Friday, March 17, 2017

For Burke, for Sheridan, and innocent pedestrians

Frederic Reynolds, twelve years old, thought he was going to die. He was walking down the narrow passage between Vinegar Yard and Bridges Street at nine o'clock on a May evening in 1777 when he heard a terrible noise above his head. The sudden, tremendous rumble made him sure that Drury Lane Theatre, which formed one side of the passage, was collapsing .. He covered his head with his hands and ran for his life, but 'found the next morning that the noise did not arise from the falling of the house, but from the falling of the screen in the fourth act; so violent and so tumultuous were the applause and laughter.' He had passed by the opening night of Sheridan's new play, The School for Scandal.

St Patrick's is more than certainly as good a day as any, for a coming to grips with the possible, when an entertainer turns to politics, and invokes the English language to do it. Never mind the factor of imperialism in its adoption, Ireland is all the rage in the Executive branch of the American government today, not for her genius with English, but for the myth of her people's welcome as immigrants to this land. It was not the shrewdest move of this mountebank regime, to patronise a people who has seen it all and then some, from such frauds. Sheridan's biographer has noticed, and by anyone in that dervish cabinet who can read, this might have been expected. 

Readers of this page will remember Sheridan as the brilliant Irish dramatist-statesman of the 18th Century, whose use of this language electrified audiences in Parliament and theatre alike, not merely with its acuity, but with its undeniability. In Sheridan, as in his rival Edmund Burke, the line between the power and the purpose in rhetoric was controlled by the most luminous exercise of conscience. Indeed, Sheridan once said to Burke, I don't mean to flatter, but when posterity reads one of your speeches in Parliament, it will be difficult to believe that you took so much pains, knowing with certainty that it could produce no effect, that not one vote would be gained by it.

With no falsity whatever, therefore,
by virtue of the genius of the great
unwashed - a phrase misattributed to
Edmund Burke - for the unvarnished 
and unfalsified, clean energy of a
language which only its scoundrels
demand to make compulsory in a free
nation, it's not only possible, not
only necessary, to revel on St Pat-
rick's day as a refreshment to Amer-
ican principles. It is a way of re-
vealing them.

Fintan O'Toole

A Traitor's Kiss
  The Life of 
  Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  pp. 122 & 258
op. cit. 

Green Beer and
  Rank Hypocrisy
The New York Times©
March 16, 2017

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