Sheridan was born in Dublin, in the year 1757. He commenced his career as author by writing for the stage; but his acquaintance with Fox, who soon discerned his amazing abilities, led him in another direction. In 1786 he was employed with Burke in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. The galleries of the House of Lords were filled to overflowing; peers and peeresses secured seats early in the day; actresses came to learn declamation, authors to learn style. Mrs. Siddons, accustomed as she was to the simulation of passion in herself and others, shrieked and swooned while he denounced the atrocities of which Hastings had been guilty. Fox, Pitt, and Byron, were unanimous in their praise. And on the very same night, and at the very same time, when the gifted Celt was thundering justice to India into the ears of Englishmen, his School for Scandal, one of the best comedies on the British stage, was being acted in one theatre, and his Duenna, one of its best operas, was being performed in another.
Sheridan died in 1816, a victim to intemperance, for which he had not even the excuse of misfortune. Had not his besetting sin degraded and incapacitated him, it is probable he would have been prime-minister on the death of Fox. At the early age of forty he was a confirmed drunkard. The master mind which had led a senate, was clouded over by the fumes of an accursed spirit; the brilliant eyes that had captivated a million hearts, were dimmed and bloodshot; the once noble brain, which had used its hundred gifts with equal success and ability, was deprived of all power of acting; the tongue, whose potent spell had entranced thousands, was scarcely able to articulate. Alas, and a thousand times alas! that man can thus mar his Maker’s work, and stamp ruin and wretchedness where a wealth of mental power had been given to reign supreme.
Goldsmith’s father was a Protestant clergyman. The poet was born at Pallas, in the county Longford. After a series of adventures, not always to his credit, and sundry wanderings on the Continent in the most extreme poverty, he settled in London. Here he met with considerable success as an author, and enjoyed the society of the first literary men of the day. After the first and inevitable struggles of a poor author, had he possessed even half as much talent for business as capacity for intellectual effort, he might soon have obtained a competency by his pen; but, unfortunately, though he was not seriously addicted to intemperance, his convivial habits, and his attraction for the gaming table, soon scattered his hard-won earnings. His “knack of hoping,” however, helped him through life. He died on the 4th April, 1774. His last words were sad indeed, in whatever sense they may be taken. He was suffering from fever, but his devoted medical attendant, Doctor Norton, perceiving his pulse to be unusually high even under such circumstances, asked, “Is your mind at ease?” “No, it is not,” was Goldsmith’s sad reply; and these were the last words he uttered.