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LIFE OF DAVID GARRICK, ESQ.
[Continued from page 87.]
cHARACTER OF MR. GARRICK.
That Mr. Garrick was the greatest actor of his time is so universally admitted that, if there were any one now disinclined to believe it, prudence would forbid him to avow his incredulity. Against the voice of nations, and the opinions of most of the enlightened critics of his time, it would be presumptuous, and no less vain than presumptuous, to set up a different opinion at this time; but that much of the extravagant eulogies we now read, and many of the strange stories we hear recounted of his powers, are the offspring of that warm enthusiasm which sees every thing in superlative excess, may be reasonably believed, and indeed is more likely and seems much more conformable to plain truth and common sense. We never find in real life such prodigies as those we read of; and it seems more probable that the judgment of his extreme admirers was blinded by wonder and betrayed into an exaggerated notion of his talents, than that an individual should be so much more than human as Garrick must have been, if some things recounted of him were true. It has been frequently related, and by many a person of good sense believed, that at one time, for the purpose of instructing a painter, he, merely by the force of imagination, went through the whole process of declension from ruddy health. to actual death: that he first glowed with feverish heat, then grew languid—pale—helpless—sunk on a couch—his breath became hard and quick—a cadaverous ghastliness succeeded—his eyes rolled—their pupils were almost hidden, while the lids lay open, and he expired in a manner so natural as to startle the spectators. Now though it is highly probable, I would say certain, that this story was a mere fabrication, yet the fact of its being thought of, and still more its being believed, is a satisfactory demonstration that the public mind respecting this extraordinary man was wound up to a pitch of rapturous enthusiasm, such almost as Johnson, in his metaphorical language, would have called a calenture of the brain. I myself
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have many times heard it repeated by men of sense and credibility, and swallowed, as if it were gospel truth, by the gaping listenersnay, I remember the time when I should have thought him an infidel who doubted it;-but experience has cooled my credulity; and as I have since had occasion to observe that spells little less potent have been raised by talents very inferior to some of Garrick's cotemporaries, of whom nothing of the kind was ever imagined, my mind is made up on the subject, and, though believing him to be the greatest actor of his day, I still think that much of what has been said of him is mere hyperbolical nonsense. It is pretty evident that variety and comprehensiveness were the characteristics of Mr. Garrick's talents. Like our Hodgkinson, he could on the same night display great tragic and great comic powers; appal the heart with fear in Macbeth, and shake the house with laughter in Sharp. But the generally received opinion that in all the intermediate parts between these extremes he was equally great, is unwarranted by fact. A fond and amiable friend, sir Joshua Reynolds, has placed him in his celebrated picture as standing equally between tragedy and comedy; but there is more of fine poetical imagination than of truth in the worthy knight's opinion. A friend of Garrick's, of superior intellectual powers to sir Joshua, thought that Mr. Garrick's tragedy scarcely bore any comparison with his comedy:—in the former he had successful rivals, while in the latter it is probable he never had an equal in the world. A critic and poet now living, who carried his admiration of Garrick as near to enthusiasm as a fine and an accurate discriminating judgment would allow, and who was personally partial to him, maintained the superiority of Barry in many parts. Mossop, who was, at the time alluded to, a perfect stranger in London, an adventurer little known, and who laboured under the disadvantage (at that time no slight one) of being an Irishman, so successfully rivalled the English Roscius in some of his own characters, that the latter ungenerously and unjustly conspired to remove him, in order to be relieved from what he felt to be superiority.—Henderson too, wanting many natural requisites which Garrick enjoyed in perfection, though he died at an early age, held in many characters, comic as well as tragic, a very reputable rank of competition with him in the opinions of the most judicious. His affectionate friend and preceptor, Doctor Johnson, derided not only the public opinion respecting him, but laughed at his own pretensions (– : Punch cannot feel,” said the doctor—) and gravely declared, that there was not a man
in Drury-Lane theatre who could not pronounce the soliloquy of Hamlet, beginning “To be, or not to be,” as well. In his comedy too, the Doctor's discerning eye perceived faults, where the public eould see none; and he particularly censured him in the character of Archer, for not letting the gentleman shine through the footman. His warmest panegyrist, the Dramatic Censor, in some sort agrees with the Doctor; for he says that Mr. Garrick could never picture dignity, nor attain to what is called the fine gentleman;– but this he smooths over with the very unphilosophical reason, that it was too languid for his great powers. In the character of Hamlet, the late Mr.Sheridan, (he whose son has eclipsed all moderns as a dramatic poet, and been surpassed by few as an orator and statesman,) held a competition with Mr. Garrick which excited his jealousy; and indeed he in some characters so far outshone him, as to render a total resignation of the characters advisable on the part of the latter; but those were chiefly declamatory characters, such as Cato, Brutus, &c.; in King John and the Roman Father he was allowed to take the lead. Though the revolution which Mr. Garrick effected in the system of acting has brought the stage nearer to nature than it was when he first appeared, it is the opinion of many luminous critics that he injured by it the art of reading poetry. Sir Brooke Boothby says that “willing to depreciate a talent which he did not possess, “Garrick contrived to bring measured and harmonious recitation “into disrepute.” A critic of a later day, adverting to that opinion,
says, that “with all his skill, and the wonderful effects ascribed to
“ that gentleman's acting, he was by constitution, or a natural defi“ciency of voice, unable to acquire reputation as a declaimer.” And here again we find the opinions of his idolatrous panegyrist, the Dramatic Censor, come in confirmation of those remarks: “though “generally correct in modulation,” says that critic, “ and almost “invariably so in expressing the sense of his author, there is a re“spirative drag, as if to catch breath;” and further on, “Our English “Roscius I never could admire in declamation; indeed he has kept * pretty clear of it.” The innovation of Mr. Garrick, however, was certainly a happy one for the drama; but it must be understood as not at all reflecting
* See Vol. II. page 483.
upon his gigantic predecessor, Betterton. For the fact is, that elocution had, from the time of the latter, been on the decline, and when Garrick appeared had begun to assume a pompousness or unnatural sort of strut, adapted rather to the termination of the lines, than to the sense and spirit of the subject, or the joint harmony of the thoughts and numbers.* This afforded a broad mark for a man of genius to aim at, and yielded an easy victory to such popular talents as those of Garrick,--the more easy, because his talents as a wit and a poet supplied him with weapons which he did not fail to employ, and which enabled him to accomplish his triumph over the exploded system by overcharged caricature and ludicrous imitation. Besides this, he stands accused, and that by no mean judges either, of having bounded from that which he threw into contempt to an opposite extreme, and given his principal attention to manner and gesture; for, as a respectable writer says, “ in his gravest « and most tragical parts he had recourse to trick, in consequence “ of which, those actors who merely copied him were execrable.”
Nevertheless he was certainly a wonderful actor. He had an admirable stage face, with an eye, quick, piercing, and almost miraculously expressive. He had uncommon spirit, vast discernment, and that admirable requisite, a mind formed by nature for discriminating characters, with physical organs little less powerful in exhibiting, in all their symptoms and phenomena, the lively, ardent and impetuous passions-looks and gestures which were often more impressive and intelligible than the words of his author, and tones of voice which thrilled to the inmost recesses of the heart, and forced the stoutest nerves to vibrate in unison with them. It was by these instruments he was able to wind up the public feelings to his will, and made the world believe, contrary to fact and truth, that he was as great in tragedy as in comedy, and therefore that he was more universal than he really was.
The fame of Mr.Garrick as an actor, was not, like those of most other performers, borne up by his professional talents alone; he had other advantages, of which he made the best use possible in swelling the amount of his reputation. His wit, his humor and mi
• The stage in England and America is sadly degenerated again in this way, particularly among the females. This is a deformity to which the greatest industry and attention should be opposed, because it seems to be a natural tendency
micry, his happy talent for small versification, and the great pow-
* See Dr. Beattie's life, New-York edition - ore 3”