Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dublin, in September, 1751. His grandfather was Swifts familiar friend; his father wrote Swifts life.
Dr. Thomas Sheridan, the grandfather, was a wit and a scholar. He earned much and spent more as a schoolmaster in Dublin, made and lost friends by his wit, bandied rhymes with Swift in his idle hours, and gave counsel to him in the years of his decay. He sat, as trusted friend, by the deathbed of Stella; and sometimes was Swifts host at Quilca, the country-house, in the wilds of Cavan, that Dr. Sheridan had with his wife. Swift put him in the way of Church promotion, but he lost it by choosing as a text, Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, on the anniversary of the succession of the House of Hanover. He was in his last years master of the Cavan school, and died poor in 1738.
Thomas Sheridan, Richards father, was then seventeen years old. He had been born at Quilca, and educated at Westminster School. From school he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated; but four years after his fathers death he became an actor. Garrick had just become famous in London, and young Sheridan seemed at first to have attained like success in Dublin. In 1743 he acted at Drury Lane, and officious friends bred quarrels between him and Garrick. But soon afterwards Thomas Sheridan became sole manager of the Dublin Theatre, and he then offered Garrick an engagement with equal division of profits, telling him at the same time that he must expect nothing from his friendship, for he owed him none; but all that the best actor had a right to command he might be very certain should be granted. Thomas Sheridan was manager in Dublin for eight years, and during that time was resolute in maintaining good order behind the scenes, and closing his stage-door against profligate idlers. He had already a scheme of an Academy to teach oratory. Lord Chesterfield, when Lord Lieutenant, paid particular attention to the Irish actor, and said to him, Never let the thought of your oratorical institution go out of your mind. Riotous opposition sprang up, and drove Thomas Sheridan from his theatre, because he had refused to allow his actors to accept encores of passages in a play of Mahomet, to which it was desired to give political significance. He set up his Oratorical Institution, and called in London on Lord Chesterfield for support to it. His lordship gave him a guinea. The actor had then married an authoress who had sympathized in a pamphlet with his Dublin troubles. There were daughters from this marriage, and two sonsCharles Francis and Richard Brinsley. Richard, the younger, was three years old when his father was driven from his Dublin management by enthusiastic play-house politicians, who tore up his benches, stormed his stage, and cut up his scenery with their swords, because he would not allow them to sacrifice poetry to party in their dealing with the Rev. James Millers version of the Mahomet of Voltaire. In 1756, Thomas Sheridan ventured to return to Dublin, made his peace with his opponents, and was manager again, but only to have his ruin completed by the establishment of a rival theatre under Barry and Woodward. He then gave lectures in support of his idea of an Academy, in which oratory was to have a large place among the essentials of a liberal education. Some such school was established, but no part in its management was given to Thomas Sheridan, who was again driven to England. He gave lectures on elocution and oratory at the University of Oxford, with applause. Then he read lectures in London upon oratory, and sometimes acted at Drury Lane. His wife wrote a successful novel, The History of Miss Sidney Biddulph, and when her son Richard was twelve years old she had a play acted at Drury Lane called The Discovery, in which her husband acted, and Garrick, as a formal old bachelor, Sir Antony Branville, kept the house in a roar. There was another comedy of hers called The Dupe, and one, left unpublished, called The Trip to Bath, which some supposed to have given birth to The Rivals. At any rate Richard Brinsley Sheridan inherited wit from both his parents, and it has run on in the blood of the Sheridans.
Thomas Sheridans two sons were at school together in Dublin, and there Richard, at the age of eight, had been set down as a most impenetrable dunce. The father, settled in London, chose to try his theories of education upon the more promising intellect of his elder son, and sent only the younger to Harrow, where he was the most popular of idle boys. His masters mourned over him, but liked him for his liveliness. Dr. Parr, one of the masters, knew Richards father, Thomas, and said, Neither he nor I ever spoke of his sons talents but in terms of the highest praise. I once or twice met his mothershe was quite celestial. She died when her son Richards age was but fifteen, and died at Blois, when she and her husband had been driven to France by money difficulties.
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