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SAMUEL FOOTE.

1855.]

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under terror-stricken contribution, and to | your house, and then bring you on a public whom the Great Turk himself offered hush-stage; who will entertain you at his house, “Mr Foote was a man of wonderful for the very purpose of bringing you on money. a public stage. Sir, he does not make abilities," says Garrick," and the most entertaining companion I have ever known." fools of his company: they whom he ex"There is hardly a public man in England," poses are fools already; he only brings them says Davies, "who has not entered Mr. into action." The same opinion he expressed Foote's theatre with an aching heart, under more gravely in another conversation, when, the apprehension of seeing himself laughed admitting Foote's humor, and his singular "Sure if ever one person," says Tate talent for exhibiting character, he qualiWilkinson, "possessed the talents of pleasing fied it not as a talent but as a vice, such as other men abstain from ;* and described more than another, Mr. Foote was the man." 'Upon my word," writes Horace Walpole, it to be not comedy, which exhibits the cha"if Mr. Foote be not checked, we shall have racter of a species, but farce, which exthe army itself, on its return from Boston, hibits individuals. Be this hasty or delibebesieged in the Haymarket." Such and so rate, false or true, the imputation conveyed various were the emotions once inspired by by it follows Foote still, and gathers bulk as it rolls. When Sir Walter Scott speaks him who has now lost command alike over as an unprincipled satirist, our fears and our enjoyments; and whose of him, it is as name is not thought even worthy of mention, who, while he affected to be the terror of by lecturers aiming to be popular, among the vice and folly, was only anxious to extort Humorists and Satirists of the eighteenth forbearance-money from the timid, or to fill his theatre at the indiscriminate expense of century. friends and enemies, virtuous or vicious, who presented foibles capable of being turned into ridicule. When Mr. Macaulay speaks of him it is as a man whose mimicry was exquisitely ludicrous, but all caricature; and who could take off only some strange peculiarity, a stammer or a lisp, a Northumbrian burr, or an Irish brogue, a stoop or a shuffle. If we had absolute faith in any of these judgments, this article would not have been begun.

A careful examination of Foote's writings has satisfied us that they are not unworthy of a very high place in literature, though not perhaps in all respects the place he would have claimed; and it is worth remark that in defending them he has himself anticipated He declines to Mr. Macaulay's illustration. introduce upon the scene a lady from the north, with the true Newcastle burr in her throat; he recognizes no subject for ridicule in the accidental unhappiness of a national brogue, for which a man is no more to be held accountable than for the color of his hair: but he sees the true object and occasion for satire where all true satirists have found it, namely, in all kinds of affectation or pretence; in whatever assumes to be what it

We have hinted at one reason for such forgetfulness, but that is not all. He who merely shoots a folly as it flies, may have no right to outlive the folly he lays low; but Foote's aim was not so limited. He proposed to instruct, as well as to amuse, his countrymen; he wrote what he believed to be comedies, as well as what he knew to be farces; he laughed freely at what he thought ridiculous in others, but he aspired also to produce what should be admirable and enduring of his own. "My scenes,' ," he said on one occasion, "have been collected from general nature, and are applicable to none but those who, through consciousness, are compelled to a self-application. To that mark, if Comedy directs not her aim, her arrows are shot in the air; for by what touches no man, no man will be amended." This plea has not been admitted, however. Whenever he is now named, it is as a satirist of peculiarities, not as an observer of character; it is as a writer whose reputation has perished, with the personalities that alone gave it zest; it is as a comedian who so exclusively addressed himself to the audience of his theatre, that posterity has been obliged to decline having any business. or concern with him.

Smarting from some ridicule poured out at his dinner-table, Boswell complained to Johnson that the host had made fools of his guests, and was met by a sarcasm bitter as Foote's own. "Why, Sir, when you go to see Foote, you do not go to see a saint: you go to see a man who will be entertained at

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* Yet even Johnson could admit that there were cases where he would have relaxed his own rule, and rejoice to see administered, even upon individuals, the lash which Foote wielded with such effect. "Sir, I wish he had him," he said to Boswell, who had named a miserly acquaintance of "I, who have theirs as a capital subject for Foote. eaten his bread, will not give him to him, but I should be glad he came honestly by him."

is not, or strives to be what it cannot. That he did not uniformly remember this, is with regret to be admitted, seeing the effect it has had upon his reputation; but it is not in his writings that his most marked deviations from it are discoverable. For it is not because real characters are there occasionally introduced, that the verdict is at once to pass against him. Vanbrugh's Miss Jenny, was a certain Derbyshire Miss Lowe; Cibber's Lady Grace, was Lady Betty Cecil; Farquhar's Justice Balance, was a well-known Mr. Beverley; and Molière, who struck the fashions and humors of his age into forms that are immortal, has perpetuated with them the vices and foibles of many a living contemporary. In all these cases, the question still remains whether the individual folly or vice, obtruding itself on the public, may not so far represent a general defect, as to justify public satire for the sake of the warning it more widely conveys. will not do to confine ridicule exclusively to folly and vice, and to refrain, in case of need, from laying the lash on the knave and the fool. But such reasonable opportunities are extremely rare; and it even more rarely happens that what is thus strictly personal in satire, does not also involve individual injustice and wrong. It is, beyond doubt, no small ground for distrust of its virtues, that the public should be always so eager to welcome it. No one has expressed this more happily than Foote himself, when levelling his blow at Churchill, he makes his publisher, Mr. Puff, object to a poem full of praise:

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himself to pay the penalty in suffering before he died, and is paying the penalty still in character and fame."

Why, who the devil will give money to be told that Mr. Such-a-one is a wiser or better man than himself? No, no; 'tis quite and clean out of nature. A good sousing satire, now, well-powdered with personal pepper, and seasoned with the spirit with personal pepper, and seasoned with the spirit of party, that demolishes a conspicuous character, and sinks him below our own level-there, there, we are pleased; there we chuckle and grin, and

toss the half-crown on the counter.

Unhappily this was his own case not less; for he, too, had to provide pleasure for those who went to chuckle and grin, and toss their half-crowns at the pay place of the Haymarket. And it was in serving up the dish for this purpose, rather than in first preparing it; it was in the powdering and peppering for the table, rather than in the composition and cooking; in a word, it was less by the deliberate intention of the writer than by the ready mimicry and humorous impromptu of the actor, that Foote gave mortal offence to so many of his countrymen, did irreparable wrong very often to the least offending, began

It is this which explains any difference to be noted between the claims put forth by himself, and the verdict recorded by his contemporaries. The writings we shall shortly introduce to the reader would little avail, in themselves, to account for the mixed emotions they inspired. That which gave them terror, has of course long departed from them; but by reviving so much of it as description may tamely exhibit, and by connecting with Foote's personal career some idea of the overflowing abundance and extravagance of his humor, it is possible that their laughter and wit may win back some part of the appreciation they have lost, and a fair explanation be supplied not only of the genius of this remarkable man, and of the peculiar influence he exerted while he lived, but of the causes which have intercepted his due possession and ungrudged enjoyment of the

Estate that wits inherit after death.

The strength and predominance of Foote's humor lay in its readiness. Whatever the call that might be made upon it, there it was. Other men were humorous as the occasion rose to them, but to him the occasion was never wanting. Others might be foiled or disabled by the lucky stroke of an adversary, but he took only the quicker rebound from what would have laid them prostrate. To put him out was not possible. He was talking away one evening, at the dinner-table of a man of rank, when, at the point of one of his best stories, one of the party interrupted him suddenly with an air of most considerate apology, "I beg your pardon, Mr. Foote, but your handkerchief is half out of your pocket." "Thank you, Sir," said Foote, replacing it; "you know the company better than I do:" and finished his joke. At one of Macklin's absurd Lectures on the Ancients, the lecturer was solemnly composing himself to begin when a buz of laughter from where Foote stood ran through the room, and Macklin, thinking to throw the laugher off his guard, and effectually for that night disarm his ridicule, turned to him with this question, in his most severe and pompous manner. Well, Sir, you seem to be very merry there, but do you know what I am going to say, now?" "No, Sir," at once replied Foote, "pray do you?" One night at his friend Delaval's, when the glass had been circulating freely, one of the party would suddenly have fixed a quarrel upon him for

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his indulgence of personal satire. "Why, what would you have?" exclaimed Foote, good-humoredly putting it aside; "of course I take all my friends off, but I use them no worse than myself, I take myself off." "Gadso!" cried the malcontent, "that I should like to see:" upon which Foote took up his hat and left the room.

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No one could so promptly overthrow an assailant; so quietly rebuke an avarice or meanness; so effectually "abate and dissolve" any ignorant affectation or pretension. Why do you attack my weakest part?" he asked, of one who had raised a laugh against what Johnson calls his depeditation: "did I ever say any thing about your head?" Dining when in Paris with Lord Stormont, that thrifty Scotch peer, then ambassador, as usual produced his wine in the smallest of decanters and dispensed it in the smallest of glasses, enlarging all the time on its exquisite growth and enormous age. 'It is very little of its age," said Foote, holding up his diminutive glass. A stately and silly country squire was regaling a large party with the number of fashionable folk he had visited that morning. "And among the rest," he said, "I called upon my good friend, the Earl of Chol-mon-dely, but he was not at home." "That is exceedingly surprising," said Foote, "what! nor none of his pe-o-ple.' Being in company where Hugh Kelly was mightily boasting of the power he had as a reviewer of distributing literary reputation to any extent, "Don't be too prodigal of it," Foote quietly interposed, "or you may leave none for yourself." The then Duke of Cumberland (the foolish Duke as he was called) came one night into the green-room at the Haymarket Theatre. "Well, Foote," said he, "here I am, ready as usual, to swallow all your good things." "Really," replied Foote, your royal highness must have an excellent digestion, for you never bring any up again." "Why are you for ever humming that air ?" he asked a man without a sense of tune in him. "Because it haunts me.' "No wonder," said Foote: "you are for ever murdering it." One of Mrs. Montague's bluestocking ladies fastened upon him at one of the routs in Portman-square with her views of "Locke on the Understandng," which she protested she admired above all things; only there was one particular word very often repeated which she could not distinctly make out, and that was the word (pronouncing it very long) "i-de-a; but I suppose it comes from a Greek derivation.' "You are perfectly right Madam," said Foote, "it comes

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from the word ideaowski." "And pray, Sir, what does that mean?" "The feminine of idiot, Madam." Much bored by a pompous physician at Bath, who confided to him as a great secret that he had a mind to publish his own poems, but had so many irons in the fire he really did not well know what to do: "Take my advice," Doctor, says Foote, "and put your poems where your irons are.' Not less distressed on another occasion by a mercantile man of his acquaintance, who had also not only written a poem but exacted a promise that he would listen to it, and who mercilessly stopped to tax him with inattention even before advancing beyond the first pompous line, "Hear me, O Phoebus, and ye Muses nine! pray, pray be attentive, Mr. Foote." "I am,' said Foote; 'nine and one are ten; go on!"

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The only men of his day, putting aside Johnson's later fame, who had the least pretentions to compare with him in social repute, were Quin for wit, and Garrick for powers of conversation. conversation. But Quin was restricted to particular walks of humor; and his jokes, though among the most masterly in the language, had undoubtedly a certain strong, morose, surly vein, like the characters he was so great in. Foote's range, on the other hand, was as universal as society and scholarship could make it; and Davies, who was no great friend of his, says it would have been much more unfashionable not to have laughed at Foote's jokes, than even at Quin's. Garrick again, though nothing could be more delightful than the gaiety of his talk, had yet to struggle always with a certain restless misgiving, which made him the sport of men who were much his inferiors. Johnson puts the matter kindly.

Garrick, Sir, bas some delicacy of feeling; it is possible to put him out; you may get the better of him: but Foote is the most incompressible fellow that I ever knew; when you have driven him into a corner, and think you are sure of him, he runs through between your legs, or jumps over your head, and makes his escape.

Could familiar language describe Falstaff better than this, which hits off the character of Foote's humor exactly? It was incompressible. No matter what the truth of any subject might be, or however strong the position of any adversary, he managed to get the laugh on his own side. It was not merely a quickness of fancy, a brilliance of witty resource, a ready and expert audacity of invention; but that there was a fulness and invincibility of courage in the man, call

brimful, when in motion not to run over. The habit of jesting and contempt, and of looking always at the ludicrous and sarcastic side, got the mastery over Foote; it became a tyranny from which there was no escape; and its practice was far more frequent, and its application more wide, than even such potency of humor as his could justify, or render other than hurtful and degrading to his own nature.

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Perhaps the most startling introduction upon record to a club of wits, is that for which Foote, when a youth of one-andtwenty, had to thank the Mr. Cooke who translated Hesiod. This," said Mr. Cooke, presenting his protégé, "is the nephew of the gentleman who was lately hung in chains for murdering his brother." Startling as the statement was, however, it was quite true; and it is probable that Mr. Cooke, who had an ingenious turn for living in idleness by his wits, and was reported to have subsisted for twenty years on a translation of Plautus for which he was always taking subscriptions, thought of nothing in making it but his young friend's luck and advantage, in having come to a considerable fortune by such windfalls as a murder and an execution. Such was actually the case; and the eccentric translator was now helping him to spend his fortune, making him known at his favorite club.

it moral or immoral, which unfainingly warded of humiliation. In another form the same remark was made on another occasion by Johnson, when some one in his company insisted that Foote was a mere buffoon and merry-andrew, and the conscientious Samuel interposed of his less conscientious namesake :

But he has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge enough to fill up his part. One species of wit he has in an eminent degree, that of escape. You drive him into a corner with both hands; but he's gone, Sir, when you think you have got him-like an animal that jumps over your head. Then he has a great range for wit; he never lets truth stand between him and a jest, and he is sometimes mighty

coarse.

A position of greater temptation is hardly conceivable than that of a man gifted with such powers, and from such restraints; and the outline we now propose to give of his career will best show to what extent he was able to resist the temptation, to what extent he fell. Johnson admits, while certainly he underrates, his scholarship; and detects, though he exaggerates, his chief moral defect; but he also asserts, what the contradictory testimony of too many witnesses forbids us to believe, that he was not a good mimic. He seems on the contrary to have carried mimicry much higher than its ordinary strain, by combining with it a comic genius and invention peculiar to himself. It is seldom a mere mimic is so extraordinarily endowed. This gave him the range of character as well as of manners, in the perception and appropriation of what was ludicrous; and put a surprising vitality into his satire.

It was at the same time that dangerous facility and force of imitation, which in connection with the exuberance of his humor, most limited his power of resisting its indulgence. None better than himself knew the advantage at which it often placed him, compared with duller men, and there is affecting significance in his remark to young O'Keefe, "Take care of your wit," he said; "bottle up your wit." In the sketch we are about to attempt, not a few indications will appear that Foote, often as he subjected himself to the charge of cruelty and inhumanity, had certainly not a malignant disposition. But in his case we shall do well to remember what Halifax said of Bishop Burnet, that our nature scarcely allows us to be well supplied with anything, without our having too much of it; and that it is hard for a vessel that is

Samuel Foote, born at Truro in 1720, came of what in courtesy must be called a good family, notwithstanding the alarming fact just mentioned. His father had some time sat in parliament as member for Tiverton; and in 1720 was an active Cornish magistrate and influential country gentleman, receiver of fines for the duchy, and a joint commissioner of the Prize Office. His mother was the daughter of a baronet, Sir Edward Goodere, who represented the

*She survived till she was 84. She lived to see the triumphs of her son, and was spared the knowledge of his suffering. She died shortly before the affair of the Duchess of Kingston, when Foote defended her memory with affection and spirit. letter, "and her morals irreproachable, till your "Her fortune was large," he said in his famous Grace condescended to strain them. She was upwards of fourscore years old when she died; and what will surprise your Grace, was never married but once in her life." When she was 79 years old, Cooke dined with her in company with her granddaughter, at a barrister's in Gray's Inn, and, though she had sixty steps to ascend to the drawing-room, she did it without the help of a cane, and with the activity of a woman of forty. Her talk, too surconvivial, and made her the heroine of the party. one. It was witty, humorous, and She had the figure and face of her son, with the

same continual mirth and humor in the eye.

county of Hereford for many years; and who, by marriage with the granddaughter of the Earl of Rutland, had connected with his own family the not less ancient stock of the Dineleys, of Charlton in Worcestershire. This connection placed young Sam in the collegiate school at Worcester, from which, as founder's kin, he was in his seventeenth year elected scholar of Worcester College in Oxford. Being a quick, clever lad, he was a favorite with the master, Dr. Miles; but what already drew most attention to him was his mimicry of grown-up people, his talent for making fun of his elders and superiors. Arthur Murphy, on whom Johnson so repeatedly urged the duty of writing some account of him that he began to collect materials for it, found upon inquiry a tradition remaining in the school that the boys often suffered on a Monday for preferring Sam's laughter to their lessons, for, whenever he had dined on the Sunday with any A family quarrel of long standing existed of his relatives, his jokes and imitations next between these two brothers of Mrs. Foote day at the expense of the family entertaining (Sir John Dineley Goodere, and Capt. Samuel him had all the fascination of a stage play. Goodere, R.N.), and had very recently assumMurphy adds his belief that he acted Punched a character of such bitterness, that the barin disguise during his student career at Ox- onet, who was unmarried and somewhat ecford. centric in his ways, had cut off the entail of the family estate in favor of his sister's issue, to the exclusion of the captain, who nevertheless had seized the occasion of an unexpected visit of his brother to Bristol, in the winter of 1741, somewhat ostentatiously to seek a reconciliation with him; having previously arranged that on the very night of their friendly meeting a pressgang, partly selected from his own ship, the Ruby man-of-war, and partly from the Vernon privateer, both lying at the time in the King's-road,should seize and hurry Sir John into a boat on the river, and thence secrete him in the purser's cabin of the Ruby. The whole thing was wonderfully devised to assume the character of one of the outrages far from uncommon in seaports in those days; but as usual the artifice was overdone. The Captain's publicly-acted reconciliation directed suspicion against him; even among the savage instruments of his dreadful deed, some sparks of feeling and conscience were struck out; and one man who saw through a crevice in the woodwork of the cabin two of the worst ruffians in the ship strangle the poor struggling victim, swore also, in confirmation of the evidence of others who had witnessed their commander's watch outside the door at the supposed time of the murder and his subsequent sudden disappearance inside, that in about a minute after the deed was done he saw an arm stretched out,

He certainly acted without disguise, many kinds of extravagance there, of which the principal drift was to turn the laugh, when he could, against the provost of his college, with of course the unavoidable result of penalties and impositions, which became themselves however but the occasion for a new and broader laugh. Provost Gower was a pedant of the most uncompromising school, and Foote would present himself to receive his reprimand with great apparent gravity and submission, but with a large dictionary under his arm; when, on the Doctor beginning in his usual pompous manner with a surprisingly long word, he would immediately interrupt him, and, after begging pardon with great formality, would produce his dictionary, and pretending to find the meaning of the word would say Very well, sir; now please to go on." It is clear, however, that under no extent of laxity of discipline could this be expected to go on; and accordingly we find him, in the third year of his undergraduateship, after an interval of gaiety at Bath, flaming suddenly through Oxford in society not very worshipful, attended by two footmen, and with a ridiculous quantity of lace about his clothes; taken to task more gravely than usual for so marked an indecorum; and quitting the college in consequence, in 1740, but without any public censure."

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That he quitted it, in spite of all these follies, with a very respectable amount of scholarship, there can be no question; and this he now carried up to London, entering himself of the Temple. It had been settled that the law was to be the making of his fortune, ever since a scene of mimicry at his father's dinner-table some four years before this date, long remembered and related by his mother, when he had taken measure of the judicial wit of no less than three justices of quorum in an imaginary affiliation case. Nevertheless it did not prefigure the woolsack, all that ensued to him from a nearer acquaintance with the law being greater facilities for laughing at it. But it is difficult to say what effect the tragedy of his uncles may have had on the outset of his studies. Hardly had he begun residence in the Temple, when this frightful catastrophe became the talk of the town.

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