Foote, Samuel

, esq. called the English Aristophanes, a distinguished writer and actor in comedy, was of a good family, and born at Truro, in Cornwall, about 1720. His father, John Foote, esq. enjoyed the offices of commissioner of the prize-office and line contract, and was finally member of parliament for Tiverton, in Devonshire. His mother, by an unhappy quarrel between her two brothers, sir John Dinely Goodere, bart. and sir Samuel Goodere, captain of the Ruby man of war, became heiress of the Goodere family. The quarrel alluded to, after subsisting for some years, ended in the murder of sir John by his brother, and the subsequent execution of the latter, in 1741. Foote received his education at Worcester-college, Oxford; and was thence removed to the Temple, as designed for the law. The dry ness and gravity of this study, however, not suiting the vivacity and volatility of Foote‘ s spirit, and his fortune, whatever it was, being soon dissipated, he left the law, and had recourse to the stage. He appeared first in Othello; but whether he discovered that his forte did not lie in tragedy, or that the language of other writers would not serve sufficiently to display his humour, he soon struck out into a new and untrodden path, by taking upon himself the double character of author and performer. In this double capacity, in 1747, he opened the little theatre in the Haymarket with a sort of drama of his own, called “The Diversions of the Morning,” This piece was nothing more than the introduction of well-known characters in real life; whose manner of conversing and expressing themselves he had a most amazing talent at imitating, copying not only the manner and voice, but in some degree, even the persons of those he ridiculed.

This performance at first, met with some little opposition from the Westminster justices; but the author beirag warmly patronized, their opposition was over-ruled, and, | by only altering the title of his piece to “Mr. Foote’s giving Tea to his Friends,” he proceeded without farther molestation, and represented it for upwards of forty mornings to crowded and splendid audiences. The ensuing season he produced another piece of the same kind, called, “An Auction of Pictures;” in which he introduced several new characters, all, howerer, popular, anct extremely well known particularly sir Thomas de Veil, then the leading justice of peace for Westminster Mr. Cock, the celebrated auctioneer and the no less celebrated orator Henley. This piece had also a very great run, nor were any pains spared to procure this success, for it is to be noted, that he himself represented all the principal characters of each piece, where his great mimic powers were necessary, shifting from one to another with all the dexterity of a Proteus.

From 1752 to 1761, he continued to perform at one of the theatres every season, as fancy or interest directed his choice, generally for a stated number of nights; and, on these engagements, he usually brought out a new piece. He proceeded thus, till a very pressing embarrassment in his affairs compelled him to perform “The Minor,” at the May-market, in the summer of 1760, with such a company as he could hastily collect. Henceforward he pursued the scheme of occupying that theatre, when the others were shut up; and from 1762, to the season before his death, he regularly performed there. Feb. 1766, when at lord Mexborough’s in the country, he broke his leg by a tall from his horse, the duke of York being also there: and it is generally supposed, that this accident facilitated his application for a patent, which he obtained in July the iauie ye jr.

Foote was now in much prosperity he acquired a great deal of money; and he seems to have set mankind at defiance for he cared not whom he offended, and seldom considered whether they were subjects proper for ridicule. In 1776, he drew a character for the late duchess of Kingston, who was at that time the subject of much conversation; whose influence, however, prevailed so far as to prevent the representation of his play. In the course of this conflict, certain imputations were thrown out against him, which ripened at length into a legal charge. He was accused of unnatural practices, and though the accusation was supposed to have originated from malice, and he was | acquitted, agreeably to the sentiments of the judge who tried him, yet the shock he received from this disgracing situation is believed to have had a fatal effect upon him. A few months afterwards he was struck, while on the stage, with a paralytic fit; from which he recovered sufficiently to spend the summer at Brighthelmstone. On the approach of winter, he was advised to remove to France; and arrived at Dover, Oct. 20, 1777; intending immediately to proceed to Calais; but, being seized with a shivering fit the next morning, he died in a few hours, and was buried in Westminster-abbey.

The wit and humour of Foote in private conversation, were equal to his comic powers on the stage, of which the following account, given by Mr. Boswell in the Life of Johnson, affords a striking instance. Dr. Johnson is said to have related it himself: “The first time I was in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert’s. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him; but the dog was so very comical, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back in my chair, and fairly laugh it out. Sir, he was irresistible.” Innumerable other stories are circulated, all proving the lively and ready wit of this eccentric genius, as well as the general tinge of licentiousness which was visible in his conduct as well as conversation. His “Memoirs,” indeed, lately published by Mr. Cooke, prove that his mind “was not overcharged with the impressions of religious or moral duties.” It has, however, been reported on the testimony of some who knew him intimately, that he was a man of competent classical learning, and much various reading, and no less a rational and instructive companion in a serious hour with a single friend, than an entertaining one in mixed society.

His published dramas are twenty in number, and were written in the following order: 1. “Taste, a comedy,1752. 2. “The Englishman in Paris,1753. 3. “The Knights,1754. 4. “The Englishman returned from Paris,1756. 5. “The Author,1757. 6. “The Minor,1760. 7. “The Lyar,1761; not printed till 1764. 2. “The Orators,1762. 9. “The Mayor of Garrat,1763. 10. “The Patron,1764. 11. “The Commissary.” 12. “Prelude on opening the Theatre,” 176T. | 13. “Tho Devil upon Two Sticks,1768, printed in 1778. 1 k “The Lame Lover,1770. 15. The Maid of Bath,’ 1 1771, printed 1778. 16. “The Nabpb,1772, primed 1778. 17. “The Bankrupt,1772. 18. “The Cozeners,1771, printed 1778. 19. “A Trip to Calais, 1776, printed 1778. 20.” The Capuchin.“The lattur of these uas altered from the former, which was prohibited. A trifling piece called” Piety io Pattens,“awl” The Diversions of the Morning,“altered from Taste, were never published. The anonymous mock Tragedy of” The Tailors," is usually printed with. Foote’s works, and is very generally thought to he his. It was acted in 1767, printed in 1778. Most of these are formed upon temporary topics, and full of personalities, the objects of which are still generally recollected, and therefore do not require to be specified; but they are replete with vivacity and humour, and though composed with little care, or attention to plot, are very entertaining even in the closet. Foote borrowed liberally from Moliere and others; but made what he took his own by an originality in his manner of employing it; and his personal humour was so peculiar, that it has been hardly possible for any other player to give equal effect to the parts he acted himself. 1


Life by William Coakp, esq., 3 vols. 12mo. —Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Davies’s Life of Ganick, and almost every work that treats of the modern English stage.