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child. The sunlight, admitted by a half- The child's wailing was stilled now, open shutter, fell upon her, lighting up and the Doctor remarked, and rememher delicate features, her pale pure com- bered long afterwards, that the little plexion, and bringing a strange sheen on waxen fingers, clutching uneasily about, her long loose black hair. Her face was came in contact with the little hand of bent down gazing on the child which the other child, and paused there. At this lay on her breast, and at the entrance of moment, a beautiful little girl, about five the party she looked up, and displayed years old, got on the bed and nestled a large lustrous dark blue eye, which her peachy cheek against her mother's. lighted up with infinite tenderness as As they went out, he turned and looked Densil, taking the wailing boy from the at the beautiful group once more, and nurse, placed it on her arm beside the then he followed Densil back to the other.”
house of mourning. “ Take care of that for me, Norah," Reader, before we have done with said Densil. “It has no mother but you, those three innocent little faces, we now.”
shall see them distorted and changed by “ Acushla ma chree,” she answered, many passions, and shall meet them in “ bless my little bird. Come to your many strange places. Come, take my nest, Achree; come to your pretty bro- hand, and we will follow them on to ther, my darlin.”
the end. (To be continued.)
BOOKS OF GOSSIP: SHERIDAN AND HIS BIOGRAPHERS.
A LETTER TO THE PUBLISHER BY THE HON, MRS. NORTON.
titles be merely the assumed alias of It is now upwards of a year since we some person or persons, whose trade is discussed the plan of a work projected to “filch from others their good names,' by me—“The Lives of the Sheridans ;" matters little. The books are essentially a task relinquished (with many others) the same, and cast in the same mould. in the grief caused by the illness and They degrade the genial service of biodeath of my son.
graphy, which has been prettily termed My attention has been recalled to the “the handmaid of history," to the subject by the appearance of three works maundering scandal of an old nurse's of anecdotical biography, severally en- gossip ; and reduce the value of recorded titled “The Wits and Beaux of Society," facts to a snip-and-scissor compilation "The Queens of Society,” and “ Traits of worthless anecdotes. Affecting an of Character;" of which books, I think extreme regard for decorum, discretion, the most impartial critic could only and Christian grace, they proceed to speak in terms of severity, forming as narrate stories which no modest woman they do a dangerous epoch in the current would desire to believe or to remember, literature of our day ; for they appear to and which no honest man would wilbe a revived embodiment of a race of lingly disseminate. With a canting newspapers fortunately extinct-dug-up compliment to the encouragement of skeletons of The Age, The Satirist, and morality in “the goodness, affection, the like, without the witof these journals, purity, and benevolence, which are the or one spark of their political vitality. household deities of the Court of our
Of these three productions, one has beloved, inestimable Queen Victoria,” been published anonymously; the other they preface the grossest notices of the two profess to be written by “Grace and chief families of her kingdom ; such as chioness's three papas,"—in the raking untrue, but which it in no way concerns up of buried vice and forgotten follies - me to comment on or contradict. One in the tearing away the decent curtain only biography personally interests me, of silence that hung over sad family the biography of Sheridan--of whom secrets ; declaring madness to be inhe- certainly those words might long since rent and hereditary in one race, disease have been spoken which were applied to in another, profligacy in a third, and another victim ; namely, that he has been branding a fourth with illegitimacy, till “the best abused man in England.” A we may fairly dread to leave such book of such sketches as these would be volumes on our tables, lest our daugh- incomplete without a vulgate edition of ters should look into them, and ask if the received and adopted chapters "on our fathers really were as base and as Sheridan.” Having, therefore, snipped vicious as they are there represented ! and scissored from Watkins, Moore,
Such works are not “ biographies,” Earle, Leigh Hunt, &c., “Grace and neither are they “sketches of charac- Philip Wharton," in the exercise of ter:" the confusion of worthless trash their craft as biographers, first prowith works of authority only increases nounce that Sheridan was greatly overtheir mischief; but they will be read, rated as to ability-in fact, was a very and therefore I notice them. Every ordinary man—and then proceed to the man who lives a public life is in the amazing assertion that the fact of Sheripower of other men as to his biography. dan’s being born in a respectable position of Obscurity is a thicker shield than virtue; life alone prevented his being transported and the man who does his best in a as a felon ; which, had he belonged to a public position is yet less safe from
poorer class, would assuredly have been his slander than he who does nothing and fate! Having given vent to this extradies unknown. The biographer, however, ordinary piece of scurrilous condemnawho volunteers to condemn or absolve tion, the conscientious couple coolly a public man, has undertaken a responsi- wind up by this printed and pubbility, both towards the dead of whom lished confession,--that they have not he writes, and the living for whom he examined into the veracity of any of writes, the solemnity of which never the anecdotes ; it is enough that they were seems to cross the minds of these tattlers current ! They have not“ examined into and parrots of literature, whose pages are the veracity" of any of the anecdotes ! made up of borrowed phrases. “ Dead That is the point from which I start. I men tell no tales :"-neither can they nail up that sentence-like a kite, or answer any tales that are told of them. any other small bird of prey, with wings A dead man cannot, as the living might, extended —as a scarecrow to biographers. prosecute for slander-challenge for in- They have not “examined into the verasult-or justify himself to friends against city” of the anecdotes. But it is surely false accusation. But the ninth com- the first duty of those who abuse mandment is not annulled by the death dead men—the first duty of Christian of our neighbour. “Thou shalt not bear biographers towards
their departed false witness," remains God's law, though “neighbours"—to examine very strictly his creature depart; and those who use into the “veracity” of all anecdotes their living hands to engrave yet deeper on the strength of which such severe in a country's annals abuse of that sentence is pronounced. Abuse has selcountry's noted and remarkable men, dom been followed by an admission at should, at least, in their consciences be- once so ridiculous and so disgraceful. lieve that they have so sifted evidence as They “have not examined into the to be able to deliver a true verdict,—“So veracity of their anecdotes;” if they had, help them God!"
they would have known they were disNow, in the three publications to seminating falsehoods and vulgar inwhich I here refer, there are numberless rentions. They have not examined into notices which I personally know to be the veracity of their slander, but, like
the roadside gamin, merely stooped to his family relations, this proposed applitake from the mud the readiest stone cation to an eccentric old maiden lady, a that came to hand, to fling it with a distant connexion of Sheridan's second whoop and a halloo at the passer-by. wife, for the help so sorely needed to
“ Accidental” biography would be a wind up a task the author was “sick better title for such books than “ of," — reveals much of the cause of Moore's dotical" biography.
unexpected failure, in spite of his brilSoon after Sheridan died, a Dr. Wat
liant name. kins published a memoir of him : And now the many memoirs,-prewretchedly ill-written, and admitted by faces to plays, notices in magazines, and all contemporaries to be replete with in- thin pamphlet letters, -budded and correct statements. The proposal was sprouted with the proverbial luxuriance then made to Tom Moore to write a life of ill-weeds. These, again, were copied that should give a better idea of the man from hand to hand : snip, snip, and whose memory was so poorly perpetuated. echo, echo,—the same old stories, and a Lord Melbourne had begun a life of few new ones,-or a few old stories, and Sheridan. When he found that Moore a great many new ones (all made on the had received these proposals from an same pattern), forming the loose warp eminent publisher, he gave up the task. and woof of pages" made to sell.” Every He did more ; he gave to Moore those one who brought out an edition of portions which he had written, to make “Sheridan's plays,"
“ Sheridan's what use of he pleased ; taking it for works,” “ Sheridan's speeches," granted, with that simplicity and brought out also his own idea of a modesty which accompanies high in- memoir ; and stories were accepted as tellect, and which all the brilliant success truths, merely on the excellent old of his after career left unaltered,—that lady's principle—that they had been Moore, the established author, the cele- printed in black and white."
Every brated poet, was a fitter literary crafts- foolish anecdote that could be invented man than himself, and would do better by friend or foe—the dullest jokes, the what all desired should be done. Lord most ungentlemanlike shifts and conMelbourne afterwards said he never re- trivances—were all set down to Sheridan, gretted anything more than having re- and accepted by the million. And every solved to give up those papers, and to aban- fresh batch of invented trash sank him don the idea of writing a memoir, which one degree lower from his true level. again, in Moore's hands, turned out to be It was reserved for “Grace and Philip so utterly unsatisfactory. It is a singular Wharton ” (or whoever may skulk befact that, in all the biographies Moore hind that alias,) to write at last the most wrote, he contrived to lower the subject foolish, false, and abusive of the many of his biography in public estimation. inferior memoirs that have been based Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Byron, Sheri- on those hasty originals. dan, all fared alike in this respect. But Following “the lead,” in their trashy it is little to be wondered at, if all were abridgment of more tedious gossip—(but prepared for the press in the same way. with more vulgarity,—the great jest of Moore himself, in his posthumous their pages consisting in calling Sheridan journals, let us into the secret of his non- and his wife “Sherry and Betsy,"-great
He says—“I am quite sick of stress is laid on the drunkenness of this life of Sheridan. I can learn nothing Sheridan. To read notices of this kind, about him. I am going to call on Sukey one would imagine Sheridan was the Ogle to ascertain if she can tell me any- only drunken man of his day. Was thing." Like others who have followed Pitt sober? Was Fox sober ? Were him, he was not disposed to question too they not, on the contrary, models of inclosely the sources of his information : temperance? Was not that vice the wheat or tares, he must go a-gleaning ! habitual and constant temptation of the
luctant guests, who desired to keep un
The accusation of gambling I pass. injured what little brains they had? and It is simply the most shallow of falsewas not the principal boastof a gentleman hoods ; for though to Fox and many of how
many bottles he could stand ? Did his companions cards were an overwhelmnot Lord Cockburn's Memoirs open to ing temptation, Sheridan was extremely us a vista of toast-drinking and inebriety averse to them. perfectly inconceivable to our modernized I might also pass the slander which tastes, but which was the “fashionable would attack alike his memory as a huslife” of that “ Tom and Jerry” day ? band, and the memory of the beautiful Sheridan was drunk as his companions St. Cecilia as a wife. A more affectionwere drunk, and with his drunken com- ate husband than Sheridan never lived. panions—with a drunken prince royal All the flatteries of society failed to wean and the drunken ministers of the crown him from the early love he won with his —but there can be little doubt that the blood, and at the death of his wife his more finely organized the brain, the more grief was such as to alarm his nearest fatal the consequences of such swinish friends. At no time of her harmless excitement.
would that He is accused of more than careless- lovely wife have been able to find in ness in money matters. Moore has ad- his neglect what Grace and Philip mitted that, if those around him had Wharton seem to consider a sufficient been as true as himself, his debts could and natural excuse for conjugal infihave been paid over and over again. No delity. While Fox lived with a misdoubt Sheridan was improvident. Ar- tress—whilst the Prince of Wales tists, writers, all these merchant specu- declared upon his “honour" to the lators in brain-produce, are proverbially Senate of England that the woman was a
Nothing makes a man so impro- mere paramour with whom he had gone vident as an uncertain income ; rich to- through the sacred ceremony of marday, and poor to-morrow, is the root of riage-while many round him were all carelessness : and woe to that man's very masters in the art of debaucheryregularity in affairs who imagines he can Sheridan's dream of happiness was still gather gold at will, in an “El Dorado" “domestic life !” If, as is sneeringly of his own wits !
stated, he did not sufficiently agree with But there again, taking him with his Lockhart's lovely linescontemporaries, the harder measure dealt to Sheridan seems inexplicable. Fox's
“When youthful faith hath fled, debts were paid three times—who paid
Of loving take thy leave;
Be faithful to the Dead, Sheridan's ? The Prince of Wales had
The Dead can not deceive," — his El Dorado in a submissive nation, and a subservient Parliament. It seems if he sought later in life to renew the always to be forgotten that, in the vanished dream, and bring “a glory out burning of the theatre, both the real and of gloom,” it is at least a proof that speculative portion of Sheridan's means his notions of the glory or the gloom of were destroyed. Had that galleon of love lay in the bounded circle of HOME; his wealth not gone down, these Shylock and perhaps no more touching praise scribblers might never have claimed their can be bestowed on his first wife than right to such cutting censures. The loss this, that while she lived his faults were of a resource on which his whole fortune not known as they were afterwards. was embarked—like the breaking of In politics, his worst foes cannot say banks, and the mercantile dishonesty he was not consistent—to his hurt, to which has suddenly impoverished so the loss of personal advantage-anxious, many in our own day—makes it im- not to advance private rivalries but pubpossible to judge what would have been lic reforms ; eager, chiefly in all questhe result, if success, instead of ruin, had tions that affected the oppressed, the been Sheridan's lot.
struggling, and the helpless.
His friendship for a bad and ungrate- places nobly and purely amongst our ful prince was, at least, a real enthu- variously allied aristocracy; or whether siasm ; and if Moore's scornful lines- their children are the recreant, the
defaulting, the vicious, and the fugi“The heart whose hopes could make it Trust one so false, so low,
tive, of the races who boast proud Deserves that thou shouldst break it,"
names. We will take it for granted that
Burns's great line—"a man's a man for apply to him, he shared the common a' that,”-stops short of the tabooed promartyrdom of those who pin their faith fession, and that actors are the Pariahs on that tempted and selfish class whom of civilized life. How did it happen, we have Scriptural warranty for dis- then, that a man labouring under such a trusting, and who, in all ages and all disadvantage of birth, and also described countries, have rewarded fawning better as a common-place swindler, drunkard, than fair service.
and driveller, excelled in everything he The account of Sheridan's death-bed attempted, and, from the obscure son of is as nearly fabulous as any narration can the Bath actor and schoolmaster, became be; but it is the current "copied” ac- minister of state and companion of count, and passes muster with the rest. princes? What dazzled fools does it And now, we may fairly ask, if such make all his contemporaries, that they “ biographies” be true, how came this admitted him unquestioned to a suman, so abused, so run down, whose faults periority which is now denied to were so prodigious, whose merits were have existed! What an extraordinary nil, to occupy the position he did when anomaly does that famous funeral in living? There is a great deal of sneer- Westminster Abbey present, amid a ing at his being the “ son of an actor :" crowd of on-lookers so dense that they one of the favourite fables is, that he seemed “like a wall of human faces,” would have been blackballed at his club if it was merely the carrying of a poor -as the
son of an actor”—but for a old tipsy gentleman to his grave by a stratagem of the Prince of Wales. We group of foolish lords ! will suppose this to be a fact instead of
The God-given power is not so disa fiction—we will suppose that a set of posed of. Nor will even the dark frivolous dandies did oppose the entrance thunder-clouds of faulty imprudence blot into their club of that man whose tomb out the light which shines so clearly was to be in Westminster Abbey—we above and beyond. Unless Richard will further suppose that acting is the Brinsley Sheridan had been immeamost degrading pursuit any man surably superior to the majority of the follow ; that it does not, (as the unini- men amongst whom he lived, he could tiated might imagine) require the not have so verleapt the barriers of education of a gentleman, an under- poverty, want of connexion, and class standing mind, a passionate heart, the jealousies, as to attain the celebrity and kindling warmth that fires at noble position he did attain. He was imthoughts, grace of gesture, feeling for measurably superior. And, while nomipoetry, and, lastly, the tongue of the nally acquiescing in the sneers levelled at orator with the scholar's brain, fitly to his origin, I beg to say that those sneers succeed in such an art,—but that, on the merely prove the ignorance of the writers contrary, any fool may be taught to mimic, who so assail him. If he was the son
-as parrots are brought to copy the of an actor, he was the grandson of a ing intonation of “Poor Polly," or Grace bishop; and a bishop so conscientiously and Philip Wharton to imitate authors. rigid in his religious opinions that all We will suppose that to be the child of the worldly prospects of his family were an actor is an ineffaceable stain. We blighted by the self-sacrificing fidelity will not open our Peerage to learn with which those opinions were mainwhether the actresses and daughters of tained. To the older biographic dictionactors there inscribed, have held their aries of England I can refer these gossips