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ART. I.-The Life of David Garrick; from Original Family Papers, and numerous published and unpublished sources. By Percy Fitzgerald, M.A., F.S.A., Author of the Life of Sterne,' &c. 2 vols. London, 1868.
ARRICK has not been fortunate in his biographers. He has had three-Murphy, Davies, and Boaden. The two first wrote lives of him, which have gone through several editions; the last wrote a Memoir, prefixed to two bulky quartos of Garrick's Correspondence, which were published in 1831. Murphy and Davies knew the great actor. They were members of his company at Drury-lane,-Murphy, during a period which, though brief, was long enough to satisfy even his vanity that the stage was not the true sphere for his versatile and ambitious genius, and also to secure him an unenviable niche in Churchill's Rosciad; and Davies from 1752 to 1762, when he quitted the boards, partly through dread of Churchill, partly because he found he could not attend both to his shop-he was a book-· seller-and to the business of the stage. 'Nobody,' said Johnson, 'can write the life of a man but those who have eat, and drank, and lived in social intercourse with him.' But a man may have done all these things, and yet write a life very badly. So it was with both Murphy and Davies; for there was bitterness in their hearts of an old standing. Murphy as a dramatic author, and Davies as an actor, had fancied wrongs to revenge, and the humiliation to resent of benefits received and injuries forgiven; and the leaven of their ancient grudges tainted both their works. But Murphy's, besides being venomous, is inaccurate, and, what is more surprising in a man whose dialogue in comedy was terse and sparkling, it is extremely prosy. That of Davies, while much less coloured by prejudice, and upon the whole sensibly and agreeably written, is often incorrect in its details, and far from complete in its treatment of the subject. We should have had very different books from both, could they have dreamed that their own letters to Garrick, with the drafts of his replies, had been preserved, and were one day to rise up in judgment against their ingratitude and injustice to one who had shown them signal forbearance, and loaded them with repeated favours. Vol. 125.-No. 249.
These letters, with the rest of Garrick's Correspondence, which he had carefully preserved and docquetted, probably with a view to an Autobiography at some future date, were in Boaden's hands. He had not known Garrick either on the stage or in private. But these documents, with such information as he might have obtained from Mrs. Garrick, whom he did know, were enough to have enabled him to produce a satisfactory life. Boaden, however, was not the man for the work. He had neither the sympathetic imagination, the discriminating judgment, nor the vivacity of style, which it demanded; and his Memoir' is meagre in details, and most colourless and jejune in treatment.
That he did not even make a judicious selection of the Correspondence which he edited is now certain. Most valuable as much of it is, not a little could well have been spared to make room for what he omitted. The whole Correspondence having come many years afterwards into the hands of Mr. John Forster, those who cared for such inquiries were taken by surprise by the announcement in a note to his 'Life of Goldsmith' (vol. i. p. 242), that the letters which Boaden had not published would form the most striking and valuable contribution that has yet been made to the great actor's history.' This statement was in some measure confirmed by the quotations given by Mr. Forster from a series of Garrick's early letters to his family; and curiosity was still further whetted by the appearance in the same gentleman's elaborate Essays on Churchill and Foote of other letters from the same source, scarcely less interesting from the light which they threw upon Garrick's character and his relations to these and others of his contemporaries.
It is to be regretted that a judicious and well-edited selection of these papers should not have been published, and left to speak for itself; or, at all events, that Mr. Forster, or some other writer of unquestionable skill, should not have worked them up into a Life, that might have taken a place in literature worthy of the great actor's reputation. Instead of this, they have been entrusted to the author of these volumes, who has produced a work which assuredly does not answer that condition.
Like Johnson's friend Birch, Mr. Fitzgerald seems to be 'a dead hand at a life.' Within two years or so he has grappled with Charles Lamb's and Sterne's, and now Garrick's is before us in two volumes, that number together nearly a thousand pages. Like all hasty literary work it is much too long. If lives are to be written on this scale, we must, as Sydney Smith said, get back to the days of Methusaleh, when men's years were counted by hundreds, and not by tens. But length is not its only or its worst fault. It wants accuracy, judgment in selection, and
method in arrangement; and is, besides, at once tawdry and slovenly in style. Mr. Fitzgerald is merciless to the inaccuracies of other people. His own are legion. He talks, for example, of Garrick's, when he means Thomson's, Tancred and Sigismunda' (vol. ii. p. 121), of the great Earl of Chatham,' instead of Lord Chesterfield (vol. i. p. 75),—the great Earl of Chatham in 1737! -places the death of Foote, not at Dover, but at a lonely French port' (vol. ii., p. 250), and tells us (vol. i., page 224) that a speech which Garrick wrote for Macbeth's last scene, and which has not within the memory of playgoers been spoken on the stage, 'will always keep its place' there. The same blundering heedlessness pervades Mr. Fitzgerald's style. Here are a few examples of his respect for syntax. Carrying the precious wares in their pockets that was to make all their fortunes' (vol. i., p. 35). There was always crowded houses' (Ibid., p. 335). The pupil whom he fancied was fast asleep below (Ibid., p. 30). The confusion of Mr. Fitzgerald's sentences, amusing at first, becomes irritating by repetition. In one place he informs us that a leading wit and critic at the Bedford Coffeehouse was to be seen there nightly after he was dead. 'Here, too, was seen that wild and witty, and drunken Dr. Barrowby, who, after a jovial life, had died the death that so often attends on a jovial life' (vol. i., p. 283). But the shock of such nonsense is tolerable, compared to the bewildering effect produced by Mr. Fitzgerald's utter disregard of method, or the simple rules which regulate the use of the pronoun. Into the middle of a passage about one person he constantly thrusts what is, in fact, a note about somebody else, and then goes on with the main thread of his narrative in a way that makes it impossible to know of which he is speaking. So little master, too, of the simplest rules of composition is the gentleman, who has undertaken to give the world a critical estimate of the literary merits of Lamb and Sterne, that he can fill page upon page with sentences such as these:
This foolish proceeding was welcomed by the town with delight, now rather famished for want of real nutriment.' (v. ii. p. 157.) was the last thing in the world he dreamed, that his friend would think of entering into opposition against him.' (Ibid. p. 184.) complete collection of these Garrick pamphlets would be curious. The British Museum is a very imperfect gathering, but whose number is still very considerable.' (v. i. note p. 244). On one May night '57, Garrick must have been brought word of the strange and dramatic scene.' (v. i. p. 323).
Nor is Mr. Fitzgerald more accurate in statement than in style. Another striking defect of his book is the absence of reference