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the appearance of the volume before us—which, with some omissions, and perhaps a few mistakes, some little faults of style, and some precipitate opinions, we do not hesitate to characterize as the best historical notice yet published of the events of our own times—going back, as persons of our antiquity naturally do in using such a phrase, to the earlier part of the late reign, and coming down pretty nearly to its termination. Without pretending to give—what this generation can scarcely yet need-a particular or connected detail of the transactions to which it refers, it exhibits the clearest and most intelligent account of all the great questions which were agitated during that momentous period—the best estimate of the great events by which it was distinguished-and not only the ablest exposition of the causes which led to them, and the principles they served either to establish or expose, but the most truly impartial, temperate, and dispassionate view of the merits of the individuals concerned in them—the actual value of their services or amount of their offendings, with the excuses which the times or circumstances should suggest for them, that we ever recollect to have met with, in the difficult and dangerous department of contemporary history.
This impartiality, which is the rarest of all virtues even in those who have to deal with ancient and remote transactions, is truly heroic, and in fact almost without example, in one who has to write under such circumstances as Mr Moore. Many of the distinguished individuals are still alive, of whose principles and conduct it is his business to speak. Their friends, at all events, and relations, and followers, still survive; and still govern public opinion and public affairs, in no small degree, on the credit of the maxims and example of their illustrious predecessors. The same great parties, in short, still divide the country of which they were so recently the leaders : and those by whom they are now conducted, feel, but too accutely, how much their present strength and reputation may still be affected by any grave impeachment, either of the champions in whom they glory, or of the measures on which their strength was most conspicuously tried. To add to the difficulties of his task, Mr Moore himself belongs to one of those parties :--and in dealing impartially with its history and that of its opponents, must occasionally have to condemn his political friends, and to approve of the proceedings of their adversaries. If all political friends were reasonable, and all political enemies generous, or even just, the task might have been less arduous; and the contemporary who was able to above transient animosities, and to anticipate the tone of history, might have gained nothing but honour and popularity
with both. This, too, we have no doubt, will be his ultimate, and not very distant reward. But in the mean time, he must submit, we fear, to a less magnanimous reception. The irritable friends of his own party will say that he has needlessly acknowledged, or absurdly overstated their errors : while the illiberal, that is, the far greater, part of his opponents, will at once set down those candid acknowledgments as the imperfect admissions of a partial witness, and as proofs therefore of there being far more to admit than can yet be wrung from his partiality. He will be suspected, accordingly, of want of zeal, or courage, or intelligence, by the one party, and allowed no credit for his candour by the other !--so little encouragement is there ever to write contemporary history in a manly and upright spirit. The compensation is, that, when it is done in spite of those discouragements, the just and impartial will give it a proportional share of their admiration and applause-and that their number, which is always greater than it appears to be, may be safely reckoned on as perpetually on the increase, as the events which disturb ordinary judgments sink gradually into distance and obscurity--and that such a history of recent events is, of all human productions, the best calculated to enlighten the public mind on the points where light is most wanted—and both to narrow the reign of faction, and, in spite of themselves, to warn, and soften, and approximate the very parties whom its freedom had at first most offended.
Even from the little we have now said, it may probably be gathered, that we consider the public or political part of the work before us as of more interest than the personal or literary, and such is undoubtedly our opinion. Take it altogether, there is nothing very attractive, we think, nothing very valuable or instructive, in the personal history of Sheridan:not much that it can be gratifying to any one to see recordedand not a little which it would be pleasant for most people to be allowed to forget. We cannot say that we care much about his family history, discomforts, or alliances,- and certainly think it time that the ferocious duels and fraternal rivalries, which paved the way to his first marriage, should at length be buried in oblivion. Still less interest, if possible, can we now feel in the detail of his expedients and proceedings as a shareholder or manager of one of the Theatres ;-and least of all can we be gratified by the sad story of his improvidence and pecuniary embarrassments – the questionable shifts to which he sometimes descended to relieve them, or the lamentable excesses in which he sometimes tried to drown their recollection. Must the private failings of a public man be recorded, along with his services, for ever? Must the crrors and weaknesses
of a man of genius be remembered as long as his writings? Let him rest at last in his grave! A biographer, we are aware, cannot avoid touching on such themes :-and, while many of them are invested with adventitious interest by the graces of Mr Moore's pen, it is but fair to say that, in our humble judgment, he has treated the whole of these delicate matters with equal tenderness and truth. But the mischief is, that their mere discussion is apt to excite that depraved appetite for slander, which is the disgrace of the age in which we live, and to set in motion the malignant industry of the many who are ever ready to pander to it, either for the gratification of party rancour, or the baser purposes of gain.
The literary career of Sheridan has a better claim to notice, no doubt, than his private history. But though it was brilliant, it was short; and closed indeed at so early a period of his existence, that long before the end of his own life, his place might be considered as ultimately fixed among the Immortals, and the public opinion as finally made up on the character and merit of his productions. There are three things chiefly remarkable in their history. First, the author's great idleness and apparent dislike to study in his boyhood; secondly, the singularly early age at which his most finished performances were given to the world; and, lastly, the extraordinary care and laborious preparation with which even the most lively of his sallies are said to have been occasionally produced. As to the first, it seems quite true that he laboured as little as possible at Greek and Latin; and throughout life he seems to have been equally averse from all irksome and ungrateful application. But Dr Parr has recorded that his mind was even then eminently active;-and the fact of his having made various attempts at poetical and dramatic composition while at school, is evidence enough that he did not even then neglect the study of his native literature—which we have no doubt was then looked upon, at Harrow, as very deplorable idleness. The fact of · The Rivals' having been produced in the 23d, and · The School for Scandal' in the 26th year of his age,
is great deal more extraordinary; and incapable of being explained upon any ordinary principles. The gayety of Comedy may be congenial perhaps to the spirit of youth—but its satire, and the knowledge of character and manners, by which alone its loftier flights can be sustained, seem, more than
other kind of composition, to require the aids of observation and reflection. Mr Moore, we think, only accumulates occasions of wonder, by the instances and observations he has suggested in the following passage
• As this species of composition seems, more, perhaps, than any other,
to require that knowledge of human nature and the world which experience alone can give, it seems not a little extraordinary that nearly all our first-rate comedies should have been the productions of very young men. Those of Congreve were all written before he was five-and-twenty. Farquhar produced the Constant Couple in his two-and-twentieth year, and died at thirty. Vanbrugh was a young ensign when he sketched out the Relapse and the Provoked Wife, and Sheridan crowned his reputation with the School for Scandal at six-and-twenty.
• It is, perhaps, still more remarkable to find, as in the instance before us, that works which, at this period of life, we might suppose to have been the rapid offspring of a careless, but vigorous fancy-anticipating the results of experience by a sort of second-sight inspirationshould, on the contrary, have been the slow result of many and doubtful experiments, gradually unfolding beauties unforeseen even by him who produced them, and arriving, at length, step by step, at perfection. That such was the tardy process by which the School for Scandal was produced, will appear from the first sketches of its plan and dialogue, which I am here enabled to lay before the reader, and which cannot fail to interest deeply all those who take delight in tracing the alchemy of genius, and in watching the first slow workings of the menstruum, out of which its finest transmutations arise.'
The last remark leads to the charge we have already noticed, of the extraordinary labour with which all his good things were prepared, and patiently worked up to perfection, There has been, we suspect, a good deal of exaggeration about this; and even Mr Moore has perhaps contributed to give an impression of his author's habitual study and dependence on long preparation, considerably stronger than the true state of the case would authorize. He, who was for thirty years the most brilliant talker—the greatest conversational wit of the splendid circle in which he moved-could not possibly have been a man to whom preparation was generally necessary in order to shine; and cannot be suspected of having had a cold or sluggish fancy, which did not give its golden harvests till it was diligently laboured and manured. His conceptions, on the contrary, seem always to have flowed from him with great copiousness and rapidity. But he had taste as well as genius—and ambition as well as facility. He was not always satisfied with the first suggestions of his mind: but his labour was almost always employed, not in making what was bad, tolerable,—but in making what was good, better, and best. It was on the favourites of his fancy that he lavished his cares- and their object uniformly was, to improve beauties rather than remove defects. It was when he was captivated with his spontaneous thoughts, and not when he was dissatisfied with them, that he elaborated their expression, and took pains to bring thein out with every advantage of diction and collocation. He dallied fondly with the ideas of which he was most proud, and employed himself very patiently in polishing the diamonds which had been brought to light by the richness of his native vein. This is quite a different kind of work from that of a drudge, who can do nothing extempore; and is perfectly consistent with the character, not only of a prompt and ready genius, but of a man generally impatient of study or application, and really incapable of succeeding in those pursuits in which study and application are indispensable. The one is like the labour by which wealth is anxiously acquired :-the other, like that by which it is spent with taste or magnificence. Sheridan had all his rich materials from the spontaneous bounty of Nature: his only care was to arrange and display them to advantage ;- and when a man is once in love with a thought, he is not apt to grudge the time spent in dressing it with all the splendour and exactness he can afford. Nothing, accordingly, is more common than instances of this elaboration, in individuals the farthest removed from all suspicion of slowness or penury of invention. Ariosto, the most original and prolific of the Continental poets, is said to have written the first stanza of his Orlando ten or twelve times over;- and the same daring and ready hands that covered the Roman frescoes with their swift and unchangeable creations, have left innumerable traces of the minutest labour and most fastidious corrections, in the finishing of other works, over which, in a different mood, it was their pleasure, or their fancy, to linger.
But though we think these little fits of irregular industrythis occasional polishing and pointing of favourite sentences-to be no impeachment either of his natural fertility, or his habitual indolence, we are inclined to hold that no small part of his success, as a comic dramatist, may be referred to the union of these two undoubted traits in his intellectual character. The natural bent of his genius was plainly to splendid and glaring imagery ;-and if it had been fostered by serious study or scholastic discipline, would probably have led to the adoption of a florid, lofty, and perhaps bombastic style-extremely remote, at all events, from the colloquial familiarity which is indispensable to the diction, or even the existence of Comedy. His social habits, however, and indolent disposition, corrected this propen- : sity; and though it broke out occasionally, to the last, in his more ambitious efforts, it was, on the whole, so tempered and subdued by the effects of his gay and idle life, as merely to lend force and originality to the lighter eflusions of his fancy. If the peculiarities of his style were to be strictly analyzed, its chief merit, we are persuaded, would be found to arise from the union or balance of these opposite qualities. He was the