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Impressions of Garrick

John Nowell introduces and translates a contemporary portrait of the eighteenth-century actor at work, originally penned by G.C. Lichtenberg.

Respected by contemporaries as ‘one of the finest minds of his day’, Lichtenberg, Professor of Natural Science at the University of Gottingen, was a fervent anglophile. His Letters from England describe his impressions during the eighteen month she spent there, ‘living sometimes like a lord and sometimes like a tramp', in 1774 and 1775. Hogarth and Garrick were among his greatest heroes. This composite portrait of David Garrick has been extracted from the Letters.

To HEINRICH CHRISTIAN BOIE

London, October 1st, 1775

I hope, my dear B., that I am now in a better position to comply with your request, to write and tell you something about Mr Garrick, than I was when you first made it. At that time I had seen this extraordinary man exactly twice, and this was too little to enable me to observe him calmly and not far enough in the past to enable me to write to a friend calmly about it.

I have now seen Garrick act exactly eight times, and in some of his most famous roles. Once as Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (much altered); once as Archer in Farquhar’s [The Beaux’] Stratagem; once as Sir John Brute in Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife; twice as Hamlet; once as Lusignan in Hill’s version of Zaire; once as Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing; and finally as Don Leon in Beaumont’s and Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife. I have also spoken with him personally and now have free access to his box.

What then gives this man his great superiority? The causes, my friend, are very numerous... There is in Mr Garrick’s whole appearance, movement and bearing a quality that I have occasionally come across, at least in a measure, among the few Frenchmen I have seen, but never again in any of the many Englishmen I have met.

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