Source 2 : Description of a lecture series given in Edinburgh by Thomas Sheridan, 1761
Extract from periodical (NLS shelfmark: Sc.Mag, July 1761)
Thomas Sheridan, an Irish actor and father of the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan, visited Edinburgh in June 1761 to give a course of lectures on spoken English. The structure and content of the lectures are described in this account published in the ‘Scots Magazine’, July 1761. Sheridan was awarded the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh at this time.
Reading and speaking well in public
The content of the lecture series, which Sheridan delivered across Britain, was published as ‘A course of lectures on elocution’ in 1762. In this book, Sheridan expressed his belief that being able to read and speak well in public is ‘a matter of the utmost importance to the state, and to society’, and that good spoken English can be taught and learned.
On the 10th of June arrived at Edinburgh, Mr Thomas Sheridan, son of the Mr Sheridan, who was an intimate friend of Dr Swift’s, and is frequently mentioned in his works. This gentleman received the first part of his education at his father’s school in Ireland, and was afterwards at Westminster school. For some time he had the direction of the theatre in Dublin, which, by his skilful management, he raised from obscurity to a high degree of reputation. He appeared last season on the theatre-royal in Drury-lane, London, with great applause; and has engaged, we are informed, with Mr Rich, the manager of the theatre in Covent-garden, for the ensuing season.
He has during his whole life devoted a great part of his time to the study of the English language, and the improvement of the art of speaking. His ideas and discoveries on these subjects he has reduced into the form of lectures; part of which he delivered, first in London, and afterwards in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. These lectures, with considerable enlargements, concerning those points with regard to which Scotsmen are most ignorant, and the dialect of this country most imperfect, he delivered in St Paul’s chapel, Edinburgh. The following advertisement, published by himself, will give our readers some idea of what they contained.
“Edinburgh, June 16. 1761. Mr Sheridan proposes to read two courses of LECTURES; the first, on ELOCUTION, the second, on the ENGLISH TONGUE; consisting of eight lectures each.
In the first, he will treat of every thing necessary to a GOOD DELIVERY, under the following heads:
ARTICULATION, PRONUNCIATION, ACCENT, EMPHASIS, PAUSES or STOPS, PITCH and MANAGEMENT of the VOICE, TONES, and GESTURE.
In the second, he will examine the whole state and constitution of the English Tongue, so far as relates to sound; in which he will point out its peculiar genius and properties, and specific difference from others, both antient and modern.
In order to do this in the clearest and most effectual manner, he will begin with the very first elements of speech, and thence proceeding through syllables and words, to sentences and verses, lay open the principles of composition and numbers, in a manner hitherto unattempted. In this course he will point out the true source of the difficulty (at present thought to be insuperable) which all foreigners, as well as natives of different kingdoms and counties, that speak a corrupt dialect of English, find in the attainment of the right pronunciation of that tongue.
In the close he will point out an easy and practicable way of reducing the living tongue to a standard, and establishing such a method of teaching it, that the adult may become masters of it with more ease and certainty, than of any other modern tongue; and that the rising generation in this country may be taught to speak it in its utmost purity.
The price of a ticket, which will admit one person to both courses, will be a guinea.”
The lectures were begun on the 30th of June, and were continued four weeks, every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, at six o’clock in the evening. They were attended by more than 300 gentlemen, the most eminent in this country for their rank and abilities; who expressed no less satisfaction with the ingenuity and justness of his sentiments, than with the elegant and interesting manner in which he delivered them.
During the course Mr Sheridan caused distribute an advertisement, giving notice, that he proposed to publish his lectures on elocution some time in the ensuing spring, together with several tracts relative to that subject, in one volume quarto; and that such gentlemen as had done him the honour of attending the course, should, upon paying a subscription of half a guinea only, be intitled each to one copy of the work when published, though the price of the volume to all who did not subscribe to the course would be one guinea. – Many of the gentlemen subscribed for the book.
At the end of the course the following advertisement was published.
“Mr Sheridan gives notice, that he will begin a course of lectures on Tuesday next, the 28th [of July] instant, and finish it on Friday in the following week, chiefly intended for the use of the ladies [No ladies attended the former courses] or such gentlemen as had not an opportunity of being present at the former courses. In this course he intends to comprise all that was most material in the two former, upon Elocution and the English Tongue. And as there were many passages in those which could not well be comprehended, but by such as were acquainted with the learned languages; as there were many others calculated for such only whose professions call upon them to speak in public; and a great many points expatiated on in comparing our language with those of Greece and Rome, in order that they might be submitted to the critical skill of persons versed in those languages; Mr Sheridan hopes, that, by retrenching all such passages, and compressing others of a more dry nature into a narrower compass; at the same time taking care not to omit any thing essential, or of a more entertaining kind, this course will answer every purpose to the ladies, much better than the two others at large. It is proposed, that the course shall be comprised in eight lectures, to be delivered on the same days and at the same hour as before. The price of a ticket for the course, one guinea; for which, each lady that subscribes shall be intitled to one copy of the lectures on elocution in quarto, proposed to be published some time in the ensuing spring.”
During this course the house was crouded with ladies and gentlemen.
P.S. In the papers of Aug. 5. the following advertisement was inserted.
“Edinburgh, Aug. 5. 1761. Mr Sheridan gives notice to such gentlemen as attended his lectures, that they may have an opportunity of securing a book, containing his course on elocution, for the price of half a guinea, only; by sending in their names to Mess. Hamilton & Balfour, or Mess. Kincaid & Bell, any time before Wednesday next: after which no subscriptions less than a guinea will be received. Such gentlemen as do not chuse to pay the half-guinea previous to the publication of the book, shall be intitled to one at that price, only by setting down their names. Mr Sheridan’s motive for publishing this advertisement is, that he wants to ascertain the number of copies to be struck off; as he does not intend to print any more that what shall be subscribed for, before the work goes to the press.”
Notice was given in the Edinburgh papers of July 27. that on the Tuesday following, the plan of a new establishment, for carrying on, in this country, the study of the English tongue, in a regular and proper manner, was to be laid before the Select Society. Mention was made of this by Mr Sheridan, on the Friday before, in the last lecture of his first two courses.
- What aspects of language did Sheridan focus on in his lecture series?
- Why might it have been considered important that the ‘rising generation’ in Scotland were taught to speak English in its ‘utmost purity’? Why might the idea of certain dialects being ‘corrupt’ be met with opposition today?
- Do you think people in Edinburgh had any interest in being taught how to ‘improve in the art of speaking’? Give evidence to support your answer.
- Why might an Irish actor be particularly well qualified to teach spoken English to a Scottish audience?
- How was the Scots language viewed by the Scots Magazine at this time? Give evidence to support your answer.