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David Garrick And Samuel Johnson: A Fading Friendship Essay, Research Paper


This paper purposes to treat of the relationship between David Garrick and Samuel Johnson. David Garrick becomes famous in the acting scene, whereas Samuel Johnson succeeds as a writer. The lives of these two men have their positive moments, and, moments that reflect their hardships. The relationships of the two men begin with their childhood and extend to their early deaths. David Garrick and Samuel Johnsons’ friendship can be explored through their meeting, their travels to London, their master-pupil association, and extended to their membership in “The Club,” a group of well respected literary figures.

David Garrick was born February 19, 1717 at the Inn at Hereford, which is located in England. Garrick had six siblings and grew up with hardships that were expected in his time (Stone and Kahrl 3-4). Two things distorted happiness in his life: poverty and the absence of his father, Peter Garrick (Lenanton 6). At a young age, David Garrick became the resident head of the Garrick family in Lichfield, England, due to the fact that his father was stationed in Gibraltar for military purposes and his older brother Peter had joined the navy. The little knowledge of Garrick’s mother comes from reports on her chronic illness that resulted in her death (Stone and Kahrl 5,8).

David Garrick first attended grammar school at St. John Street, where he learned Latin and Greek (Lenanton 9). After the education he received at St. John Street, Garrick was enrolled at the school at Lichfield (Stone and Kahrl 8). At Lichfield, Mr. David Garrick was guided by Gilbert Walmesley, a wealthy man educated at Trinity College and Oxford (Stone and Kahrl 9). Garrick had close relations with Mr. Walmesley. After classes, Mr. Garrick would, almost every day, stop by the Bishop’s palace to speak with him. Mr. Walmsley’s residence was a palace located in the most respected area of Lichfield, the Bishop’s Quarters. It was here, at Mr. Walmesley’s palace, where Garrick first met Samuel Johnson (Lenanton 9).

As the years passed at Lichfield, Garrick and Walmesley grew closer. Mr. Walmesley often referred to David Garrick as Captain Garrick, for Garrick was his chief focus in the later years of their meetings. “Walmesley and Captain Garrick were good friends; his kindness to David were like to a member of a respected family” (Stone and Kahrl 9). The time came for Garrick to move on to a better education; the place he dreamed of studying was London. Mr. Walmesley referred Garrick to Reverend Colson for further teaching in London. Even though Garrick was moving on in hopes of greater levels of studying, Mr. Walmesley discovered the true talents of Garrick (Davies 11-12). It is said that, “If Mr. Walmesley had continued a single man, young Garrick would have gained, by his means, a settlement for life; but his marrying in an advanced age put an end to these expectations” (Davies 12).

Samuel Johnson was educated at Lichfield Grammar School, as well as, Pembroke and Oxford (Harvey 433). Johnson, however, being seven years older than Garrick, was gone by the time Garrick began his education there (Stone and Kahrl 10). Johnson was involved in many community affairs (Harvey 433). His father, Michael Johnson, opened the Lichfield communities of the marketplace, St. Mary’s, and the Guildhall for Samuel. These recreations required Johnson many hours of dedication (Stone and Kahrl 10). With all the extracurricular activities he was involved in, Johnson found time to start a private school at Edial, near Lichfield, in 1735 (Harvey 433).

In the early months of 1736, Johnson took on the teaching job of a young schoolboy at Lichfield. It was then that Garrick became Johnson’s friend and companion at the age of 17. Johnson had a few scholars he was working with when he and Garrick began their close attachment to each other (Davies 7-8).

At this point of his life, Garrick was being educated at Edial under Samuel Johnson. In the months he taught Garrick at Edial, Johnson recommended his other young scholars to different professors, thus leaving ample time for Samuel Johnson to focus on Mr. Garrick (Barnhard and Halsey 475-476). At their lessons, Johnson would try to get Garrick to do a composition on some specific theme, however, Garrick would perform a multiple scene comedy act. This event led to Johnson’s interest in taking Mr. Garrick to London, where the future of the two individuals would unfold (Davies 8).

On their arrival in the city, each was to pursue a job, for the money they took with them would last only for a short period of time (Barnhard and Halsey 475). Johnson had plans to work on a tragedy and become employed in translating works of Latin or French into the common language of England, English (Davies 11). Garrick, on the other hand, was to enter the profession of law at the Lincoln’s Inn and prepare for the bar exam. Mr. Garrick did not follow through with the plans to become educated in the field of law; instead, he undertook partnership in the wine trade with his brother, Peter (Barnhard and Halsey 475).

Once Johnson and Garrick were stable with their jobs, they began their education period. Garrick started acting by playing parts in amateur performances (Barnhard and Halsey 475). Although Garrick was becoming quite successful in the acting scene, his response to Johnson’s teachings was not what was expected. “Johnson’s style of educating Garrick was far too much for the uninformed mind of Garrick” (Davies 7-8). “Their friendship shifted from good to bad when Johnson began editing Shakespeare and made clear to Garrick that he had little, if any, interpretation of Shakespeare’s work” (Barton 192). The two gentlemen shared an interest in the theater and “the sooner one minimizes the Johnson-Garrick relationship as that of master and pupil, the better one sees their friendship in the more enduring common devotion to the theatre” (Stone and Kahrl 10).

Ever since Mr. Garrick was a child, he had a gift that enabled him to imitate all sorts of people. After a year of school, Garrick got together with some of his classmates and performed a play. The classmates and Garrick contemplated over a work, and the concluding decision was a performance of “The Recruiting Officer” (Lananton 9-10). As he grew older, David Garrick constantly thought of the theater and was involved in the composition of numerous plays (Davies 8). “Garrick made stage history on October19, 1741 at Goodman’s Theatre (after both the Drury Lane and Covent Garden both rejected him) as Richard III, wherein he introduced a new style of natural, vivacious, acting, as opposed to the prevailing statuesque, declamatory style” (Barnhard and Halsey 475). Garricks most successful moment with Johnson was David’s production of “Irene,” Johnson’s tragedy. The efforts Garrick put forth resulted in Johnson’s making of almost 300 pounds (Harvey 433).

In 1733, Garrick was nominated for membership in “The Club,” a small group of literary figures who met to discuss off the subject matters once a week. Garrick was admitted into the group due to the support of many of the members. By 1777, “The Club” had 30 members. Johnson felt that 30 members made their group a random collection of figures without any character (Parsons 220,223).

In 1764, James Boswell began to get close with Johnson. Up until then, he figured Garrick and Johnson were very close. Boswell began to see in Johnson a bitter hatred and jealously toward Garrick. Often, James Boswell, Mr. Johnson, and other prominent literary figures gathered at Tom Davies bookshop for the sole purpose of ridiculing Garrick (Barton 190-191). Garrick, on the contrary, respected Samuel Johnson greatly and always saw a spark in Johnson’s eyes (Parsons 20). “When Mr. Johnson asked David Garrick what critics thought of his dictionary, Garrick replied that people were objecting to the use of personal sources, using Richardson as an example. Johnson replied, ?Nay, I have done worse than that, I have cited thee, David’” (Barton 190). Despite the hostility from Samuel Johnson, Mr. Garrick left a note to his servants that Mr. Johnson had permission to enter Garrick’s personal library and take any book Mr. Johnson wanted to read or study. Garrick allowed Johnson this privilege knowing Samuel would mistreat the books he did not like (Barton 193). “Of all the events that ridiculed Garrick, his only complaint was that Johnson was the only living writer who had not paid tribute to him in writing” (Barton 192).

Garrick’s last appearance was in 1766, for he died in 1779 and was buried in Westminster Abbey (Harvey 324). Mr. Johnson, when speaking in light of David Garrick’s death, stated that his death “eclipsed the gaiety of nations” (Barnhard and Halsey 475). Mr. Samuel Johnson went on to die in London on December 13, 1784 (Barnhard and Halsey 632). Shortly before his death, Johnson imposed a deal that no successor to him was to be elected into “The Club” (Parsons 222).

The relationship between Mr. David Garrick and Mr. Samuel Johnson can be viewed as not only a friendly association, but also a fading friendship. The friendly company experienced by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Garrick occurs in the youth of the two individuals, as well as, their travels to London with one another. The friendship of Mr. David Garrick and Mr. Samuel Johnson resembles the fact that nobody is perfect, even in their respects for close friends. Johnson and Garrick are remembered today as prominent literary figures. “There have been many other great actors, but never another great actor who was, at the same time, so great a personality outside the theatre” (Parsons 389).

Barnhard, Clarence and William Halsey (eds.). The New Century Hardbook of English Literature. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Incorporated, 1956.

Barton, Margaret. Garrick. New York: The Mcmillan Company, 1949.

Davies, Thomas. Memories of the Life of David Garrick. Vol. 1. London: Paternoster Row, 1808.

Harvey, Paul (ed.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. London: Oxford University

Press, 1967.

Lenanton, Carola Mary Oman. David Garrick. Suffolk: Richard Clay and Company,

Limited, 1958.

Parsons, Florence Mary. Garrick and His Circle. London: Methuen and Company, 1906.

Stone, George Winchester, Jr. and George M. Kahrl. David Garrick, A Critical Biography.

Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.

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