At seventeen, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, as a Harrow boy, had tried his hand on a dramatic version of “The Vicar of Wakefield.” At eighteen he had left Harrow. His father had returned from France to London, and proposed now to give the last touches to the education of his sons. They had lessons at home in Latin and mathematics, from an Irish tutor; they went to a fencing and riding school; and they were taught by their father English grammar and oratory. What progress the younger son made was by lively interchange of wit with one of his Harrow schoolfellows, who went to Oxford. They translated together Aristænetus, also parts of Theocritus, and wrote a long farce in the form of a rehearsal, which they hoped they might get Foote to act. “The thoughts,” said Sheridan’s comrade, Halhed,—“the thoughts of two hundred pounds shared between us, are enough to bring tears into one’s eyes.” In 1771, when the two friends had both fallen in love with the young singer, Eliza Linley, they got into print their verse translation of the prose epistles of Aristænetus.

Thomas Sheridan had been living at Bath since the middle of 1770. He had obtained a pension of £200 a year from Lord Bute, and was living upon that and upon the produce of his lectures. His sons, Charles and Richard, both fell in love with Eliza Ann Linley, so that Richard had his brother as well as his friend for rivals. The young lady was daughter to Thomas Linley, an English musician of high mark, whose gift passed into Thomas his son. He lived at Bath, where the heads of all young men and some old men were turned by the face and voice and modest grace of his daughter Eliza. She was engaged at sixteen to an old gentleman of fortune, who released her, at her own wish, and settled £3,000 upon her when her father threatened law. In the latter part of the year 1771, Thomas Sheridan went to act in Dublin, and found also four or five members of the Irish Parliament waiting for leisure from speaking to take lessons in elocution. In March, 1772, Miss Linley, plagued with attentions that made her profession distasteful to her, confided to Richard Sheridan her resolve to fly for refuge to a convent in France. Sheridan offered to go with her; his sister provided aid to the escape out of the housekeeping money in her hands, and gave also letters of introduction to a family at St. Quentin. While the rest of the Linley family were at a concert, the young lady, aged eighteen, was removed in a sedan-chair, provided by the young gentleman, aged twenty, to a post-chaise on the London road. They went to France, were married at a village near Calais, and Sheridan returned to Bath, leaving his young wife safe in lodgings with a sisterhood. The marriage was kept secret. At Bath again, Sheridan’s trip cost him a duel in which he was wounded. There was much Bath scandal. Next spring Sheridan went to London to study law in the Middle Temple. Miss Linley was then singing in the oratorios at Covent Garden, and Sheridan is said sometimes to have personated the hackney coachman by whom she was to be driven home. But the opposition of Miss Linley’s father was at last overcome, and on the 13th of April, 1773, the marriage was repeated by license, with consent of friends. There were no means for housekeeping, except a part of the £3,000 settled upon Miss Linley by her elderly admirer, and whatever Sheridan could earn.

The young couple went first to lodge in a small cottage at East Burnham; but next year they set up a house of their own in Orchard Street, Portman Square, and there Sheridan, besides other works, had finished, in 1774, the first of his comedies, The Rivals. It was written for Covent Garden, and first produced on the 17th of January, 1775. The Rivals missed success on the first night through bad acting in the part of Sir Lucius O’Trigger. The part was transferred to another actor, and success was complete. In gratitude to Clinch, the actor who thus saved his play, Sheridan wrote his farce of St. Patrick’s Day; or, the Scheming Lieutenant, which was produced on the 2nd of May in the same year, 1775. He was making also some use of his pen on the Whig side in political controversy, but the success of The Rivals led him to seek full advantage from the flood-tide in his fortune. Without interval of rest he planned, with the Covent Garden manager, to write an operatic play, for which his father-in-law, Thomas Linley, would arrange and compose music. This was The Duenna. There were rehearsals of the music in Orchard Street, where Sheridan’s wit and his wife’s singing brightened many an evening of careless kindly fellowship. Sheridan’s father, who had at this time quarrelled with him, came to London, and was acting at Drury Lane. He did not visit Orchard Street, but went to see his son’s play at Covent Garden. The son stood silently that evening by a side scene opposite the box in which, himself unseen, he could see his father and sisters. When he reached home, he burst into tears, because he had seen them and might not go near them or speak to them.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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