1902 Encyclopedia > David Garrick

David Garrick
English actor and theatrical manager
(1716-79)




DAVID GARRICK, (1716-1779), the greatest actor of his age, and the most successful of English theatrical managers, was descended from a good French Protestant family of Bordeaux which had settled in England on the revocation of the edict of Nantes. His father, Captain Peter Garrick, was on a recruiting expedition when his celebrated son was born at Hereford on February 19, 1716-17. The captain usually resided at Lichfield on half pay, but, in order to benefit his large family, he accepted an offer to proceed on service to Gibraltar, in place of a brother officer who was desirous of returning to England. This kept him many years absent from home, and the letters written to him by " little Davy," acquainting him with the doings at Lichfield, are highly interesting memorials of the future Boscius. In his nineteenth year, after receiving a good education at the grammar school of Lichfield, David was sent to the establishment at Edial, opened in June or July 1736 by Samuel Johnson, his senior by seven years. The Edial academy was shut in about six months, and on the 2d of March 1736-7 master and pupil, Johnson and Garrick, left Lichfield for London, the one to commence the study of the law, and the other to try his tragedy of Irene-—Johnson, as he afterwards said, "with twopence halfpenny in his pocket," and Garrick "with three-halfpence in his." Seven days afterwards, however, Garrick was entered of Lincoln's Inn, but after remaining for a few months in London, he resided for some time with Mr Colson, a distinguished teacher at Rochester (afterwards Lucasian professor at Cambridge). Captain Garrick, who had returned from Gibraltar, died about a month after his son's arrival in London. Soon afterwards a rich uncle, a wine merchant at Lisbon, in his will left David a sum of £1000, and he and his brother entered into partnership as wine merchants in London and Lichfield. The concern was not prosperous— though Foote's assertion that he had known Garrick with three quarts of vinegar in the cellar calling himself a wine merchant need not be taken literally—and before the end of 1741 he had spent nearly half of his £1000. His passion for the stage completely engrossed him; he tried his hand both at dramatic criticism and at dramatic authorship, and made his first appearance on the stage late in 1740-1, incognito, as harlequin at Goodman's Fields, where Woodward, being ill, allowed him to take his place during a few scenes. When the manager of the same theatre, Giffard, took a party of players to Ipswich, Garrick accompanied them, and there made his first essay as an actor under the name of Lyddal, in the part of the black Aboan (in Southerne's Oroonoko). His success on the pro-vincial boards determined his future career. On the 19th of October 1741 he made his appearance at Goodman's Fields in the character of Richard III., and gained the most enthusiastic applause. His staid and sedate brother, and his sisters at Lichfield, were scandalized at this derogation from the provincial dignity of the family; and Garrick, greatly distressed at the shock they had received by the intelligence (which, however, he expected), hastened to give up his interest in the wine company. Each night added to his popularity on the stage. He was received by the best company in town. While his Richard was still calling forth general admiration, he won new applause in Lear and Pierre, as well as in several comic characters (including that of Bayes). Glover (" Leonidas") attended every performance; Lyttelton, Pitt, and several other members of parliament had shown him the greatest civility. From December 2d he appeared in his own name. Pope went to see him thrice during his first performances, and pronounced that " that young man never had his equal as an actor, and he will never have a rival." Before next spring he had supped with " the great Mr Murray, counsellor," and hoped to do so with Mr Pope through Murray's introduction, while he was dining with Halifax, Sandwich, and Chesterfield. " There are a dozen dukes of a night at Goodman's Fields," writes Horace Walpole. The Lying Valet being at this time brought out with success, the honours of dramatic author were added to those of the stage. His fortune was now made, and while the managers of Covent Garden and Drury Lane resorted to the law to make Giffard close his little theatre, Garrick was engaged by Fleetwood for Drury Lane for the season of 1742. In the meantime, having very advantage-ous terms offered him for performing in Dublin during part of the summer, he went over to that city, where he found the same homage paid to his merit which he had received from his own countrymen. From September 1742 to April 1745 he continued at Drury Lane, after which he again went over to Ireland, and remained there the whole season, as joint-manager with Sheridan, in the direction and profits of the theatre-royal in Smock Alley. From Dublin he returned to England, and fulfilled a short engagement in 1746-7 with Rich at Covent Garden. This was his last series of performances as a hired actor; for in the close of that season Fleetwood's patent for the management of Drury Lane expired, and Garrick, in conjunction with Lacy, purchased the property of the theatre, together with the renovation of the patent, and in the winter of 1747 opened it with a strong company of actors, the prologue for the occasion being written by his old preceptor Johnson.





For a time, at least, " the drama's patrons " were content with the higher entertainment furnished them; in the end Garrick had to " please " them, like most other managers, by gratifying their love of show. Garrick was surrounded by many players of eminence; and he had the art, as he was told by Miss Clive, "of contradicting the proverb that one cannot make bricks without straw, by doing what is infinitely more difficult, making actors and actresses without genius." The naturalness of his own acting was its great charm. As Churchill says in the Rosciad, which remains the chief literary monument of Garrick's pre-eminence among his fellows, he who is " pleased with Nature, must be pleased with thee." Booth, Quin, and the old tragedians were remarkable for a style of stately declamation, sonorous, and often graceful and impressive, but wanting the versa-tility and rapid changes of passion that, when exhibited by Garrick, at once captivated the audience. " It seemed," said Bichard Cumberland, "as if a whole century had been stepped over in the passage of a single scene; old things were done away, and a new order at once brought forward, bright and luminous, and clearly destined to dispel the barbarisms of a tasteless age, too long superstitiously devoted tothe illusions of imposing declamation." Garrick's French descent and his education may have contributed to give him the vivacity of manner and versatility of concep-tion which distinguished him as an actor; and nature had given him an eye, if not a stature, to command, and a mimic power of wonderful variety. The list of his charac-ters in tragedy, comedy, and farce is large, and would be extraordinary for a modern actor of high rank; it includes not less than seventeen Shakespearean parts. As a manager, though he committed some grievous blunders, he did good service to the theatre and signally advanced the popularity of Shakespeare's plays, of which not less than twenty-four were produced at Drury Lane under his management. Many of these were not pure Shakespeare ; but not every generation has the same notions of the way in which he is best honoured. He purified the stage of much of its grossness, and introduced a relative correctness of costume and decoration unknown before.

After, about the year 1745, escaping from the chains of an unreturned passion for the beautiful but reckless actress "Peg" Woffington, Garrick had, in 1749, married Mademoiselle Violette (Eva Maria Veigal), a German lady who had attracted the admiration of the court of Vienna as a dancer, and was patronized in England by the countess of Burlington. This lady Garrick called "the best of women and wives," and he lived most happily with her in his villa at Hampton (acquired by him in 1754, and adorned by the famous Shakespeare temple), whither he was glad to escape from his house in Southampton Street. Their union was childless, and Mrs Garrick survived her husband, living in great respect until 1822. Having sold the moiety of his theatre for £35,000, Garrick took leave of the stage by playing a round of his favourite characters—Hamlet, Lear, Richard, Lusignan, and Kitely, as the graver; Archer, Abel Drugger, Sir John Brute, Benedick, Leon, and Don Felix, as those of a lighter cast. He ended the series with Don Felix (in The Wonder) on June 10, 1776. But he was not long to enjoy his opulent and well-earned repose, for he died in London on the 20th of January 1779. He was buriedin Westminister Abbey with imposing solemnities, and amidst an unexampled concourse of people of all ranks. Johnson, whose various and not always consistent criticisms on Garrick are scattered through the pages of Boswell, spoke warmly of the elegance and sprightliness of his friend's conversation, as well as of his liberality and kindness of heart; and his death, which came upon him unexpectedly, "eclipsed," Johnson said, " the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure." But the most accurate and discriminating character of Garrick, slightly tinged with satire, is that drawn by Goldsmith in his poem of Retaliation. As a literary man Garrick was very happy in his epigrams and slight occasional poems. He had the good taste to recognize, and the spirit to make public his recognition of, the excellence of Gray's Odes at a time when they were either ridiculed or neglected. His dramatic pieces {The Lying Valet, Lethe, The Guardian, Miss in her Teens, Irish Widow, &c), and his alterations and adaptation of old plays, which together fill four volumes, evinced his knowledge of stage effect and his appreciation of lively dialogue and action ; but he cannot be said to have added one new or original character to the drama. He was joint author with Colman of The Clandestine Marriage, in which he is said to have written his famous part of Lord Ogleby. The excellent farce, High Life below Stairs, appears to have been wrongly attributed to Garrick, and to be by Townley, a clergyman. As a matter of course he wrote many prologues and epilogues.

Garrick's correspondence (published, with a short memoir by Boaden, in 2 vols. 4to), and the notices of him in the memoirs of Hannah More and Madame D' Arblay, and above all in Boswell's Life of Johnson, bear testimony to his general worth, and to his many fascinating qualities as a friend and companion. The earlier biographies of Garrick are by Arthur Murphy (2 vols. 1801) and by the bookseller Tom Davies (2 vols., 4th ed., 1805), the latter a work of some merit, but occasionally inaccurate and confused as to dates. Mr Percy Fitzgerald's Life (2 vols. 1868) is full and spirited. A charming essay on Garrick appeared in the Quarterly Review, July 1868. (R. CA.—A. W. W.)







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