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

  • Jane Moody

Abstract

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

Keywords

Income Posite Cane Tate Arena 

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Notes

  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
  2. 3.
    The Roman and English Comedy Considerd and Compard … (London: T. Waller, 1747), p. 7.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    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
  5. 6.
    Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides ed. Frederick A. Pottle and Charles H. Bennett (London: William Heinemann, 1963), pp. 382–3.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Deidre Lynch’s magisterial study, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business oflnner Meaning (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), especially chapter 1.Google Scholar
  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
  8. 9.
    James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, first published 1791 (London: Oxford University Press, new edition, 1953), p. 580.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    A Complete History of the Stage, 5 vols (London: printed for the author, 1797–1800), V, p. 143.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    See ‘The Cult of Celebrity’, in Jacqueline Rose, On Not Being Able to Sleep: Psychoanalysis and the Modern World (London: Vintage, 2004), p. 211.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    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
  12. 13.
    Review in Town and Country Magazine; or, Universal Repository of Knowledge, Instruction and Entertainment (June 1770), p. 294.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    ‘Bipes’, letter printed in Universal Museum and Complete Magazine, June 1776, pp. 294–5, cited Simon Trefnam, Sam. Foote, Comedian, 1720–1777 (New York: New York University Press, 1971), p. 161.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    See Tate Wilkinson’s comments about Foote’s show rousing ‘the indignation and resentment of all the performers’ in Memoirs of his Own Life, 4 vols (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1790), I, p. 23.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    David Erskine Baker, Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse … 2 vols, revised edition (London, 1782), pp. 167–8.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    [David Williams], A Letter to David Garrick Esq. on his conduct as principal manager and actor at Drury-lane (London: J. Williams, first published 1772, 2nd edition, 1776), pp. 8–9. Players like Kitty Clive also imitated foreign performers such as Mingotti, the Italian operatic star. See Tate Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, II, p. 29, on Clive’s defence of this practice.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    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
  18. 23.
    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
  20. 25.
    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
  21. 27.
    Churchill, The Rosciad, p. 14; cf. Robert Lloyd, The Actor. A Poetical Epistle (London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1760).Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    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
  23. 29.
    [George Saville Carey], Momus, a poem: or a critical examination of the performers, and comic pieces, at the Theatre-Royal in the Hay-Market (London: printed for the author, 1767), p. 17.Google Scholar
  24. 31.
    Cf. Catherine Lumby, Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World (London: Allen and Unwin, 1999), p. 129.Google Scholar
  25. 32.
    On Foote’s profits, see further, William J. Burling, Summer Theatre in London, 1661–1820, and the Rise of the Haymarket Theatre (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000), p. 121 and, more generally, chapter 4.Google Scholar
  26. 33.
    The most recent study of this crucial institution is Markman Ellis, The Coffee House: A Cultural History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004).Google Scholar
  27. 34.
    Genius, Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-Housefee-House (London: J. Single, 1763), p. 5.Google Scholar
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    William Cooke, Memoirs of Charles Macklin, Comedian (London: James Asperne, 1804), p. 206.Google Scholar
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    Act II, scene i in Plays, vol. III. Horne Tooke responded in good part, admitting in a letter to Junius (Public Advertiser, 13 July 1771) that ‘my Clothes were lawful Game’.Google Scholar
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    For a groundbreaking discussion about the relationships between theatricality and performativity, see Theatricality, ed. Tracy C. Davis and Thomas Postlewait (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), especially the editors’ superb introduction.Google Scholar
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    On the increasing number of libel cases brought by leading politicians in the 1770s and 1780s, see Lucyle Werkmeister, The London Daily Press, 1772–1792 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 1963).Google Scholar
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    Wilkinson, Memoirs of his Own Life, II, p. 50, claims that he was offered money and ‘genteel presents not to be too free as an imitator’.Google Scholar
  34. 46.
    Whipping Rods, for trifling, scurrhill, scriblers; as F-t on taste… (London: M. Cooper, 1752), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    See Public Advertiser, 3 and 10 December 1754. On Macklin’s innovation producing a distinct interruption in ‘the reign of wit’ at the Bedford, see Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-House, p. 73.Google Scholar
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    John Bernard, Retrospections of the Stage, 2 vols (London: Colburn and Bentley, 1830), II, pp. 122–4.Google Scholar
  37. 51.
    See Public Advertiser, 10 December 1754: ‘Mr. Macklin humbly desires that those Gentlemen who shall call for any Thing in the Coffee-room will pay at the Bar, and not to the Waiters.’Google Scholar
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    Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History (New York: Vintage, 1986), p. 381.Google Scholar
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    Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, pp. 417–19, 465, 580, 686, 768–9, 925, 1237.Google Scholar
  40. 55.
    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
  41. 56.
    A Treatise on the Passions, so far as they regard the stage … (London: C. Corbett [17471), p. 17.Google Scholar
  42. 57.
    On the objections he received for ‘impeaching’ Garrick’s performance see The Roman and English Comedy Considerd and Compard … , p. 4.Google Scholar
  43. 58.
    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
  44. 59.
    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
  45. 60.
    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
  46. 62.
    See [David Williams], A Letter to David Garrick which accuses the actor of buying fame through the purchase of newspaper shares and of miscasting other actors in order to enhance his own stardom.Google Scholar
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    William Cooke, Memoirs of Samuel Foote, Esq. with a Collection of his Genuine Bon-Mots, Anecdotes, Opinions, &c. Mostly Original, 3 vols (London: Richard Phillips, 1805), II, pp. 85–6.Google Scholar
  48. 65.
    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
  49. 66.
    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
  50. 67.
    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
  51. 68.
    Gentlemans Magazine 43 (February 1773), p. 101. Interestingly, some members of the audience were so disappointed by the show that ‘a scene of disorder ensured’ in which parts of the auditorium were destroyed.Google Scholar
  52. 71.
    Mother Douglas appears in several engravings by William Hogarth including Enthusiasm Delineated, Industry and Idleness (plate ix) and The March to Finchley. Google Scholar
  53. 72.
    On the pamphlet war generated by The Minor, see M. M. Belden, The Dramatic Work of Samuel Foote (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1929), chapter 3.Google Scholar
  54. 73.
    The Gentlemans Magazine 30 (June 1760), p. 326, remarked that this imitation of Wilkinson’s ‘quaint and pert loquacity of affectation and self conceit’ was performed ‘with inimitable humour’.Google Scholar
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    [Martin Madan], Christian and critical remarks on a droll, or interlude, called The Minor. Now acting by a company of stage players in the Hay-market; and said to be acted by authority. In which the blasphemy, falsehood, and scurrility of that piece is properly considered, answered, and exposed (London: Mr. Keith, 1760), pp. 21, 26–7.Google Scholar
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    The significance of this trial is skilfully presented by Donna T. Andrew and Randall McGowen in The Perreaus and Mrs. Rudd: Forgery and Betrayal in EighteenthCentury London (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).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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    Foote made major revisions to the play and then produced it at the Haymarket in August 1776 under the title of The Capuchin. 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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    Cindy McCreery, The Satirical Gaze: Prints of Women in Late Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon, 2004).Google Scholar
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    For an account of the d’ebacle, including the correspondence, see The Case of the Duchess of Kingston (London: J. Wheble, 1775).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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