070626.Bath, Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Coffee, Duels, and Bills PayableJune 26, 2007 at 2:15 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, doorways, Ionic Order, Jane Austen, people, River Avon, somerset | 6 Comments
Delia’s Grotto, Bath: [1. Elizabeth A. Linley, 2. Richard B. Sheridan, 3. The Grotto for Scandal, 4. History of Delia’s Grotto 5. Design and Brief Context]
The Parade Coffee House opened in 1750 and is now Bridgewater House. (See next photo down for the view from the building looking toward Abbey Street, Pierrepont Street, and the North Parade Buildings, River Avon.)
So when we last left Elizabeth Ann Linley (1754-1792), her short engagement to the elderly Mr. Long had ended and she was now the [negative] talk of the town. Depressed, she felt the whole city trapping her and she longed to escape to France, which is when she met the penniless Dublin-born Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), who had only two years before come to Bath with his father and older brother Charles, another one of her ardent suitors. He didn’t quite sweep her off her feet, but swept her in a waiting carriage and there used his time well while he escorted her to France. The couple left the Royal Crescent, Bath, under the cover of nightfall on 18 March 1772 to pass through London before arriving in Dunkirke. Later, she would write of the journey that she had not known him well before the carriage trip but found his concern for her welfare comforting as the two traveled to France, and there were secretly married in Calais. Elizabeth’s father, Thomas, tracked them down to Lille and escorted them both back to Bath. 
[Right: Sheridan] Back in Bath, the Sheridan-Linley elopement was greeted with the wagging of “patrician tongues” and pleasure-seekers “gossiping their powdered heads off from mid-morning until late afternoon.”  The affair also angered one of Elizabeth’s former die-hard suitors, Captain Thomas Mathews, who placed an advertisement in the Bath Chronicle on the 9 April 1772 that stated “because S. [Sheridan] had run away and had made damaging insinuations against him, S. must be ‘posted’ a ‘L[iar] and treacherous s[coundrel].’” This type of public attack was unusual since these challenges were often just posted at Coffee Houses and not in the newspaper. 
The resulting altercation during their first duel with rapiers nearly cost Sheridan his life when the militarily-trained Capt. Matthews quickly disarmed the poet and made him beg for his life apologize. Matthews then spread the story to further humiliate Sheridan, which resulted in a second more clumsy duel, in both swords broke but the poet was seriously injured. 
[Left: Capt. Mathews] Responding at night in the Parade Coffee House after returning to Bath, Sheridan was probably addressing the printer of the Bath Chronicle when he wrote: “Mr. Mathews thought himself essentially injured by a young Lady to escape the snare of vice and dissimulation. He wrote several most abusive threats to Mr. S— then in France. He laboured with a cruel intensity, to vilify his character in England. He publickly posted him as a scoundrel and a Liar— Mr. S answered him from France (hurried and surprised) that he would never sleep in England ‘till he had thank’d him as he deserved.” Sheridan goes on to claim that he won the second duel and that Mathews has lied about everything.  Later in another letter written to Mathews’ second at the later duel, Sheridan rhetorically asks: “Did Mr. Mathews give me an apology as a point of generosity, on my desisting to demand it? –He affirms he did.”  Sheridan just didn’t quit.
Despite being the cause of disgrace to his family, Sheridan wrote to his father “I returned here [to Bath] on Friday evening. I am very snugly situated in Town…” And so once returned, the young couple found both their fathers’ forbidding them to see each other again.  Naturally, they ignored parental dissatisfaction and continued the tryst. This is evidenced in Sheridan’s bill for goods “Bought of William Evill, In the Market Place” between 20 November, 1771 and 9 September 1772 where his bachelor days’ most extravagant expense recorded at this particular shop was for “1 neat Toothpick Case.” However, between 10 of June, and 9 of September, 1772, after his secret marriage, return to Bath, and order to never see Elizabeth again, he purchases “1 neat Hair Locket,” “1 neat fancy Ring,” “1 neat Gilt Watch Key,” “1 pair neat Garment Buttons,” and other assorted costly items and services including “fitting a Picture in a Case.” Possibly fearful of a third duel, he ran to the shop on the 9th of September to purchase “2 neat German hollow Blades to Swords with Vellum Scabbards, neat Steel and Gold.” 
One can assume Richard bought these items because of his involvement with Elizabeth, and the two “were able to meet only clandestinely, and to exchange furtive letters and verses which were left for each other in a grotto on the banks of the Avon.” 
Above: “Bought of William Evill,” courtesy of the Bath Central Library
 William Lowndes, Royal Crescent in Bath: A Fragment of English Life (Bristol, The Redcliffe Press, 1981). 36-38
 Ibid, 34.
 Cedric Price, ed., The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 27.
 Lowndes, 38.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan, “Letter to the Printer of the Bath Chronicle?” (May-Jun 1772) in C. Price, ed., The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 27.
 Richard Brinsley Sheridan, “Letter to Captain Knight” (Jul 1772) in C. Price, ed., The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 33.
 Richard Brinsley Sheridan, “Letter to Thomas Sheridan, Esq.” (May-Jun 1772) in C. Price, ed., The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 34.
 Bought of William Evill, In the Market Place, [Bill for] Mr. Sheridan (Bath: 20 Nov 1771-9 Sep 1772)
 Lowndes, 38.