S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
[An Irish orator and dramatist, born in Dublin, 1751; wrote several plays, including “The School for Scandal,” 1777; entered Parliament, 1780; one of the managers of the impeachment of Warren Hastings; under-secretary of state, of the navy, and privy councillor, 1806; died 1816.]
Give them a corrupt House of Lords.
In supporting the liberty of the press in 1810, Sheridan exclaimed, “Give them a corrupt House of Lords, give them a venal House of Commons, give them a tyrannical prince, give them a truckling court, and let me have but an unfettered press, I will defy them to encroach a hair’s-breadth upon the liberties of England.”Lord Brougham preferred such spirited sentences to Sheridan’s labored denunciations of Napoleon, as when he said in 1803, “The destruction of this country is the first vision that breaks on the French Consul through the gleam of the morning; this is his last prayer at night, to whatever deity he may address it.” And again, “He has thrones for his watch-towers, kings for his sentinels, and for the palisades of his castle sceptres stuck with crowns.”After Mr. Pitt had severely criticised the speeches which Sheridan and others of the opposition had made in the debate on the preliminary articles of peace with the United States, February, 1783, and had advised Sheridan to confine his theatrical “elegancies” to their proper stage, the latter said, “If I ever again engage in the compositions he alludes to [of a dramatic character], I may be tempted to an act of presumption,—to attempt an improvement on one of Ben Jonson’s best characters, the character of the Angry Boy in ‘The Alchemist.’”When, on one occasion, Pitt said he would give him a woman’s privilege, the last word, Sheridan replied, “I have no wish for the last word: I am content with having the last argument.”Mr. Addington [Lord Sidmouth] once appeared in the House dressed in the Windsor uniform. Sheridan alluded to him as “the right honorable gentleman who has appeared this evening in the character of a sheep in wolf’s clothing.”On being asked how, in his speech on the impeachment of Warren Hastings, June 14, 1788, he could apply the epithet “luminous” to the “Decline and Fall” of the Tory Gibbon, Sheridan answered in a half-whisper, “I said vo-luminous.”—MOORE: Life.It was proposed at one time to tax coals instead of iron: Sheridan objected to it, that “it would be a jump from the frying-pan into the fire.”He repeated, concerning the debt of England, what he had heard from Sir Arthur Pigott: “Half of it has been incurred in putting down the Bourbons, and the other half in setting them up.”—MOORE: Life, II. 218, note. A memorandum found among his papers expressed his opinion of some new fashion: “I like it no better for coming from France, whence all ills come, altar of liberty begrimed at once with blood and mire.”
He employs his fancy in his narrative, and keeps his recollection for his wit.
The publication of Moore’s “Life of Sheridan” showed that many of the jeux d’esprit which amused the House of Commons, and were thought to be unpremeditated effusions, had in reality been “set in a note-book, learn’d and conn’d by rote.” He had thus put down for future use: “He employs his fancy in his narrative, and keeps his recollections for his wit.” This was enlarged into: “When he makes his jokes, you applaud the accuracy of his memory, and ’tis only when he states his facts that you admire the flights of his imagination.” When the opportunity occurred, he introduced it in the House, in speaking of Mr. Dundas, “who generally resorts to his memory for his jokes, and to his imagination for his facts.” Of Kelly, who became a wine-merchant after being a composer of music, he said, “You will henceforth import your music, and compose your wine.”Sheridan was visiting a country-house, when an elderly unmarried lady attempted to persuade him to take a walk with her. At first he excused himself on account of the weather; but when she asserted that it had cleared away, he escaped by saying, “Yes, enough for one, but not enough for two.”—MOORE: Life, II. 321.A Mrs. Cholmondeley wished him to make an acrostic on her name: “An acrostic on your name,” he replied, “would be a formidable task: it must be so long that I think it should be divided into cantos.”He said of a proposed tax upon mile-stones, “Such a tax would be unconstitutional, as they are a race that could not meet to remonstrate.”—Life, II. 320, note.
Oh, no: they are all new suits.
When asked if his green bag contained old clothes.“If the thought,” he once said, “is slow to come, a glass of good wine encourages it; and when it does come, a glass of good wine rewards it.”Fox, the Brighton manager, who practised many arts badly, boasted that he painted his scenery himself; whereupon Sheridan remarked, “Well, I should not have known you were a Fox by your brush.”When Lord Lauderdale said he should repeat a certain joke of Sheridan’s, the latter discouraged him by saying, “Pray don’t, my dear Lauderdale: a joke in your mouth is no laughing matter.”Meeting one day two royal dukes, one of them said they had been discussing whether Sheridan were a greater fool than knave. Placing himself between them, the wit quickly replied, “Why, faith, I believe I’m between the two.”When Brereton, a noted gambler, said he had lost his wife, “How did you lose her,” asked Sheridan, “at hazard, or at quinze?”His son said that if he were in Parliament he would write on his forehead, “To let.”—“Add ‘unfurnished,’” suggested his father.Being asked by his tailor for at least the interest of his bill, Sheridan replied, “It is not my interest to pay the principal, nor my principle to pay the interest.” Rogers said of him, “In all his dealings with the world, Sheridan certainly carried the privileges of genius as far as they were ever carried by men.” Talleyrand had even a shorter method with creditors. When one of them asked him when he should be paid, the only answer he received was, “Ma foi, how inquisitive you are!” (vous êtes bien curieux!)
To any one who has reached a very advanced age, a walk through the streets of London is like a walk in a cemetery.
Nothing has a better effect upon children than praise.
When literature is the sole business of life it becomes a drudgery.