ON a certain evening in March, 1772, the fashionable folk of Bath were as earnestly on pleasure bent as they were wont to be at this season—and every other. The Assembly Rooms were open, a performance was going on at the theatre, the Cave of Harmony was as musical as Pyrrha's Grotto, a high-class concert was taking place under the conductorship of the well-known Mr. Linley, and the Countess of Huntingdon was holding a prayer meeting. For people who took their diversions à la carte, there was a varied and an abundant menu. Chairs containing precious structures of feathers, lace, and jewels towering over long faces powdered and patched and painted à la mode, were swinging along the streets in every direction, some with a brace of gold-braided lackeys by each of the windows, but others in charge only of the burly chairmen.

Unobtrusive among the latter class of conveyance was one that a young gentleman, a tall and handsome lad, called from its rank between Pierrepont Street and the South Parade. He gave the bearers instructions to hasten to the house of Mr. Linley in the Crescent, and to inquire if Miss Linley were ready.

If she were not, he told them that they were to wait for her and carry out her directions. The fellows touched their hats and swung off with their empty chair.

The young man then went to a livery stable, and putting a few confidential inquiries to the proprietor, received a few confidential replies, accentuated by a wink or two, and a certain quick uplifting of a knuckly forefinger that had an expression of secretiveness of its own.

“Mum's the word, sir, and mum it shall be,” whispered the man. “I stowed away the trunk, leaving plenty of room for the genuine luggage—lady's luggage, Mr. Sheridan. You know as well as I can tell you, sir, being young but with as shrewd knowingness of affairs in general as might be looked for in the son of Tom Sheridan, to say nought of a lady like your mother, meaning to take no liberty in the world, Mr. Dick, as they call you.”

“I'm obliged to you, Denham, and I'll not forget you when this little affair is happily over. The turn by the 'Bear' on the London Road, we agreed.”

“And there you'll find the chaise, sir, and as good a pair as ever left my stable, and good luck to you, sir!” said the man.

Young Mr. Sheridan then hastened to his father's house in King's Mead Street, and was met by an anxious sister in the hall.

“Good news, I hope, Dick?” she whispered.

“I have been waiting for you all the evening. She has not changed her mind, I hope.”

“She is as steadfast as I am,” said he. “If I could not swear that she would be steadfast, I would not undertake this business on her behalf. When I think of our father——”

“Don't think of him except as applauding your action,” said the girl. “Surely every one with the least spark of generosity will applaud your action, Dick.”

“I wouldn't like to say so much,” said Dick, shaking his head. “Mathews has his friends. No man could know so much about whist as he does without having many friends, even though he be a contemptible scoundrel when he is not employed over a rubber.”

“Who will dare to take the part of Mr. Mathews against you, Dick?” cried his sister, looking at him proudly as the parlour candles shone upon him. “I would that I could go with you as far as London, dear, but that would be impossible.”

“Quite impossible; and where would be the merit in the end?” said Dick, pacing the room as he believed a man of adventure and enterprise would in the circumstances. “You may trust to me to place her in safety without the help of any one.”

“I know it, Dick, I know it, dear, and I am proud of you,” said she, putting her arms about his neck and kissing him. “And look you here, Dick,” she added, in a more practical tone. “Look you here—I find that I can spare another five pounds out of the last bill that came from Ireland. We shall live modestly in this house until you return to us.”

He took the coins which she offered to him wrapped up in a twist of newspaper; but he showed some hesitation—she had to go through a form of forcing it upon him.

“I hope to bring it back to you unbroken,” he murmured; “but in affairs of this sort it is safest to have a pound or two over, rather than under, what is barely needful. That is why I take your coins,—a loan—a sacred loan. Good-bye, I returned only to say good-bye to you, my dearest sister.”

“I knew your good heart, Dick, that was why I was waiting for you. Good-bye, Dick, and God bless you.”

He was putting on his cloak in the hall. He saw that the pistols were in its pockets, and then he suffered his sister to give him another kiss before he passed into the dark street.

He felt for his pistols, and with a hand on each he felt that he was indeed fairly launched upon a great adventure.

He made his way to the London road, and all the time he was wondering if the girl would really come to him in the Sedan chair which he had sent for her. To be sure she had promised to come upon this evening, but he knew enough of the great affairs of this world to be well aware of the fact that the sincerest promise of a maid may be rendered worthless by the merest freak of Fate. Therefore, he knew that he did well to be doubtful respecting the realisation of her promise. She was the beautiful Miss Linley—every one in Bath knew her, and this being so, was it not likely that some one—some prying person—some impudent fellow like that Mathews who had been making love to her, although he had a wife of his own in Wales—might catch a glimpse of her face through the glass of the chair when passing a lamp or a link, and be sufficiently curious to follow her chair to see whither she was going?

That was a likely enough thing to happen, and if it did happen and the alarm of his flight with her were given, what chance would he have of carrying out his purpose? Why, the chaise would be followed, and even if it was not overtaken before London was reached, the resting-place of the fugitives would certainly be discovered in London, and they should be ignominiously brought back to Bath. Yes, unless Mathews were the pursuer, in which case——

Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan grasped more firmly the butt of the pistol in the right-hand pocket of his cloak. He felt at that moment that should Mathews overtake them, the going back to Bath would be on the part only of Mathews.

But how would it be if Mr. Linley had become apprised of his daughter's intention to fly from Bath? He knew very well that Mr. Linley had the best of reasons for objecting to his daughter's leaving Bath. Mr. Linley's income was increased by several hundred pounds by reason of the payments made to him on account of his daughter's singing in public, and he was—very properly, considering his large family—fond of money. Before he had to provide for his family, he took good care that his family—his eldest daughter particularly—helped to provide for him.

Doubtless these eventualities were suggested to him—for young Mr. Sheridan was not without imagination—while on his way through the dark outskirts of the beautiful city to the London Road. The Bear Inn was just beyond the last of the houses. It stood at the junction of the London Road and a narrower one leading past a couple of farms. It was here that he had given instructions for the chaise to wait for him, and here he meant to wait for the young lady who had promised to accompany him to London—and further.

He found the chaise without trouble. It was under the trees not more than a hundred yards down the lane, but the chair, with Miss Linley, had not yet arrived, so he returned to the road and began to retrace his steps, hoping to meet it, yet with some doubts in his mind. Of course, he was impatient. Young gentlemen under twenty-one are usually impatient when awaiting the arrival of the ladies who have promised to run away with them. He was not, however, kept in suspense for an unconscionably long time. He met the chair which he was expecting just when he had reached the last of the lamps of Bath, and out of it stepped the muffled form of Miss Linley. The chairmen were paid with a lavish hand, and Dick Sheridan and Betsy Linley walked on to the chaise without exchanging any but a friendly greeting—there was nothing lover-like in their meeting or their greeting. The elopement was not that of a young woman with her lover; it was, we are assured, that of a young woman anxious to escape from the intolerable position of being the most popular person in the most fashionable city in England, to the peaceful retreat of a convent; and the young man who was to take charge of her was one whom she had chosen for her guardian, not for her lover. Dick Sheridan seems to have been the only young man in Bath who had never made love to Elizabeth Linley. His elder brother, Charles by name, had discharged this duty on behalf of the Sheridan family, and he was now trying to live down his disappointment at being refused, at a farmhouse a mile or two away. The burden was greater than he could bear when surrounded by his sisters in their father's house in King's Mead Street.


Elizabeth Linley was certainly the most popular young woman in Bath; she certainly was the most beautiful. The greatest painters of her day made masterpieces of her portrait, and for once, posterity acknowledges that the fame of her beauty was well founded. So spiritual a face as hers is to be seen in no eighteenth-century picture except that of Miss Linley; one has need to go back to the early Italian painters to find such spirituality in a human face, and then one finds it combined with absolute inanity, and the face is called Divine. Reynolds painted her as Saint Cecilia drawing down angels, and blessedly unconscious of her own powers, thinking only of raising herself among angels on the wings of song. His genius was never better employed and surely never more apparent than in the achievement of this picture. Gainsborough painted her by the side of her younger brother, and one feels that if Reynolds painted a saint, Gainsborough painted a girl. It was Bishop O'Beirne, an old friend of her family and acquainted with her since her childhood, who said: “She is a link between an angel and a woman.”

And this exquisite creature had a voice of so sympathetic a quality that no one could hear it unmoved. Her father had made her technique perfect. He was a musician who was something more than painstaking. He had taste of the highest order, and it is possible to believe that in the training of his eldest daughter he was wise enough to limit his instruction to the technicalities of his art, leaving her to the inspiration of her own genius in regard to the treatment of any theme which he brought before her.

At any rate her success in the sublimest of all oratorios was far beyond anything that could be achieved by an exhibition of the finest technical qualities; and Mr. Linley soon became aware of the fact that he was the father of the most beautiful and the most highly gifted creature that ever made a father miserable.

Incidentally she made a great many other men miserable, but that was only because each of them wanted her to make him happy at the expense of the others, and this she was too kind-hearted to do. But the cause of her father's grief was something different. It was due to the fact that the girl was so sensitive that she shrank from every exhibition of herself and her ability on a public platform. It was an agony to her to hear the tumultuous applause that greeted her singing at a concert or in an oratorio. She seemed to feel—let any one look at the face which is to be seen in her portrait, and one will understand how this could be—that music was something too spiritual to be made the medium only for the entertainment of the multitude. Taking the highest imaginable view of the scope and value and meaning of music, it can be understood that this girl should shrink from such an ordeal as the concert platform offered to her every time she was announced to sing. No more frivolous and fashionable a population than that of Bath in the second half of the eighteenth century was to be found in any city in the world; and Elizabeth Linley felt that she was regarded by the concert-goers as no more than one of the numerous agents they employed to lessen the ennui of an empty day. The music which she worshipped—the spirit with which her soul communed in secret—was, she felt, degraded by being sold to the crowd and subjected to the patronage of their applause.

Of course when she spoke to her father in this strain he sympathised with her, and bemoaned the fate that made it necessary for him to have her assistance to save her mother and brothers and sisters from starvation. And so for several years she was an obedient child, but very weary of the rôle. She sang and enchanted thousands. She did not, however, think of them; her mind dwelt daily upon the tens of thousands who regarded her (she thought) as fulfilling no nobler purpose than to divert them for half an hour between taking the waters and sitting down to faro or quadrille.

But it was not alone her distaste for the publicity of the platform that made her miserable. The fact was that she was distracted by suitors. She had, it was said, accepted the offer of an elderly gentleman named Long, the wealthy head of a county family in the neighbourhood; and Foote, with his usual vulgarity, which took the form of personality, wrote a play—a wretched thing even for Foote—in which he dealt with an imaginarily comic and a certainly sordid situation, with Miss Linley on the one side and Mr. Long on the other. Serious biographers have not hesitated to accept this situation invented by the notorious farceur, who was no greater a respecter of persons than he was of truth, as a valuable contribution to the history of the Linley family, especially in regard to the love affair of the lovely girl by whose help they were made famous. They have never thought of the possibility of her having accepted Mr. Long in order to escape from her horror of the concert platform. They have never suggested the possibility of Mr. Long's settling a sum of money on her out of his generosity when he found out that Miss Linley did not love him.

It was not Mr. Long, however, but a man named Mathews—sometimes referred to as Captain, occasionally as Major—who was the immediate cause of her running away with young Sheridan. This man Mathews was known to be married, and to be in love with Elizabeth Linley, and yet he was allowed to be constantly in her company, pestering her with his attentions, and there was no one handy to horsewhip him. Sheridan's sister, who afterwards married Mr. Lefanu, wrote an account of this curious matter for the guidance of Thomas Moore, who was preparing his biography of her brother. She stated that Miss Linley was afraid to tell her father of Major Mathews and his impossible suit, and so she was “at length induced to consult Richard Sheridan, whose intimacy with Major Mathews, at the time, she thought might warrant his interference.” And then we are told that “R. B. Sheridan sounded Mathews on the subject and at length prevailed on him to give up the pursuit.”

That is how the adoring sister of “R. B. Sheridan,” who had been talking to Elizabeth Linley of him as of a knight-errant, eager to redress the wrongs of maidens in distress, wrote of her brother! He “sounded Mathews on the subject.” On what subject? The subject was the pursuit of an innocent girl by a contemptible scoundrel. How does the knight-errant “sound” such a person when he sets out to redress the maiden's ill-treatment? One R. B. Sheridan, a dramatist, gives us a suggestion as to what were his ideas on this point: “Do you think that Achilles or my little Alexander the Great ever enquired where the right lay? No, sir, they drew their broadswords and left the lazy sons of peace to settle the rights of the matter.” Now young Sheridan, who is reported by his sister as “sounding” Mathews, was no coward. He proved himself to be anything but afraid of Mathews, so that one must, out of justice to him, assume that the only attempt he would have made to “sound” the scoundrel at this time would be through the medium of a sound hiding.

It is at such a point as this in the biography of an interesting man that one blesses the memory—and the notebook—of the faithful Boswell. Thomas Moore was quite intimate with Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but he never thought of asking him for some information on this particular incident in his life, the fact being that he had no definite intention of becoming his biographer. We know perfectly well how Boswell would have plied Johnson with questions on the subject, had it ever come to his ears that Johnson had undertaken to play the rôle of a knight-errant.

“Pray, sir, what did you say to Mathews when you sounded him?”

“Do you think, sir, that in any circumstances a married gentleman who is showing marked attentions to a virtuous young lady should be sounded by a young gentleman who has been entrusted with the duty of protecting the lady?”

Alas! instead of the unblushing indelicacy of Boswell, who hunted for trifles as a pig hunts for truffles, we are obliged to be content with the vagueness of a sister, whose memory, we have an uneasy feeling, was not quite so good as she thought it was.

And from the memory of this sister we have an account of the amazing elopement of Richard Sheridan with Elizabeth Linley.

When the young gentleman put her into the chaise that was waiting for them on the London road, Miss Linley had never thought of him except as a kind friend. She had accepted his services upon this occasion as she would those of a courier to conduct her to London, and thence to France, where she intended to enter a convent. The Miss Sheridans had lived in France, and had some friends at St.

Quentin, who knew of a very nice clean convent—an establishment which they could strongly recommend, and where she could find that complete seclusion which Miss Linley longed for, and their brother Dick was thought to be a very suitable companion for her on her way thither. Mrs. Lefanu (née Sheridan), who wrote out the whole story in after years, mentioned that her chivalrous brother was to provide a woman to act as her maid in the chaise; but as not the least reference to this chaperon is to be found in the rest of the story, we fear that it must be assumed either that her brother forgot this unimportant detail, or that the detail was unavoidably detained in Bath. What is most likely of all is that the solitary reference to this mysterious female was dovetailed, somewhat clumsily, into the narrative, at the suggestion of some Mrs. Grundy, who shook her head at the narrative of so much chivalry unsupported by a responsible chaperon. However this may be, the shadowy chaperon is never alluded to again; she may have faded away into the mists of morning and London, or she may have vanished at the first turnpike. Nothing was seen or heard of her subsequently.

The boy and the girl reached London in safety, and drove to the house of a Mr. Ewart, a relation of the Sheridans, to whom Dick offered the explanation of his unconventional visit on the very plausible grounds of his being engaged to the young lady, a great heiress, whom he was hastening to France to marry. Of course the Ewart family were perfectly satisfied with this explanation; and another friend, who had indisputable claims to consideration, being, we are told, “the son of a respectable brandy merchant in the City,” suggested that they should sail from London to Dunkirk, “in order to make pursuit more difficult.” How such an end could be compassed by such means is left to the imagination of a reader. The young pair, however, jumped at the suggestion, and reached Dunkirk after an uneventful crossing.

It is at this point in the sister's account of the itinerary of this interesting enterprise that she mentions that Richard suddenly threw away the disguise of the chivalrous and disinterested protector of the young lady, and declared that he would not consent to conduct her to the convent unless she agreed to marry him immediately. Mrs. Lefanu's exact words are as follows: “After quitting Dunkirk Mr. Sheridan was more explicit with Miss Linley as to his views on accompanying her to France.”

This is certainly a very lawyer-like way of condoning the conduct of a mean scoundrel; but, happily for the credit of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, it is the easiest thing in the world to discredit his sister's narrative, although she adds that he urged on the girl what would seem to a casual observer of society in general to be perfectly true—“she must be aware that after the step she had taken, she could not appear in England but as his wife.” As the sequel proved this alleged statement was quite untrue! She did appear in England, and not as his wife, and no one seemed to think anything the worse of her on account of her escapade. But to suggest that Sheridan took advantage of the trust which the innocent girl had reposed in him to compel her to marry him, a penniless minor with no profession and very little education, is scarcely consistent with an account of his high-mindedness and his sense of what was chivalrous.

And then the sister pleasantly remarks that “Miss Linley, who really preferred him greatly to any person, was not difficult to persuade, and at a village not far from Calais the marriage ceremony was performed by a priest who was known to be often employed upon such occasions.” Whoever this clergyman may have been, it is impossible for any one to believe that in the discharge of his office he was kept in constant employment; for “such occasions” as answered to the account given by the Sheridan sister of the nuptials of the young couple, must have been extremely rare.

And yet Moore, on whom the responsibilities of a biographer rested very lightly, was quite content to accept as strictly accurate the narrative of Mrs. Lefanu, contradicted though it was by subsequent events in which both her brother and Miss Linley were concerned. Moore does not seem to have troubled himself over any attempt to obtain confirmation of one of the most important incidents in the life of the man of whom he was writing.

He made no attempt to discover if the accommodating priest at the village near Calais was still alive when he was compiling his biography of Sheridan, and it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was still alive; nor did this easy-going Irish master of melodies consider that it devolved on him to try to find some record of the marriage in question.

Now what happened after this remarkable union? The narrative of the sister is quite as circumstantial as one could wish it to be, and even more imaginative. But whatever qualities of excellence it possesses, it certainly does not carry to a reader any conviction of accuracy. It states that the interesting young couple went to Lille instead of carrying out their original intention of going to St. Quentin, and that Miss Linley—now Mrs. Sheridan, of course—“immediately secured an apartment in a convent, where it was settled she was to remain either till Sheridan came of age or till he was in a situation to support a wife. He remained a few days at Lille to be satisfied that she was settled to her satisfaction; but, whether from agitation of mind or fatigue, she was taken ill, and an English physician, Dr. Dolman, of York, was called in to attend her. From what he perceived of her case he wished to have her more immediately under his care than he could in the convent, and he and Mrs. Dolman most kindly invited her to their house.”

This would seem to have been very kind indeed on the part of the doctor and his wife, but it so happened that a letter turned up some years ago which the late Mr. Fraser Rae was able to print in the first volume of his admirable Life of Sheridan, and this letter makes it plain that wherever Mrs. Sheridan (née Linley) may have been, she was not sojourning with the Dolmans. It is from Dr. Dolman himself, and it was addressed to “Monsieur Sherridan, Gentilhomme Anglois, à l'Hôtel de Bourbon, Sur la Grande Place.” It recommends the administering of certain powders in a glass of white wine twice daily, and sends “compliments and wishes of health to your lady.”

The question then remains: Was the lady at this time an inmate of the convent, and did the doctor expect “Monsieur Sherridan” to go to this institution twice a day in order to administer the powders to his lady? Would not the doctor think it somewhat peculiar that the husband should be at the Hôtel de Bourbon and his lady an inmate of the convent?

These questions must be left to be answered according to the experience of life of any one interested in the matter. But it is worth noticing that, on the very day that he received the missive from Dr. Dolman, Sheridan wrote to his brother at Bath and mentioned that Miss Linley—he continued to call her Miss Linley—was now “fixing in a convent, where she has been entered some time.” Does the first phrase mean that she was already in the convent, or only about to take up her residence there? However this question may be answered, it is clear that Sheridan expected to leave her behind him at Lille, for he adds, “Everything is now so happily settled here I will delay no longer giving you that information, though probably I shall set out for England without knowing a syllable of what has happened with you.”

So far, then, as his emprise in regard to the lady was concerned, he considered the incident to be closed. “Though you may have been ignorant for some time of our proceedings, you could never have been uneasy,” he continues hopefully, “lest anything should tempt me to depart, even in a thought, from the honour and consistency which engaged me at first.”

Some people have suggested that Sheridan, when he drew the character of Charles Surface, meant it to be something of an excuse for his own casual way of life. But it must strike a good many persons who believe that he induced the innocent girl, whom he set forth to protect on her way to a refuge from the infamous designs of Mathews, to marry him, that Sheridan approached much more closely to the character of Joseph in this correspondence with his brother. A more hypocritical passage than that just quoted could hardly have been uttered by Joseph Surface. As a matter of fact, one of Joseph's sentiments is only a paraphrase of this unctuous assumption of honour and consistency.

But this criticism is only true if one can believe his sister's story of the marriage. If it is true that Sheridan set out from England with Miss Linley with the intention of so compromising her that she should be compelled to marry him, at the same time pretending to her and to his brother to be actuated by the highest motives in respect of the ill-used girl, it is impossible to think of him except with contempt.

Happily the weight of evidence is overpoweringly in Sheridan's favour. We may think of him as a rash, an inconsiderate, and a culpably careless boy to take it upon him to be the girl's companion to the French convent, but we refuse to believe that he was ever capable of acting the grossly disingenuous part attributed to him by his sister, and accepted without question by his melodious biographer. There are many people, however, who believe that when a man marries a woman, no matter in what circumstances, he has “acted the part of a gentleman” in regard to her, and must be held to be beyond reproach on any account whatsoever so far as the woman is concerned. In the eyes of such censors of morality, as in the eyes of the law, the act of marriage renders null and void all ante-nuptial deeds; and it was probably some impression of this type which was acquired by Sheridan's sister, inducing her to feel sure (after a time) that her brother's memory would suffer if his biographer were to tell the story of his inconsiderate conduct in running away with Elizabeth Linley, unless it was made clear that he married her the first moment he had to spare. She tried to save her brother's memory by persuading her own to accommodate itself to what she believed to be her brother's emergency. She was a good sister, and she kept her memory well under control.

But what did the father of the young lady think of the matter? What did the people of Bath, who were well acquainted with all the actors engaged in this little comedy, think of the matter? Happily these questions can be answered by appealing to facts rather than to the well-considered recollections of a discreet lady.

We know for certain that Mr. Linley, who was, as one might suppose, fully equipped to play the part of the enraged father of the runaway girl, turned up at the place of her retreat—he had no trouble in learning in what direction to look for her—and having found her and the young gentleman who had run away with her, did he, under the impulse of his anger, fanned by his worldly knowledge, insist with an uplifted horsewhip upon his marrying her without a moment's delay? Mr. Linley knew Bath, and to know Bath was to know the world. Was he, then, of the same opinion as that expressed (according to his sister's narrative) by young Sheridan to persuade Miss Linley to be his bride—namely, that it would be impossible for her to show her face in Bath unless as the wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan?

Nothing of the sort. Whatever reproaches he may have flung at his daughter, however strong may have been his denunciation of the conduct of the man who had run away with her, they had not the effect either of inducing his daughter or her companion to reveal to him the fact that they had been married for several days, or of interrupting the friendly relations that had existed for nearly two years between himself and young Sheridan. The dutiful memory of Miss Sheridan records that Mr. Linley, “after some private conversation with Mr. Sheridan, appeared quite reconciled to his daughter, but insisted on her returning to England with him (Mr. Linley) to fulfil several engagements he had entered into on her account. The whole party set out together the next day, Mr. Linley having previously promised to allow his daughter to return to Lille when her engagements were over.”

The comedy of the elopement had become a farce of the “whimsical” type. Nothing more amusing or amazing has ever been seen on the vaudeville stage. The boy and the girl run off together and get married. The infuriated father follows them, ruthlessly invades their place of refuge, and then, “after some private conversation” with his daughter's husband, who does not tell him that he is her husband, says to the young woman, “My dear, you must come home with me to sing at a concert.”

“Certainly, papa,” replies the girl. “Wait a minute, and I'll go too,” cries the unconfused husband of the daughter. “All right, come along,” says the father, and they all take hands and sing the ridiculous trio which winds up the vaudeville after it has run on inconsequentially for a merry forty minutes—there is a pas de trois, and the curtain falls!

Alas, for the difference between Boswell the bald and Moore the melodious! The bald prose of Boswell's diaries may have made many of the personages with whom he dealt seem silly, but that was because he himself was silly, and, being aware of this fact, the more discriminating of his readers have no great difficulty in arriving at the truth of any matter with which he deals. He would never have accepted unreservedly such a narrative as that which Moore received from Mrs. Lefanu (née Sheridan), and put into his own language, or as nearly into his own language as he could. But Moore found it “so hard to narrate familiar events eloquently,” he complained. He actually thought that Mrs. Lefanu's narrative erred on the side of plausibility! The mysterious elopement, the still more mysterious marriage, and the superlatively mysterious return of the fugitives and the irate father hand-in-hand, he regarded as events so commonplace as not to be susceptible of lyrical treatment. But the most farcical of the doings of his own Fudge Family were rational in comparison with the familiar events associated with the flight to France of his hero and heroine. The Trip to Scarborough of Sheridan the farce-writer was founded on much more “familiar events” than this extraordinary trip to Lille, as narrated for the benefit of the biographer by Mrs. Lefanu.

What seems to be the truth of the whole matter is simply that Sheridan undertook to be a brother to Elizabeth Linley, and carried out his compact faithfully, without allowing anything to tempt him to depart, as he wrote to Charles, “even in thought from the honour and consistency which engaged [him] at first.” It must be remembered that he was a romantic boy of twenty, and this is just the age at which nearly every boy—especially a boy in love—is a Sir Galahad. As for Miss Linley, one has only to look at her portrait to know what she was. She was not merely innocent, she was innocence itself.

When Mr. Linley appeared at Lille he accepted without reserve the explanation offered to him by his daughter and by Sheridan; and, moreover, he knew that although there was a school for scandal located at Bath, yet so highly was his daughter thought of in all circles, and so greatly was young Sheridan liked, that no voice of calumny would be raised against either of them when they returned with him. And even if it were possible that some whisper, with its illuminating smile above the arch of a painted fan, might be heard in the Assembly Rooms when some one mentioned the name of Miss Linley in connection with that of young Sheridan and with the trip to Lille, he felt convinced that such a whisper would be robbed of its sting when every one knew that the girl and the boy and the father all returned together and on the best terms to Bath.

As the events proved, he had every right to take even so sanguine a view of the limitations of the range of the Pump Room gossips. On the return of the three from Lille no one suggested that Sheridan and Miss Linley should get married. No one except the scoundrel Mathews suggested that Sheridan had acted badly or even unwisely, though undoubtedly he had given grounds for such implications. The little party returned to Bath, and Miss Linley fulfilled her concert and oratorio engagements, went into society as before, and had at her feet more eligible suitors than had ever knelt there. We have it on the authority of Charles Sheridan, the elder brother, that in Bath the feeling was that Richard had acted as a man of honour in taking the girl to the convent at Lille. Writing to their uncle, Mr. Chamberlaine, he expressed surprise that “in this age when the world does not abound in Josephs, most people are (notwithstanding the general tendency of mankind to judge unfavourably) inclined to think that he (Richard) acted with the strictest honour in his late expedition with Miss L., when the circumstances might allow of their being very dubious on this head without incurring the imputation of being censorious.”

This testimony as to what was the opinion in Bath regarding the expedition is extremely valuable, coming as it does from one who was never greatly disposed to take a brotherly or even a friendly view of Richard's conduct at any time—coming as it does also from a man who had been in love with Miss Linley.

At any rate this escapade of young Mr. Sheridan was the most fortunate for him of any in which he ever engaged, and he was a man of many escapades, for it caused Elizabeth Linley to fall in love with him, and never was a man beloved by a sweeter or more faithful woman. To know how beautiful was her nature one has only to look at her face in either of the great portraits of her which are before us to-day. No characteristic of all that is held to be good and gracious and sympathetic—in one word, that is held to be womanly, is absent from her face. No man that ever lived was worthy of such a woman; but if only men who are worthy of such women were beloved by them, mankind would be the losers. She loved Sheridan with the truest devotion—such devotion as might be expected from such a nature as hers—and she died in the act of writing to him the love-letter of a wife to her dearly loved husband.

They did not get married until a year after the date of their flight to the Continent, and then they were described as bachelor and spinster. Neither of them ever gave a hint, even in any of the numerous letters which they exchanged during this period, that they had gone through the ceremony of marriage at that village near Calais. More than once a strained situation would have been relieved had it been possible to make such a suggestion, for now and again each of the lovers grew jealous of the other for a day or two. But neither said, “Pray remember that you are not free to think of marrying any one. We are husband and wife, although we were married in secret.” Neither of them could make such an assertion. It would not have been true. What seems to us to be the truth is that it was Sir Galahad who acted as protector to his sister when Richard Brinsley Sheridan went with Elizabeth Linley to France.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook