David Garrick

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

David Garrick –

 David Garrick swept regularly in and out of the Burney household, the concert halls and salons where Abel, Cervetto and Mozart performed. His magnetism entranced a whole generation of performing artists. He lived at Hampton House, Hampton Court, from 1745. Fanny Burney described a typical Garrick ‘entrance’ at their small residence at Queen Square.:

 ‘One morning he called at 8 o’clock, & unfortunately, Susette & I were not come stairs. We hurried in vain – for he soon discovered out laziness and made us monstrously ashamed by his raillery –‘that I found the Doctor reading Petrarch – in Flannels, like a young man – but where’ says I, ‘where the young ladies? Where do you think are my Favourites? – Why in Bed!’ When he went away he caught Charlotte in his arms, & ran with her down the steps, & to the Corner of the square – protesting that he intended taking her off.’

 The Burneys lived in a small house, so Garrick didn’t have to go far to cause the entire rumpus. When her mother was ill in 1792, a Mrs Crewe came to visit. Fanny reported that ‘my father & I both went & sat with her in the coach, as my mother was not well enough for admission into our only Company room.’

 The Victoria & Albert Museum has the Tea and coffee service 1774-5 by James Young and Orlando Jackson. This was commissioned for Garrick, and used by him until his death, in January 1777. Tea and Coffee, became, and remained the one constant integer of every type of drawing room, salon, or parlour.

 In 1814, a series of engravings appeared in Paris, purporting to be ‘English scenes, drawn in London by a French prisoner of War’. These were published by the Martinet Libraire, the fashionable engraving boutique on the Rue de Coq. The first in this series of engravings is entitled Les Dames Anglaises Après-Diné. It depicts a gloomy assembly of matrons gathered around a tea-urn, being served by a uniformed black servant. In 1793, the violinist Viotti wrote to Margaret Chinnery:

 “It is the custom here to gather together in a large room after the music to chat and to take tea.  That is very agreeable for someone who is able to enjoy it, but I, who am something of a bear, am always in a hurry to leave.”

Clearly he found the custom as gloomy as the prisonier de guerre who had depicted Les Dames Anglaises Après-Diné. The Comtesse de Boigne was present at a tea party at the salon of the Mme. de Segur in Paris. The great philosopher, Chateaubriand was the honoured guest, and read from his works. She recalled the folly of the occasion:

 “Tea was brought and served… ‘M.  de Chateaubriand, will you have some tea?’ ‘I will ask for a cup.’ Immediately an echo went throughout the salon:’ My dear, he would like some tea.’-‘He is going to have some tea.’-‘Give him some tea.’-‘He wants some tea.’

And ten ladies started to serve the idol with tea.  It was the first time that I had been present at such a spectacle, which seemed to me so ridiculous that I resolved never to take part in it.”

The Comtesse seemed to hold the same low opinion of the business as Viotti. Jane Austen summed up the atmosphere just such an evening, in her first major novel, Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811:

“The events of the evening were not very remarkable.  The party, like other music parties, comprehended a great many people who had a real taste for the performance, and a great many more who had none at all.; and the performers themselves were, as usual, in their own estimation, and that of their immediate friends, the first private performers in England.”

Garrick was, in his day, as noted as a poet, as an actor. Upon taking over Drury Lane Thetre, in 1747, he delivered a prologue including his performer’s credo:

‘We live to please, must please to live’. Prologue, spoken when he took over Drury Lane in 1747.

At his Shakespeare Jubilee 1769, Garrick stepped on stage and delivered an ode to full orchestral and choral accompaniment, with music specially composed by Thomas Arne.For Garrick and his contemporaries, all the arts, musical, visual, and spoken, were necessarily intertwined.

In 1771, he called the French painter and stage designer  Jacques de Loutherbourg, to London in 1771. He first worked for Garrick at the Drury Lane Theatre, where he became famous for the invention in 1781, of the Eidophusikon, or ‘spectacle of Nature’. The president of the Royal Academy  Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the RA, advised his students to go see this machine as an ‘excellent example of the artificial sublime.’

Garrick scorned ‘the foolish custom of dressing actors like Scaramouches.’ He caused further controversy with his ‘…Modern dress of a Hungarian Hussar…rose coloured Satin trimmed with Silver’ , which he wore on stage, just because it was fashionable, playing a 12th Century ruler of Sicily [Play by Thomson].

David Garrick was also friends with thre great Philosophe, Jean Jacques Rousseau, in every way the man of the age. Many musicians tried to build a friendship with Jean Jacques Rousseau, but perhaps none more unfortunate than André Erneste Modeste Grétry (1741-1813), one composer who succeeded in riding out the revolution, perhaps more by naïveté than anything else.

The composer Grétry was revered as the French musician whose works most closely approximated the esprit and elevation of conversation in the salon. Mlle. de Lespinasse acknowledged that his music had the:

“…keenness, the muscle, and the grace of the conversation of a witty man who would always appeal without ever wearying, would have only the degree of warmth and forcefulness suitable to the subject in question, and would appear all the richer for never stepping beyond the bounds dictated by taste.”

  It was reported that the great philosopher came to hear Grétry’s comic opera La Fausse Magique in April 1775 at the Comédie Italien.  Enjoying the piece, he expressed a desire to meet its composer, who being informed of this wish, rushed to the box where he was sitting.  The attention would surely have pleased Rousseau, who, being taken to the theatre in London by the actor David Garrick (1717-1767),  had been “so eager to be seen that he almost fell out of his box.”

The eager composer was congratulated by Rousseau in his box, and begged for his friendship.  At the end of the show, the two left together, “the artist congratulating himself on having made the conquest of the writer whose great talent he admired so much.”   Leaving the theatre, the pair found their way across the street obstructed by a pile of paving stones; conscious of his new companion’s frailty, Grétry offered his arm to help him, ignorant of Rousseau’s proud independence.  The philosopher turned on him and spat, “I am perfectly capable of looking after myself”.  With that he stomped off.  Grétry never saw him again, and remained ignorant of how he had offended him.

Nouvelles lettres de Madmoiselle de Lespinasse,  Julie de Lespinasse, P.277, quoted : The Age of Conversations, Benedetta Craveri (transl.   Teresa Waugh), New York Review of Books, New York, 2005, P.   348

 That Sweet Enemy, Robert and Isabelle Tombs, Vintage Books, New York, 2006, P.76

 Félix Clément – Les Grands Musiciens, Librairie Hatchette et Cie., Paris, 1898, P.95