SHERIDAN: The Track of a Comet by Madeleine Bingham

SHERIDAN: The Track of a Comet

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A spirited and likable biography of Sheridan, the rakish Irish dramatist whose comic genius (and impecunious pockets) brought The Rivals and The School for Scandal to the Drury Lane. Bingham treats Sheridan as an exuberant young man on the make out to conquer the dizzy social heights of 18th-century Whiggery. Coming from the fringe world of the stage, Sheridan determined to crash Parliament -- the most exclusive club in London -- and firmly clinging to the dapper coattails of Fox, the great but impolitic Whig radical, he briefly held office in the 1780's before mounting debts and a congenital distaste for the opportunism of parliamentary place seekers did him in. Bingham has a fine sense of the tumultuous swirl of London in the 1780's and '90's when John Wilkes and the radical currents of the French Revolution signaled the advent of the vulgar ""mob"" as a force in politics. Sheridan always stood closer than he wished to the riotous throng; a parvenu with neither inherited wealth nor social connections he had only his natural wit and oratorical skill to make his way up the greasy pole. For a time he rubbed shoulders with Burke, Pitt and the Prince of Wales but in the end the sheer force of personality could not overcome his scruffy origins. Scurrilous pamphlets described him as ""The Son of an obscure Irish player, a profession formerly proscribed by laws; and its followers by various statutes stigmatized as incorrigible rogues and vagabonds."" Taking a close look at Sheridan's raggle-taggle theatrical family Bingham suggests that both his overweening ""ambition"" and the feckless do-or-die gaiety were a kind of protective armor against the snobs. To the end he remained a profligate, a democrat and an optimist and the reader will be inclined along with Bingham to overlook as peccadillos his financial transgressions and dubious political judgments. A winning biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1972
Publisher: St. Martin's Press