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being a Homer, as a man may be a good player without being a Garrick. In the lighter kinds of poetry, in the appendages of the drama, he was, if not the first, in the very first class. He had a readiness and facility, a dexterity of mind that appeared extraordinary even to men of experience, and who are not apt to wonder from igno
Writing prologues, epilogues, and epigrams, he said he considered as his trade, and he was, what a man should be, always, and at all times, ready at his trade. He required two hours for a prologue or epilogue, and five minutes for an epigram. Once at Burke's table the company proposed a subject, and Garrick' finished his epigram within the time ; the same experiment was repeated. in the garden, and with the same success.
Gib. Garrick had some flippancy of parts, to be sure, and was brisk and lively in company, and by the help of mimicry and story-telling, made himself a pleasant companion : but here the whole world gave the superiority to Foote, and Garrick himself appears to have felt as if his genius was rebuked by the superior powers of Foote. It has been often observed, that Garrick never dared to enter into competition with him, but was content to act an underpart to bring Foote out.
Johns. That this conduct of Garrick's might be interpreted by the gross minds of Foote and his friends, as if he was afraid to encounter him, I can easily imagine. Of the natural superiority of Garrick over Foote, this conduct is an instance: he disdained entering into competition with such a fellow, and made him the buffoon of the company; or, as you say, brought him out. And what was at last brought out but coarse jests and vulgar merriment, indecency and impiety, a relation of events which, upon the face of them, could never have happened, characters grossly conceived and as coarsely represented ? Foote was even no mimic; he went out of himself, it is true, but without going into another man ; he was excelled by Garrick even in this, which is considered as Foote's greatest excellence. Garrick, besides his exact imitation of the voice and gesture of his original, to a degree of refinement of which Foote had no conception,
exhibited the mind and mode of thinking of the person imitated. Besides, Garrick confined his powers within the limits of decency; he had a character to preserve, Foote had none. By Foote's buffoonery and broad-faced merriment, private friendship, public decency, and every thing estimable amongst men were trod under foot. We all know the difference of their reception in the world. No man, however high in rank or literature, but was proud to know Garrick, and was glad to have him at his table ; no man ever considered or treated Garrick as a player ; he may be said to have stepped out of his own rank into a higher, and by raising himself, he raised the rank of his profession. At a convivial table his exhilarating powers were unrivalled ; he was lively, entertaining, quick in discerning the ridicule of life, and as ready in representing it ; and on graver subjects there were few topics in which he could not bear his part. It is injurious to the character of Garrick to be named in the same breath with Foote. That Foote was admitted sometimes into good company (to do the man what credit I can) I will allow, but then it was merely to play tricks : Foote's merriment was that of a buffoon, and Garrick's that of a gentleman.
Gib. I have been told, on the contrary, that Garrick in company had not the easy manners of a gentleman.
Johns. Sir, I don't know what you may have been told, or what your ideas may be, of the manners of a gentleman : Garrick had no vulgarity in his manners ; it is true Garrick had not the airiness of a fop, nor did he assume an affected indifference to what was passing ; he did not lounge from the table to the window, and from thence to the fire, or, whilst you were addressing your discourse to him, turn from you and talk to his next neighbour, or give any indication that he was tired of your company: if such manners form your ideas of a fine gentleman, Garrick certainly had them not.
Gib. I mean that Garrick was more overawed by the presence of the great, and more obsequious to rank, than Foote, who considered himself as their equal, and treated them with the same familiarity as they treated each other.
Johns. He did so, and what did the fellow get by it? The grossness of his mind prevented him from seeing that this familiarity was merely suffered as they would play with a dog ; he got no ground by affecting to call peers by their surnames; the foolish fellow fancied that lowering them was raising himself to their level; this affectation of familiarity with the great, this childish ambition of momentary exaltation obtained by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another, only showed his folly and meanness; he did not see that by encroaching on others' dignity, he puts himself in their power either to be repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension. Garrick, by paying due respect to rank, respected himself; what he gave was returned, and what was returned he kept for ever ; his advancement was on firm ground, he was recognised in public as well as respected in private, and as no man was ever more courted and better received by the public, so no man was ever less spoiled by its flattery ; Garrick continued advancing to the last, till he had acquired every advantage that high birth or title could bestow, except the precedence of going into a room; but when he was there, he was treated with as much attention as the first man at the table. It is to the credit of Garrick, that he never laid any claim to this distinction ; it was as voluntarily allowed as if it had been his birthright. In this, I confess, I looked on David with some degree of envy, not so much for the respect he received, as for the manner of its being acquired; what fell into his lap unsought, I have been forced to claim. I began the world by fighting my way. There was something about me that invited insult, or at least a disposition to neglect, and I was equally disposed to repel insult and to claim attention, and I fear continue too much in this disposition now it is no longer necessary ; I receive at present as much favour as I have a right to expect. I am not one of the complainers of the neglect of merit.
GIB. Your pretensions, Dr. Johnson, nobody will dispute ; I cannot place Garrick on the same footing ; your reputation will continue increasing after your death, when
Garrick will be totally forgotten ; you will be for ever considered as a classic Johns. Enough, Sir, enough ; the company
would be better pleased to see us quarrel than bandying compliments.
Gib. But you must allow, Dr. Johnson, that Garrick was too much a slave to fame, or rather to the mean ambition of living with the great, terribly afraid of making himself cheap even with them; by which he debarred himself of much pleasant society. Employing so much attention, and so much management upon such little things, implies, I think, a little mind. It was observed by his friend Colman, that he never went into company but with a plot how to get out of it ; he was every minute called out, and went off or returned as there was or was not a probability of his shining.
Johns. In regard to his mean ambition, as you call it, of living with the great, what was the boast of Pope, and is every man's wish, can be no reproach to Garrick; he who says he despises it knows he lies. That Garrick husbanded his fame, the fame which he had justly acquired both at the theatre and at the table, is not denied ; but where is the blame, either in the one or in the other, of leaving as little as he could to chance ? Besides, Sir, consider what you have said ; you first deny Garrick's pretensions to fame, and then accuse him of too great an attention to preserve what he never possessed.
GIB. I don't understand -
Gib. Well, but Dr. Johnson, you will not vindicate him in his over and above attention to his fame, his inordinate desire to exhibit himself to new men, like a coquette, ever seeking after new conquests, to the total neglect of old friends and admirers:
“ He threw off his friends like a huntsman his pack," always looking out for new game.
Johns. When you quoted the line from Goldsmith, you ought, in fairness, to have given what followed :
“ He knew when he pleased he could whistle them back;"
which implies, at least, that he possessed a power over other men's minds approaching to fascination ; but consider, Sir, what is to be done ; here is a man whom every other man desired to know. Garrick could not receive and cultivate all, according to each man's conception of his own value : we are all apt enough to consider ourselves as possessing a right to be excepted from the common crowd; besides, Sir, I do not see why that should be imputed to him as a crime, which we all so irresistibly feel and practise : we all make a greater exertion of the presence of new men than old acquaintance; it is undoubtedly true that Garrick divided his attention among so many, that but little was left to the share of any individual ; like the extension and dissipation of water into dew, there was not quantity united sufficiently to quench any man's thirst ; but this is the inevitable state of things : Garrick, no more than another man, could unite what, in their natures, are incompatible.
Gib. But Garrick not only was excluded by this means from real friendship, but accused of treating those whom he called friends with insincerity and double dealings.
Johns. Sir, it is not true; his character in that respect is misunderstood : Garrick was, to be sure, very ready in promising, but he intended at that time to fulfil his promise; he intended no deceit: his politeness or his goodnature, call it which you will, made him unwilling to deny; he wanted the courage to say No, even to unreasonable demands. This was the great error of his life : by raising expectations which he did not, perhaps could not, gratify, he made many enemies ; at the same time it must be remembered, that this error proceeded from the same cause which produced many of his virtues. Friendships from warmth of temper too suddenly taken up, and too violent to continue, ended as they were like to do, in disappointment; enmity succeeded disappointment ; his friends became his enemies; and those having been fostered in his bosom, well knew his sensibility to reproach, and they took care that he should be amply supplied with such bitter potions as they were capable of administering ; their impotent efforts he ought to have despised, but he felt them; nor did he affect insensibility.