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man, he said, “who composed his wine and imported his music”; and was finally shot off, in a seemingly careless parenthesis, in a speech in reply to Dundas, - a right honorable gentleman, (“who depends on his imagination for his facts, and his memory for his wit,”') &c. Again, he had a great love of a witty metaphor drawn from the terms of military science. It first appears as a kind of satire on his own reputation for extempore jests. “A true-trained wit,” he says, “lays his plan like a general, – foresees the circumstances of the conversation, - surveys the ground and contingencies, and detaches a question to draw you into the palpable ambuscade of his ready-made joke.” In another memorandum he sketches a lady who affects poetry.
"I made regular approaches to her by sonnets and rebuses, - a rondeau of circumvallation, — her pride sapped by an elegy, and her reserve
surprised by an impromptu ; proceeding to storm with Pindarics, she, at last, saved the further effusion of ink by, a capitulation.” Exquisite as this is, it is even exceeded in the shape in which he presented the general idea in the House of Commons. Among the members of the Whig party who had ratted, and gone over to the administration, was the Duke of Richmond, a man who had been foremost in the extreme radical ranks of his former connections. In the session of 1786, the duke brought forward a plan for the fortification of dock-yards. Sheridan subjected his Report to a scorching speech. He complimented the duke for the proofs he had given of his genius as an engineer.
“ He had made his Report,” said Sheridan, an argument of posts ; and conducted his reasoning upon principles of trigonometry as well as logic. There were certain detached data, like ad. vanced works, to keep the enemy at a distance from the main object in debate. Strong provisions covered the flanks of his assertions. His very queries were in casements. No impression, therefore, was to be made on this fortress of sophistry by desultory observations; and it was necessary to sit down before it, and assail it by regular approaches. It was fortunate, however, to observe, that notwithstanding all the skill employed by the noble and literary engineer, his mode of defence on paper was open to the same objections which had been urged against his other fortifications; that if his adversary got possession of one of his posts, it became strength against him, and the means of subduing the whole line of his argument.
From 1780, the period of his entering Parliament, to
1787, Sheridan, though he had spoken often, had made no such exhibition of his powers as to gain the reputation of a great orator.
But about this time the genius and moral energy of Burke started a subject, which not only gave full expression to his own great nature, but afforded the orators of his party a rare occasion for the most dazzling displays of eloquence. We refer, of course, to the impeachment of Hastings. In all matters relating to the affairs of India, Burke bore sovereign sway in his party. It was he who projected the unsuccessful India Bill, on which the Coalition ministry was wrecked. Defeat, however, was not likely to damp the energies of a mind like his, when it had once fastened on an object; and he kept alive among his associates the determination to bring the spoilers of India to a public account for their misdeeds, and to hold them up to hatred and execration as worthy successors of Cortés and Pizarro, in plundering and depopulating the empire they had conquered. Burke was the only man in England in whom the prosecution of Indian delinquency and atrocity was a fixed passion as well as a fixed principle. By his ardor and complete comprehension of the subject, he communicated his enthusiasm to his party, — a party which always appeared best when it had public criminals to brand and public corruptions to expose. In bringing forward in the House of Commons the various charges against Hastings, the charge relating to the spoliation of the Begums was allotted to Sheridan. He was probably well supplied by Burke with materials, and he resolutely determined to give the subject that attention which would enable him to make an effective speech. Of all the men engaged in the prosecution, he was perhaps the most superficial in the feeling with which he regarded the crimes against which he was to declaim. His conscience and passions were not deeply stirred against the criminal. Hunt says, in his light way, that the inspiration of Burke in this matter was a jealous hatred of wrong, the love of right that of Fox, “ and the opportunity of making a display at somebody's expense that of Sheridan, without any violent care either for right or wrong.” With regard to the latter, at least, the remark is just. We can conceive of nothing more ludicrous than the idea of Sheridan sitting down with his bottle and documents, and, by dint of hard drinking and cautious reading, concocting ingenious epigrams out of the frauds, and framing - No. 138.
theatrical thunder against the crimes, of the great oppressor of India.
However, the event was such as to reward all his diligence. His speech was made on February 7, 1787, and occupied five hours and a half in the delivery. All parties agreed in its extravagant praise. Fox said, that all he had ever heard, all that he had ever read, when compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapor before the sun. Burke and Pitt declared it to be unequalled in ancient or modern eloquence. Logan, who had written a defence of Hastings, went that evening to the House with the strongest prepossession against Sheridan and in favor of Hastings. After the former had been speaking an hour, he observed to a friend, -" All this is declamatory assertion, without proof.” When he left the House, at the end of the speech, he exclaimed, — “ Of all monsters of iniquity the most enormous is Warren Hastings.” Windham, who was no friend to Sheridan, said, twenty years afterwards, that, in spite of some faults of taste, it was the greatest speech within the memory of man. The most significant sign of its effect was the adjournment of the House, on the ground that the members were too much excited to render a fair judgment on the case, -- a ground that Burke very happily ridiculed. The practice of cheering at the end of a good speech commenced with this splendid effort of Sheridan.
There can be little doubt that this was, on the whole, the greatest production of Sheridan's mind. There is no report of it deserving the name. Although he had the speech written out, he would never publish it. With his usual sagacity, he judged that the tradition of its effects would give him more fame than the production itself. · To account for his success is difficult. A great deal is to be referred to the materials which his subject presented for oratorical display, to his beautiful delivery of particular passages, to the care with which he elaborated the whole, and to the surprise of the House at its superiority over all his previous speeches. He most certainly did not possess that deep feeling of horror and detestation for the crimes of Hastings which animated the breast of Burke. Several years afterwards, when the Prince of Wales introduced him to Hastings, he had the meanness to tell the latter that he had attacked him merely in the way of his vocation as a Whig politician, and trusted
that it would not be considered as a test of his private feelings. Hastings did not condescend to answer him, but turned scornfully away. If the passion was thus in a great measure simulated, it certainly was not expressed, as far as we can judge from passages here and there in the imperfect printed report, in a style very much above verbiage and fustian. The passages which would have best vindicated the eulogies it received were probably the epigrammatic portions; and these must have been of surpassing brilliancy, not only from the ingenuity of Sheridan's mind, but from the startling contrasts with which the subject itself was replete. Thus, the most felicitous passage which can be gleaned from the printed report is that in which reference is made to the sordid spirit of trade which blended with all the operations of the East India Company as a government, and disgraced even their boldest achievements, which showed the meanness of peddlers and the profligacy of pirates.
“Alike," he says, “ in the political and military line could be observed auctioneering ambassadors and trading generals ; — and thus we saw a revolution brought about by affidavits ; an army employed in executing an arrest; a town besieged on a note of hand; a prince dethroned for the balance of an account. Thus it was they exhibited a government which united the mock majesty of a bloody sceptre and the little traffic of a merchant's counting-house, — wielding a truncheon with one hand, and picking a pocket with the other.”
On the 3d of June, 1778, Sheridan, having been appointed one of the managers of the impeachment of Hastings, delivered before the Lords in Westminster Hall another oration on the same charge he had so brilliantly urged in the House of Commons. The fashionable excitement caused by this great state trial is said to have reached its height on the pccasion of his speech. Fifty guineas were known to have been paid for a ticket. The oration, including the examination of evidence, occupied four days; and although it did not wring the hearts and overpower the understandings of the audience, like the impassioned and comprehensive orations with which Burke opened the impeachment, it still produced the liveliest sensation. Burke, whose whole soul was in the success of the cause, and who was delighted with every thing which helped it forward in popular estimation, was heated with admiration during its delivery. “There,” he exclaimed to
Fox, while listening to some passages, “ there, that is the true style ; something between poetry and prose, and better than either.” Fox replied, that he thought the mixture was likely to produce poetic prose, or, what was worse, prosaic poetry.
On the fourth day, Sheridan strained his powers to the utmost, to charm and dazzle his auditory. In referring to one crime of Hastings, he made an allusion to the great historian of the age. Gibbon was present, and in his Memoirs has recorded the pleasure he experienced in receiving such a compliment before all that was great and noble in the nation. “Not in the annals of Tacitus, said Sheridan, “not on the luminous page of Gibbon, could be found described such a monstrous act of cruelty and treachery.” At the conclusion of the speech, he sunk back in the arms of Burke, as if overcome with fatigue and emotion. One of his prosaic Whig friends came up to him, and said, “Why, Sherry, did
you compliment that Tory, Gibbon, with the epithet luminous ? " " I said vo-luminous,” answered Sheridan, in a hoarse whisper.
It is commonly believed that the speech in Westminster Hall was substantially the same as that delivered in the House of Commons, although, in its diffusion through two days, Fox and many others considered it inferior to his first effort. Burke, however, in his celebrated eulogy on the oration, said, that from poetry up to eloquence, there was not a species of composition of which a complete and perfect specimen might not be culled from it. Now there is extant a verbatim report of the speech; and Mr. Moore, in his Life of Sheridan, has quoted all those passages which even the partiality of a biographer could pronounce excellent. It is scarcely necessary to say, that there is hardly a page in Burke's own works which is not worth the whole of Sheridan's fine 'writing, as far as eloquence can be estimated from the written composition. Burke's extravagant praise is to be referred partly to the magnanimity of a rival orator, emulous to outdo all others in hearty recognition of another's merits, and partly to his intense enthusiasm for every effective speech delivered on his side of the subject. In him, the success of the impeachment swallowed up every desire for personal notoriety or fame in its prosecution, and he naturally exaggerated the merit of all arguments and eloquence