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DAVID GARRICK (1717-1779)

The following biography was originally published in The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. London: Charles Knight and Co., 1843. pp. 81-2.

DAVID GARRICK, descended from a French Protestant family of the name of Garric, or Garrique, was born on the 20th of February, 1717, at the Angel Inn, Hereford. His father was Captain Peter Garrick, of the Old Buffs, then recruiting in that city, and his mother, whose maiden name was Arabella Clough, was the daughter of one of the vicars of Lichfield Cathedral. David was baptized on the 28th of February, according to the register of the church of All Saints, Hereford. At ten years of age he was placed under the care of Mr. Hunter, master of the grammar school at Lichfield; and in 1727 showed his predilection for the stage by performing Serjeant Kite in Farquhar's comedy of The Recruiting Officer. Shortly afterwards he went to Lisbon on a visit to his uncle, a wine-merchant there, and by his agreeable manners became a great favourite not only with the English residents, but amongst the young Portuguese nobility. In the following year he returned to school at Lichfield, and during occasional visits to London encouraged his growing passion for theatricals. In 1735 he became the pupil of Dr. (then Mr.) Samuel Johnson, with whom, on the 2nd of March, 1736, he set out for the metropolis, and on the 9th of the same month entered himself in the Society of Lincoln's Inn. In 1737 he commenced a course of studies under Mr. Colson, the mathematician, at Rochester. Shortly afterwards, on the death of his father, he commenced business as a wine-merchant, in partnership with his elder brother, Peter Garrick. This partnership was however soon dissolved, and in 1741 David Garrick finally resolved upon the profession of the stage, and made his first appearance at Ipswich under the name of Lyddal, and in the part of Aboan in the tragedy of Oroonoko. His success was undoubted, and he soon became a great favourite in that town, playing not only tragedy and comedy, but exhibiting his grace, humour, and agility as harlequin. In the autumn he returned to London with the manager of the Ipswich company, who was also proprietor of the theatre in Goodman's Fields; and on the boards of that establishment Mr. Garrick made his first appearance as Richard III [on] October 19th, 1741. The fame of the young actor, then only in his twenty-sixth year, spread in a few weeks throughout the metropolis; and from the time of his first benefit, December 2nd, on which occasion he performed Lothario in The Fair Penitent, persons of every condition flocked from all parts of the town to see him, and entirely deserted the theatres at the West-end. At the close of the season, May 26, 1742, Mr. Garrick played three nights at Drury Lane theatre as Bayes, Lear, and Richard, and then set off for Dublin, accompanied by Mrs. Woffington. In Ireland he sustained his reputation, and the theatre was crowded to such a degree as, in conjunction with the heat of the weather, to produce an epidemic, which was called the Garrick fever. He returned to London for the winter season, and commenced an engagement at Drury Lane on the 5th of October, as Chamont in Otway's tragedy of The Orphan. In 1745 he again visited Dublin, and became joint manager with Mr. Sheridan, of the Theatre Royal in Smock Alley. In 1746 he returned to England, and was engaged for the season by Mr. Rich, the patentee of Covent Garden theatre, on the close of which he purchased, in conjunction with Mr. Lacy, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (Mr. Fleetwood's patent having expired), and opened it on the 15th of September, 1747, with the play of The Merchant of Venice, to which he spoke the well-known prologue written by Dr. Johnson.

On the 22nd of June, 1749, Mr. Garrick married Eva-Maria Violette (not Violetti, as generally written), the daughter of a respectable citizen of Vienna, who having been educated as a dancer, had made her first appearance at Drury Lane on the 3rd of December, 1746. Her real family name was Veigel, which in the Viennese patois signifies Violet, and she assumed the name of violette by command of the empress Maria Theresa. Mr. and Mrs. Garrick were married first by Mr. Francklin, at his chapel near Russell Street, Bloomsbury, and afterwards, on the same day, by the Rev. Mr. Blythe, at the chapel of the Portuguese embassy, in South Audley Street, according to the rites of the Roman Catholic church.

On the 7th of September, 1769, Garrick put into execution his favourite scheme of the Jubilee in honour of Shakespeare, at Stratford-upon-Avon, and produced a pageant on the subject at Drury Lane in the following October. On the 10th of June, 1776, having managed Drury Lane theatre for twenty-nine years (with the exception of two passed abroad, 1763 and 1764), Garrick took his leave of the stage in the character of Don Felix in The Wonder, the performances being for the benefit of the fund for decayed actors. In 1777 Mr. Garrick was honoured by the command of their Majesties King George III and Queen Charlotte to read a play at Buckingham House. He selected his own farce of Lethe, introducing for the occasion the character of an ungrateful Jew, but having been so long accustomed to the thunders of applause in a theatre, the refined approbation of the Royal party threw, to use his own expression, "a wet blanket" over him. In the same year he was put into the commission of the peace.

At Christmas, 1778, while on a visit to Lord Spencer, at Althorpe, he had a severe fit, from which he only recovered sufficiently to enable him to return to town, and expired January 20th, 1779, at his own house in the Adelphi, having nearly completed his 63rd year. He was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey on the 1st of February.

As an actor Mr. Garrick's merits may be considered as summed up in the forcible words of Pope to lord Orrery on witnessing the performance of Richard -- "That young man never had his equal as an actor, and will never have a rival." As yet the prophecy is unshaken. Garrick was an excellent husband, a kind master, and a matchless companion. The charge of avarice so frequently made against him is disproved by careful examination of his life. His biographer justly says, "He loved affluence for its independence, and the power it bestowed of obliging the great and relieving the humble." He was one of the most accomplished men of his day, and although his literary reputation is merged in the splendour of his histrionic fame, his rank as a writer of prologues and epilogues, and in the lighter kinds of verse, must be generally acknowledged as considerable. His alterations and adaptations of popular English and French plays were numerous and successful, and with the addition of his original contributions to the drama, exceed forty. The best known [are] the farce of The Lying Valet and the comedy of The Clandestine Marriage.

Mrs. Garrick survived her husband forty-three years, and expired suddenly in her chair after a short indisposition, at her house in the Adelphi, on the 16th of October, 1822, in the ninety-eighth year of her age, having retained her faculties to the last. She was buried October 25th, in the same grave with her husband, near the cenotaph of Shakespeare.