LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
R & T Sheridan II

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
‣ R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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I now proceed to give, in as few and simple words as I am able to command, a history of what will henceforth, he known as The Sheridan Papers.

About two and twenty years ago a valued friend, now deceased, who knew that my studies had been much directed to dramatic literature, placed in my hands several MS. dramas, with the view, if I saw fit on examining them, to their production before the public, either on the stage or otherwise.

The source whence these MS. were stated to have come into my friend’s hands, namely, from the actual hands of Richard Brinsley Sheridan himself, and the large sum of money my friend had advanced upon them, were calculated to excite, and, in fact, did excite, considerable interest and curiosity in my mind, as to the nature of these papers; but, as they were merely described to me as
“Old Plays,” and as my literary avocations at the time were incessant and absorbing, I did but turn over some of the leaves of each, glancing at them only enough to satisfy myself that they were worth careful consideration, and then laid them aside till circumstances should afford me leisure to give them a full examination.

That leisure did not occur till six or seven years afterwards, the MSS. having in the interval lain undisturbed, and almost unthought of, in the case in which they were sent to me. A casual inquiry made by my friend about this time, as to whether I had done or was doing anything about the “Old Plays,” opportunely reminded me of a matter which precisely fell in with my favourite studies, and I immediately took the MSS. in hand, with the intention of ascertaining whether any of them were suited to the stage, and if so, what alterations and adaptations were required in order to fit them for the audiences of that period, viz.—about 1838.

My first impression on reading the three principal MSS. of which I am now to speak
was one of nothing less than astonishment, at finding that, according to the best of my judgment (which had been uninterruptedly employed for the previous seven years in critically considering and reporting on the acted drama of the day), it would be difficult for the most practised and practical hand to improve these dramas as acting pieces, either in respect of construction or of dialogue: to improve them, I mean, with reference to their specific character and objects respectively—as hereafter to be described and illustrated in these pages.

This impression led me at once to conclude that the dramas of which I am now specially speaking—namely, the three that are alone referred to in the first portion of the following pages—were the productions, severally, of some first-rate hands (for it never for an instant occurred to me that they were all by one and the same hand) of the period to which they belonged—a period that was expressly and distinctly indicated on the very face of one of them, by an assignment of every one of its numerous dramatis personæ to well-known actors and
actresses belonging to the latter portion of
Sheridan’s proprietorship and management of Drury Lane Theatre.

The intrinsic merit and interest of these dramas being thus established in my estimation, it became advisable, before I proceeded further in my investigation as to authorship, &c., to ascertain and settle the important question of whether or not these dramas, or any one of them, had been printed or produced upon the stage. As my friend was not in a condition to give me any positive information on this point, I devoted several entire weeks to consulting every contemporary authority with which I was or am acquainted, but without meeting with any reference to any one of these dramas.

This result of my investigation would, as I conceive, have settled the question as to all these dramas being unacted and unedited, even if the point had not been virtually decided by the fact of the deposit of the MSS. as security for a large sum of money: for though Sheridan did not enjoy a very enviable reputation as to money transactions, it is not for a moment to be supposed that
he would place in the hands of a friend, as adequate security for an important loan, a number of MS. dramas, which, under the supposition of their having been acted, and therefore printed, would have been only so much waste paper, and would certainly have been known to be such by the person to whom they were offered—who was at the time in question an habitual playgoer.

As the literary holiday which had given me leisure to make the investigation above described lasted but a few weeks, I once more laid aside these dramatic MSS., with a greatly augmented impression of their value and interest, and a renewed determination to let slip no favourable opportunity of pursuing my investigations, especially as to their authorship, but still regarding them as “Old Plays” merely—not the remotest glimpse of their real origin having as yet come to me; for I had, at that time, little or no knowledge of autographs, and there was nothing in the shape of what is called “internal evidence,” in either of the three pieces now under consideration, to induce their assignment to any known writer of the
period in question; while each was so entirely different and distinct from the other two, that nothing would have been more gratuitous than to assign all the three to one and the same hand, merely because each was excellent in its way.

I now approach the discovery of the authorship of these dramas; a discovery which, as it involves nothing in the shape of merit on my part—indeed it may be regarded as almost purely accidental—I may perhaps be permitted to characterise as one of the most remarkable and interesting in the whole history of modern literature.

Among the MSS. placed at my disposal I found (as if it had got among the others by accident) a single act of Thompson’s version of Kotzebue’s famous play known to English playgoers as The Stranger. This play was put upon the stage by Sheridan and it was well known that before doing so he had carefully prepared and revised it, with a view to the English tastes of that day. By many it was supposed and said that it was entirely translated and prepared by him; and its extraordinary success, as compared
with its more than questionable merits, except as an acting play, encouraged this notion. But it is now well known that Sheridan was almost entirely unacquainted with any modern language but his own. In fact, he had accepted and agreed to produce Thompson’s version of Kotzebue’s play; and this single act, which had come into my hands with the other MSS., was part of prompter’s copy of that version, with the numerous erasures, alterations, and interlineations, evidently in Sheridan’s hand—so at least, in the absence of any more positive evidence, I took for granted—partly from the notoriety of the fact that he (Sheridan) had prepared this play for the stage; but chiefly from the marvellous practical skill which at every page of the copy had, by the substitution or addition of a few simple words and phrases, changed, as if by magic, the most helpless twaddle or the most impracticable platitudes into lively and sparkling, or perfectly effective and dramatic dialogue.

This little fragmentary windfall became, apart from its intrinsic interest and curiosity,
quite a study for me in the art of improving style; and having gone through it several times, each time with increasing admiration of the skill displayed and the effect produced, and having thus become quite familiar with this particular phase of
Sheridan’s handwriting, I, for the first time, applied to “Moore’s Life,” in order to ascertain what was really known as to Sheridan’s share in The Stranger.

Though I found in “Moore’s Life” little of what I sought, the fac-similes given by him of Sheridan’s writing at another period of his life perfected that familiarity with his hand which ultimately led me to the discovery of which I am giving the history. Ultimately, I say, for at the period now referred to I had still no glimpse of that discovery. The MSS. in question, with the exception of the fragment I have just referred to, had for many months been laid aside in favour of more pressing literary avocations, and were quietly awaiting another period of comparative leisure for further inquiry into their authorship. Luckily, as that leisure has never since come till within the last
year or two, the proposed inquiry was not needed: for the first time I casually took up the MS. of one of the dramas I am now speaking of, the one which is in that phase of his hand-writing which belongs to about the same period as the emendations in
The Stranger, the fact came upon me like a flash of lightning. It is no exaggeration so to describe the effect of my first glance at the autograph in question, after I had grown familiar with its prototype in the copy of The Stranger, and the fac-similes in “Moore’s Life.”

In brief, the point was settled as to this one drama. Not so, however, with regard to the other two, which I did not take up for some months afterwards. What was the exact amount of the interval my recollection does not enable me to say; but when I did take up the other two MSS. respectively, the case became as clear with regard to them as to their companion.

As this all-important point of identity of hand-writing will not and ought not to rest on my impressions of the matter—especially on impressions so gathered—and as it is
capable of being tested by numerous living witnesses, I shall say no more upon it at present, except that I have myself tested it by every means and medium that have presented themselves—including, besides the comparison of numerous private letters in the possession of personal friends of my own and others, the direct testimony of several individuals personally or professionally connected with
Sheridan up to the period of his death, and whose decision must be deemed conclusive on the point. In fact, no shade of doubt has been thrown on the question of hand-writing by any one of the persons who have seen these MSS., and are competent to speak on the point.