Celebrity and Rivalry: David [Garrick] and Goliath [Quin]

  • Peter Thomson


The theatre has always been a happy hunting-ground for scandalmongers, but the story that surfaced quietly in the spring of 1772 was an uncommonly juicy one. The Daily Advertiser of 30 April carried the following enigmatic notice at the foot of its second page:

Whereas on Tuesday Night last, between the Hours of Eight and Ten, a Gentleman left with a Centinel belonging to Whitehall Guard, a Guinea and a Half, and a Metal Watch with two Seals, the one a Cypher, the other a Coat of Arms, a Locket, and a Pistol Hook. The Owner may have it again by applying to the Adjutant of the first Battalion of the first Regiment of Foot-Guards at the Savoy Barracks, and paying for this Advertisement.

It was not enigmatic to the gentleman concerned. Having failed (or succeeded — the difference is immaterial) in his seduction of a soldier, he had attempted to buy the soldier’s silence with money and gifts. The notice was at best a covert blackmail, and at worst a veiled threat of criminal proceedings. The gentleman fled to France, leaving his belongings at the Savoy Barracks. He was Isaac Bickerstaffe, by some way the most successful playwright of his generation, and a major influence in the development of a distinctively English style of music theatre.


Music Theatre Business Friend Metal Watch Sexual Ideology English Style 
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  1. 2.
    See Michal Kobialka, ‘Words and Bodies: A Discourse on Male Sexuality in Late Eighteenth-Century English Representational Practices’, Theatre Research International, 28:1 (March 2003), 5. Bickerstaffe had been, perhaps still was at the time of the incident, a half-pay marine officer.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    As quoted by Paul Franklin, ‘The Terpsichorean Tramp: Unmanly Movement in the Early Films of Charlie Chaplin’, in Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities on and off the Stage ed. Jane Desmond (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), p. 63. The argument touched on here is illuminated by Laurence Senelick, ‘Mollies or Men of Mode? Sodomy and the Eighteenth-Century London Stage’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 1:1 (July 1990), 33–67, and fully explored in Kristina Straub, Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. D’Alembert on the Theatre (1758; repr. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 75–92.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Theophilus Cibber’s marriage to Susannah Arne is treated later in this essay. His extraordinary sister, Charlotte (1713–60), was notoriously given to transvestism. Her Narrative of the Life of Mrs Charlotte Charke was published in 1755. In it, as Biographia Dramatica records (1812 edn., vol. 1, part 1, p. 103), ‘from infancy she owns she had more of the male than female in her inclinations’.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, 2 vols, ed. R. W. Lowe (London: John C. Nimmo, 1889), I, pp. 82–3.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Aaron Hill, The Prompter, ed. W. W. Appleton and Kalman Burnim (New York: Blom, 1966), pp. 7–8.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    In the 1887 republication of the anonymous Life of Mr. James Quin (London, 1760), this is bowdlerised as ‘Quarrelling with such a fellow is like — (using an indecent expression)’, p. 31.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    From Peregrine Pickle (1751). Quoted in Mrs. Clement Parsons, Garrick and His Circle (London: Methuen, 1906), p. 44.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Unattributed quotation from a contemporary commentator in the 1887 edition of the Life of Mr. James Quin, p. 93.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 1021.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    The double-sketch is in the Queen’s Collection. It is excellently reproduced in Alan Kendall, David Garrick (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 36. For an account of its provenance, see Ronald Paulson, Hogarth, 3 vols (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), II, p. 257.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    This anecdote appears variously in contemporary sources and has probably solidified into truth through repetition.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Anyone who visited Rich at his home would have to clear away two or three of his dozens of cats before sitting down in one of his tastefully upholstered chairs.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    I am here developing a point made by Jean Benedetti in his David Garrick and the Birth of the Modern Theatre (London: Methuen, 2001), p. 63.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    In Plate 2 of A Harlot’s Progress, a tiny black houseboy, wearing a turban with an incongruous feather, is bringing in a kettle just as the over-exuberant harlot is kicking over the table of her first keeper.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    The Letters of David Garrick, 3 vols, ed. David M. Little and George M. Kahrl (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), I, p. 66.Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    The Private Correspondence of David Garrick, 2 vols, ed. James Boaden (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831–2), I, pp. 48–9.Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Ian Campbell Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 127.Google Scholar
  19. 38.
    Reynolds’ imaginary conversations about Garrick are reproduced in Mrs Clement Parsons’ often underrated Garrick and His Circle, pp. 394–405.Google Scholar
  20. 39.
    Quoted in Isabelle Worman, Thomas Gainsborough (Lavenham: Terence Dalton, 1976), pp. 58–9.Google Scholar
  21. 45.
    The exchange, recorded by Lady Mary Coke, is cited in Mary Nash’s excellent biography of Susannah Cibber, The Provoked Wife (London: Hutchinson, 1977), p. 196n.Google Scholar
  22. 46.
    Eighteenth-century street slang has literary high points at one end in Ned Ward’s The London Spy (1703) and at the other in Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1820). ‘Top diver’ and ‘twiddle-poop’ are recorded in Francis Grose’s ‘dictionary of the vulgar tongue’, Lexicon Balatronicum (1785).Google Scholar
  23. 47.
    See, for example, Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment, ed. G. S. Rousseau and Roy Porter (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988); and Victor Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England, 1700–1830 (London: GMP Publishers, 1992).Google Scholar

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© Peter Thomson 2005

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  • Peter Thomson

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