Garrick, David

, an unrivalled actor, was grandson of Mr. Garrick, a merchant in France, who, being a protestant, fled to England as an asylum, upon the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685; and son of Peter Garrick, who obtained a captain’s commission in the army, and generally resided at Lichfield. Peter Garrick was on a recruiting party in Hereford, when his son David was born; and, as appears by the register of All-saints in that city, baptized Feb. 28, 17^16. His mother was Arabella, daughter of Mr. dough, one, of the vicars in Lichfield cathedral. At ten years of age, he was sent to the grammar-school at Lichfield; but, though remarkable for declining puerile diversions, did not apply himself with any assiduity to his books. He had conceived an early passion for theatrical representation; and, at little more than eleven years of ao-e, procured “The Recruiting Officer” to be acted by youn<* gentlemen and ladies, himself performing the part of serjeat Kite. From school he went on invitation to an uncle, a wine-merchant, at Lisbon; but returning shortly to Lichfield, he was sent once more to the grammar-school, where, however, he did not make any considerable progress in learning.

About the beginning of 1735, Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Samuel Johnson, undertook to instruct some young gentlemen of Lichfield in the belles lettres; and David Garrick, then turned eighteen, became one of his scholars, or (to speak more properly) his friend and companion. But the master, however qualified, was not more disposed to teach, than Garrick was to learn; and, therefore, both growing weary, after a trial of six months, agreed to try the,ir fortunes in the metropolis. Mr. Walmsley, register of the ecclesiastical court at Lichfield, a gentleman much respected, and of considerable fortune, was Garrick’s friend upon this occasion, recommended him to Mr. Colson, an eminent mathematician, to be boarded and instructed by him in mathematics, philosophy, and polite | learning; with a view of being sent within two or tlireft years to the Temple, and bred to the law. But when Garrick arrived in London, he found that his finances would not suffice to put him under Mr. Colson, till the death of his uncle; who, about 1737, left Portugal, and died in London soon after. He bequeathed his nephew 1000l. with the interest of which, he prudently embraced the means of acquiring useful knowledge under Mr. Colson. His proficiency, however, in mathematics and philosophy was not extensive; his mind was still theatrically disposed; and, both father and mother living but a short time after, he gave himself up to his darling passion for acting from which, says his historian, “nothing but his tenderness for so dear a relation as a mother had hitherto restrained him.” During the short interval, however, between his mother’s death and his commencing comedian, he engaged in the wine trade, with his brother Peter Garrick; and they hired vaults in Durham-yard.

When he bad at length formed his final resolution, he prepared himself in earnest for that employment he so ardently loved, and in wMch he so eminently excelled. He was frequently in the company of the most admired actors; he obtained introductions to the managers of the theatres; be tried his talent in reciting particular and favourite portions of plays; and sometimes wrote criticisms upon the action and elocution of the players. His diffidence, however, withheld him from trying his strength at first upon a London theatre: he thought the hazard too great; and therefore commenced his noviciate in acting, with a company of players then ready to set out for Ipswich, under the direction of Mr. Giffard and Mr. Dunstall, in the summer of 1741. The first effort of his theatrical talents wast exerted in Aboan, in “Oroonoko;” and met with applause equal to his most sanguine desires. Under the assumed name of Lyddal, he not only acted a variety of characters in plays, particularly Chamont in the “Orphan,” captain Brazen in the “Recruiting Officer,” and sir Harry Wildair; but he likewise attempted the active feats of the harlequin. In every essay he was gratified with constant and loud applause, and Ipswich has always boasted of having first seen and encouraged this memorable actor.

Having thus tried his powers before a provincial audience, and taken all the necessary steps for a London stage, he made his appearance at Gwodman’s-fields, Oct. | 19, 1741,- when he acted Richard III. for the first time. His acting was attended with the loudest acclamations of applause; and his fame was so quickly propagated through the town, that the more established theatres of Drury-lane and Covent-garden were deserted. The inhabitants of the most polite parts of the town were drawn after him; and, Goodman’s-fields were full of the splendor of St. James’s and Grosvenor-square. We must not wonder, that the players were the last to admire this rising genius; who, according to his biographer (and surely he must know), “are more liable to envy and jealousy than persons of most other professions,” and Q,uin and Gibber could not conceal their uneasiness and disgust at his great success. The patentee* also of Drury-lane and Covent-garden were seriously alarmed at the great deficiency in the receipts of their houses, and at the crouds which constantly filled the theatre of Goodman’s-fields; for Giffard, the manager there, having found his advantage from Garrick’s acting, had admitted him to a full moiety of the profits; and Garrick, in consequence of his being perpetually admired, acted almost every night. Nay r --to a long and fatiguing character i the play, he would frequently add another in the farce. Those patentees, therefore, united their efforts, to destroy the new-raised seat of theatrical empire, and for this purpose intended to have recourse to law. An act of parliament, the llth of George II. co-operated with their endeavours; which were further aided by sir John Barnard, who, for some reasons, was incensed against the comedian^ of Goodman’s-fields; in consequence of which, Garrick entered into an agreement with Fleetwood, patentee of Drury-lane, for 500l. a-year; and Giffard and his wife, soon after, made the best terms they could with the same“proprietor. During the time of Garrick’s acting in Goodman’s-fields, he brought on the stage two dramatic pieces,” The Lying Valet, a Farce“and a dramatic satire, calledLethe" which are still acted with applause. The latter was written before he commenced actor.

Garrick’s fame was now so extended, that an invitation, upon very profitable conditions, was sent him to act it* Dublin, during the months of June, July, and August, 1742; which invitation he accepted, and went, accompanied by Mrs. Woffington. His success there exceeded all imagination; he was caressed by all ranks as a prodigy of theatrical accomplishment; and the playhouse was sd | crouded during this hot season, that a very mortal fever was produced, which was called Garrick’s fever. He returned to London before the winter, and attended closely to his theatrical profession, in which he was now irrevocably fixed. To pursue the particulars of his life through this would be to give an history of the stage; for which, we rather choose, and it is more consistent with our plan, to refer to Davies’s very minute account.

In April 1747 he became joint-patentee of Drury-lane theatre with Mr. Lacy. July 1749, he was married to mademoiselle Viletti; and, as if he apprehended that this change of condition would expose him to some sarcastical wit, he endeavoured to anticipate it, by procuring his friend Mr. Edward Moore, to write a diverting poem upon his marriage. In truth this guarding against distant ridicule, and warding off apprehended censure, was a favourite peculiarity with him through life. When he first acted Macbeth, he was so alarmed with the fears of critical examination upon his new manner, that during his preparation for the character, he devoted some part of his time to write an humourous pamphlet upon the subject. It was called, “An Essay on Acting in which will be considered, the mimical behaviour of a certain fashionable faulty actor, &c. To which will be added, a short criticism on his acting Macbeth.

In 1763, he undertook a journey into Italy, and set out for Dover, in his way to Calais, Sept. 17. His historian assigns several causes of this excursion, and among the chief, the prevalence of Covent-garden theatre under the management of Mr. Beard, the singer; but the real cause probably was, the indifferent health of himself and Mrs. Garrick, to the latter of whom the baths of Padua were afterwards of service, During his trayels, he gave frequent proofs of his theatrical talents; and he readily complied with requests of that kind, because indeed nothing was more easy to him. He could, without the least pre* paration, transform himself into any character, tragic or comic, and seize instantaneously upon any passion of the human mind. He exhibited before the duke of Parma, by reciting a soliloquy of Macbeth; and had friendly contests with the celebrated mademoiselle Clairon at Paris. He saw this actress when he paid his first visit to Paris in 1752; and though mademoiselle Dumesnil was then the, favourite actress of the French theatre, he ventured to | pronounce that Clairon would excel all competitors; which prediction was fulfilled.

After he had been abroad about a year and a half, he turned his thoughts homewards; and arrived in London in April 1765. But, before he set out from Calais, he put in practice his usual method of preventing censure, and blunting the edge of ridicule, by anticipation, in a poem called “The Sick Monkey,” which he got a friend to print in London, to prepare his reception there. The plan of it was, the talk and censure of other animals and reptiles on him and his travels. Wretched, surely, must be the life of a man exposed continually to public inspection, if thus afraid of censure and ridicule, and afraid with so little reason. In the mean time the piece died stillborn; and his historian says, “is among the few things he wrote, which one would wish not to remember.” After his return, he was not so constantly employed as formerly in the fatigues of acting; he had now more leisure to apply himself in writing; and in a few months he produced two dramatic pieces.

In 1769 he projected and conducted the memorable Jubilee at Stratford, in honour of Shakspeare; so much admired by some, and so much and so justly ridiculed by others. The account of it, by his biographer, is curious, under more points of view than one. On the death of Mr. Lacy, in 1773, the whole management of the theatre devolved on him. He was now advanced in years; he had been much afflicted with chronical disorders; sometimes with the gout, oftener with the stone: for relief from the latter of which, he had used lixiviums and other soap medicines, which in reality hurt him. Yet his friends thought that a retirement from the stage, while he preserved a moderate share of health and spirits, would be more unfriendly to him, than the prosecution of a business, which he could make rather a matter of amusement, than a toilsome imposition. Accordingly, he continued upon the stage some time after; but finally left it in June 1776, and disposed of his moiety of the patent to messieurs Sheridan, Linley, and Ford, for 35,000l. In Christmas, 1778, when upon a visit at eai?l Spencer’s in the country, he was seized with a fit of his old disorder; but recovered so far, as to Venture upon his journey home, where he arrived, at his house in the Adelphi, Jan. 15, 1779. The next day, he sent for his apothecary, who found him dressing | himself, and seemingly in good health; but somewhat alarmed, that he had not for many hours discharged any urine, contrary to his usual habit. The disorder was incessantly gaining ground, and brought on a stupor, which increased gradually to the time of his death. This happened Jan. 20, without a groan. The celebrated surgeon Mr. Pott pronounced his disease to be a palsy of the kidneys. His body was interred with great magnificence in Westminsterabbey, and in 1797 a monument was erected to his memory, at the expence of a private friend. Garrick is supposed to have died worth 140.000l.

Mr. Garrick in his person was low, yet well-shaped and neatly proportioned, and, having added the qualifications of dancing and fencing to his natural gentility of manner, his deportment was constantly easy and engaging. His complexion was dark, and the features of his face, which were pleasingly regular, were animated by a full black eye, brilliant and penetrating. His voice was clear, melodious, and commanding, with a great compass of variety; and, from Mr. Garrick’s judicious manner of conducting it, enjoyed that articulation and piercing distinctness, which rendered it equally intelligible, even to the most distant parts of an audience, in the gentle whispers of murmuring love, the half-smothered accents of infelt passion, or the professed and sometimes aukward concealments of an aside speech in comedy, as in the rants of rage, the darings of despair, or all the open violence of tragical enthusiasm. As to his particular fort or superior cast in acting, it would be perhaps as difficult to determine it, as it would be minutely to describe his several excellencies in the very different casts in which he at different times thought proper to appear. Particular superiority was swallowed up in his universality; and although it was sometimes contended, that there were performers equal to him in their own respective forts of playing, yet even their partizans could not deny that there never existed any one performer that came near his excellence in so great a variety of parts. Tragedy, comedy, and farce, the lover and the hero, the jealous husband who suspects his wife’s virtue without cause, and the thoughtless lively rake who attacks it without design, were all alike open to his imitation, and all alike did honour to his execution. Every passion of the human breast seemed subjected to his powers of expression^ nay, even time itself appeared to stand still or advance as he | would have it. Rage ‘and ridicule, doubt and despair, transport and tenderness, compassion and contempt, love, jealousy, fear, fury, and simplicity, all took in turn possession of his features, while each of them in turn appeared to be the sole possessor of those features. One night old age sat on his countenance, as if the wrinkles she had stampt there were indelible; the next the gaiety and bloom of youth seemed to o’erspread his face, and smooth even those marks which time and muscular conformation might have really made there. These truths were acknowledged by all who saw him in the several characters of Lear or Hamlet, Richard, Dorilas, Romeo, or Lusignan; in his Ranger, Bays, Drugger, Kitely, Brute, or Benedict. In short, nature, the mistress from whom alone this great performer borrowed all his lessons, being in herself inexhaustible, and her variations not to be numbered, it is by no means surprizing, that this, her darling son, should find an unlimited scope for change and diversity in his manner of copying from her various productions; and, as if she had from his cradle marked him out for her truest representative, she bestowed on him such powers of expression in the muscles of his face, as no performer ever yet possessed; not only for the display of a single passion, but also for the combination of those various conflicts with which the human breast at times is fraught; so that in his countenance, even when his lips were silent, his meaning stood pourtrayed in characters too legible for any to mistake it.

His conduct as a manager, and his private character, have been variously estimated. No man perhaps had more friends, or more admirers, but he could not fail to create enemies by a superiority which so frequently bid defiance to rivalship. On the other hand it is allowed that as he excelled all other performers in dramatic merit, so he also excelled them in jealousy of fame. This seems to have accompanied him through the whole course of his life, and formed a perpetual source of uneasiness to himself, and ridicule to his enemies. As by his vast riches he had the power of doing good, his liberality, has been asserted by one party, and denied by another. But it is impossible to refuse credit to the many instances of generosity which his biographers have produced, and as impossible to reconcile them with the common notions of avarice. This, however, and other questions respecting the public and private character of Garrick, will be found amply discussed in our | references. As. a performer it has been again and again said, that we “shall ne’er look on his like again,” a sentence sufficiently mortifying to the lovers of the drama, but which perhaps may be confirmed without any positive defect in the merit of his successors. If another Garrick in all respects equal to the former should appear, and we may form the supposition, there would always be an indistinct, traditionary idea of the original English Roscius, which would obstruct the fame of a new candidate. The idea of Garrick must soon become of this description, as the generations who admired him are fast decaying, and in a few years criticism will be able to do no more than strike a balance between the contending opinions of his friends and foes.

As a writer, Garrick claims but a second place. There is in the Biog. Dramatica a list of about forty dramatic pieces, some original, but chiefly alterations of old plays, or light temporary pieces. Besides these he wrote some minor poems, and a vast number of prologues and epilogues. The general character of all these is vivacity, neatness, and a happy adaptation to the occasion. 1

1 Davies and Murphy’s Lives of Garrick. Biog. Dramatica. Nichols’s Bowyer. -Cum! erland’s Lifr. Dr. Johnson’s Work and Life by Boswell. \'aon’s life of Whitehad, p. f>3, 64, &. &c.