  • An apothecary should never be out of spirits.
    • St. Patrick's Day (1775), Act I, sc. i.
  • Death's a debt; his mandamus binds all alike — no bail, no demurrer.
    • St. Patrick's Day (1775), Act II, sc. iv.
  • Date not the life which thou hast run by the mean of reckoning of the hours and days, which though hast breathed: a life spent worthily should be measured by a nobler line, — by deeds, not years...
    • Pizarro (first acted 24 May 1799), Act iv, Scene 1. Compare: "Who well lives, long lives; for this age of ours / Should not be numbered by years, daies, and hours", Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, Second Week, Fourth Day, Book ii.
  • You write with ease to show your breeding,
    But easy writing's curst hard reading.
    • Clio's Protest (1819).
  • An oyster may be crossed in love.
    • Clio's Protest (1819).
  • The right honorable gentlemen is indebted to his memory for his jests, and to his imagination for his facts.
    • Sheridaniana, Speech in Reply to Mr. Dundas.
  • Believe not each accusing tongue,
    As most weak persons do;
    But still believe that story wrong,
    Which ought not to be true!
    • Reported in Nicholas Harris Nicolas, The Carcanet: a Literary Album, Containing Select Passages from the Most Distinguished English Writers (1828), p. 132.

The Rivals (1775)

  • 'Tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion.
    • Act I, sc. ii
  • A progeny of learning.
    • Act I, sc. i
  • Never say more than is necessary.
    • Act II, sc. i
  • I know you are laughing in your sleeve.
    • Act II, sc. i
  • He is the very pineapple of politeness!
    • Act III, sc. iii
  • If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!
    • Act III, sc. iii
  • As headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.
    • Act III, sc. iii
  • Our ancestors are very good kind of folks; but they are the last people I should choose to have a visiting acquaintance with.
    • Act IV, sc. i
  • No caparisons, miss, if you please. Caparisons don't become a young woman.
    • Act IV, sc. ii
  • You are not like Cerberus, three gentlemen at once, are you?
    • Act IV, sc. ii
  • The quarrel is a very pretty quarrel as it stands; we should only spoil it by trying to explain it.
    • Act IV, sc. iii
  • My valor is certainly going! — it is sneaking off! I feel it oozing out, as it were, at the palm of my hands!
    • Act V, sc. iii
  • I own the soft impeachment.
    • Act V, sc. iii
  • Through all the drama — whether damned or not —
    Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.
    • Epilogue

The Duenna (1775)

  • I ne'er could any luster see
    In eyes that would not look on me.
    • Act I, sc. ii
  • I loved him for himself alone.
    • Act I, sc. iii
  • A bumper of good liquor
    Will end a contest quicker
    Than justice, judge, or vicar.
    • Act I, sc. iii
  • Conscience has no more to do with gallantry than it has with politics.
    • Act I, sc. iv

The School for Scandal (1777)

  • Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.
    • Act I, sc. i
  • You shall see them on a beautiful quarto page, where a neat rivulet of text shall meander through a meadow of margin.
    • Act I, sc. i
  • You had no taste when you married me.
    • Act I, sc. ii
  • Here's to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
    Here's to the widow of fifty;
    Here's to the flaunting, extravegant quean,
    And here's to the housewife that's thrifty.
    Let the toast pass —
    Drink to the lass;
    I'll warrant she'll prove an excuse for the glass.
    • Act III, sc. iii
  • An unforgiving eye, and a damned disinheriting countenance.
    • Act IV, sc. i
  • Be just before you're generous.
    • Act IV, sc. i

The Critic (1779)

  • There is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy.
    • Act I, sc. i
  • The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous — licentious — abominable — infernal — Not that I ever read them — no — I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.
    • Act I, sc. i
  • Egad, I think the interpreter is the hardest to be understood of the two!
    • Act I, sc. ii
  • A practitioner in panegyric, or, to speak more plainly, a professor of the art of puffing.
    • Act I, sc. ii
  • The number of those who undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves is very small indeed.
    • Act I, sc. ii
  • Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.
    • Act II, sc. i
  • I wish, sir, you would practice this without me. I can't stay dying here all night.
    • Act III, sc. i

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