Birthplace: Hereford, Herefordshire, England
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, London, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor, Playwright
Executive summary: Manager of Drury Lane Theatre
English actor and theatrical manager, descended from a good French Protestant family named Garric or Garrique of Bordeaux, which had settled in England on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His father, Captain Peter Garrick, who had married Arabella Clough, the daughter of a vicar choral of Lichfield cathedral, was on a recruiting expedition when his famous third son was born at Hereford on the 19th of February 1717. Captain Garrick, who had made his home at Lichfield, where he had a large family, in 1731 rejoined his regiment at Gibraltar. This kept him absent from home for many years, during which letters were written to him by "little Davy", acquainting him with the doings at Lichfield. When the boy was about eleven years old he paid a short visit to Lisbon where his uncle David had settled as a wine merchant. On his father's return from Gibraltar, David, who had previously been educated at the grammar school of Lichfield, was, largely by the advice of Gilbert Walmesley, registrar of the ecclesiastical court, sent with his brother George to the "academy" at Edial just opened in June or July 1736 by Samuel Johnson, the senior by seven years of David, who was then nineteen. This seminary was, however, closed in about six months, and on the 2nd of March 1736/7 both Johnson and Garrick left Lichfield for London -- Johnson, as he afterwards said, "with twopence halfpenny in his pocket", and Garrick "with three-halfpence in his." Johnson, whose chief asset was the manuscript tragedy of Irene, was at first the host of his former pupil, who, however, before the end of the year took up his residence at Rochester with John Colson (afterwards Lucasian professor at Cambridge). Captain Garrick died about a month after David's arrival in London. Soon afterwards, his uncle, the wine merchant at Lisbon, having left David a sum of £1000, he and his brother entered into partnership as wine merchants in London and Lichfield, David taking up the London business. The concern was not prosperous -- though Samuel 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 capital.
His passion for the stage completely engrossed him; he tried his hand both at dramatic criticism and at dramatic authorship. His first dramatic piece, Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades, which he was thirty-seven years later to read from a splendidly bound transcript to King George III and Queen Charlotte, was played at Drury Lane on the 15th of April 1740; and he became a well-known frequenter of theatrical circles. His first appearance on the stage was made in March 1741, incognito, as harlequin at Goodman's Fields, Yates, who was ill, having allowed him to take his place during a few scenes of the pantomime entitled Harlequin Student, or The Fall of Pantomime with the Restoration of the Drama. Garrick subsequently accompanied a party of players from the same theater to Ipswich, where he played his first part as an actor under the name of Lyddal, in the character of Aboan (in Thomas Southerne's Oroonoko). His success in this and other parts determined his future career. On the 19th of October 1741 he made his appearance at Goodman's Fields as Richard III and gained the most enthusiastic applause. Among the audience was Macklin, whose performance of Shylock, early in the same year, had pointed the way along which Garrick was so rapidly to pass in triumph. On the morrow the latter wrote to his brother at Lichfield, proposing to make arrangements for his withdrawal from the partnership, which, after much distressful complaint on the part of his family, met by him with the utmost consideration were ultimately carried into effect. Meanwhile, each night had added to his popularity on the stage. The town, as Gray (who, like Horace Walpole, at first held out against the furore) declared, was "horn-mad" about him. Before his Richard had exhausted its original effect, he won new applause as Aboan, and soon afterwards as Lear and as Pierre in Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved, as well as in several comic characters (including that of Bayes). Glover ("Leonidas") attended every performance; the duke of Argyll, Lords Cobham and Lyttelton, Pitt, and several other members of parliament testified their admiration. Within the first six months of his theatrical career he acted in eighteen characters of all kinds, and from the 2nd of December he appeared in his own name. Alexander Pope went to see him three times 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 Murray, counsellor, and was engaged to do so with Pope through Murray's introduction, while he was dining with Halifax, Sandwich and Chesterfield. "There was a dozen dukes of a night at Goodman's Fields", writes Horace Walpole. Garrick's farce of The Lying Valet, in which he performed the part of Sharp, was at this time brought out with so much success that he ventured to send a copy to his brother.
His fortune was now made, and while the managers of Covent Garden and Drury Lane resorted to the law to make Giffard, the manager of Goodman's Fields, close his little theater, Garrick was engaged by Fleetwood for Drury Lane for the season of 1742. In June of that year he went over to Dublin, where he found the same homage paid to his talents as he had received from his own countrymen. He was accompanied by Margaret (Peg) Woffington, of whom he had been for some time a fervent admirer. (His claim to the authorship of the song to Lovely Peggy is still sub judice. There remains some obscurity as to the end of their liaison.) From September 1742 to April 1745 he played at Drury Lane, after which he again went over to Dublin. Here he remained during the whole season, as joint-manager with Sheridan, in the direction and profits of the Theatre Royal in Smock Alley. In 1746-47 he fulfilled a short engagement with Rich at Covent Garden, his last series of performances under a management not his own. With 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 theater, together with the renewal of the patent; contributing £8000 as two-thirds of the purchase money. In September 1747 it was opened with a strong company of actors, Johnson's prologue being spoken by Garrick, while the epilogue, written by him, was spoken by Mrs. Woffington. The negotiations involved Garrick in a bitter quarrel with Macklin, who appears to have had a real grievance in the matter. Garrick took no part himself until his performance of Archer in the Beaux' Stratagem, a month after the opening. 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 Mrs. 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." He had to encounter very serious opposition from the old actors whom he had distanced, and with the younger actors and actresses he was involved in frequent quarrels. But to none of them or their fellows did he, so far as it appears, show that jealousy of real merit from which so many great actors have been unable to remain free. For the present he was able to hold his own against all competition. The naturalness of his acting fascinated those who, like Partridge in Tom Jones, listened to nature's voice, and justified the preference of more conscious critics. To be "pleased with nature" was, as Charles Churchill wrote in the Rosciad (1761), to be pleased with Garrick. For the stately declamation, the sonorous, and beyond a doubt impressive, chant of Quin and his fellows, Garrick substituted rapid changes of passion and humor in both voice and gesture, which held his audiences spellbound. "It seemed", wrote Richard 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 to the illusions of imposing declamation." Garrick's French descent and his education may have contributed to give him the vivacity and versatility 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 characters in tragedy, comedy and farce is large, and would be extraordinary for a modern actor of high rank; it includes not less than seventeen Shakespearian parts. As a manager, though he committed some grievous blunders, he did good service to the theater 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; and he is credited with the addition of a dying speech to the text of Macbeth. On the other hand, Tate Wilkinson says that Garrick's production of Hamlet in 1773 was well received at Drury Lane even by the galleries, "though without their favorite acquaintances the gravediggers." Among his published adaptations are an opera, The Fairies (from Midsummer Night's Dream) (1755); an opera The Tempest (1756); Catherine and Petruchio (1758); Florizel and Perdita (1762). But not every generation has the same notions of the way in which Shakespeare is best honored. Few sins of omission can be charged against Garrick as a manager, but he refused John Home's Douglas, and made the wrong choice between False Delicacy and The Good Natur'd Man. For the rest, he purified the stage of much of its grossness, and introduced a relative correctness of costume and decoration unknown before. To the study of English dramatic literature he rendered an important service by bequeathing his then unrivalled collection of plays to the British Museum.
After escaping from the chains of his passion for the beautiful but reckless Mrs. Woffington, Garrick had in 1749 married Mademoiselle Violette (Eva Maria Veigel), a German lady who had attracted admiration at Florence or at Vienna as a dancer, and had come to England early in 1746, where her modest grace and the rumors which surrounded her created a furore, and where she found enthusiastic patrons in the earl and countess of Burlington. Garrick, who called her "the best of women and wives", lived most happily with her in his villa at Hampton, acquired by him in 1754, to where he was glad to escape from his house in Southampton Street. To this period belongs Garrick's quarrel with Barry, the only actor who even temporarily rivalled him in the favor of the public. In 1763 Garrick and his wife visited Paris, where they were cordially received and made the acquaintance of Denis Diderot and others at the house of the baron d'Holbach. It was about this time that Grimm extolled Garrick as the first and only actor who came up to the demands of his imagination; and it was in a reply to a pamphlet occasioned by Garrick's visit that Diderot first gave expression to the views expounded in his Paradoxe sur le comédien. After some months spent in Italy, where Garrick fell seriously ill, they returned to Paris in the autumn of 1764 and made more friends, reaching London in April 1765. Their union was childless, and Mrs. Garrick survived her husband until 1822. Her portrait by William Hogarth is at Windsor Castle.
Garrick practically ceased to act in 1766, but he continued the management of Drury Lane, and in 1769 organized the Shakespeare celebrations at Stratford-on-Avon, an undertaking which ended in dismal failure, though he composed an "Ode upon dedicating a building and erecting a Statue to Shakespeare" on the occasion. (See, inter alia, Garrick's Vagary, or England Run Mad; with particulars of the Stratford Jubilee, 1769.) Of his best supporters on the stage, Mrs. Cibber, with whom he had been reconciled, died in 1766, and Mrs. (Kitty) Clive retired in 1769; but Garrick contrived to maintain the success of his theater. He sold his share in the property in 1776 for £35,000, and took leave of the stage by playing a round of his favorite characters -- Hamlet, Lear, Richard and Benedick, among Shakespearian parts; Lusignan in Zara, Aaron Hill's adaptation of Voltaire's Zaire; and Kitely in his own adaptation of Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humour; Archer in George Farquhar's Beaux' Stratagem; Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson's Alchemist; Sir John Brute in John Vanbrugh's Provok'd Wife; Leon in Fletcher's Rule a Wife and have a Wife. He ended the series, as Tate Wilkinson says, "in full glory" with "the youthful Don Felix" in Mrs. Centlivre's Wonder on the 10th of June 1776. He died in London on the 20th of January 1779. He was buried in Westminster Abbey at the foot of Shakespeare's statue with imposing solemnities. An elegy on his death was published by William Tasker, poet and physiognomist, in the same year.
In person, Garrick was a little below middle height; in his later years he seems to have inclined to stoutness. The extraordinary mobility of his whole person, and his power of as it were transforming himself at will, are attested by many anecdotes and descriptions, but the piercing power of his eye must have been his most irresistible feature.
Johnson, of whose various and often merely churlish remarks on Garrick and his doings many are scattered through the pages of James Boswell, spoke warmly of the elegance and sprightliness of his friend's conversation, as well as of his liberality and kindness of heart; while to the great actor's art he paid the exquisite tribute of describing Garrick's sudden death as having "eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure." But the most discriminating character of Garrick, slightly tinged with satire, is that drawn by Oliver Goldsmith in his poem of Retaliation. Beyond a doubt he was not without a certain moral timidity contrasting strangely with his eager temperament and alertness of intellect; but, though he was not cast in a heroic mould, he must have been one of the most amiable of men. Garrick was often happy in his epigrams and occasional verse, including his numerous prologues and epilogues. 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, adapted from Motteux's Novelty Lethe (1740), The Guardian, Linco's Travels (1767), Miss in her Teens (1747), Irish Widow, etc., and his alterations and adaptations 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 (1766), 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 James Townley. His Dramatic Works (1798) fill three, his Poetic (1735) two volumes.
Garrick's Private Correspondence (published in 1831-32 with a short memoir by Boaden, in 2 vols. 4to), which includes his extensive Foreign Correspondence with distinguished French men and women, and the notices of him in the memoirs of Cumberland, Hannah More and Madame D'Arblay, and above all in Boswell's Life of Johnson, bear testimony to his many attractive qualities as a companion and to his fidelity as a friend.
Father: Peter Garrick (Captain, English Army, d. Mar-1737)
Mother: Arabella Clough (d. 1740)
Wife: Eva Maria Veigel (operatic dancer, m. 22-Jun-1749)
Proxy Baptism: Mormon St. George, UT (Aug-1877)
Lethe: or, Esop in the Shades (1740)
The Clandestine Marriage (1766, with George Colman)
Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile
Copyright ©2019 Soylent Communications