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|Background to the play
Written by JulieW
(2/26/2007 8:26 a.m.)
This was all acted out under the glare of much publicity- they were as much celebrities of the 18th century as our film stars today. And it was this story ,well known to many in England which provides the background for much of the Rivals.
Thomas Sheriden moved to Bath at the close of 1770 for the purpose of establishing an Academy of Oratory, and began by giving a series of Attic Entertainments, wheere his lecturing and declamation was diversified by additon of the singing of Elizabeth Linley, then a beautiful girl of sixteen.
In spite of her youth, she had a voice of "angelic" purity; at the first of these entertainments on November 24th she sang such ballads as "Black-Ey'd Susan" and "Eileen Aroon," while he followed with his celebrated recitation of the "Ode Upon St. Cecilia's Day."
it ought tobe noted that Elizabeth was also extremely beautiful.
Nine Attic Entertainments were given in the next two months, after which Mr. Sheridan's public performances in Bath were discontinued.
A littel ab out Miss linley: Elizabeth Ann Linley, the second of twelve children of Thomas Linley, was baptized at St. Michael's, Bath, on September 25th, 1754. She was born at a small house in Abbey Square, shortly before her parents removed to 5 Pierpont Street, which was the birthplace of her brothers and sisters, who were baptized in the parish church of St. James's. Her father, born at Badminton in 1733, was the son of a carpenter and builder who removed to Bath about 1744. He became a pupil of Thomas Chilcot, the organist of Bath Abbey.
By 1764 when Thomas Sheridan first lectured on oratory at Bath and Bristol, Linley was a musician of high repute, and Mrs. Sheridan then took lessons in singing from him, and his friend William Jackson of Exeter the composer.
The Linleys became the friends of the Sheridans,and all were very notable people among the company at Bath.
In December 1770 Mr. Sheridan notified the city by advertising in The Bath Chronicle that he had established "an Academy for the regular instrustion of Young Gentlemen in the art of reading and reciting and grammatical knowledge of the English tongue," and was ready "to receive the commands of any ladies and gentlemen at Bowers' in Kingsmead Street."
They lodged therefore, with William Bowers, who occupied a small house in Kingsmead Street, in the part called shortly afterwards New King Street.
In the academy, Thomas was assisted by his two sons, Charles, aged twenty, and Richard, aged nineteen. He was also accompanied by his two daughters, Alicia, or Lissy, then seventeen, and Elizabeth or Betsy, then thirteen.
However, Elizabeth Linley now became involved in a number of matrimonial scrapes, which attracted an awful lot of publicity.
She became engaged first to an old Wiltshire squire, of sixty years of age,a Mr Walter Long. He is described in contemporary accounts as a man of vast estates and ancient lineage, which he was; and, as a baronet, which he was not.
Until the age of thirty he had lived in humble circumstances with his father, Thomas Long of Rowdon, who had then inherited unexpectedly the estates of a distant relation, Sir Walter Long of Whaddon, the last baronet of a family who had for generations been landowners in Wiltshire.
His estates were valued at a quarter of a million pounds, but the habits of his early years clung to him, and he was mean, illbred, and avaricious. Nevertheless, he paid his court to Miss Linley, who was the indentured apprentice of her father, according to the custom of the time.
Under pressure of her friendsand family , she consented to the marriage, and in turn he agreed to pay her father one thousand pounds in compensation for the loss of her services, and she at once ceased to sing in public.
But……Just before the marriage was to take place, Squire Long broke off the match.
Thomas Linley, incensed at his conduct, demanded compensation for the loss of his daughter's services, and also for breach of promise. Long firmly refused. According to the version of the story written as a play by the famoue playwright and prorietor of the Little Theatre in the Hay, Samuel Foote, Long had broken the engagement because she had refused to pass the night at his lodgings before marriage.(!)
This play,” The Maid of Bath” has been brushed aside as a mere invention by Foote, but this ignores the fast that it had the support of David Garrick and Richard Cumberland, which gives more credence to its legitimacy. Richard Cumberland, a man of high principles, wrote the Epilogue declaring:
Ask us 'Why bring a private cause to view?'?We answer, with a sigh, -- because 'tis true.?For tho' invention is our poet's trade?Here he but copies parts which others play'd"
Foote staged the play under the title of "The Maid of Bath" at the Haymarket Theatre, with Elizabeth Linley represented as Kitty Linnet and Walter Long as Solo.
While his opponents censured its personality, and complained against the Lord Chamberlain giving his licence for the comedy, such papers as The London Magazine soberly defended it, holding that it was the proper province of the dramatic satirist to hold a poetical Court of Justice for the punishment of profligacy
"Miss L . . . of Bath has commenced an action for damages against Mr. . . ., as he has also against Mr. Foote." A little later the same paper recorded that the suit had been withdrawn on his giving Linley £3,000 and Elizabeth jewels to the value of £1,000 besides other valuable presents
But Mr Long's attempt to "undermine the virtue" of Elizabeth was not an isolated attack.
At this period, it was assumed that a woman who sang or acted in public was an , ahem, ”purchasable beauty,” and it was taken as a matter of course that she should be exposed to the solicitation of any man who had enough wealth to propose a settlement.
Enter the true villan of the piece:Captain Thomas Mathews.
The account in The London Magazine of 1772, in alluding to the suitors of the Maid of Bath, asserted that:
"Among the earliest of these attendants of Miss L. was Mr. M -- ws, a circumctance which was far from being favourable to her fame, for this gentleman was at the time married, and whether he admired her for her personal or professional perfections, he was her constant attendant. The censorious, as usual, took the alarm, and became very anxious for her virtue, without knowing whether it was in danger."
Thomas Mathews really is the villain of the Sheridan romance, against whom have been made all sorts of accusations -- that he posed as "a gay bachelor," or was indeed unmarried when he first paid attentions to Elizabeth; that he was a sham captain; that he was a coward who tried by every means in his power to avoid a duel with Sheridan; that his conduct exposed him to universal execration till public opinion drove him from Bath.
he began to pay court to elizabeth linley, whoappears to have not wanted any contact with teh man.
Thomas Mathews was the son of Major Thomas Mathews, who died in 1768, and the grandson of Admiral Thomas Mathews of Llandaff Court. Commissioned as ensign in the 86th Foot in 1762, he exchanged into the 54th Foot in 1766; a general demobilization followed in 1767, when his name does not appear in the Army List. Possibly he had not purchased his promotion, and "Captain" was adopted by him as a courtesy title on retirement
However Richard Sheridan and persuaded Elizabeth that the only way to avoid such unwanted attentions was to leave her profession, break all the contracts her father had made for her, and enter a French convent which accepted Protestant boarders.
"Bath. 23rd March. On Wednesday, the eldest Miss Linley of this city, justly celebrated for her musical abilities, set off with Mr. Sheridan, jun., on a matrimonial excursion to Scotland."
Except that they didn’t go to Scotland to marry,but to France….where they married illegally.
In1817, forty-five years after the event, a long and romantic account of the elopement to France, the clandestine marriage, and the duel with Mathews was written for Thomas Moore by Sheridan's younger sister, Mrs. Henry Lefanu. She wrote that "Major" Mathews persecuted Elizabeth Linley, who was afraid to speak to her father, but she:
was at length induced to consult Richard Sheridan, whose intimacy with Major Mathews at the time, she thought, might warrant his interference. Her father, she was certain, would at the risk of ruin to himself and his family have called the Major to account, if she ventured to consult him. R. B. Sheridan sounded Mathews on the subject, and at length prevailed on him to give up the pursuit.
"Miss Linley, now completely disgusted with a profession she never liked, conceived the idea of retiring to a Convent in France till she came of age, meaning to indemnify her father by giving up a part of the money settled upon her by Long.
She advised with her young friend Sheridan on the subject, and he communicated the scheme to his elder sister, who, thinking it meritorious to assist a young person situated as Miss Linley was in getting out of the difficulties that surrounded her, offered to give her letters of introduction to some ladies she had known in France, where she had resided some years, and Sheridan offered to be her conductor to St. Quentin, where these friends lived.
The arranging the whole plan of course produced frequent meetings between the young couple, and tho' Sheridan was then strongly attached to Miss Linley, he claimed only the title of friend, and his sister had no idea that the projected excursion was to lead to an immediate marriage.
"At length they fixed on an evening when Mr. Linley, his eldest son, and Miss M. Linley were engaged at the Concert (Miss Linley being excused on the plea of illness.
A woman was in the chaise who had been hired by Sheridan to accompany them on this extraordinary elopement. They reached London early the next day, when Sheridan introduced Miss Linley to a friend and relation, Richard Chamberlaine], then in Town, as an Heiress who had consented to be united to him in France. Another friend , Simon Ewart,who was the son of a respectable brandy-merchant in the City, , John Ewart, suggested the idea of their sailing from the Port of London to Dunkirk, to which place his father had a vessel ready to sail immediately.
This plan, as making pursuit more difficult, was immediately adopted, and the old gentleman not being entirely let into the secret, accompanied the young couple on board his ship, recommending them to the care of the Captain as if they had been his own children. He gave them letters of introdction to his correspondent at Dunkirk, and they were from thence given recommendations to several persons at Lille.
In a letter written on April 15th from Sheridan to his brother Charles he explained what happened next:
"Everything on our side has at last succeeded. Miss L., is now fixing in a Convent, where she has been entered some time. This has been a much more difficult point than you could have imagined, and we have, I find, been extremely fortunate. She has been ill, but is now recovered; this, too, has delayed me. We would have wrote, but have been kept in the most tormenting expectation from day to day of receiving your letters; but, as everything is now so happily settled here, I will delay no longer in giving you that information, though probably I shall set out for England without knowing a syllable of what has happened with you.
Sheriden’s sisters account continues:
After quitting Dunkirk, Sheridan was more explicit with Miss Linley as to his views in accompanying her to France. He told her he could not be content to leave her in a Convent unless she consented to a previous marriage, which all along had been the object of his hopes, and she must be aware that, after the step she had taken, she could not appear in England but as his wife. Miss Linley, who really preferred him greatly to any person, was not difficult to persuade, and at a village not far from Calais the marriage ceremony was performed by a priest who was known to be often employed on such occasions."
Thomas Linley eventually found them, and Elizabeth was persuaded to retun to Bath.
However , Captain Matthews now stepped in by attacking Richard Sheriden in a series of letters, accusing him of seducing Miss Linley. He compounded the affront by publicly insulting Sheriden by posting the following notice in the Bath Chronicle:
Bath, Wednesday, April 8, 1772. "Mr. Richard S******* having attempted, in a Letter left him for that Purpose, to account for his scandalous Method of running away from this Place, by Insinuations, derogating from my character, and that of a young Lady, innocent as far as relates to me, or my knowledge; since which he neither has taken any Notice of Letters, or even informed his own Family of the Place where he has hid himself; -- I can no longer think he deserves the Treatment of a Gentleman, and therefore shall trouble myself no further about him than, in this public Method, to post him a L***, and a treacherous S********.
Sheriden had no option but to fight him in a duel to defend his and Miss Linley’s honour. In fact he fought not one, but two.
The Bath Chronicle of Thursday, July 2nd, 1772, said:
This morning about three o'clock, a second duel was fought withs words, between Captain Mathews and Mr. R. Sheridan, on Kingsdown, near this city, in consequence of their former dispute respecting an amiable young lady, which Mr. M. considered as improperly adjusted; Mr. S. having, since their first rencontre, declared his sentiments respecting Mr. M. in a manner that the former thought required satisfaction. Mr. Sheridan received three or four wounds in his breast and sides, and now lies very ill. Mr. M. was only slightly wounded, and left this city soon after the affair was over."
And also this account :
Bath, Wednesday, July 8th.
Sheriden was sent to by his father to London to study law, and get away form the hot house of passion that was Bath.
But to no avail forThe Morning Chronicle of April 16th, 1772, announced:
Tuesday was married at Marylebone Church by the Rev. Dr. Booth the celebrated Miss Linley to Mr. Sheridan. After the ceremony they set out with her family and friends, and dined at the Star and Garter on Richmond Hill; in the evening they had a ball after which the family and friends returned to town, and left the young couple at a gentleman's house at Mitcham to consummate their nuptials.<
After their marriage, they lived in a cottage at Burnham Grove and Elizabeth terminated her engagements as a public performer. She had previously retired on the signing of the marriage-contract with Walter Long of Whaddon, and she would certainly have retired if she had married Sir Thomas Clarges, or Mr. Watts of Combe Abbey, so it was no matter of surprise -- except that her husband happened to be without a penny in the world.
And so, he set down to do the thing he did best….write. And The Rivals was the result. ;-)
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