’T is death to us.”
ROGER L’ ESTRANGE.
DURING the early part of the last century the society of an English town was spared the homilies that the then uncared-for Province of Maine was one day to incarnate in the person of Neal Dow. Worthy people got drunk every night, and were not thought the worse for it, as Dr. Johnson tells us of the Lichfieldians ; indeed, his townsmen were esteemed the decentest people in the kingdom ; and, when they could talk without a lisp, spoke, as the great lexicographer declared, the purest English. The ecclesiastics of the Chapter were a most pious body, and it was not their fault if the neighboring gentry courted their learning and warmed their eloquence upon occasions. Farquhar, in the opening scenes of his “Beaux’ Stratagem,” seems to leave us to infer that the good people of Lichfield had something of a fame for strong drink. The Registrar of the Ecclesiastical Court was the finest gentleman among them ; he set a bountiful table, liked to see its places well filled, was politely deferential to all, could talk like a learned Pundit, or be as volatile as Mercutio, over his port. Gilbert Walmesley was too well-bred to be exclusive, too humane to be exacting ; and the attractions of an accomplished wife — when he abandoned in ripe years his bachelorhood— added to the zest of his hospitality.
Quite a different sort of man was Master Hunter, who kept the free school at Lichfield in the low, dingy building, where the doors, likely enough, showed the marks of the barrings-out which Addison, some years before, had been concerned in. A severe, stern-eyed, pompous man was Master Hunter. He plied the birch with a most complacent air, and, as he strutted into school, arrayed in gown and cassock and full-dressed wig, a titter of mirth, despite the fear he engendered, would sibilate along the benches. Yet, as such men sometimes do, he beat no small share of learning into his pupils, and filled up the pauses with depicting the gallows they were all coming to. We do not read that any of his scholars ever came nearer to it than the seven who, as luck would have it, became contemporary justices of Westminster, and laughed together very injudicially at the thoughts of the floggings he had given them every one.
There never yet was a master so brutal but some lucky little fellow knew how to bring a smile upon his harsh features, and give the school a moment for a good long breath. Master Hunter had such a boy in his forms, — a merry, black-eyed urchin, quick as a flash to catch the very minute, and as nimble as a squirrel zigzagging the thither side of a tree, and keeping it between himself and danger. Among other things, Master Hunter had a liking for partridges; and cunning little Davy knew well enough where to disclose his secret, when he had, perchance, discovered a covey. Some small favor always followed. His fellows saw that their merry little companion could “ miss ” with impunity; and if Master Hunter bethought him of a new book that old Michael Johnson was to procure for him from London, Davy was sure to be despatched to go and fetch it. As it happened, the staid old bibliopole had a son of his own in Master Hunter’s forms. A gross, misshapen, lubberly boy was Sam, and, as he was some seven years the elder of the other, Davy held only a sort of deferential intimacy with him. Sam had a forbidding aspect, except to those who knew him well; and Master Hunter, who had many a time whipped him for idleness, held his pupil, nevertheless, in a forced esteem. The boy’s face was scarred with the scrofula, and ceaselessly twitched into wry contortions ; yet he was an oracle among the youngsters, and his word had an impressiveness that made it law. Strange was he, too, at times ; and the good women of the town talked darkly of Sam Johnson’s going off so much by himself, and wandering about the fields. Yet this lazy, uncouth fellow and the agile, laughing little Davy formed a companionship that was not thought so strangely of, in view of their being considered lads of wonderful ability, and each a sort of halfprodigy.
Gilbert Walmesley was a man of the true Mæcenas stamp, and Sam and Davy were both welcome visitors at his hospitable home. He liked to see this strange commingling of spirits. Sam delivered his opinions with such a judicial shake of the head, and could even, at fit moments, bow to the addresses of the ladies of his household with so much complaisance, that you would never think him the youth old Michael, his father, sometimes found so refractory. Gilbert Walmesley knew the true provocative of the most genial converse, and yielded to the gathering faculties of his young guest with a hearty relish for his talk. Little Davy was too cunning not to be cautious, but he accompanied the graver dissertations of his elder with such a buzz of comment and merry sport as served only to appetize the listeners, without impeding the humor of the steadier Sam.
The strolling players frequently set up their booths in the Lichfield marketplace, to the great consternation of sundry of the good townsfolk, who placed on different sides of the dividing line between innocence and sin the sleep that was disturbed with visions of tragic situations and that which was too heavy with Staffordshire strong drink. The tent of the players, and the bruit of their accomplishments which went through the town, had already before this made a stir in the family of a certain halfpay officer, whose rank, and marriage with a daughter of one of the vicars of the cathedral, made their position in society one of the best. Their income, however, was very moderate; and their study, as Sam Johnson had afterwards to say of them, was to make fourpence do what others did with fourpence halfpenny. Davy’s curiosity— he was one of this household — was excited to the highest pitch by recitals of the other boys, who had seen other companies of strollers ; and he doubtless importuned his elder brother, Peter, to intercede with their mother for permission to see the play. Peter’s disposition was very different. He was graver, and seemed to inherit the soberer qualities of his mother. Davy was more like his father, whose looks did not belie the French origin that was ascribed to the family. He was a small, sprightly, dark-eyed man, and Davy was very plainly his likeness. It would not have been so natural for him to refuse the indulgence; and, the mother’s hesitancy giving way before an appeal to her goodnature, Davy was allowed to run off to the market-place.
There is little in boyish experiences so indelibly put in our memory as the impressions from seeing our first play. We know how genially the essayist Elia has depicted all those fresh sensations. Many an autobiographer has dwelt lovingly on the recital. Had we a diary of Shakespeare, we might read of his flushed exultation in his first play at Kenilworth. Scott recounts with delight the story of his earliest acquaintance with the scene. Southey tells us how rapturously he doubted the fictitiousness of the action. Leigh Hunt looks back upon it, and exclaims, “Then I was not critical, and could enjoy.” The elder Mathews tells of the glorious two shillings’ worth of stealthy disobedience of that first night. Hans Andersen, just from the delineation of Lear, fashions in his joy some little puppets, and, dressing them in costume, reproduces the mimic scene ; while, as he cuts and sews their dresses, his mother, good soul ! having destined him to a tailor’s stool, rejoices at his precocious snipping! The theatre of Ludwigsburg opened to the rapturous Schiller, a boy of nine, a vision of his future glory. In the memoirs of Iffland and Kotzebue, of Henderson, of Frederic Reynolds and George Frederic Cooke, we have the same tale of heated joy and a determinate future.
The talk at Walmesley’s fireside often turned on the theatrical experiences of our friends. Sam criticised the play, but Davy dwelt upon the acting. Any little irregularity of the plot or flattening of the dialogue was sure to receive the censure of the elder, who had a way of mouthing through a passage with his own substitutions. Davy’s bright eye glimmered at this, and a droll look at see-sawing Sam would not escape the notice of their host ; but what was more remarkable was the way in which the younger lad would accompany the other’s recital with a pantomimic action.
One day, in bringing up such matters in this circle, Davy related how he had prevailed upon his mother to grant him liberty to perform a play on his own account, and how all that was wanted to complete the arrangements was a prologue from a friendly hand ; and as Samuel not long before had come to the assistance of some young ladies in a like emergency, the boyish manager intimated that the poet might now show his friendship, if not his gallantry. Sam, however, for some reason not to us known, refused the assistance, and Davy had no other resource but patching up an old prologue to his liking. A room was procured and arranged ; and, perhaps because it reminded him of occasional duties of his father, “The Recruiting Officer ” of Farquhar was selected, and the parts distributed among his mates and his sisters with managerial tact. The little actor reserved for himself the part of the recruiting sergeant Kite, and, we are assured, plied his crafty intrigues with approved sprightliness ; and soon everybody in the town had heard the rumor of the capital acting of little Davy Garrick. We are not told if lazy Samuel witnessed the triumph of his companion. Walmesley was a near friend to the family, and was doubtless there, to enjoy in the highest degree the vivacious bluster of his young friend. Davy’s well-wishers could have no reason to fear that this was opening a vista to the future of a great actor. To play plays in boyhood is too natural an excitement. It is the precocity, and not the inclination, that surprises us in Pope, at twelve, turning the siege of Troy into a play, making his school-fellows the actors, and summoning the gardener for his Ajax. That Ariosto fashioned the story of Pyramus and Thisbe into a drama, and drilled his brothers and sisters to the performance of it, could not alone point to Ariosto’s future. The young Cumberland, when he was mulcted in a translation from Juvenal, for stealthily assisting at a representation of Cato, thought of the penalty, and not of the augury. These first triumphs of a boy-actor have a flush of delight that no subsequent success can thoroughly equal. Barton Booth felt himself to be without a rival — as he was — in the Latin comedy of his school-days. Some theatricals got up in his neighborhood were a prophecy for Macklin. Kean was a garret Richard in his childish revels. Talma’s paroxysms of acted grief began in his school-days. Elliston was the boast of his mates. Edwin ranted in Alexander, and Cooke was the tragic hero, while they were yet in their jackets.
Davy was accordingly a frequent attendant on the strollers’ performances, without exciting any solicitude among his good relatives in the Church. He, not unfrequently, was accompanied by Samuel; and we can imagine his hilarity, tempered with something of awe, as he heard the rather gruffly whispered comments of his neighbor. One night it was Colley Cibber’s roistering farce of “ Hob in a Well ” they were sitting before. A certain actress played Flora in such a way that she bewitched Samuel, and Davy never forgot his companion’s uncouth symptoms of devotion. Again, some Sir Harry Wildair sported his gay hour on the stage. "What courtly vivacity ! ” exclaimed Samuel; but Davy laid it up in his memory, and years afterwards he whispered it about that Johnson’s courtier was as vulgar a ruffian as ever trod the boards. However Sam’s visual or mental perceptions may have been at fault, those long, sinewy limbs of his could make certain amends for their ungainliness. It was not the folio alone that in after life knocked down Osborne, nor the oaken staff that would have done the same office by Foote, but an indomitable will that never brooked an insult or suffered any interference. The youth Samuel foreshadowed the man. Davy long afterwards was wont to recall a certain evening, when he and Johnson had taken stools upon the player’s platform, and Sam had left his for a moment, when it was occupied by another. Remonstrance produced no effect on the interloper, and so the redoubtable bookseller’s son took stool and man, and tossed both into the pit!
The years went on, and Johnson was at Oxford. Davy, now thirteen or fourteen years old, must fix upon some destined avocation. The stage could not, of course, be thought of, — that was on the wrong side of the dividing line between innocence and sin. On the other side of it, an uncle of his, a wine-merchant in Lisbon, had acquired a fortune that looked splendid in the eyes of the family of our half-pay officer. He had heard what a promising nephew he had at Lichfield, and, several years before this, he had written to have him sent out, to be trained in so lucrative a business. So Davy went. The rich uncle was a good liver, entertained great company, and Davy was not long in discovering that he enjoyed life much more mounted on the table after dessert, and gaining the plaudits of the guests by his declamations and drolleries, than by any drilling of the counting-house. His uncle soon discovered the same thing for himself; and Davy, after a year’s trial, was sent home, to seek another sphere for his life’s business.
This brought him back again to the charge of Master Hunter. But a change was coming to his father’s house. An increasing family had made the half-pay officer of late see the necessity of resuming the active duties of his rank to meet the increased expenditures of his household; and he had accordingly been ordered to Gibraltar, leaving his family to the pursuit of their accustomed economical shifts. Davy became the filial correspondent of the soldier abroad. There is a kind of humorous sadness in the boy’s epistles to his absent father. He writes of the shabby wardrobe of the family, of his sick mother, and the cost of buying her wine, of the laces that sisters Magdalene and Jane, poor souls ! ought to have for their head-dresses. Then again, he tells of some new silver buckles, a present he had had, and declares how admirable they would look if he only had a pair of velvet breeches. They tell me,” he adds, slyly, “ velvet is very cheap at Gibraltar. Amen, and so be it!” Then again — the little actor that he was — the next post takes the far-away soldier a rhapsody about a certain miniature painted by Le Grout, which he declares a better feast to look at than anything of Apelles could be. It is a figure of a gentleman,” he adds, "and I suppose military by the dress. I think Le Grout told me his name was one Captain Peter Garrick ; perhaps, as you are in the army, you may know him ; he is pretty jolly, and I believe not very tall.” Not a word about the velvet breeches; but a wager that he got them ! Davy, the boy, and David Garrick, Esq., the man, had a wonderful luck in getting through life more than a mortal’s share of everything he wanted. There was a certain grand house in the neighborhood, but to visit a grand house then one must have a purse in hand, or the servants ignored their vocation, much to the guest’s discomfiture. This neglect was something that even velvet breeches and silver buckles could not protect one from ; but Gilbert Walmesley could, and when he had slipped a couple of half-crowns in the boy’s hands, off started the dapper little Davy, and lavished his fees with as genteel an air as the best of them.
Not many of the lads of Lichfield in those days could go up to London town as Davy did. Captain Garrick was a man of many friends, and Master David knew their accessible sides ; and so if business called them to the metropolis, ten to one they assured Madam Garrick that Davy was a good boy, that they should be gone but a few days, and that it would delight them very much to take Davy along. The playhouses of London opened new visions to the boy. He could see Quin, who then upheld the reputation of the stage with a good voice and a majestic mien, and whose Falstaff and Cato posterity is taught to believe it were a difficult matter to excel. Unfortunately, Othello had but a few years before quitted the scene in Barton Booth ; but Colley Cibber still occasionally returned to a stage he had formally left, to be the most exquisite fop the theatre has perhaps ever seen. The laureate’s worthless son had just taken to wife the daughter of an upholsterer, and old Colley himself was drilling her for the stage. In the rooms of Aaron Hill in Villiers Street, Davy may have seen the early performances of “Zara”; but as he saw the grace and dignity of its heroine, this new actress, he little thought of the triumphs in this same play that were to join the names of Garrick and Mrs. Cibber.
Meanwhile the gossips of Lichfield had a subject to their liking. Johnson, leaving Oxford, had had sundry hard experiences as a bookseller’s hack, and usher; but he had found a widow, during his absence, double his own age, who was wofully ugly to all eyes but his own, and who had decided that Samuel was the most sensible man she ever knew. He, on his part, had determined on making Tetty his wife ; and, in consideration of the little property she had, he hurried to Lichfield to tell his mother, and make arrangements for setting up a boarding-school. His old mentor and Davy’s, Walmesley, now prevailed on Mrs. Garrick to put her son at Edial Hall, as the new seminary was called ; and there young Garrick passed a halfyear, till his father’s return from Gibraltar, — and a half-year of curious experiences it was ! We can picture Samuel Johnson more readily in any other light than as a teacher of youth. The condition is quite as anomalous as his adulatory caresses of his Tetty of sixty, — fat, painted, patched, fantastic, as she was. Keyhole observations afforded for his four or five scholars a world of fun, and if the scene of love-making was genuine within, the mock reproduction without raised a titter that sent the lads scampering to their rooms. This could not last long. Davy’s compositions were sure to be farces, in a double sense ; and the master had his head full of “Irene,” and of a future in London. Walmesley again arranged matters. He approved of Johnson’s tragedy, and told Captain Garrick he could pave the way for Davy’s study of the law, to which his good father, thankful the boy had not gone into the army, as he at one time inclined to do, destined him. A university course was beyond the means of the Garricks, but Walmesley had bethought him of a friend at Rochester, the Rev. Mr. Colson; and so the post takes this gentleman a letter, recommendatory of David, and, arrangements apparently being made, Walmesley, under date of March 2, 1737, again writes: “David and another friend of mine, one Mr. Johnson, set out this morning for London together, — Davy to be with you early next week, and Mr. Johnson to try his fate with a tragedy.” Thus was heralded the advent of one Johnson and the favorite Davy to London! And never before among
That terrible city, whose neglect is death,
Whose smile is fame,”
was there a pair whose future was of more significance. To become a sovereign in literature and a monarch of the stage was a fulfilment not granted before to twain adventurers !
Douglas Jerrold has exclaimed about the golden volume to be written of the first struggles of forlorn genius in that great metropolis. Brilliant essayists have pictured the deplorable prospects of a new man of letters, at that time particularly. And Johnson came as such to London almost without a friend. St. John’s Gate bounded his aspirations. His companion looked with hardly better hopes to the future. Their pockets were so empty that they had almost immediately to give their joint note for five pounds to a bookseller in the Strand, who kindly forewarned the man with a tragedy in his pocket, that a porter’s knot was a surer dependence than letters, in London. Perhaps, too, Johnson saw in the printshop windows the sketch of “ The Distressed Poet,” which Hogarth had just published, — a pitiable but too true prophecy, alas ! There is an awkward whimsicality in Johnson’s attempt to note the advantages of living in a garret, years afterwards, when he had not forgotten these first years in London. It was a time when the sponging-house and the King’s Bench were the haunts of genius ; and it was deemed most consistent for an author to be reckless and eccentric, and to pass for a bully or a blood, who took, but never gave, the wall. There was scarcely one of the craft that the bailiffs had not measured wits and legs with, if we except Lillo, who had just produced his best play, and who cut jewels in his shop, that his shop might not cut him; and Richardson, who was wise enough to be his own publisher.
To Garrick, too, came disappointments. Colson’s terms proved beyond his means, and, in a week’s time after his arrival in London, we find his name entered with the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn. He was not the first of his profession who had been consigned originally to the dry study of the law. It is not long since a Lord Chancellor of England thought it worth while to show the probability of Shakespeare’s having been articled to an attorney. We read of a certain novice of the courts, Jean Baptiste Poquelin, who could not appease the offended dignity of a father, even by assuming the disguise of “Mol.iere” and making it immortal. And we have further instances of an importunity in the drama superior to that of the pandects and the codes in the lives of Ariosto and Lessing, of Congreve, Wycherley, and Rowe, of Quin, Foote, King, Colman, and Macready.
But a change was at hand. The Lisbon uncle returned to England, died, and left David a thousand pounds, which warranted the acceptance of Colson’s terms, and to him the law student now went. During the first weeks in London, David had lost his father, who left a numerous family slenderly provided for; and, in view of the sacred charge imposed on the elder sons, he gave up all hopes of the bar, and, after a year’s time, joined his brother in London, and, hiring vaults in Durham Yard, the two commenced partnership as wine-merchants, — still on the side of innocence. Their transactions were probably small enough to give color to the smart insinuation of Foote, long afterwards, that he remembered the great actor living in Durham Yard with three quarts of vinegar in his cellar, and calling himself a wine-merchant ! Somehow Foote always himself forgot his days of partnership as a small-beer brewer.
The stalls of the play-venders had intercepted David’s walks from the Temple. The clubs and coffee-houses, haunts of the poets and players, were now in his immediate vicinity. The young vintner soon made himself the centre of their circles. He could bandy wit with the sharpest, and print in the journals as good a criticism on the players as the deftest penman of them all.
The power of the coffee-houses was an acknowledged estate of the realm. Scandal and news here acquired a potency. Faction ran high in so motley a crowd, made up of notables, invulnerables, bravoes, and critics. The wits made the poor devil of an author wince beneath his incognito. Tom Puzzles were abundant, with knowledge enough to raise a doubt, but not to clear one. The liar met the truth-stickler at a tilt, and the fashionable booby looked on with a haw, tapped his red-heeled shoes, and twisted his gold-embroidered hose. Here, too, was the spruce young Templar,—
But it was the circles of The Bedford that held oracular sway over everything pertaining to the drama. The actors and playwrights made this tavern their great resort, and with them David was not long in establishing terms of intimacy, — much, however, to the dislike of his elder brother, who had a very keen perception of the line of respectability and innocence running between their cellars and the greenrooms. David was good at propitiatory manœuvres, and he induced Giffard, the manager of Goodman’s Field, to persuade the proprietors of The Bedford to supply themselves from the new vintners. Peter Garrick rejoiced at the increased run of custom, but he still kept a wary eye on the bodeful line. He had a horror of brother Davy’s being stagestruck ! He felt himself, in view of such an event, the embodiment of a most eminent respectability. He felt for the memory of his father, for the sensibility of his mother, for the happiness of himself. Meanwhile, David preserved the most discreet silence about such reprehensible intentions ; but, when Peter lost him from under his eye, he could most surely find him over at The Bedford.
Prominent at this place was to be seen the strong, rugged face of Charles Macklin, then in the vigor of mature life, and, by a change in the style of acting, preparing the way for a greater. David soon was fixed in his good graces. Here, too, came Havard and Woodward, both comedians of mark, — the one destined to be commemorated in an epitaph from the great manager’s pen, and the other to dispute his claim to a universal supremacy by his admirable Bobadil. Here, too, came a man of established reputation in a kindred art, — likely enough to sketch a caricature on his thumb-nail, — whose name was Hogarth. Another noted man came from the Inns of Court; a clever playwright he was accounted, — for the name of Fielding was not yet associated with his novels. A gentleman by birth, he had commanded distinguished patrons ; and he had possessed an easy disposition to make the best of life, although his plays were often damned as easily as he wrote them. A handsome, stalwart fellow he was ; but a life of dissipation, to which he had added the trials of managing a company of players and editing a magazine, had already marked him with disease, although he was hardly turned of thirty. He had taken a wife, however, who incited him to study, and his student’s gown, at this time, was no incongruity. Yet he could not resist mixing occasionally with his old companions of the playhouse ; and as Macklin was his next friend, and Garrick’s also, the playwright and the vintner were thus brought into terms of a like relationship. Perhaps still more noticeable was a certain short, stout fellow, who spent his mornings lounging at The Grecian, but was sure to saunter in at The Bedford as the evening came, and startle all ears with the laugh he raised. It was said he also had chambers in the Temple, and was quite the madcap Ranger a gownsman was afterwards dramatically represented to be by Hoadley; and he did not much depart from the standard of a Templar which Fielding had already portrayed in one of his pieces. He had a broad and rather vulgar face, only redeemed by a flexible mouth and a sparkling eye. This was Samuel Foote ; and people had little doubt he studied the chances of the gaming-table more than the abstrusities of the law.
Such was the assembly of wits that made The Bedford the centre of dramatic interest. Here each new play was canvassed, and every innovation of the managers criticised. The talk was now of Quin, — how he had done this in Lear, or that in Julius Cæsar ; — now of old Cibber, who had again resumed the sock, in Shallow to Quin’s Falstaff; and who, it was rumored one night, when he played in Richard, had found his old vigor gone, and had declared, behind the scenes, that he would give fifty guineas to be at home in his easychair. Faction was exasperated when it was reported that the Lord Chamberlain had stopped the rehearsal of Brook’s “ Gustavus Vasa,” at Drury Lane, because there were words in it that had an ugly meaning for the government; and the question ran round, where now are Pope, Pitt, and Lyttelton, who have heretofore befriended this man ? Then there came out a new tragedy, written, as the bills gave out, “in imitation of Shakespeare”; and Billy Havard, as the good soul was called familiarly, was forced to acknowledge the paternity of “ Charles the First.” There was, too, a new actress, just from Dublin, young and handsome, announced for Sylvia in “ The Recruiting Officer,” and all the town was wild about her, — the merry young vintner not the least so, — and the excitement only increased when, a few nights after, she dashed upon them in “Sir Harry Wildair.” Garrick was not long in making himself one of the most favored of Peg Woffington’s admiring circle. He had likewise, by this time,aspired to be an author, and the frequenters of the coffeehouses knew that the lively little winemerchant of Durham Yard had written the unique after-piece of Lethe, which Giffard had brought out for his benefit; though Peter did not know a word of it, but was only troubled with vague surmises. Then, again, Walmesley sends down from Lichfield a patriotic song, to which David adds a verse ; and it is sung one night at Drury Lane, after a benefit play for an English crew who had fought the Spaniards. But the event that was causing most comment and misgivings was the promised Shylock of Macklin. For forty years the town had had nothing but a farcical alteration of Shakespeare’s play, in which the Jew was laboriously comic, and played all sorts of fooleries ; and yet the club-rooms rang with a laugh when it was announced that Macklin was to make Shylock a serious part. The manager was frightened, and begged his actor to desist; but Macklin was not a man to retreat. He paid, in those days, an unwonted attention to costume, and caused a stare and winks in the green-room when he appeared for the stage, arrayed in a loose black gown, a peaked beard, and a red hat. “ I was Charles the Great for that night,” he cried, when narrating his success afterwards; and whether Pope really did or did not Compliment him in the celebrated distich,
That Shakespeare drew,”
it is certain be commended his pains in the appointments of the play ; and, for that and many subsequent seasons, to see Macklin in Shylock was one of the sights of the metropolis.
While Garrick was living in this round of excitement, his old friend Johnson was drudging for the booksellers, dating time from his clean-shirt day, and now and then getting a lift through Walmesley’s influence, but knowing London as he wrote about it in his poem of that name. He had managed to make his approach to Cave, the potentate of St. John’s Gate and the Gentleman’s Magazine, — taciturn, distant, but good-hearted man as he was, — dispenser of all the bounty a poor hackney writer hoped for. It was at his table that Johnson told of the inimitable powers of mirth in his townsman who kept the wine-vaults in Durham Yard, and the magnanimous Cave resolved to see for himself. In the room over the arch a stage was hastily prepared, and, with such decorations and dresses as could be easily improvised, Garrick assumed a manager’s direction, with an audience of the literary handicraftsmen of the magazine. There was much of a likeness among these dangling hirelings, — needy poets, improvident wits, skulking essayists, — hunted of the bailiffs, all. A long, thin face, upon whose coarse features gravity sat as in mockery, told the miserable life that was led by Richard Savage. Johnson and he had but lately walked St. James Square all night for want of means to hire a lodging. Too profligate to hold his friends, he was to find the only two vindicators of his memory in this company, — Johnson was to write his life ; and Garrick, when its author was long dead, was to befriend a straggling tragedy that about this very time in his despondency its author had sold to Cave. There was another among this audience whom the transient manager may have liked to propitiate ; for it was thought a certain slovenly, near-sighted fellow present had a talent for the drama, and it was nothing incongruous that his lodging was too often in a sponging-house. This was Samuel Boyse, whose poem of “ The Deity,” published soon after, is not rightfully forgotten, if we have faith in the judgment of the author of “ Tom Jones.”
On the night in question it was Fielding’s farce of " The block Doctor " they were to play ; and Garrick, taking Gregory to himself, distributed the parts among the journeyman printers of the establishment. He could not have had a better vehicle for broad farcical humor ; and the applause he gained only sent him back to his wine-vaults more dissatisfied than ever, and open to the admonitions of Peter, still persistent in his reproofs.
It was not long before his constancy was put to another test. The Eton boys got up “ The Orphan ” at the little York-building theatre; and Garrick, being cast with them for Chamont, so fascinated the ladies who attended, that they offered him their purses and trinkets from the boxes. This attempt led to another. One night manager Giffard was distressed because his harlequin was suddenly taken ill, and the flushed amateur quickly donned the jacket, and nobody in the house ever suspected the change ; and Peter, too, was for a long time spared the mortification of knowing it.
David was thus fast making up his mind that he must openly cross the fatal boundary of respectability, and rely upon his powers to retrieve his good name. He dared not break the matter to his brother. Peter had already frowned dreadfully at the mere surmise ; and he could but now mark that a cloud was over his brother’s spirits, when in his presence. He spoke to him of their good family name, and portrayed the sure displeasure which their parents, if surviving, would manifest. His mother, David often acknowledged, had fortunately been so dear to him, that the thought of her restrained him at many a critical moment. He lived to account it a great advantage that this restraint gave his powers time to ripen. He was in his twenty-fifth year when restraint was no longer effectual. It is not within the scope of this paper to picture the realization of his long-indulged hopes. He went through a brief probationary incognito at a provincial theatre, and came back to London, reassured, and undertook that most remarkable first season, which began a long career without a parallel in the history of the stage, proving for thirty-five successive years that he had not in vain been stage-struck !
That life has been often told, but never yet as it should be. Tom Davies, the actor, — whose relations with his manager were not always the happiest, and whose shop, when he became, after Churchill’s “ Rosciad ” stung him, a bookseller, was the rendezvous of a set of men fond of saying savage things about the Drury Lane potentate, — was the first to tell the story of the great actor, He published it the year after Garrick’s death ; and, though he is supposed to have had Johnson’s countenance and aid, he received no assistance from the actor’s widow and the guardians of his papers. His book is lively, and cannot be overlooked by any subsequent biographer, though Davies’s memory was not exact, and he trusted to it too freely. The next attempt was made by Arthur Murphy, when Garrick had been dead twenty-one years ; and the interval had not been long enough for Murphy to forget how he had practised the astutest arts a disappointed playwright could summon to harass the most sensitive of managers. His book is dull, full of errors, and affords but little that is complementary to the earlier life. Next came Boaden, who, ten years later, and thirty-six years ago, presented in two plethoric quartos, a large mass of Garrick’s correspondence, very carelessly arranged and heedlessly selected, and, for the first time, in the rather meagre memoir prefixed, gave something of authority to the recital of this busy life.
It has been for some years known that there was still a considerable portion of Garrick’s papers not used by Boaden, particularly letters illustrating his Lichfield life; and Forster gave us in the second edition of his admirable “Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith,” a chapter on this part of the actor’s career that made some new revelations. Those who fancied there had been an equal reservation of papers regarding Garrick’s riper years, had hopes of much additional illustration, when it was announced that Mr. Percy Fitzgerald would have access to the inedited manuscripts in writing a new biography. These hopes have not been fully met, and a thorough life of Garrick is still to be written. The new biographer casts a slur upon Boaden’s editorial labors, but he does not make good his assertion that there was much of the best in reservation, beyond what Mr. Forster had already eliminated. His “Life of Garrick” has two grand faults. It is carelessly, and sometimes awkwardly, put together ; and it slights many points of the first importance in understanding Garrick, because the author could not find much to add to what was currently known, while passages of inferior interest are dilated. To such, then, as are not previously versed in the story of that wonderful theatrical and social career, this last narrative will seem disjointed and out of perspective ; although much has been done in the bringing together of data and memoranda to make the book an entertaining one for the general reader, and a useful one for the student of English social history of the last century.