Monday 7 July 2014

"Death's a debt": The Death of Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (Dublin, Ireland, 30th October 1751 – London, England, 7th July 1816)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds
It is no secret that one of my Georgian idols is Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a theatrical legend of the long 18th century. Last year I told the story of Sheridan's eventful life and we made a second stop on Drury Lane to witness the fire that consumed the theatre where Sheridan had reigned. Today is the anniversary of Sheridan's death and it seemed only right to mark this sad occasion, Sheridan's final days spent in penury and unhappiness.

Whether as a playwright, politician or theatre impresario, Sheridan lived his life to the full. He never did things by halves and gambled or spent money whether he had it or not but, eventually, this spending was destined to catch up on him.

On 24th February 1809, fire took hold of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and razed the entire building to the ground. With the theatre insured for vastly less than it was worth, the blaze proved financially catastrophic for Sheridan and things got worse three years later when he lost his parliamentary seat, more than thirty years after he began his career at Westminster. Though his creditors were closing in, when Congress offered him £20,000 to thank him for his political efforts to avert the War of Independence whilst in office, Sheridan proudly turned down the money and sank even deeper into debt.

At home things were far from settled as Sheridan's adored second wife, Esther Jane Ogle, grew ill with cancer and Sheridan's own health failed. As Esther grew weaker, Sheridan took to his bed and died in poverty, a shadow of the man he had once been. Sheridan received a hugely impressive funeral ceremony and was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey; among his mourners were some of the most illustrious names in London.


Unknown said...

Such a sad end for a great playwright.

Catherine Curzon said...

One of my idols; such a tragedy he ended as he did.

Unknown said...

...and treated VERY badly at the end by his friend the Prince Regent. In penury,the Prince on his way to Brighton happened to see him but practically ignored him-only turning away and saying Oh look-there was Sheridan!

Catherine Curzon said...

George was such an unpleasant fellow!