David Garrick

The Diary of Sylas Neville

Source: Basil Cozens-Hardy (ed.), The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 44-45

Production: William Shakespeare, Richard III, Drury Lane, London, 29 September 1768

Text: Thursd. Sept. 29 … Hearing about 7 o’clock that Garrick did Rich. III, one of his very capital characters which he has not done these 7 or 8 years, resolved (if I could get in to see him) to bear the abhorred sight of that woman-like painted puppy, the King of Denmark. After one unsuccessful attempt got into the Pit with the greatest difficulty after the 3rd Act. Garrick is inimitably great in Richard & very different from the other Richards I have seen; his expression of the dying agony of that wretch is beyond description. Some actors speak with as strong & loud a voice in that scene as if they had received no wound & were not dying. One, Lloyd, who waits on Garrick sometimes, observed that he himself says he never acted better in his life, modestly observing that something must be allowed to the improvement of his judgment. During the Dance (for there was no Farce) I was within a yard of the Danish tyrant. O Heaven! what an instance of the corruption of mankind that a great nation should submit to the will – nay, the absolute will – of a puny vicious boy, unfit to govern himself & made for the distaff (like Sardanapalus) not for the rod of power!

Comments: Sylas Neville (1741-1840) was an English gentleman of unclear origins, who had studied medicine but spent much of his adult life travelling while being continually short of money. His surviving diary frequently mentions visits to the theatre in London. David Garrick appeared in Richard III at Drury Lane on 29 September 1768. At the end of the play there was a comic dance. Christian VII, King of Denmark, attended the performance. Sardanapalus, a legendary Assyrian king, was a byword for decadent living.

Boswell’s London Journal

Source: Frederick A. Pottle (ed.), Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763 (Melbourne/London/Toronto: William Heinemann, 1950), pp. 256-257

Production: William Shakespeare (adapted by Nahum Tate), King Lear, Drury Lane, London, 12 May 1763

Text: Thursday 12 May. I went to Drury Lane and saw Mr. Garrick play King Lear. So very high is his reputation, even after playing so long, that the pit was full in ten minutes after four, although the play did not begin rill half an hour after six. I kept myself at a distance from all acquaintances, and got into a proper frame. Mr. Garrick gave me the most perfect satisfaction. I was fully moved, and I shed abundance of tears. The farce was Polly Honeycomb, at which I laughed a good deal. It gave me great consolation after my late fit of melancholy to find that I was again capable of receiving such high enjoyment.

Comments: James Boswell (1740-1795) was a Scottish lawyer, biographer and diarist, best known for his Life of Samuel Johnson. His London Journal was discovered in 1930 among a set of Boswell’s private papers. David Garrick‘s production of King Lear was first performed at Drury Lane on 19 November 1762, with Garrick as Lear. This was a version of the 1681 adaptation of the play by Nahum Tate, which cut characters such as the Fool and gave it a happy ending by preserving the lives of Lear, Kent and Gloucester, and marrying off Cordelia and Edgar. Polly Honeycombe (1760) was a one-act farce about the effects of novel-reading, written by George Colman the Elder.

The Journal of Sir Walter Scott

Source: Walter Scott, The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 1825-1832 (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1910 [orig. pub. 1890]), vol. 2, p. 335

Production: David Garrick/Thomas Southerne, Isabella, or The Fatal Marriage, Covent Garden, London, 16 June 1830

Text: June 17. – Went last night to theatre, and saw Miss Fanny Kemble’s Isabella, which was a most creditable performance. It has much of the genius of Mrs. Siddons, her aunt. She wants her beautiful countenance, her fine form, and her matchless dignity of step and manner. On the other hand, Miss Fanny Kemble has very expressive, though not regular, features, and what is worth it all, great energy mingled with and chastened by correct taste. I suffered by the heat, lights, and exertion, and will not go back to-night, for it has purchased me a sore headache this theatrical excursion. Besides, the play is Mrs. Beverley, and I hate to be made miserable about domestic distress, so I keep my gracious presence at home to-night, though Ive and respect Miss Kemble for giving her active support to her father in his need, and preventing Covent Garden from coming down about their ears.

Comments: Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a Scottish novelist and poet, whose historical novels such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and The Heart of Midlothian were immensely popular and influential. The Fatal Marriage was a 1694 play by Thomas Southerne, which David Garrick adapted in 1757 as Isabella; or the Fatal Marriage. Fanny Kemble played Isabella in a production at Covent Garden. ‘Mrs. Beverley’ is a character in Edward Moore‘s popular 1753 play The Gamester.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg