Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Commentary & Quotations



Lord Macaulay: ‘The Rehearsal has not wit enough to keep it sweet; it has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.’ (See Macaulay’s review of J. W. Croker’s edn. of the Life of Johnson, 1831 - infra; for Macaulay on the beauty of Miss Linley, see infra.)
Edmund Burke: Burke said of Sheridan: ‘that’s the true style - something between poetry and prose and better than both.’ (Reported by Lord Dufferin, as infra.)

“Noctes Ambrosianae”

Sheridan - Sheridan - what was Sheridan’s talk to our own Shepherd’s, North?
North. A few quirks and cranks studied at a looking-glass* - puns painfully elaborated with pen and ink for extemporaneous reply—bon-mots generated in malise prepense —witticisms jotted down in short-hand to be extended when he had put on the spur of the occasion—the drudgeries of memory to be palmed off for the ebullitions of imagination—the coinage of the counter passed for currency hot from the mint of fancy —squibs and crackers ignited and exploded by a MerryAndrew, instead of the lightnings of the soul darting out forked or sheeted from the electrical atmosphere of an inspired genius.

*How carefully Sheridan’s impromptus were prepared beforehand, may be learned from Moore’s Life of that celebrated wit, just published at the date of this number of the Noctes.


See J. F. Ferrier, [ed.,] The Works of Professor Wilson [...] Noctes Ambrosianae (Edinburgh: Blackwood 1855), p.73 [being a new edition of the famous series in Blackwood’s Magazine .

Lord [George] Byron: Byron told Thomas Moore of Sheridan, ‘without means, without connection, he beat them all, in all he ever attempted’ (Moore, Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1825). Further, Byron wrote that Sheridan had made the best speech [on Begums of Oude], the best comedy [School for Scandal], the best opera [Duenna], and the best farce [The Critic] of his age. (See Samuel A. O. Fitzpatrick, Dublin, Methuen 1907, who records that when Geo. IV visited the Theatre Royal on 22 Aug., 1821, in Hawkins St., the plays commanded were The Duenna and St. Patrick’s Day.

Maria Edgeworth: Edgeworth referred to the adeptness of ‘classical allusions of Burke or Sheridan, sometimes conveyed in a single word, seize the imagination irresistibly.’ (Essay on Practical Education new edn. London 1815; quoted in W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, IAP 1976; 1984.) [See also ‘blunder’ in remarks on Edmund Burke, supra.]

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John Wilson Croker wrote: ‘And can no kindred soul from death / Catch Sheridan’s expiring breath?’ (Familiar Epistles, 1793). Further, ‘Was Mr Sheridan’s youth employed only in erecting standards by which we were to measure the caducity of his age? (Fam. Epist., p.28; cited in Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980, c.p.22.)

William Carleton, in comments that ‘Even Sheridan himself was forced to pander to this erroneous estimate and distorted conception of our character; for, after all, Sir Lucius O’Trigger was his Irishman, but not Ireland’s Irishman.’ (General Introduction, Traits and Stories, 1843 Edn., p.ii.)

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Lord Dufferin [Frederick Temple Blackwood]: In a memoir of Sheridans prefaced to his mother’s poems (Songs, 1895), Dufferin quotes Thomas Moore on the unhurtful humour of Sheridan: ‘Whose wit in the contest, as gentle as bright / Ne’er carried a heart stain away on its blade.’

Lord Dufferin: Dufferin adds that Moore planned his work upon too large a scale and tired of the task before he had finished it. The Prince also said that he would ‘lay him [Moore] by the heels for cutting and maiming and barbarously attempting the Life of Sheridan’.

Lord Dufferin: Dufferin remarks that Smyth’s memoir is full of exaggeration and misrepresentations: ‘the real Sheridan, as he was known in private life, is irrevocably gone’, and also writes that Miss Elizabeth Linley - whom Sheridan married, and whose sister was - Miss Elizabeth Linley, whom Sheridan married, ‘the beautiful mother of a beautiful race’. (Dufferin, op. cit., p.15.)

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Cambridge History of English and American Literature [18 vols.] (1907–21), Vol. XI [of 18]: ‘The Period of the French Revolution - XII: The Georgian Drama; §6 - “Richard Brinsley Sheridan - The Rivals”: The Rivals (1775) is a comedy of incident, the excellence of which is partly to be found in the action. Its characterisation is, in essence, conventional and shows less knowledge of human nature than does Goldsmith’s work. Captain Absolute the generous, impulsive youth, Sir Anthony the testy, headstrong father, Fag and Lucy the menials who minister to their employers’ intrigues, are as old as Latin comedy; Bob Acres, the blustering coward, is akin to Sir Andrew Aguecheek and had trod the stage in Jonson’s learned sock; Sir Lucius O’Trigger is related to Cumberland’s O’Flaherty; Mrs. Malaprop has a long pedigree, including Dogberry, Lady Froth, Mrs. Slipslop and Tabitha Bramble. Yet, apart from the actual business on the stage, these characters are irresistibly effective. As in the case of Goldsmith, Sheridan’s importance is found in the new wine which he poured into old bottles. The Georgian public expected in their plays a certain piquancy which should remind them of their social or domestic life. But, whereas authors of the sentimental school flavoured their work with emotions pertaining to woman’s affairs, Sheridan perceived that there was another element of good breeding, quite different but equally modern. The expansion of the British empire had called into existence a virile and energetic governing class of soldiers and politicians. This aristocracy felt, as deeply as any “jessamy” or “macaroni”, the humanising influence of polite learning and domestic refinement, yet with a difference. As society set a value on delicate attentions, sympathetic and discerning compliments, subtle turns of phrase and gracefulness of manner, these arts were cultivated as an accomplishment in order to maintain social supremacy. The class in question, did not, like sentimentalists, affect strong passions beneath a veneer of politeness, but, rather, a superb serenity which rose superior to all emotion. Drawing-room diplomacy had often appeared in letters and memoirs; but Sheridan was the first writer to make it the essence of a play. Despite the conventionality of the character-drawing and of some of the situations, The Rivals has an atmosphere which satisfies this ideal. As each figure moves and speaks on the stage, the reader is conscious of a coterie whose shibboleth was distinction—a coterie whose conversation regarded the most commonplace topics as worthy of its wit, which abhorred eccentricity and smiled at all those who, like Fag, Sir Anthony, Faulkland, Mrs. Malaprop and Bob Acres, fell short of the rule of easy self-possession. / After some initial difficulties, The Rivals proved a complete success and Sheridan was launched on his career as a dramatist. The opportunities of quick returns which the theatre now offered had their full influence even on an author of his literary taste and dramatic sense. His next production, St. Patrick’s Day, is a trifle composed with no other object than to make money by amusing the public. The Duenna (1775) is an adaptation of old material to suit the fashion for operas. We meet again the stage old man; his name is Don Jerome, instead of Sir Antony, but he is just as obstinate, irascible and well-bred. Then, we have the victim of ignorance and self-complacency, this time a Jew and not a garrulous and affected old woman, but his end is dramatically the same as Mrs. Malaprop’s. Comic situations, as in The Rivals, arise out of mistaken identities, which are admissible only in the make-believe of a musical farce. The plot was taken from Wycherley’s The Country Wife, and, though the dialogue has much of Sheridan’s brilliant phrase-making and whimsical humour, the chief literary merit of the play must be sought in the lyrics, with their vigorous directness and touch of classical culture.’ (See Bartleby website, online.)

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G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman: A History of the Irish Play and Stage Characters from the Earliest Times (Dublin: Talbot Press 1937; NY: Benjamin Blom; London: Longmans 1937; reiss. 1969), remarks of The Rivals, ‘robust farce under the defter touch of the son of the older Sheridan has become witty comedy.’ [201] Further, ‘Sir Lucius was regarded by London-Irishmen as a travesty of national characteristics. R. B. Sheridan, in his preface to his published play, defended Sir Lucius against the charge of being a travesty, “If the condemnation of this comedy could have added one spark to the decaying flame of national attachment to the country supposed to be reflected on, I should have been happy in its fate, and might with truth have boasted that it had done more real service in its failure than the successful morality of a thousand stage-novels will ever effect.”’ [Duggan, 291]. The conversation between Bob Acres and him in the duelling scene nearly caused a riot in the theatre. Said to have been drawn from one William Barnett, a friend of Capt. Matthews with whom Sheridan fought his two duels over Elizabeth Linley. Further, ‘Sheridan derived hints for the play from his mother’s A Trip to Bath (see R. Crompton Rhodes, in Harlequin Sheridan; n.d. given), Sir Lucius’s remark about the family pictures (‘Though the mansion house and dirty acres have slipped through my fingers, I thank heaven our honour and the family pictures are as fresh as ever’) drawn from a less sprightly remark by Sir Jonathan Bull in her play.’ Also discusses St. Patrick’s Day or the Scheming Lieutenant, a theatrical benefit for Lawrence Clinch who performed Sir Lucius; central char., Lieut. O’Connor, prev. of the Royal Inniskillins; in a short recruiting scene was rediscovered by RC Rhodes, an Irish potential recruit evades the faked blarney of the sergeant; for plot, O’Connor is trying to win Lauretta, dg. of Justice Credulous, becoming first his servant, and then disguising as a quack doctor when the Justice thinks himself in danger of death from poison, and is rewarded with her hand. BIBL [Duggan], Thomas Moore, Memoirs &c. (1825). Bibl., James Morwood, The Life and Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1985), and Cecil Price, ed. The Dramatic Works, 3 vols. (1973).

Peter Kavanagh, Irish Theatre (Tralee 1946), remarks: ‘In the original copy of The Rivals, some other characters used malapropisms, but Sheridan wisely deleted all these intentional blunders of speech in every character except that of Mrs. Malaprop. Note, Sheridan used Burgoyne’s scene-painter O’Daub as a character in The Camp.’ [q.p.]

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English: The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. I, quotes John Wilson Croker on R. B. Sheridan: ‘Was Mr Sheridan’s youth employed only in erecting standards by which we were to measure the caducity of his age? (Fam. Epist., p.28) [c.p.22]; Pizarro, adapted by Rev. Matthew West and R. B. Sheridan in 1799, The Dublin Magazine and Irish Monthly Register (III, 48-50) calling it ‘this admirable play’ [43]. Rafroidi, op. cit., Vol. 2, lists F. F. Moore’s A Nest of Linnets (n.d.) [recte Hutchinson 1901] relates the episode of Sheridan’s elopement with Elizabeth Linley [1754-1792, and see Thomas Sheridan, infra], dg. of the composer of that name. Sheridan remarried Esther Jane Ogle, dg. of Dean of Winchester. Bibl., incls. G. Sinko, Sheridan and Kotzebue (Prace Wroclawskiego Naukowego 1949). [Pizarro is a Kotzebue title.] Note that there is an unpubl. play, Pizarro, by Rev. Anthony West (1799), also listed here. Add. bibl. [in Vol. 1], J. Dulck, Les Comedies de R. B. Sheridan [n.d.].

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Joep Th Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael (Amsterrdam: Rodopi 1986), pp.160ff, Leerssen comments on Sir Lucius O’Trigger and the duel motif in representations of the ‘stage-Irishman’, quoting from newspaper comments on the disgrace of Sheridan’s portrait of the duelling Irishman in Sir Lucius, at the infamous first night of The Rivals: ‘This representation of Sir Lucius is indeed an affront to the common sense of the audience, and is so far from giving the manners of our brave and worthy neighbour, that it scarce equals the picture of a respectable Hottentot; gabbling in uncouth dialect, neither Welsh, English nor Irish.’ (Morning Chronicle, 18 January 1775; also quoted in Sheridan’s Comedies, ed. Peter Davison, 1986, p.82). Further, ‘so ungenerous attack upon a nation […] so villainous a portrait of an Irish gentleman, permitted so openly to insult the country upon the boards of an English theatre (Morning Post, 21 Jan. 1775). Leerssen believes that the outrage was caused by the duellist not the Irishman. Lee was replaced by Moody, leading the Morning Post to write, ‘Mr. Moody has O’Flahertised Sir Lucius O’Trigger very laughably.’ (17 Jan.). Also, Moody, eulogised by Churchill in Rosciad as the vindicator of his nation’s dignity, played O’Flaherty (in Cumberland’s West Indian) in 1771, 1772, and 1773, and eight times between 1782 and 1788 (see Bartley) [164]. Clinch brought to it a ‘very gentlemanly brogue, and naiveté of manner [which] made Sir Lucius so agreeable to the audience, that the part is likely to be as fortunate to him as that of Major O’Flaherty was to Mr. Moody’ (London Evening Post). Assessing the furore, Leerssen comments: ‘Sheridan indirectly hurt the fabric of accommodation and pretended harmony that was woven in the interest, and to the amusement, of the English audience [after 1745]’ [164]. The press quotations are from the introduction of Cecil Price’s edition of the plays (2 vols., Clarendon Press 1973).

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody: A Commented Biography (London: Sinclair-Stevenson 1992), writes: Sheridan tired of his involvement with Burke in the impeachment of Hastings; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s diary records, ‘Sheridan who is heartily tired of Hastings trial, and fearful of Burke’s impetuosity says that he wishes Hastings would run away and Burke after him.’ (Corr V, 7457, n.4) [379]. Note: When Sheridan, then number three in the Whig party, said he felt it ‘a duty to declare that he differed decidedly from his Right Hon. friend in almost every word that he uttered respecting the French Revolution’, Burke curtly replied that ‘henceforth his Hon. friend [Sheridan] and himself were separated in politics.’ (9 Feb. 1790; Parl. Hist., xxviii, 323-740; cited in O’Brien, op. cit., p.398.)

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Jim McCue, review of Fintan O’Toole, A Traitor’s Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Granta 1997), in Times Literary Supplement (21 Nov. 1997), quotes Sheridan’s friend Samuel Rogers: ‘In his dealings with the world, Sheridan certainly carried the privileges of genius as far as they were ever carried by any man’; remarks, ‘the confidence trickster must have confidence in himself. Sheridan, the son of an Irish actor-manager and elocutionist, believed be could seduce one of the most beautiful and talented girls in England; that he could write his way to a fortune; that he could run a great theatre; the he could become not only a member of Parliament but a leading orator. So he did. But he also believed that he could influence events by his words. For that he would have needed a truer understanding of the attachments of human natures and the tides of his revolutionary times.’; regards O’Toole as highly conversant with eighteenth-century theatre and excellent on Sheridan as a self-dramatiser; quotes O’Toole, ‘He was genuinely not in favour of a French invasion of Britain (Ireland, of course, was a very different matter), especially since France itself was moving steadily towards a new kind of dictatorship’; ‘O’Toole writes of Sheridan’s lifelong quest for “an independent, non-sectarian Ireland”, but one of Sheridan’s arguments for Catholic emancipation was that it would protect the empire’; ‘Sheridan, writes O’Toole. “painted a daringly grim picture of the effects of British rule”, when he told the Lords of “plain unclothed and brown, villages depopulated and in ruins, temples unroofed and perishing, reservoirs broken down and dry”. But th epathos of invoking chivalry and family piety in a colitical context was Burkean, as were the etails, down to the famous example of the reservoirs’; McCue questions is this means that Sheridan wanted dictatorship for his own homeland; quotes Burke on Sheridan’s powers of eloquence in the impeachment of Warren Hastings: ‘the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit united of which there is any record or tradition’’ and also Edward Gibbon to the effect that ‘Sheridan at the close of his speech sank into Burke’s arm; - a good actor; but I called this morning and he is perfectly well’; McCue takes the view that Sheridan was primed and rehearsed by Burke, and that he lacked political intelligence himself; notes that in later life when he met Hastings he begged him ‘to believe that any part he had taken against him was purely political’, and that he was ‘a public pleader, whose duty it is, under all circumstances, to make good if he can the charges which he is commissioned to bring forward’; McCue thinks that he was not sincere.

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Declan Kiberd, “Sheridan and Subversion’, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000): ‘[Sheridan] managed to be at once deeply traditionalist and potentially modern: for the poor man, of course, might win great wealth by sheer merit in the more democratic world now emerging. Sheridan saw himself as a rising comet of the new order: ’and as God very often pleases to let down great folks from the elevated stations which they might claim as their birthright, there can be no reason for us to suppose that he does not mean that others should ascend.’ [...] the world of the theatre might seem vulgar and amoral to fastidious souls, but it was open to all social clases, like the British constitution in which (said an admiring Sheridan) “no sullen line of demarcation separates and cuts off the several orders from each other.” Here the lowly could imitate the exaclted in what amoutned to rehearsal for a modern world.’ (p.139.) Quotes Sir Anthony Absolute [The Rivals]: ‘a circulating library in a town is as an ever-green tree of diabolical knowledge’, and remarks: ‘Sheridan as a radical might be expected to support female literacy, but on this too he had conflicting thoughts. He had after all been born in a land most of whose inhabitants still blieved in the power of oral tradition and in the notioni of literature as recorded speech.’ (p.140.) [On Malaprop and malapropisms:] ‘Sheridan well understood the value of reading in the education of a person, despite Shelley’s belief that the library scene in The School for Scandal was an attack on the literary tradition as such. His real quarrel was with those foolish enough to confuse literature and life. The mockery of Mrs Malaprop is aimed at a woman who has allowed everyday conversation to be contaminated by writerly phrasing. The laughter at Lydia is directed at a debutante who insists that love affairs should be conducted in freezing gardens under a “conscious moon” of a sort essential in romantic books.’ (p.143.)

Declan Kiberd, “Sheridan and Subversion’ (Irish Classics, 2000), further argues that Sheridan is not simply the imitator he is believed to be by critics such as A. N. Kaul (‘A Note on Sheridan’, in Peter Davison, ed., Sheridan’s Comedies: Casebook, London 1986), and writes: ‘Had Sheridan simply mirrored his age, his art would soon have been forgotten, but because he existed in an allegorical relation to his times he was able to float free of them. His transcendence of the limits of his age was made possible, like Merriman’s, by a dynamic traditionalism. He used the cynical shell of Restoration comedy to insure against his own sentimentality: and yet he saw beyond that sentiment to the romanticism of the next age. The character of Faulkland represented a new kind of protagonist, a male neurotic riven by doubt and self-cancelling instincts. His misplaced suspicions of the ever-faithful Julia contrast utterly with Malaprop’s misplaced confidence in the never-reliable Luclus O’Trigger. Compared with him, a good-bad son like Captain Absolute seems the very picture of rude health - yet Sheridan acutely senses that this new self-divided protagonist might prove endlessly fascinating in the role of male coquette forever teasing some unfortunate woman. Julia gamely explains her love: “his humility makes him undervalue those qualities in him, which would entitle him to it; and not feeling why [150] should be loved to the degree he wishes, he suspects that he is not loved enough”. Toying with his own scruples, Faulkland can seldom feel worthy of his beloved. Immobilised by the very intensity of his feeling, he will in time become a subject better suited to a lyric poem or Bildungsroman, but in a play where even sentiment is open to suspicion, his sexual ardour is tolerated rather than celebrated. The rules of Restoration comedy, after all, had insisted that naked passion was risible as well as disruptive: and The Rivals is in the end “a nice derangement of epitaphs” on earlier English comedy, “one of those jaunty epitaphs that delight in rehearsing and summarising the main features and signal achievements of that which has passed from the world”.’ (Kaul, op. cit., p.106.) Kiberd later lays emphasis on Mrs Malaprop’s closing sentiments: ‘We will not anticipate the past - our retrospection will be all to the future.’ (here p.158.)

Declan Kiberd, “Sheridan and Subversion’ (Irish Classics, 2000), further: ‘Restoration comedy depends on the senses of ‘perpetual discrepancy between outer and inner essence’ and that ‘its heroes and heroines […] negotiated that discrepancy with panache [while] its fools and fops simply got these things confused.’ (p.150.) Calls the denouement of School for Scandal ‘an utter reversal of the modes of Restoration comdedy, for it declaure the priority of the hearrt over the head, marriage over libertinism, the domestic over the sexual.’ (p.154) Lays emphasis on the screen-scene at the close of School for Scandal, which excited roars from the audience, and remarks: ‘One effect of the confrontation was the collapse of a fashion system. henceforth the offence of the villain would not be against manners but against domestic virtue; and the scandal of such villains would be printed (rather than spoken) in the newspaper, the chosen [155] medium of the new bourgeoisie.’ (pp.155-56.) Admits that Sheridan wrote in imitation of Congreve, Vanbrugh and Wycherley, but defends him against the charge of being a ‘fretful imitator’ on the grounds that he practiced the method of ‘present[ing] new ideas in old packages’ and connects this with the procedures of Patrick Pearse and James Connolly: ‘the price of promoting new ideas is often the need to clothe them in familiar garments in order to make them seem cosily unremarkable. One consequent danger is that covert innovators may go under-celebrated […] he gave to his writings the look [sic itals.] of tame traditionalism. Earlier in the eighteenth century, a much more conservative thinker, Swift, had performed a reverse feat, equally paradoxical, for he expresseed is defence of past culture in styles that were audaciously new. (p.157.) Quotes Fintan O’Toole [illustrating the attitude of ‘[e]ven Sheridan’s greatest admirers’]: ‘instead of proposing alternative modes of understanding or feeling, he operated entirely within those that were vien him but seized control of them and made them serve his own purposes.’ (A Traitor’s Kiss, 1997, p.87.) Quotes Sheridan on Irish independence: ‘To keep Ireland against the will of the people is a vain expectation [...] we shall love each other, if we be left to ourselves. It is the union of minds which ought to bind these nations together.’ (Cited in O’Toole, p.340; here p.159.) Further quotes from Pizarro (1798): ‘They offer us protection. Yes, such protection as a vulture gives to lambs [...; see Quotations, infra.]

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David Nokes, review of Linda Kelly, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in Times Literary Supplement (18 April 1997) (18 April 1997), p.32 [backpage], cites sundry views: Charles Lamb wrote of The School for Scandal, ‘This play will never grow old’; Laurence Olivier called it ‘evergreen’; William Hazlitt wrote of Sheridan, ‘[he] had wit, fancy, sentiment, at his command, enabling him to place the thoughts of others in a new light of his own [...] whatever he touched he adorned with all the ease, grace and brilliancy of his style.’ Nokes sees the latest biographer as veering between theatrical riots and ‘sobs and hysterics.’ [Var. Times Literary Supplement, 2 May 1997.]

John Jolliffe, review of Linda Kelly, Richard Brinsley Sheridan: A Life (London: Sinclair Stevenson 1997), 400pp., in The Spectator (19 April 1997), quotes the Prince of Wales on Sheridan: ‘A great man, but in the simplicity of his nature he never knew his own greatness ... Although his pen indicated a knowledge of human nature, yet that knowledge was confined to his pen alone, for in all his acts he rendered himself the dupe of the fool and the designing knave ... with certain conscientious scruples always operating against his own interest.’ Jolliffe calls the biography a distillation of the essence of his extraordinary story without weighing it down with academic cargo ... highly readable story ... more or less foreseeable tragedy ... told with wonderful fairness; accepts that Sheridan died in ‘pathetic squalor, too proud and ill to enlist support against the invading bailiffs.’ (Spectator, pp.37-38.)

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Glorious revolution?: Sheridan called the French Revolution ‘a necessary and a glorious event’ (Quoted in Hayes, Ireland and Irishmen in the French Revolution [n.d.], p.243; cited in Rafroidi, Romanticism in Ireland, 1980, Vol. I, c.p.10.]

Justice for Ireland: Quitting Parliament, Sheridan said: ‘Be just to Ireland as value your own honour - be just to Ireland as you value your own peace.’ (Fintan O’Toole, The Traitor’s Kiss, 1997, p.443; quoted in Declan Kiberd, op. cit., p.160.)

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The Rivals (1775)

Preface: ‘It is not without pleasure that I catch at an opportunity of justifying myself from the charge of intending any national reflection in the character of Sir Lucius O’Trigger. If any gentleman opposed the piece from that idea I thank them sincerely for their opposition; and if the condemnation of this comedy (however misconceived the provocation) could have added one spark to the decaying flame of national attachment to the country supposed to be reflected on, I should have been happy in its fate, and might with truth have boasted, that it had done more real service in its failure than the successful morality of a thousand stage-novels will ever effect.’

[Further:] ‘If the condemnation of this comedy could have added one spark to the decaying flame of national attachment to the country supposed to be reflected on, I should have been happy in its fate, and might with truth have boasted that it had done more real service in its failure than the successful morality of a thousand stage-novels will ever effect.’ (The Plays of R. B. Sheridan, [ed. AWP for Library of English Classics], Macmillan 1903; quoted in G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman, Dublin: Talbot Press 1937; reiss. 1969, p.291.)


Mrs Malaprop: ‘There, Sir! an attack upon my language! what do you think of that? - an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs’ (2.iii). ‘Nobody can be embellished that has not been abroad, you know. Oh if yo were to hear him described contiguous countries, as I have done, it would astound you. He is a perfect map of geography.’ (Quoted in Kiberd, Irish Classics, p.142.) ‘She is as head-strong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.’ ‘Well, Sir Anthony, since you desire it, we will not anticipate the past; so mind, young people - our retrospection will be all to the future.’  [Calls Lydia] ‘a deliberate simpleton’ (I.2) and Capt. Absolute ‘the pineapple of politeness’. ‘O Sir Anthony!  - men are all barbarians!’ [her last line].

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Julia (on Mrs Malaprop: […] I’ll take another opportunity of paying my respects to Mrs Malaprop, when she shall treat me, as long as she chooses, with her select words so ingeniously misapplied, without being mispronounced. (1.ii.)


Sir Anthony [threatening Jack]: ‘if not, z-ds! don’t enter the same hemisphere with me. Don’t dare breathe the same air, or use the same light with me, but get an atmosphere of your own! I’ll strip you of your commission; I’ll lodge five-and-threepence in the hands of trustees, and you shall live upon the interest! I’ll disinherit you! I’ll unget you!’

[To his son, on the latter pretending not to care whether he marries the neice or the aunt]: You have been lying, hey? I’ll never forgive you, if you ha’n’t: - so now, own, my dear Jack, you have been playing the hypocrite, hey! I’ll never forgive you, if yo ha’n’t been lying and playing the hypocrite. (2.ii; lines cut from 2rd edn.)

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Capt. Absolute [Pretending to obey his father irrespective of the charms of the intended match:] ‘Sir, I repeat it; if I please you in this affair, ’tis all I desire. Not that I think a woman the worse for being handsome; but, Sir, if you please to recollect, you before hinted something about a hump or two, one eye, and a few more graces of that kind - now, without being nice, I own I should rather chuse a wife of mine to have the usual number of limbs, and a limited quantity of back: and tho’ one eye may be very agreeable yet as the prejudice has always run in favour of two, I would not wish to affect a singularity in that article.

[To Mrs Malaprop, dissembling to prefer intellectual attainments to beauty in a woman]: […] I fear our ladies should share the blame - they think our admiration of beauty so great, that knowledge in them would be superfluous. Thus like garden-trees, they seldom shew fruits, till time has robb’d them of the more specious blossom. - Few, like Mrs Malaprop and the Orange-tree, are in both at once.’ [To which Mrs Malaprop:] Sir - you overpower me with good breeding. He is the very Pine-apple of politeness! (Cf. ‘rich only thus in loveliness’ [FDA 627].)

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Sir Lucius O’Trigger [to Bob Acres]: ‘Ah, my little friend! if we had Blunderbuss Hall here - I could shew you a range of ancestry, in the O’Trigger line, that would furnish the new room; every one of whom had killed his man! For though the mansionhouse and dirty acres have slipt through my fingers, I thank God our honour, and the family-pictures, are as fresh as ever!  […] There’s a gay captain here, who put a jest on me lately, at the expense of my country, and I only want to fall in with the gentleman, to call him out. (3.iv.) ‘What the devil signifies right where honour is concerned?’ (Quoted in Kiberd, Irish Classics, Granta 2000, p.144.)

‘The quarrel is a very pretty quarrel as it stands - we should only spoil it, by trying to explain it. [..] I do not know what’s the reason, but in England, if a thing of this kind [a duel] gets wind, people make such a pother, that a gentleman can never fight in pease and quietness.’

‘Well, now, that’s mighty provoking. But I hope, Mr Faulkland, as there are three of us come on purpose for the game - you won’t be so cantanckerous as to spoil the party by sitting out. [i.e., not duelling].’ (5.ii.)

[To Lucy about his “Delia”, [Mrs Malaprop]: Upon my conscience! Lucy, your lady is a great mistress of language. - Faith, she’s quite the queen of the dictionary! - and for the devil a word dare refuse coming at her call - though one would think it was quite out of hearing. […] Faith, she must be very deep read to write this way - tho’ she is rather an arbitrary writer too - for here are a great many poor words pressed into the service of this note, that would get their habeas corpus from any court in Christendom. However, when affection guides the pen, Lucy, he must be a bruute who finds fault with the style. (2.ii; quoted in part in Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics, Granta 2000, p.141.)

Capt. Absolute [on Sir Lucius, to Faulkland]: a good natur’d Irish man here has (mimicking Sir Lucius) beg’d leave to have the pleasure of cutting my throat. (4.iii.)

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Bob Acres [later]: Ah, we will fight to prevent any misunderstanding. (Note that David characterises duellists like O’Trigger as ‘blood-thirsty cormorants’.)


Captious Faulkland [driving Julia to tears]: I do not mean to distress you - If I lov’d you less, I should never give you an uneasy moment. - But hear me - All my fretful doubts arise from this - Women are not used to weight, and separate the motives of their affections; the cold dictates of prudence, gratitude, or filial duty, may sometimes be mistaken for the pleadings of the heart. - I would not boast - yet let me say, that I have neither age, person, character, to found dislike on; - my fortune such as few ladies could be charged with indiscretion in the match. - O Julia! when Love receives such countenance from Prudence, nice minds will be suspicious of its birth. [Here Julia flees in angry tears.]

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Faulkland: ‘[…] when I distress her so again, may I lose her for ever! and be linked instead to some antique virago, whose gnawing passions, and long-hoarded spleen, shall make me curse my folly half the day, and all the night! [3.ii.)

‘While hope pictures to us the flattering scene of future bliss, let us deny its pencil those colours which are too bright to be lasting ... .’ [End]


Julia: But one word more. - As my faith has once been given to you, I never will barter it with another. - I shall pray for your happiness with the true sincerity; and the dearest blessing I can ask of Heaven to send you, will be to charm you from that unhappy temper [viz., his ‘captious’ disposition], which alone has prevented the performance of our solemn engagement. - All I request of you is, that you will yourself reflect upon this infirmity, and when you number up the many true delights it has deprived you of - let it not be your least regret, that it lost you the love of one - who would have follow’d you in beggary through the world! FAUKLAND: She’s gone - for ever! (5.i.)

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The Letter (from Absolute/Beverley to Lydia): […] As for the old weather-beaten she-dragon who guards you […] it shall go hard but I will elude her vigilance, as I am told that the same ridiculous vanity, which makes her dress up her coarse features, and deck  her dull chat with hard words which she don’t understand […] does also lay her open to the grossest deceptions from flatery and pretended admiration […] so that I have a scheme to see you shortly with the old Harridan’s consent, and even to make her a go-between in our interviews.

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School For Scandal (1777) - selected extracts

PROLOGUE, A Portrait, addressed to Mrs Crewe, ‘ [...] Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school, / Who rail by precept, and detract by rule, / Lives there no character, so tried, so known, / So deck’d with grace and so unlike your own, / That even you assist her fame to raise, / Approve by envy, and by silence praise!– / Attend! – a model shall attract your view [...] &c.’ Ye matrons [...] whose practised memories, cruelly exact, / Omit no circumstance, except the fact!’ [Introduced Amoret – ‘my model, CREWE’].

I.1: Lady Sneer, Snake, Joseph Surface, Sir Benjamin Backbite, Mrs Candour, and Maria; ‘She wants that delicacy of tint and mellowness of sneer which distinguishes your ladyship’s scandal’; ‘O Lud! you are going to be moral, and forget that you are among friends.’; ‘That fellow hasn’t virtue enough to be faithful even to his own villain.’; ‘His conversation is a perpetual slander on all his acquaintance.’; [Backbite on his yet unwritten works of genius}, ‘Yes, Madam, I think you will like them, when you shall see them on a beautiful quarto page, where a neat rivulet of text shall meander through a meadow of margin. Fore Gad, they will be the most elegant things of their kind!’; ‘There is a sort of puny, sickly reputation that is always ailing, but yet will outlive the robuster character of a hundred prudes.’

I.2: Sir Peter Teazle and Rowley, discussing the return of Sir Oliver Surface from India, and his proposed testing of his sons, the profligate Charles and the hypocritical Joseph. ‘Tis now six months since Lady Teazle made me the happiest of men – and I have been the most miserable dog ever since!’ [Also, witty monologue as scene opener: ‘ [...] paragraphed in the newspapers [...] he means to make some trial of their dispositions.’]

II.1: [Marital disharmony between the Teazles:] ‘wife ... widow’; ‘ [...] with what a charming air she contradicts everything I say [...] though I can’t make her love me, there is great satisfaction in quarrelling with her [...].’

II.2: ’Tis not that she paints so ill – but when she has finished her face, she joins it so badly to her neck that she looks like a mended statue in which the connoisseur sees at once that the head’s modern, though the trunk’s antique.’

‘a character dead at every word, I suppose.’ [Teazle, aside]

‘a woman labours under many disadvantages who tries to pass for a girl at six–and–thirty.’ [Exchange between Joseph S. and Maria where she argues against the malice of his set that ‘If to raise malicious smiles at the infirmities or misfortunes of [other] be the province of wit or humour, Heaven grant me a double portion of dulness!’; [Joseph rejoins:] ‘But can you [...] feel thus for others, and be unkind to me alone. Is hope to be denied the tenderest passion?’

II.3: Rowley and Sir Oliver; later, Sir Peter Teazle; ‘Ah sir, it gives me life to find that your heart is not turned against him [...] ’; ‘if he salutes me with a scrap of morality in his mouth, I shall be sick directly.’

III.1: Sir Peter, Sir Oliver, Rowley, and a ‘good’ Jew, Moses.

III.2 [THE TEST]: ‘Why sir, this Mr Stanley [...] near related to them by their mother [...] was a merchant in Dublin, but has been ruined by a series of undeserved misfortunes [...] ’; ‘an annuity, ha! ha! A footman raise money by way of an annuity! Well done, luxury, egad!’

III.3: [Noll visits the younger brother masquerading as the Jew]; ‘But the bond you mention [Sir Oliver dying and leaving his estate to Charles] happens to be just the worst security you could offer me – for I might live to a hundred, and never see the principal.’; ‘ [...] sell your forefathers, would you?’; ‘Every man of them to the best bidder.’

IV.1: Set in the gallery] ‘No hang it; I’ll not part with poor Noll. The old fellow has been very good to me, and, egad, I’ll keep his picture while I’ve a room to put it in.’ `The rogue’s my nephew after all!’ And later in the scene, ‘[...] a dear extravagant rogue.’; ‘My distresses are so many I can’t afford to part with my spirits.’

IV.2: ‘He would not sell my picture.’ [Noll plans to visit the elder brother as old Stanley.]

IV.3: [Joseph and Lady Teazle]; ‘consciousness of innocence [...] is of the greatest prejudice to you. [...] Your character at present is like a person in a plethora, absolutely dying of too much health.’ [Sir Peter Teazle enters. Lady Teazle goes behind screen. Joseph plays the hypocrite]; ‘What noble sentiments!’;

[Charles suspected of cuckolding Teazle, who confides in Joseph:] ‘the town would only laugh at me, the foolish old bachelor, who had married a girl.’; ‘a French milliner’; ‘He [Joseph] is a man of sentiment. There is nothing in the world so noble as a man of sentiment!’; ‘smartest French milliner I ever saw!’ Lady Teazle: ‘I came [...] seduced by his insidious arguments, at least to listen to his pretended passion, if not to sacrifice your [her husband’s] honour to his baseness’; ‘smooth–tongued hypocrite’.

V.1: [Sir Oliver visits as old Stanley, and Joseph pretends to have received from his stingy uncle on ‘avadavats and Indian crackers’]. [Joseph reflects:] ‘this is one bad effect of a good character; it invites application from the unfortunate [...] The silver ore of pure charity is an expensive article [...] whereas the sentimental French plate I use instead makes just as good a show, and pays no tax.’

V.2: [Candour, Backbite, Sneerwell all foregather at Teazle’s to scandal over Lady Teazle’s fall] ‘the ball struck a little bronze Shakespeare that stood over the fire –place, grazed out of the window at a right angle, and wounded the postman, who was just coming to the door with a double letter from Northamptonshire.’; ‘Fiends, vipers, furies!’ ‘the closet and the screen’ ‘Joseph and his sentiments [...] hypocritical villain.; ‘Hold Master Rowley! if you have any regard for me never let me hear you utter anything like a sentiment. I have had enough of them to serve me the rest of my life.’

V.3: [Lady Sneer:] ‘I hate such an avarice of crimes; ’tis an unfair monopoly and never prosper.’; ‘I confess I deviated from the direct road of wrong’ Joseph becomes at this stage an out and out villain, competing with his `confederate in evil’; [Joseph reveals Lady Sneerwell, the author of the forged letter from Charles to her, hiding behind the door:] ‘Another French milliner! Egad, he has one in every room of the house, I suppose’; Snake requests that his good deed ‘never be known’.

          “Song of Sir Harry Bumper”
‘Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
Here’s to the widow of fifty;
Here’s to the flaunting extravagant quean,
and Here’s to the housewife, that’s thrifty.
Chorus, Let the toast pass,–
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

Here’s to the charmer whose dimples we prize;
Now to the maid who has none, sir:
Here’s to the girl with a pair of blue eyes,
And here’s to the nymph with but one, sir!

For let ’em be clumsy, or let ’em be slim’
Young or ancient, I care not a feather;
So fill a pint bumper quite to the brim,
And let us ’em toast them together.’ [Chorus]

Mrs Sneerwell: ‘The Paragraphs, you say, Mr Snake, were all inserted?’
Snake: ‘They were Madam - and I copied them myself in a feigned Hand there can be no suspicion whence they came.’

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Pizarro (1789) - ROLLA: ‘They offer us protection. Yes, such protection as a vulture gives to lambs - covering and devouring them. They call on us to barter all of good we have inherited and proved, for the desperate chance of something better which they promise - Be our plain answer this: The throne we honour is the people’s choice - the laws we reverence are our brave fathers’ legacy - the faith we follow teaches us to live in bonds of charity with all mankind, and die with hope of bliss beyond the grave. Tell your invaders this, and tell them, too, we seek no change; and least of all, such change as they would bring us.’ (Quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Sheridan and Subversion’, in Irish Classics, Granta 2000, p.159.)

Tangled?: The lines, ‘O what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive’ - to be found in The Rivals - are sometimes attributed to Sir Walter Scott since they occur also in Marmion (1807). (See contribution by Hector to Bookdrum > Dracula - online; accessed 01.01.2017.)

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