- Hereford, England
- February 19, 1717 – Born
David Garrick is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.
“David Garrick has gone down in history as perhaps the greatest English actor of his age. And excellent playwright his acting talents lay equally in tragedy and comedy. His performances of Shakespeare helped to revive the influence of this great master. In 1769, Garrick organized the first Shakespearean festival of Stratford-on-Avon. Born in a time in which acting and actors were at the lowest point of social acceptability since the 1400s, Garrick lifted the progression to a new respectability.” 1
“Let others hail the rising sun, I bow to that whose race is ruin.”
– David Garrick
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff
Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.
English Actor and Director 1717-1779
David Garrick was born in the rural town of Lichfield, England, the birthplace of Samuel Johnson, who was at one time his schoolmaster. Although these men were both born in poverty and obscurity, they were to become the most commanding personalities of the eighteenth century in the world of literature and drama.
Garrick’s reputation was not limited to England. Garrick toured France just before his retirement, where he created an admiration for Shakespeare’s works that burst into the greatest awakening of the French to an appreciation for Shakespeare. Garrick’s fame still echoes in the literature of France. It was perhaps in the creation of this bond between England and France that Garrick performed the work for which he was born. He is considered as one of those who did the most to dispel the clouds of prejudice which kept France and England separated.
Considering Garrick’s role in bringing France and England together, and it will perhaps seem no coincidence that the nationality of Garrick’s grandparents was French and the nationality of his birth was English. Garrick’s paternal grandparents were French Huguenots, who were driven to seek shelter in England after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes had granted religious freedom to Protestants in France in 1598, but it was revoked in 1685. Thousands fled France.
The Garrick family (whose name at this time was De La Garrique) escaped to England from Bordeaux separately and with great difficulty. Eventually the family, including a brother and a sister was reunited. A fragment of a journal kept by his grandfather, also named David Garrick, lists the births and deaths of the family recognizing the hand of the Lord in all things.
To this first David Garrick was born Peter Garrick. In 1707, Peter married Arabella Clough who was of Irish descent. This couple had ten children, seven of whom lived. David Garrick was their third child. Peter Garrick became a captain in the king’s army. His wife was greatly devoted to her husband.
Clever and bright, with an engaging personality, David was an observer of people. He often entertained his friends with his imitations. He did not find school much to his liking for he had a restless spirit. When Garrick was about ten years old, he watched a company of strolling players and decided to put on a play. The play he chose was ‘’The Recruiting Officer’’. The cast consisted of his friends and a little sister.
It was not long after this that he received an invitation from his Uncle David, his namesake, to come and live with him in Portugal. Uncle David was a prosperous wine merchant and was willing to train young Garrick in the business. Garrick’s stay in Portugal seems to have been more a success in the social aspect of his life than in the comerical aspect. He entertained the English community at their evening events with his imitations and his ability to give from memory long speeches and other acting tidbits. Samuel Johnson was to say to Fanny Burney that “off as well as on the Stage, [Garrick] is always an Actor.” This “education” of life abroad gave him in early glimpse of the world, and his interaction with people there was of invaluable training. However, his work with the ledgers did not prosper. Garrick was sent back home.
Garrick’s father was unable to support his large family on his captain’s “half-pay,” so he volunteered for overseas duty. He was gone for five years. Because the eldest brother had also left for service, the responsibility of helping the family fell upon young David Garrick. He was fifteen years old.
His mother’s health was poor and Garrick did all in his power to relieve the trials of his mother. When Garrick’s father returned home, his health, too, was so broken that he lived only a short time. When Garrick’s uncle David died, leaving him £1,000, a family council was held and Garrick and his elder brother Peter decided to use Garrick’s inheritance to go into the wine business, of which Garrick had some knowledge. Garrick was to warehouse the products in London and Peter would retail them in Litchfield.
When Garrick left for London he carried with him a letter of introduction from Gilbert Walmesley, the Registrar of Diocese, who had a keen interest in the bright young lad. He wrote of Garrick: “as ingenious and promising a young man as ever I knew in my life,” who “has been much with me, ever since he was a child, almost every day; and I have taken great pleasure often in instructing him, and have a great affection and esteem for him.” (However, because of the death of his father, Garrick’s educational experience had lasted less than a year.)
Garrick’s place of business was close to Convent Gardens theater. He attended all the plays that he could and became a friend with actors, stagehands, and directors. One of the leading actors who became a friend of Garrick’s said: “The stage possessed him wholly; he could talk or think of nothing but the theater.” Garrick submitted to the theater of Drury Lane a farce he had written and it was accepted.
One night at Goodman’s Field the leading man suddenly took ill, and Garrick offered to fill in for him. He did so well that the audience did not notice the substitution. However, Garrick found the acting of the time very stifled, rigid. It seemed more a place for speech thriving and straightforward declarations than a place of acting. This troubled Garrick, for he felt that the stage should hold a mirror up to nature, showing its complexities. He felt it was his calling to effect a revolution.
Garrick continued to act with some of the players from Goodman’s Field and his confidence grew. He began to immerse himself in his parts, acting with emotion and feeling. His voice was strong and melodious, his body light and agile, and he had a commanding set of eyes. He soon became known as the new wonder. When Garrick acted the theater was always full; when he did not, it was half empty. Through jealousies of the rival theaters Goodman’s Field was closed down by government decree and only two remained registered thaters were Convent Garden and Drury Lane. Garrick signed a contract with Dury Lane, which gained him a salary that far exceeded any previously granted to an actor.
Nobles and titled people flocked to the theater to see this new wonder. Alexander Pope observed Garrick’s fresh and forceful style and commented, “That young man never had his equal as an actor, and he will never have a rival.” Mrs. Porter, a great actress of the time, prophetically stated after watching Garrick, “All hail, hereafter. He is born an actor, and does more at his first appearance than ever anybody did with twenty years’ practice…. What will he be in time!”
Garrick eventually became the manager and owner of Drury Lane. He was an excellent money manager and began to be one of England. He established charities for which he would often give benefit performances, and cared for his brothers and sisters.
Garrick married Eva Marie Viegel, one of the finest and most advanced dancers in the world. Their marriage was an everlasting courtship. She soon retired from the stage to support her husband in his management of Drury Lane. Garrick did not make decisions without consulting Mrs. Garrick.
During Garrick’s twenty-nine years as manager, he produced seventy-five plays and revised twenty-four of Shakespeare’s dramas. At last he announced his retirement and or three months gave farewell performances to packed houses. Then he and his wife left for his famous tour of France. Their tour coincided with the important translation of Shakespeare by Letourneur. The combination of these two events cemented Shakespeare’s reputation in that country. Because of the great admiration France developed for Garrick, new conciliation grew between England and France.
Upon his death, all of England mourned. Johnson wrote: “I am disappointed by that stroke of death which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations and impoverished the public.” Garrick’s social gifts, his quiet integrity, and his private virtues combined with his great talents to give the dramatic arts the dignity it had previously lacked. His body was taken to Westminster Abbey by members of the highest nobility and placed in the Poets’ Corner at the very foot of Shakespeare’s monument. Samuel Johnson was observed “standing by his grace, at the foot of Shakespeare’s monument, and bather in tears.” Goldsmith eulogised him by writing: “Here lies David Garrick, describe me, who can, an abridgement of all that was pleasant in a man.”
Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. 2