13 November 2013

Sheridan's laughable quip

A gentleman’s sporting magazine for the month of April 1802 (when Pitt was out of office) relates an amusing riposte made by the well-known playwright and Whig member of Parliament Richard Brinsley Sheridan on Pitt’s supposed secret influence in Addington’s government.
Sheridan said that “Mr. Pitt appears as an outside passenger upon the top of the state coach; where, to be sure, he has no ostensible hold of the reins; yet, if we see him [Pitt] busily employed in pointing out where it is to turn, what road it shall take, and where to bait, it is easy to see who is the real guide…” (Sporting Magazine, Vol. 20, 1802: 111). The commentator remarked that at the time of Sheridan’s speech, Pitt was, in fact, seated on one of the highest seats behind the Treasury bench, causing uproarious laughter among his fellow MPs. Poor Pitt!

Sheridan was one of Pitt’s few witty political opponents, and someone not overawed by Pitt’s frequent, caustic sarcasm. I relate this anecdote as it occurred, and was printed, during Pitt’s lifetime, and as it is relatively unknown.

Reference:

The Sporting Magazine, or, Monthly Calendar, of the transactions of the turf, the chase, and every other diversion interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise, and Spirit, for April 1802. London: J. Wheble, pg. 111.

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