Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1751-1816

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Biographical note

Dramatist and orator, born in Dublin, the son of an actor, was educated at Harrow. In 1772 he eloped with Miss Linley, a famous singer, went with her to France, fought two duels, and married her in 1773. Sheridan has a reputation of the highest in two distinct walks, those of the dramatist and the Parliamentary orator. By his three great comedies, The Rivals [1775], The School for Scandal [1777], and The Critic [1779], he raised himself to the first place among the writers of the comedy of manners; and by his speeches, specially those in support of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, he has a position among the greatest of Parliamentary orators. Unfortunately he had little turn for business, and too great a love of pleasure and conviviality, which led to lifelong pecuniary embarrassment, completed by the destruction by fire of Drury Lane Theatre, of which he had become proprietor. As a politician Sheridan supported the Whig party, and held the offices of Under–Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Secretary to the Treasury, and Treasurer of the Navy. He was also confidential adviser to George IV. when Prince of Wales, but like everybody else who had to do with him suffered from the ingratitude of “the first gentleman in Europe.” The accounts long prevalent of the poverty and misery of his last years have been shown to be greatly exaggerated, though he was in reduced circumstances. As a dramatist Sheridan shines in the construction of amusing situations, and in a sparkling flow of witty dialogue which never flags.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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