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“ He certainly has a great deal of fancy and a very good memory ; but with a perverse ingenuity he employs these qualities as no other person does—for he employs his fancy in his narratives, and keeps his recollections for his wit-when he makes his jokes you applaud the accuracy of his memory, and 'tis only when he states his facts, that you admire the flights of his imagination.
“ Lady Clio. • What am I reading ?'—' have I drawn nothing lately?-is the work-bag finished ?-how accomplished I am !-has the man been to untune the harpsichord ?-does it look as if I had been playing on it ?—“Shall I be ill to day ?—shall I be nervous !'~' Your La'ship was nervous yesterday. '- Was I?—then I'll have a cold—I haven't had a cold this fortnight-a cold is becoming-no-I'll not have a cough ; that's fatiguing - I'll be quite well.'— You become sickness—your La'ship always looks vastly well when you're ill.'-—Leave the book half read and the rose half finished-you know I love to be caught in the fact.'
“ One who knows that no credit is ever given to his assertions has the more right to contradict his words.--He goes the western circuit, to pick up all small fees and impudence. '
The following profusion of imagery, on a fat woman and her lean husband, give a great idea of the author's fertility, and powers of ludicrous illustration—while they exemplify very strongly his tendency to condense all his best hits into ingenious, though rather far-fetched comparisons.
“ A fat woman trundling into room on castors—in sitting can only lean against her chair-rings on her fingers, and her fat arms strangled with bracelets, which belt them like corded brawn—rolling and heaving when she laughs, with the rattles in her throat, and a most apoplectic ogle !-you wish to draw her ont, as you would an opera glass,
“ A long lean man, with all his limbs rambling—no way to reduce him to compass, unless you could double him like a pocket rule-with his arms spread, he'd lie on the bed of Ware like a cross on a Good Friday bun-standing still, he is a pilaster without a base—he appears rolled out or run up against a wall-so thin, that his front face is but the moiety of a profile--if he stands cross-legged, he looks like a caduceus, and put him in a fencing attitude, you would take him for a piece of chevaux-de-frise—to make any use of him, it must be as a spontoon or a fishing rod—when his wife's by, he follows like a note of admirationsee them together, one's a mast, and the other all hulk-she's a dome and he's built like a glass-house—when they part, you wonder to see the steeple separate from the chancel, and were they to embrace, he must hang round her neck like a skein of a thread on a lace-maker's bolster - to sing her praise you should choose a rondeau, and to celebrate him you must write all Alexandrines.
Of his Poetical relics there is less to be said. His youthful verses are weak—and those of his maturer age chiefly remarkable for point and personality: He seems to have sketched some epilogues, and other occasional pieces, fragments of which of considerable merit are here given by Mr Moore ;– for example
“ The Campus Martius of St James's Street,
Where the beau's cavalry pace to and fro,
Dismount in files, and ogle in platoons.” • He had also begun another Epilogue, directed against female gamesters, of which he himself repeated a couplet or two to Mr Rogers a short time before his death, and of which there remain some few scattered traces among his papers :
“ A night of fretful passion may consume
All that thou hast of beauty's gentle bloom,
Gay smiles, which once belong'd to mirth alone,
And starting tears, which pity dares not own." Some verses, of a mixed character, on the short duration of life and the changes that death produces, thus begin :
“ Of that same tree which gave the box,
Now rattling in the hand of FOX,
Perhaps his coffin shall be made.-" • He then rambles into prose, as was his custom, on a sort of knighterrantry after thoughts and images : “ The lawn thou hast chosen for thy bridal shift—thy shroud may be of the same piece. That flower thou hast bought to feed thy vanity—from the same tree thy corpse may be decked. Reynolds shall, like his colours, fly; and Brown, when mingled with the dust, manure the grounds he once laid out. Death is life's second childhood; we return to the breast from whence we came, are weaned,
• An “ Address to the Prince," on the exposed style of women's dress, consists of little more then single lines, not yet wedded into couplets ; such as— “ The more you show, the less we wish to see."-" And bare their bodies, as they mask their minds,” &c. This poem, however, must have been undertaken many years after his entrance into Parliament, as the following curious political memorandum will prove :-“ I like it no better for being from France—whence all ills come-altar of liberty, begrimed at once with blood and mire.”
• There are also some Anacreontics-lively, but boyish and extravagant. For instance, in expressing his love of bumpers :
“ Were mine a goblet that had room
For a whole vintage in its womb,
An inch or two above the brim.” - A poem on the miseries of a literary drudge begins thus promisingly :
“ Think ye how dear the sickly meal is bought,
By him who works at verse and trades in thought ? " · The rest is hardly legible ; but there can be little doubt that he would have done this subject justice ;– for he had himself tasted of the bitterness with which the heart of a man of genius overflows, when forced by indigence to barter away (as it is here expressed) “ the reversion of his thoughts," and
“ Forestall the blighted harvest of his brain." These are interesting recollections, undoubtedly. But the business of the author's life was Politics - and, it is beyond all doubt, in their political discussions that the value and importance of the volumes before us substantially consist. Nothing can be better than the following short notice of the character of that lofty and agitating scene upon which his hero was to enter on his accession to Parliament in 1780.
· The period at which Mr Sheridan entered upon his political career was, in every respect, remarkable. A persevering and vindietive war against America, with the folly and guilt of which the obstinacy of the Court and the acquiescence of the people are equally chargeable, was fast approaching that crisis, which every unbiassed spectator of the contest had long foreseen,--and at which, however humiliating to the haughty pretensions of England, every friend to the liberties of the human race rejoiced. It was, perhaps, as difficult for this country to have been long and virulently opposed to such principles as the Americans asserted in this contest, without being herself corrupted by the cause which she maintained, as it was for the French to have fought, in the same conflict, by the side of the oppressed, without catching a portion of that enthusiasm for liberty, which such an alliance was calculated to inspire. Accordingly, while the voice of Philosophy was heard along the neighbouring shores, speaking aloud those oracular warnings which preceded the death of the Great Pan of Despotism, the courtiers and lawyers of England were, with an emulous spirit of servility, advising and sanctioning such strides of power, as would not have been unworthy of the most dark and slavish times.
• When we review, indeed, the history of the late reign, and consider how invariably the arms and councils of Great Britain in her Eastern wars, her conflict with America, and her efforts against revolutionary France, were directed to the establishment and perpetuation of despotic principles, it seems little less than a miracle that her own liberty should have escaped with life from the contagion. Never, indeed, can she be sufficiently grateful to the few patriot spirits of this period, to whose courage and eloquence she owes the high station of freedom yet left to her ;-never can her sons pay a homage too warm to the memory of such men as a Chatham, a Fox, and a Sheridan ; who, however much they may have sometimes sacrificed to false views of expediency, and, by compromise with friends and coalition with foes, too often weaken' their hold upon public confidence ; however the attraction of the Court may have sometimes made them librate in their orbit, Wire yet the saving lights of Liberty in those times, and alone preserved the ark of the Constitution from foundering in the foul and troubled waters that encompassed it.'
It is well known that Sheridan's first appearances on this great theatre were of doubtful promise. His opening speech was in support of his own election-and was more warm than judicious.
• It was on this night, as Woodfall used to relate, that Mr Sheridan, after he had spoken, came up to him in the gallery, and asked, with much anxiety, what he thought of his first attempt. The answer of Woodfall, as he had the courage afterwards to own, was, “ I am sorry to say I do not think that this is your line-you had much better have stuck to your former pursuits." On hearing which, Sheridan rested his head upon his hand for a few minutes, and then vehemently exclaimed, “ It is in me, however, and, by G-, it shall come out.
• It appears, indeed, that upon many persons besides Mr Woodfall, the impression produced by this first essay of his oratory was far from answerable to the expectations that had been formed. The chief defect remarked in him was a thick and indistinct mode of delivery, which, though he afterwards greatly corrected it, was never entirely removed.
For two years after, he spoke little; and always shortly and simply - without pretension, and consequently without the hazard of conspicuous failure. He used at this time to write out pretty fully the speeches he intended to deliver - and Mr Moore informs us, that at first they were regularly engrossed into • the same sort of copy-books which he used for the • rude dratts of his plays.'
The abandonment of the American war, the resignation of Lord North, and the consequent formation of the Rockingham administration, are noticed with the brevity which their general notoriety required. But the constitution and fate of that shortlived administration draw from Mr Moore some very important remarks.
• Whiggism,' he ingeniously observes, is a sort of political Protestantisin, and pays a similar tax for the freedom of its creed, in the multiplicity of opinions which that very freedom engenders—while true Toryisin, like Popery, holding her children together by the one common doctrine of the infallibility of the Throne, takes care to repress any schism inconvenient to their general interest, and keeps them, at least for all intents and purposes of place-holding, unanimous.
Of the Rockingham Ministry itself he afterward observes, that
* During the four months of its existence, it did more perhaps for the principles of the Constitution, than any one administration that England had seen since the Revolution. They were betrayed, it is true, into a few awkward overdowings of loyalty, which the rare access of Whigs to the throne may at once account for and excuse ;--and Burke, in particular, has left us a specimen of his taste for extremas, in that burst of optimism with which he described the king's message, as “ the best of messages to the best of people from the best of kings. But these first effects of the atmosphere of a court, upon heads unaccustomed to it, are natural and harmless—while the measures that passed during that brief interval, directed against the sources of Parliamentary corruption, and confirmatory of the best principles of the Constitution, must ever be remembered to the honour of the party from which they emanated. The exclusion of contractors from the House of Commons—the disqualification of revenue-officers from voting at elections—the disfranchisement of corrupt voters at Cricklade, by which a second precedent was furnished towards that plan of gradual Reform, which has, in our own time, been so forcibly recommended by Lord John Russell — the diminution of the patronage of the Crown, by Mr Burke's celebrated Bill—the return to the old constitutional practice of making the revenues of the Crown pay off their own incumbrances, which salutary principle was again lost in the hands of Mr Pitt—the atonement at last made to the violated rights of electors, by the rescinding of the resolutions relative to Wilkes-the frank and cordial understanding entered into with Ireland, which identifies the memory of Mr Fox and this ministry with the only oäsis in the whole desert of Irish history—so many and such important recognitions of the best principles of Whiggism, followed up, as they were, by the Resolutions of Lord John Cavendish at the close of the Session, pledging the ministers to a perseverance in the same task of purification and retrenchment, give an aspect to this short period of the annals of the late reign, to which the eye turns for relief from the arbitrary complexion of the rest; and furnish us with, at least, one consoling instance, where the principles professed by statesmen, when in opposition, were retained and sincerely acted upon by them in power.'
His remarks upon the Coalition of Mr Fox and Lord North, in 1783, are full of candour and good sense: and we gladly make room for a large part of them-not merely on account of their intrinsic value, but as exemplifying in an eminent degree the fair, courageous, and truly historical spirit in which the whole work is composed
• At the commencement of the following session,' he observes, 'that extraordinary Coalition was declared, which had the ill-luck attributed to the conjunction of certain planets, and has shed an unfavourable influence over the political world ever since.'
And a little after• To the general principle of Coalitions, and the expediency and even duty of forming them, in conjunctures that require and justify such a sacrifice of the distinctions of party, no objection, it appears to me, can rationally be made by those who are satisfied with the manner in which the Constitution has worked, since the new modification of its machinery introduced at the Revolution. The Revolution itself was, indeed, brought about by a Coalition, in which Tories, surrendering their doctrines of submission, arrayed themselves by the side of Whigs, in defence of their common liberties. Another Coalition, less important in its object and effects, but still attended with results most glorious to the country, was