Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Irish-British politician, playwright and writer (1751-1816)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (October 30, 1751July 7, 1816) was an Irish playwright and Whig statesman.

Never say more than is necessary.


  • An apothecary should never be out of spirits.
    • St. Patrick's Day (1775), Act I, sc. i.
  • Death's a debt; his mandamus binds all alike — no bail, no demurrer.
    • St. Patrick's Day (1775), Act II, sc. iv.
  • I will not say that there have been no instances of sedition; but I will affirm even that the evidence of these appears in so questionable a shape as ought to excite your suspicion. It is supported by a system of spies and informers, a system which has been carried to a greater extent under the present administration, than in any former period of the history of the country. ... [T]he government which avails itself of such support does not exist for the happiness of the people. It is a system which is calculated to engender suspicion, and to beget hostility; it not only destroys all confidence between man and man, but between the governors and the governed; where it does not find sedition, it creates it.
  • He was of opinion that the Press should be unfettered; that its freedom should be, as indeed it was, commensurate with the freedom of the People, and the well-being of a virtuous State: on that account, he thought that even one hundred libels had better be ushered into the world, than one prosecution be instituted which might endanger the liberty of the press of this country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (4 April 1798), quoted in The Parliamentary Register; Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Lords and House of Commons, Vol. V (1798), p. 584
  • While his off-heel, insidiously aside,
    Provokes the caper which he seems to chide.
    • Pizarro (first acted 24 May 1799), Prologue.
  • Such protection as vultures give to lambs.
    • Pizarro (first acted 24 May 1799), Act ii, scene 2.
  • Date not the life which thou hast run by the mean of reckoning of the hours and days, which though hast breathed: a life spent worthily should be measured by a nobler line, — by deeds, not years...
    • Pizarro (first acted 24 May 1799), Act iv, Scene 1. Compare: "Who well lives, long lives; for this age of ours / Should not be numbered by years, daies, and hours", Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, Second Week, Fourth Day, Book ii.
  • My visits to you may possibly be misunderstood by my friends; but I hope you know, Mr. Addington, that I have an unpurchasable mind.
    • Remarks to the Prime Minister, Henry Addington (c. 1802), quoted in George Pellow, The Life and Correspondence of The Right Hon. Henry Addington, First Viscount of Sidmouth, Vol. II (1847), p. 105
  • He stated it what he conceived was the unalterable resolution of ministers, that no proposal for peace should be entertained, while a single French soldier had a footing on British ground. [This sentiment was universally applauded.]
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the war with France (10 August 1803), quoted in The Parliamentary History of England, From the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, Vol. XXXVI (1820), column 1697
  • THEY, by a strange Frenzy driven, fight for Power, for Plunder, and extended Rule—WE, for our Country, our Altars, and our Homes.—THEY follow an ADVENTURER, whom they fear—and obey a Power which they hateWE serve a Monarch whom we love—a God whom we adore...They call on us to barter all of Good we have inherited and proved, for the desperate Chance of Something better which they promise.—Be our plain Answer this: The Throne WE honour is the PEOPLE'S CHOICE—the Laws we reverence are our brave Fathers' Legacy—the Faith we follow teaches us to live in bonds of Charity with all Mankind, and die with Hope of Bliss beyond the Grave. Tell your Invaders this; and tell them too, we seek no Change; and, least of all, such Change as they would bring us.
    • Sheridan's Address to the People. Our King! our Country! And our God! (1803), quoted in Frank J. Klingberg and Sigurd B. Hustvedt (eds.), The Warning Drum. The British Home Front Faces Napoleon. Broadsides of 1803 (1944), pp. 93–94
  • Take our constitution, wanting certainly as it did many reforms, yet, practically, it afforded the best security that human wisdom had ever given to man.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 July 1812), quoted in The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time, Vol. XXIII (1812), column 1156
  • You write with ease to show your breeding,
    But easy writing's curst hard reading.
    • Clio's Protest (1819).
  • An oyster may be crossed in love.
    • Clio's Protest (1819).
  • The right honorable gentlemen is indebted to his memory for his jests, and to his imagination for his facts.
    • Sheridaniana, Speech in Reply to Mr. Dundas.
  • Believe not each accusing tongue,
    As most weak persons do;
    But still believe that story wrong,
    Which ought not to be true!
    • Reported in Nicholas Harris Nicolas, The Carcanet: a Literary Album, Containing Select Passages from the Most Distinguished English Writers (1828), p. 132.

The Rivals (1775)Edit

  • 'Tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • Illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • A progeny of learning.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • Never say more than is necessary.
    • Act II, sc. i.
  • I know you are laughing in your sleeve.
    • Act II, sc. i.
  • A circulating library in a town is as an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge.
    • Act III, sc. i.
  • He is the very pineapple of politeness!
    • Act III, sc. iii.
  • If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!
    • Act III, sc. iii.
  • As headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.
    • Act III, sc. iii.
  • Too civil by half.
    • Act III, sc. iv.
  • Our ancestors are very good kind of folks; but they are the last people I should choose to have a visiting acquaintance with.
    • Act IV, sc. i.
  • We will not anticipate the past; so mind, young people,—our retrospection will be all to the future.
    • Act IV, sc. ii.
  • No caparisons, miss, if you please. Caparisons don't become a young woman.
    • Act IV, sc. ii.
  • You are not like Cerberus, three gentlemen at once, are you?
    • Act IV, sc. ii.
  • The quarrel is a very pretty quarrel as it stands; we should only spoil it by trying to explain it.
    • Act IV, sc. iii.
  • You're our enemy; lead the way, and we 'll precede.
    • Act V, sc. i.
  • There's nothing like being used to a thing.
    • Act V, sc. iii.
  • As there are three of us come on purpose for the game, you won't be so cantankerous as to spoil the party by sitting out.
    • Act V, sc. iii.
  • My valour is certainly going! — it is sneaking off! I feel it oozing out, as it were, at the palm of my hands!
    • Act V, sc. iii.
  • I own the soft impeachment.
    • Act V, sc. iii.
  • Through all the drama — whether damned or not —
    Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.
    • Epilogue.

The Duenna (1775)Edit

  • I ne'er could any luster see
    In eyes that would not look on me.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • I loved him for himself alone.
    • Act I, sc. iii.
  • A bumper of good liquor
    Will end a contest quicker
    Than justice, judge, or vicar.
    • Act I, sc. iii.
  • Had I a heart for falsehood framed,
    I ne'er could injure you.
    • Act I, sc. v.
  • Conscience has no more to do with gallantry than it has with politics.
    • Act II, sc. iv.

The School for Scandal (1777)Edit

  • Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.
    • Act I, sc. i.
  • You shall see them on a beautiful quarto page, where a neat rivulet of text shall meander through a meadow of margin.
    • Act I, sc. i.
  • You had no taste when you married me.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • Here is the whole set! a character dead at every word.
    • Act II, sc. ii.
  • I leave my character behind me.
    • Act II, sc. ii.
  • Here's to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
    Here's to the widow of fifty;
    Here's to the flaunting, extravegant quean,
    And here's to the housewife that's thrifty.
    Let the toast pass —
    Drink to the lass;
    I'll warrant she'll prove an excuse for the glass.
    • Act III, sc. iii.
  • An unforgiving eye, and a damned disinheriting countenance.
    • Act IV, sc. i.
  • Be just before you're generous.
    • Act IV, sc. i.
  • It was an amiable weakness.
    • Act V, sc. i.

The Critic (1779)Edit

  • Steal! to be sure they may; and, egad, serve your best thoughts as gypsies do stolen children,—disfigure them to make 'em pass for their own.
    • Act I, sc. i.
  • There is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy.
    • Act I, sc. i.
  • The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous — licentious — abominable — infernal — Not that I ever read them — no — I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.
    • Act I, sc. i.
  • Sheer necessity,—the proper parent of an art so nearly allied to invention.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • Egad, I think the interpreter is the hardest to be understood of the two!
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • A practitioner in panegyric, or, to speak more plainly, a professor of the art of puffing.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • The number of those who undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves is very small indeed.
    • Act I, sc. ii.
  • No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, I hope?
    • Act II, sc. i.
  • Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.
    • Act II, sc. i.
  • Where they do agree on the stage, their unanimity is wonderful.
    • Act II, sc. ii.
  • Inconsolable to the minuet in Ariadne.
    • Act II, sc. ii.
  • The Spanish fleet thou canst not see, because—it is not yet in sight!
    • Act II, sc. ii.
  • An oyster may be crossed in love.
    • Act III, sc. i.
  • I wish, sir, you would practice this without me. I can't stay dying here all night.
    • Act III, sc. i.

Quotes about SheridanEdit

  • Mr. Sheridan opened the third charge against Mr. Hastings... The subject of this charge was peculiarly fitted for displaying all the pathetic powers of eloquence; and never were they displayed with greater skill, force, and elegance, than upon this occasion. For five hours and an half Mr. Sheridan kept the attention of the house...fascinated by his eloquence; and when he sat down, the whole house—the members, peers, and strangers—involuntarily joined in a tumult of applause, and adopted a mode of expressing their approbation, new and irregular in that house, by loudly and repeatedly clapping their hands.
    • Annual Register, Or A View of the History, Politics, and Literature, For the Year 1787 (1789), p. 150
  • In the same book [The Columbian Orator], I met with one of Sheridan's mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights.
  • The country was highly indebted to him for his fair and manly conduct.
    • Henry Dundas on Sheridan's role in resolving the naval mutinies; speech in the House of Commons (2 June 1797), quoted in The Parliamentary History of England, From the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, Vol. XXXIII (1818), column 804
  • [O]ne who was equally the delight of society, and the grace of literature—whom it has been for many years the fashion to quote as a bold reprover of the selfish spirit of party; and throughout a period fruitful of able men and trying circumstances, as the most popular specimen in the British senate of political consistency, intrepidity, and honour.
    • 'Mr. Sheridan', The Times (8 July 1816), p. 3
  • Mr. Sheridan is one of the most perfect comic writers I know, and unites the most uncommon qualities—his plots are sufficiently deep, without the clumsy entanglement and muddy profundity of Congreve—characters strictly in nature—wit without affectation. What talents!—The complete orator in the senate, or in Westminster Hall—and the excellent dramatist in the most difficult province of the drama!

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about: