Stolen Identities: Character, Mimicry and the Invention of Samuel Foote

  • Jane Moody


On Saturday Noon, exactly at Twelve o’clock, at the New Theatre in the Haymarket, Mr. Foote begs the Favour of his Friends to come and drink a Dish of Chocolate with him, and ‘tis hoped there will be a great deal of good Company, and some Joyous Spirits; he will endeavour to make the Morning as Diverting as possible. — Tickets for this Entertainment to be had at George’s Coffee-House, Temple-bar, without which no Person will be admitted. — N.B. Sir Dilberry Diddle will be there; and Lady Betty Frisk has absolutely promis’d.1


Public Figure General Advertiser Sexual Scandal Celebrity Culture Real Merit 
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  1. 2.
    For invaluable advice on an earlier draft of this essay, I am most grateful to Tracy C. Davis, Mary Luckhurst, Shearer West and Peter Thomson.Google Scholar
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    The Roman and English Comedy Considerd and Compard … (London: T. Waller, 1747), p. 7.Google Scholar
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    See further, Matthew Kinservik, Disciplining Satire: The Censorship of Satiric Comedy on the Eighteenth-Century London Stage (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2002), especially chapters 3 and 4.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    On Foote’s delight in his own power, see An Additional Scene to the Comedy of the Minor (London: J. Williams, 1761), p. 10, where Dapperwit (clearly based on Foote) declares, ‘I have the town under my thumb; — I can take ‘em thus and twirl them about like a top’. Various commentators in this period refer to Foote as Aristophanes; the mimic George Saville Carey also exhibited a character called Aristophanes in his Lecture on Mimicry at the Great Room, Panton Street, in the Haymarket during the summer of 1774.Google Scholar
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  7. 8.
    Horace Walpole, who saw the play from a box shared with Macaulay, remarked that she ‘goes to see herself represented, and I suppose figures herself very like Socrates’. See The Letters of Horace Walpole, fourth Earl of Oxford, ed. Peter Cunningham, 9 vols (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1906), V, 108. Foote seems to have obtained some cast-off wigs from the composer Dr Thomas Arne and then introduced him on the stage in his play, The Commissary. See Joseph Cradock, Literary and Miscellaneous Memoirs, 4 vols (London: J. B. Nichols, 1828), I, p. 33.Google Scholar
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    James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, first published 1791 (London: Oxford University Press, new edition, 1953), p. 580.Google Scholar
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    The Trial ofSamuel Foote (1763), printed in Tate Wilkinson, The Wandering Patentee; or, A History of the Yorkshire Theatres, 4 vols (York, 1795), IV, p. 253. Damages of £300 were awarded against Foote, but the actor jumped bail without paying the fine and returned to England.Google Scholar
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    The Lecture on Heads was first produced in 1764 and featured caricatures of wellknown satirical types like the fop, presented through a selection of caricature heads accompanied by topical patter. Notably, the same decade saw a significant expansion in the circulation of ‘heads’ when Josiah Wedgewood began to sell his images of modern public figures.Google Scholar
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    Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, II, p. 20. Wilkinson performed memorable imitations of Foote in some of his most celebrated parts including Lady Pentweazle (Taste) and Mr Cadwallader (The Author). Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    Peg Woffington made strenuous attempts to avoid being caricatured on stage. In 1758, one of her admirers, Colonel Caesar, waited on Garrick, relating his objections ‘in point of delicacy and honour’ and suggesting that Garrick would be ‘called upon as a gentleman’ in the event of her appearance. Garrick subsequently instructed Foote and Wilkinson that the character of Peg Woffington was now out of bounds in their satires and that Wilkinson ‘should not take the liberty to make any line, speech, or manner, relative to Mrs. Woffington, or presume to offer or occasion any surmise of likeness, so as to give the least shadow of offence …’ See Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, II, pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
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    The letter may have been written by Wilkinson’s fellow dramatist, Arthur Murphy. Cf. Fielding’s attack on Foote’s practice of ‘suffering private Characters to be ridiculed by Mimickry and Buffoonery upon his Stage’ in the Jacobites Journal, 6 February 1748. But this may be simply a case of the pot calling the kettle black.Google Scholar
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    Churchill, The Rosciad, p. 14; cf. Robert Lloyd, The Actor. A Poetical Epistle (London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1760).Google Scholar
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    Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, II, p. 19. Cp. the introduction to The Minor where Foote acknowledges that performers do indeed have the best ground for complaint about caricature, precisely because ‘by rendering them ridiculous in their profession, you, at the same time, injure their pockets’. The Plays of Samuel Foote, ed. Paula R. Backscheider and Douglas Howard, 3 vols (New York: Garland, 1983), II. All references will be to this edition, hereafter cited as Plays. Google Scholar
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    Cf. Catherine Lumby, Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World (London: Allen and Unwin, 1999), p. 129.Google Scholar
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    The most recent study of this crucial institution is Markman Ellis, The Coffee House: A Cultural History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004).Google Scholar
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    The letters were then published in a pamphlet. See [Thaddeus Fitzpatrick], Enquiry into the Real Merit of a Certain Popular Performer, op. cit. Fitzpatrick would apparently stand up in the pit and whinny in protest at the most heartrending moments of Garrick’s performances as King Lear.Google Scholar
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    Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, II, p. 22. Wilkinson also burlesqued Garrick in his pirated production of The Minor. In his memoirs, he recalls the audience’s echoing murmurs of’O Garrick! Garrick!’ when he imitated the actor’s interpretation of Macbeth. From that night on until the day of his death, Wilkinson alleges, Garrick never spoke to him again. See Tate Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, III, p. 27.Google Scholar
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    On Garrick’s obsession with image making, see further Leigh Woods, Garrick Claims the Stage: Acting as Social Emblem in Eighteenth-Century England (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984).Google Scholar
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    Aristophanes, being a classic collection of true attic wit, containing the jests, gibes, bonmots, witticisms, and most extraordinary anecdotes of Samuel Foote, Esq…. by a Gentleman, who was a constant Companion to the Wits of his Time (London: Robert Baldwin, 1778), p. xi.Google Scholar
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    Town and Country (May 1770), pp. 229–30. This produced a sharp attack from Philo-Technicus Miso-Mimides (pseudonym of Dr Paul Hiffernan?) in a broadside entitled Footes Prologue Detected; with a miniature-prose epilogue of his manner of speaking it (London: J. Williams [1770]).Google Scholar
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    William Cooke, Memoirs of Samuel Foote, II, 58; on Foote’s puppets, see also The New Theatre ofFun; or, the modern Aristophanes in high glee. Being a genuine collection of the jest, gibes, witticisms … of Samuel Foote, Esq. (London: R Durfey, 1778), p. 5. The show was entitled Piety in Pattens; or, The Handsome Housemaid. Google Scholar
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    In a letter to the Countess of Ossory of 11 February 1773, Walpole remarked that ‘Garrick, by the negotiation of a Secretary of State has made peace with Foote, and by the secret article of the treaty is to be left out of the puppet-show’. The Letters of Horace Walpole, V, p. 434.Google Scholar
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    The case is considered in detail in Matthew Kinservik’s trenchant essay, ‘Satire, Censorship, and Sodomy in Samuel Foote’s The Capuchin (1776)’, Review ofEnglish Studies, n.s. 54 (November 2003), 639–60.Google Scholar
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    Public disagreement over the innocence or guilt of the Perreau brothers and Mrs Rudd mirrors in some respects the dominance of ‘public opinion’ in the trial of O. J. Simpson. On the latter as a defining event in modern mass media, see Catherine Lumby, Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World, pp. 20–1. On the concept of ‘tabloid justice’, see further Richard L. Fox and Robert W. Van Sickel, Tabloid Justice: Criminal Justice in an Age of Media Frenzy (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001).Google Scholar
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    Cp. the current popularity of legal docudramas including ‘tribunal’ plays, such as Richard Norton-Taylor, Justifying the War (Tricycle Theatre, 2003); and Guantanamo: ‘Honour Bound to Defend Freedom’ by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo (Tricycle Theatre, 2004).Google Scholar

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© Jane Moody 2005

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  • Jane Moody

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