David Garrick’s European Tour Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

David Garrick, eighteenth century England’s most prominent actor and that country’s premier theater representative, toured Western Europe, establishing the reputation of English theater throughout Europe. The tour proved to be one of the most significant celebrity events of the century.

Summary of Event

By 1763, David Garrick, actor and manager of the Drury Lane Theatre Drury Lane Theatre, London in London, was firmly established as the greatest English actor of his day and the most important figure of English theater. Theater;England His European tour spread his reputation, and the reputation of English theater, throughout Europe. Garrick was at the height of his career in 1763, but the 1762-1763 theater season had been particularly difficult. Together, the Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres attempted to end the long-standing but unprofitable practice of reducing ticket prices by half after the third act. An organized audience riot at Drury Lane forced Garrick, with a personal stage appearance, to acquiesce to the mob’s demand. Thus, Garrick and his wife, Eva Maria, from whom he had never been apart for more than twenty-four hours, set out for Paris and the Continent for a long-deserved rest from professional duties. [kw]David Garrick’s European Tour (Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765) [kw]Tour, David Garrick’s European (Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765) [kw]European Tour, David Garrick’s (Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765) [kw]Garrick’s European Tour, David (Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765) Garrick, David [p]Garrick, David;tour of Europe [g]Europe;Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765: David Garrick’s European Tour[1710] [g]England;Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765: David Garrick’s European Tour[1710] [g]France;Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765: David Garrick’s European Tour[1710] [g]Italy;Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765: David Garrick’s European Tour[1710] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765: David Garrick’s European Tour[1710] [c]Theater;Aug., 1763-Apr., 1765: David Garrick’s European Tour[1710] Garrick, David Garrick, Eva Maria Colman, George, the Elder

Garrick’s timing was fortuitous: His reputation had preceded him, and all things English were in style. During his first night in Paris he was given the freedom of the theater of the Comédie Française, where he made numerous acquaintances among the Paris theater establishment. Initially, the Garricks spent only three weeks in Paris before proceeding to Italy, passing through Lyons, over Mount Cenis to Turin, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Rome, and, ultimately, Naples, where they spent Christmas. The journey was a triumphal tour, as notables throughout Europe vied for time with the great actor. At one point, passing near Ferney, Voltaire sent Garrick an invitation that Garrick smugly rejected because of Voltaire’s well-known disdain for William Shakespeare. This rejection was taken as an insult. Throughout his tour, Garrick also was searching out-of-the-way sources for rare books to add to his extensive collection and also, evidently, to sell for a profit upon his return to England.

Garrick made the most of his acting reputation during his visits. In Naples, accompanied by Lord and Lady Spencer and Lady Oxford, he was asked by the king to go to the royal theater to test the Italian acting company by developing a scenario for a plot that they were to undertake and perform within twenty-four hours. In Parma, while dining with the duke of York and the prince of Parma, Garrick performed his famous dagger scene from Macbeth, for which the prince gave him a snuff box; Garrick added it to his collection of snuff boxes he had received as gifts on the tour.

It was at the residence of Mlle Clairon, a leading French actor where Garrick performed the dagger scene, along with the ghost scene from Hamlet and the mad scene from King Lear. Clairon, enraptured, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Embarrassed, she then turned to Garrick’s wife and apologized. When riding in the countryside with the French actor Pierre-Louis-Dubus Préville, Garrick had praised him on his display of acting drunk, but Garrick also showed him some problems with the routine by himself demonstrating drunkenness in return. In doing so he fell from his horse and lay on the ground, apparently unconscious. The performance was so convincing that the veteran French actor truly believed Garrick was dead, and then turned to seek help. Garrick then sat up and laughed.

The tour also saw considerable misfortune. After especially difficult travel to Naples, in which the tour’s coach had broken down during severe weather, Eva Maria caught cold and developed rheumatism in one of her hips. She was forced to keep to her bed for many days, though amusingly she did attend a masquerade, in which she dressed as a lame old woman dragging her leg. Nevertheless, the illness persisted until near the end of the tour, when Garrick, too, grew severely ill with what might have been some form of typhoid fever.

David Garrick is portrayed as torn between the personifications of comedy and tragedy.

(Library of Congress)

In London, fears that the Drury Lane Theatre might suffer with Garrick’s absence proved unwarranted. Garrick had left the theater in the hands of his partner William Lacy, who maintained operations, and with George Colman the Elder, who maintained creative interests. Colman proved to be a major figure in London theater as he later managed Covent Garden and the Haymarket Theatres successfully while composing some of the best comic drama of the period. The major acting roles were taken over by Garrick’s young protégé William Powell, who developed a significant following because of Garrick’s absence.

While Garrick began the lengthy preparations to return to London he began to develop concerns about his reception back home. Throughout the tour, while he had moderately kept up with Drury Lane matters, he had missed the actors and audiences very little. Concerned that his detractors might undermine his homecoming, Garrick attempted to circumvent criticism by having Colman distribute a poem broadside titled “The Sick Monkey,” which was to be self-deprecating, but humourous. The effort proved unnecessary because Garrick was welcomed back to London with enthusiasm, renewed in health and spirit. While the tour had caused him briefly to consider retirement, Garrick continued an incredibly successful career on the London stage until finally retiring in 1776. He died in 1779.

Significance

David Garrick’s European tour was perhaps the best known celebrity tour of the eighteenth century, bringing to English theater and, indirectly, English culture, a new respect that had been missing among continental Europeans for decades. Furthermore, Garrick’s absence from the English stage allowed new talent to develop from under the shadow of the great actor. Soon after his return he assisted George Colman the Elder in writing The Clandestine Marriage (1766), a play that still holds the stage, and the play that essentially initiated Colman’s distinguished literary career. William Powell’s reputation as one of the century’s great actors was to increase even upon his mentor’s return, and Garrick’s reputation increased as well.

In the next two years, Garrick had returned to Paris, where he was once again welcomed, this time by eminent writers and thinkers. In particular, Garrick enjoyed the regular hospitality of Paul-Henri-Dietrich d’Holbach, the philosopher. Holbach’s salon, along with other social functions, helped Garrick develop lifelong acquaintances with such figures as Jean-François Marmontel, Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d’Alembert, and Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, who were all prominent writers and critics.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barton, Margaret. Garrick. New York: Macmillan, 1949. An older biography but one that treats the continental tour at great length.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benedetti, Jean. David Garrick and the Birth of Modern Theatre. London: Methuen, 2001. Benedetti maintains that Garrick was the father of modern theater, who reformed theater practice to become the first international superstar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Garrick, David. The Journal of David Garrick, Describing His Visit to France and Italy in 1763. Edited by George Winchester Stone, Jr. 1939. Reprint. New York: Krauss, 1966. A brief, seventy-three-page journal that highlights the tour.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Little, David M., George M. Kahrl, and Phoebe de K. Wilson, eds. The Letters of David Garrick. 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963. The primary source for information on the tour.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McIntyre, Ian. Garrick. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999. An exhaustively detailed, well-researched recounting of Garrick’s life, career, and circle of friends.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stone, George Winchester, Jr., and George M. Kahrl. David Garrick: A Critical Biography. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. The definitive biography of David Garrick.

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