“Whatever Sheridan has done or chosen to do has been par excellence always the best of its kind”
In his time the politician and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (30th October 1751 – 7th July 1816) was thought to be the wittiest man in England. Once, in February 1809, when he was discovered drinking a glass of wine in the street as he watched his own Theatre Royal burn down, Sheridan famously retorted, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside!”
On another occasion he bumped into two royal dukes on Piccadilly.
“I say Sherry,” said one of them. “We just been discussing whether you are more rogue than fool.”
“Why faith,” replied Sheridan, taking each by the arm, “I believe that I am between both!”
Rib tickling stuff, I am sure that you will agree.
In 1793 Sheridan was living in Lacy House in north St Margarets. It stood on what is now Isleworth Promenade facing the Thames. By the time that Sheridan came to live here he had already written and produced his two most celebrated plays: “The Rivals” and the comedy of manners “School for Scandal”, both of which remain standard pieces in the national repertory. He had also distinguished himself as an effective and enlightened politician whose opinions are still be valid today. This is Sheridan speaking in the House of Commons on 4th April 1798 about the importance of a free press:-
“The press should be unfettered, that its freedom should be, as indeed it was, commensurate with the freedom of the people and the well-being of a virtuous State; on that account even one hundred libels had better be ushered into the world than one prosecution be instituted which might endanger the liberty of the press of this country.”
Sheridan had chosen his new home wisely. The walk along the northern bank of the Thames between Isleworth and East Twickenham had been described as the finest in England. The poet James Thomson wrote:
Here let us trace the matchless vale of the Thames,
Far winding up to where the muses haunt,
To Twitnam’s bowers.
With only Richmond Bridge to break the line of the river Twickenham Park as it was then known was an open parkland of fine old houses, magnificent trees and beautiful gardens. With an easy proximity to London the area soon attracted many famous and successful people. Even King William 4th had become a local property owner when he bought Gordon House for his illegitimate daughter, Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine. “At last you have a home,” he said. The flower garden was said to have been laid out under his personal supervision.
With two wildly successful plays behind Sheridan continued to work during his time at Lacy House. He was often seen walking up and down the riverbank, “a man with a firm face, large eyes and curly hair,” pondering his latest work. Unlike many other writers who could create directly onto the page Sheridan would spend a long time beforehand carefully considering every aspect of the play before committing words to paper. As he said to one of his sisters:- “The comedy is finished. I have now nothing to do but to write it out.”
Following the death of his much loved wife Elizabeth in 1792 Sheridan’s fortunes fell into decline. Mounting gambling debts and the destruction of his theatre in the fire of 1809 left him broke and bereft. Harassed by his creditors Sheridan eventually settled in Jermyn Street in London where he died on the 7th of July 1816. He was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey. Lacy House was pulled down in 1830.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan left no mark in St Margarets but a friend did remember him with an inscription raised on a decorative archway at Avenue House in Cranford. This was following Sheridan’s gift of acorns to “preserve sacred the oaks raised in the Pleasure Ground.”
As a Poet and Dramatic Writer unrivalled,
As a Patriot and Politician bold and consistent -
The True Friend of England and Ireland,
The one his country by birth, the other by adoption.-
But Reader, thank god he lives, as he has always done
More for mankind than for himself
JOHN GRAHAM, CRANFORD 1808
— from Martyn Day