Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Foote, Samuel

FOOTE, SAMUEL (1720–1777), actor and dramatist, second son of Samuel and Eleanor Foote, was born at a house in Truro long known as Johnson Vivian's, and was baptised at St. Mary's in that city 27 Jan. 1720. His father (1679-1754) was a commissioner of the prize office and fine contract, at one time member for Tiverton and mayor of Truro. His mother, Eleanor Goodere, through the death of her brother, Sir John Dinely Goodere, bt., murdered by another brother. Captain Samuel Goodere [q. v.], inherited a considerable fortune. Foote was educated at Worcester under Dr. Miles, and matriculated at Worcester College, Oxford, 1 July 1737. His college life, like his subsequent career, was marked by extravagance. Without taking a degree he proceeded to the Temple. A turn for mimicry had already displayed itself, and after wasting his entire fortune as a man of fashion at the Grecian, the Bedford, and other coffeehouses, he appeared at the Haymarket, 6 Feb. 1744, as 'a gentleman' in 'Othello,' playing with a company of novices collected and trained by Macklin, at that period excluded from Drury Lane. He repeated this impersonation three or four times, and gave it for a benefit at Drury Lane on 10 March. On 2 March, at the Haymarket, he played Lord Foppington in the 'Relapse,' and recited an epilogue, apparently of his own composition. He is also said to have played Pierre in 'Venice Preserved.' These ill-judged experiments were complete failures. Foote then proceeded to Dublin, where, according to Hitchcock (Irish Plays, i. 147), 'he brought a few crowded houses and was well received,' On 1 Nov. 1745 he appeared at Drury Lane as Sir Harry Wildair in the 'Constant Couple.' He afterwards appeared as Lord Foppington, Bayes, Sir Courtly Nice, and other parts played by Colley Cibber. He had meanwhile conceived the idea of turning to advantage his talent for mimicry, and on 22 April 1747 he opened the Haymarket with a concert, a farce extracted from the 'Old Bachelor,' called 'The Credulous Husband,' in which Foote was Fondlewife, and an entertainment by himself called 'The Diversions of the Morning.' In this, with the assistance of Shuter and other actors, he met with much success. His career was, however, stopped by the Westminster magistrates, and Foote then hit upon the device of summoning his friends, for 25 April at noon, to take with him a 'dish of chocolate,' for which was subsequently substituted a 'dish of tea.' Tickets for this were obtained at George's Coffee-house, Temple Bar. On the invitation appeared 'N.B. - Sir Dilbury Diddle will be there, and Lady Betty Frisk has absolutely promised.' According to a statement of Tate Wilkinson (Memoirs, i. 24 et seq.), which Genest says 'is not to be reconciled with the bills,' the entertainment was principally made up of satirical mimicry of actors, such as Quin, Delane, Ryan, Woodward, Mrs. Woffington, and of Garrick, upon whom he was especially severe. In November 1747 Foote, still at the Haymarket, gave 'Tea at 6.30 ;' in March 1748 he substituted for this 'Chocolate in Ireland,' and soon afterwards produced an entertainment similar in kind called 'An Auction of Pictures.' In 1748-9 this class of entertainment was continued until March or April, when Foote produced the two-act comedy, the 'Knights,' printed 1754, 8vo, in which he played Hartop. This piece ended with a feigned concert between two cats, in which Italian opera was ridiculed. Various persons of more or less importance had been libelled in these productions ; but the complaints and retorts of those injured only added to the piquancy of the production. A second fortune having been left him, Foote disappeared to Paris, whence, after some years' absence, he returned with 'Taste,' a two-act comedy produced unsuccessfully at Drury Lane 11 Jan. 1752, 8vo, 1753, with a prologue written and spoken by Garrick. The 'Englishman in Paris,' Covent Garden, 24 March 1753, 8vo, 1756, was more fortunate. Foote let Macklin have the piece for his benefit. Macklin played Buck, a character which Foote took when he transferred the play, 20 Oct. 1753, to Drury Lane stage. In the course of this season Foote played Fondlewife, Ben in 'Love for Love,' Brazen in the 'Recruiting Officer,' and gave his lastingly popular 'Tea.' The following two seasons he appeared at Covent Garden, where he played, 3 Feb. 1756, Buck in the 'Englishman Returned from Paris,' a piece in three acts, 8vo, 1756, the idea and incidents of which Foote took from Murphy, the dramatist, who indiscreetly confided them to him. On 1 March 1756 he played Sir Paul Plyant in the 'Double Dealer,' and 30 March Lady Pentweazel in 'Taste.' In 1756-7 he returned to Drury Lane, where, 5 Feb. 1757, he produced the 'Author,' 8vo, 1757, a two-act piece, in which, as Cadwallader, he mimicked a Mr. Aprice, a friend of his own, who had interest enough to obtain the suppression of the play. An additional scene, which he intended to introduce into it for his benefit, is given in the 'Monthly Mirror,' vii. 39-41. e also played Gomez in Dryden's 'Spanish Friar.' In December 1757, in company with Tate Wilkinson, Foote visited Dublin, where he had a favourable reception, socially and artistically, but played no new part. Wilkinson and Foote were engaged by Garrick, and appeared at Drury Lane 17 Oct. 1758. For his benefit Foote appeared, 18 Dec. 1758, as Shylock, and was a failure. With 100l., which he borrowed from Garrick, he visited Scotland. According to the 'Courant' he reached Edinburgh 15 March 1759, and appeared on the 20th at the Canongate Concert Hall. He played many parts, and was made much of. He is said to have given the first afternoon entertainment in Edinburgh. He returned in May, and in the autumn went once more to Dublin, where, at the Crow Street Theatre, he produced, 28 Jan. 1760, his comedy the 'Minor,' originally in two acts, 8vo, 1760. In this he played Shift, a character designed to satirise his associate, Tate Wilkinson. Piece and excursion alike failed, and Foote, in want of funds, opened in the summer of 1760 the Haymarket, where, with a company hastily assembled, he produced the 'Minor,' now enlarged to three acts. In this, Foote's best comedy, his title to a portion of which has been disputed, he satirised Whitefield and the methodists. In its new shape it was a great success. Foote, who played at the Haymarket the characters of Shift, Smirke, and Mrs. Cole, is said to have sent the manuscript to the Archbishop of Canterbury, with a request that he would excise or alter whatever was objectionable. It was returned untouched, the archbishop shrewdly surmising that Foote wished to advertise it as 'corrected and prepared for the press by his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.' Once more at Drury Lane he was the original Scotchman in the 'Register Office' of Joseph Reed, a piece from which he was accused by Reed of having stolen the character of Mrs. Cole in the 'Minor.' In partnership with Murphy, Foote leased Drury Lane for a summer season. On 15 June 1761 the management produced Murphy's 'All in the Wrong,' a version of Moliere's 'Cocu Imaginaire.' Foote wrote and spoke the prologue. The 'Citizen,' also by Murphy, was played 2 July 1769, Foote appearing as Young Philpot. The 'Old Maid' of Murphy was given for the first time the same night. 'Wishes, or Harlequin's Mouth Opened,' a comedy by Thomas Bentley, with a speaking harlequin, closed the season with a failure. Foote, who played in this Distress a poet, took over 300l. for his share of the entire venture, though he had broken his contract and supplied no novelty. In 1762, at the Haymarket, Foote produced the 'Orators,' 8vo, 1762, ridiculing, in Peter Paragraph, George Faulkner, the Dublin printer, who had lost a leg, and who brought an action against him. At Covent Garden, 12 Jan. 1762, he played Young Wilding in the 'Lyar,' 8vo, 1764, his adaptation of 'Le Menteur' of Corneille. From this period the original characters of Foote, with the exception of Ailwould in Bickerstaffe's 'Dr. Last in his Chariot,' Haymarket, 31 Aug. 1769, and Francisco in the 'Tailors,' Haymarket, 2 July 1767, were confined to the Haymarket and to his own comedies. Many of these were played in the afternoon. Their order is as follows : Major Sturgeon and Matthew Mug in the 'Mayor of Garratt,' two acts, 1763, 8vo, 1764 ; Sir Thomas Lofty and Sir Peter Pepperpot in the 'Patron,' three acts, 1764, 8vo, 1764 ; Zachary Fungus in the 'Commissary,' three acts, 1765, 8vo, 1765 ; Foote in 'An Occasional Prelude,' one act, printed in the 'Monthly Mirror,' vol. xvii. ; the Devil in the 'Devil upon Two Sticks,' three acts, 30 May 1768, 8vo, 1778 (by this piece Foote reaped between 3,000l. and 4,000l. ; on his way to Ireland he lost 1,700l. at Bath to cardsharpers, and had to borrow 100l. to proceed on his journey) ; Sir Luke Limp in the 'Lame Lover,' 8vo, 1770, three acts, 27 Aug. 1770 ; Flint in the 'Maid of Bath,' three acts, 26 June 1771, 8vo, 1778; Sir Matthew Mite in the 'Nabob,' three acts, 29 June 1772, 8vo, 1778 ; Sir Robert Riscounter in the 'Bankrupt,' three acts, 21 July 1773, 8vo, 1776 (this season Foote gave an entertainment with puppets known as 'The Primitive Puppet Show,' and produced an unprinted entertainment entitled 'The Handsome Housemaid, or Piety in Pattens') ; Aircastle in the 'Cozeners,' 1774, 8vo, 1778, and O'Donnovan in the 'Capuchin,' three acts, 17 Aug. 1776, 8vo, 1778. This piece was an alteration of the famous 'Trip to Calais,' the performance of which was stopped by the censor. In 1766 Foote was visiting at Lord Mexborough's, where he met an aristocratic party, including the Duke of York. Playing on his vanity they mounted him on a high-mettled horse, which threw him and fractured his leg in two places. He accepted the accident with philosophy, and asked for the removal of the leg, which was accomplished. As a compensation for this loss the Duke of York obtained for Foote a patent to erect a theatre in the city and liberties of Westminster, with the privilege of exhibiting dramatic pieces there from 14 May to 14 Sept. during his natural life. This was a fortune. Foote purchased his old premises in the Haymarket, and erected a new theatre on the site, which he opened in May 1767 with the 'Prelude,' in which he referred to the loss of limb and to the gift of his patron, &c. In 1767 he engaged Spranger Barry [q. v.] and Mrs. Ann Dancer, subsequently Mrs. Spranger Barry [q. v.], and produced tragedy, announcing as the cause of such a proceeding that they were dangerous neighbours. Upon his visit to Dublin in 1768 Foote found his 'Devil upon Two Sticks' once more a source of fortune. In 1770 he rented the Edinburgh Theatre for the winter season, and took over his company. The result was unsatisfactory, and he resigned his lease to West Digges [q. v.] The year previously Foote, whose treatment of Garrick consisted in alternately sponging upon him and ridiculing him, intended to caricature the famous procession in the jubilee, but by influence from without was induced to abandon the idea. A notion previously entertained of caricaturing Dr. Johnson was given up in consequence of Johnson sending word to Foote that, in case the threat was carried out, 'he would go from the boxes on the stage and correct him before the audience' (Monthly Review, lxxvi. 374). Few of Foote's plays had been produced without an acknowledged purpose of caricaturing some known individual. For a long time this practice succeeded. Foote was wise enough to withdraw when, as in the case of Johnson, he found his man too strong for him. When, after the production of the 'Nabob,' two members of the East India Company called upon him with the intention of castigating him, he had tact enough to keep them talking until he had disarmed their resentment and induced them to stay to dinner. The most he ordinarily had to fear was an interference of the censor, and a consequent diminution of profits. Those who winced most under his attacks held it prudent to hold their tongues. Garrick, who smarted more frequently than most, said that nobody in London thought it worth while to quarrel with him. So accustomed was Foote to this process that, when he heard his leg was to be cut off, he said, 'Now I shall take off old Faulkner to the life,' Faulkner having lost one of his legs. The privilege of the buffoon was at length to be denied him. In preparing the 'Trip to Calais ' he hit upon the celebrated Duchess of Kingston, and told his acquaintance, with customary garrulity and indiscretion, that she was to be shown in the character of Lady Crocodile. The influence of the duchess sufficed to secure the prohibition of the play. A correspondence undignified on both sides, though marvellously clever on that of Foote, took place between the author and the duchess, and resulted in Foote abandoning some hastily formed schemes of vengeance, and in the production of the 'Capuchin,' in which the satire was transferred from the duchess to Jackson, an Irish clergyman who was in her pay, and who ultimately committed suicide to avoid the penalty of death, to which he had been condemned for treason. This man, under the disguise, transparent to a large number of people, of Dr. Viper, Foote lashed in the 'Capuchin.' Jackson's answer was by insinuations conveyed in the paper of which he was editor, and copied into other periodicals, charging Foote with the most odious form of crime. For a time Foote, on the advice of his friends, kept silence. He opened the Haymarket on 20 May 1776 with his comedy, the 'Bankrupt.' An organised opposition upon the part of a portion of the audience drew Foote before the curtain to appeal for justice, and to say that he had taken steps in the court of king's bench to bring the charges to an issue. A further mine was, however, sprung beneath Foote, a discharged servant appearing (8 July 1776) to prefer a bill of indictment against the author for a criminal assault. Under these circumstances Foote received the full support of friends convinced of his innocence. Those whom he had libelled thronged to defend him. Evidence that the charge was due to Jackson was forthcoming, and on the trial in the court of king's bench the jury returned an unhesitating verdict of acquittal. Foote was, however, much shaken. On 16 Jan. 1777 he disposed of his patent to George Colman for 1,600l. a year and a specific sum for the right of acting Foote's unpublished pieces. Foote, who had undertaken to play at another house, appeared at the Haymarket in the 'Devil upon Two Sticks,' the 'Nabob,' the 'Minor,' and other pieces. A great falling off in power was, however, apparent. On 30 July, in the 'Maid of Bath,' his name appeared in the bills for the last time. Acting on medical advice he started for the South of France, and arrived at Dover 20 Oct. 1777 on his way to Calais. He was in good spirits, joking with the servants at the Ship Inn. At breakfast next morning he was seized with a shivering fit, a second followed, and on the same day, 21 Oct. 1777, he died. The body was removed to his house, Suffolk Street, Pall Mall East, by William Jewell, the treasurer to the Haymarket, who had been sent for, and on the Monday night following (3 Nov.) he was buried by torchlight in the west cloister in Westminster Abbey. The register of the abbey calls him Samuel Foote, esq., and gives his age as fifty-five (Chester, Registers of Westminster, p. 424). No monument is erected to him, though a tablet was put up by Jewell in St. Martin's Church, Dover. His will, dated 13 Aug. 1768, was proved the day after his death. It bequeathed his possessions in trust to his illegitimate sons, Francis Foote and George Foote, with remainder in case they should die in their minority to Jewell, to Foote's mother, who, however, was dead, and to his brother, Edward Goodere Foote. In addition to the plays mentioned Foote wrote 'A Treatise on the Passions so far as they regard the Stage ; with a Critical Enquiry into the Theatrical merit of Mr. G__k, Mr. Q__n, and Mr. Barry . . .' London, 8vo (no date), 1747 ; 'The Roman and English Comedy consider'd and compar'd. With remarks on the "Suspicious Husband." And an Examen into the merits of the Present Comic Actors,' London, 1747, 8vo ; 'A Letter from Mr. Foote to the Reverend Author of the Remarks, critical and Christian, on the Minor,' London, 1760, 8vo ; 'Apology for the "Minor," with a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Bain,' Edinburgh, 1771, 8vo and 12mo (same date). He is credited with the authorship of an account of the murder of his uncle, which is said to have been his first production. There is, however, reason for sparing him this ignominy. 'Wit for the Ton! the Convivial Jester, or Sam Foote's Last Budget opened,' &c., London (no date), 1777, contains some of his jokes, but is, of course, not by him. A long list of polemical works to which his pieces gave rise, many of them claiming to be by him, but ordinarily virulent attacks upon him, is given in Mr. Lowe's useful 'Bibliographical Account of English Theatrical Literature,' 1888. Mr. Lowe believes that 'A Letter to the Licenser' (regarding the prohibition of the 'Trip to Calais') was published, but has never seen it catalogued. Its only appearance seems to have been in a daily newspaper for 3 Aug. 1775, whence it was copied into the 'Westminster Magazine,' August 1775. The 'Methodist, a comedy ; being a Continuation and Completion of the plan of the "Minor," written by Mr. Foote,' &c., 3rd edit. London (no date), 1761, 8vo, is, according to the 'Biographia Dramatica,' 'a most impudent catchpenny job of Israel Pottinger.' Foote's prose tracts, like his letters, are forcibly, wittily, and logically written. It is, however, as a dramatist, a wit, and an actor that he has to be judged. all these qualities he is noteworthy. No complete collection of his plays has been made, more than one of his pieces, chiefly his early entertainments, having never been printed. From the dates given it will be seen that the plays were in many cases not printed until long after their appearance on the stage. What are called his dramatic works were issued in 4 vols. 8vo, 1778, and with life by John Bee, i.e. Badcock, in 3 vols. 12mo, 1830. Three dramatic trifles are given in 'The Memoirs of Samuel Foote, with a Collection of his Genuine Bon Mots, &c. By William Cooke,' London, 1805, 12mo, 3 vols. In the series edited by Cumberland, Mrs. Inchbald, Lacy, and in innumerable similar collections, various plays are to be found, and collections of the 8vo editions are in the British Museum and other libraries. In the 'Comic Theatre,' being a free translation of all the best French comedies by S. Foote and others, London, 1762, 5 vols. 12mo, one play only, the 'Young Hypocrite,' is said in the 'Biographia Dramatica' to be by Foote. A play of Foote's occasionally appears on the present stage. To the list already given may be added the 'Tryal of Samuel Foote, esq., for a Libel on Peter Paragraph,' acted in 1761 at the Haymarket, and the 'Diversions of the Morning,' compiled from his 'Taste' and other sources, and played at Drury Lane in 1758. These pieces, previously unprinted, Tate Wilkinson gives at the close of vol. iv. of his 'Wandering Patentee,' 12mo, 1795. 'Lindamira, or Tragedy à-la-mode,' a burlesque tragic bagatelle, by Foote, is included in 'Thespian Gleanings,' by T. Meadows, comedian, Ulverstone, 8vo, 1805. It is taken from 'Diversions of the Morning.' The 'Slanderer,' a comedy, is said to have been left in manuscript, and appears to be lost. As a rule the plays are invertebrate, and the manners they sketch are not to be recognised in the present day. Foote had, however, a keen eye to character, and on the strength of the brilliant sketches of contemporary manners which he afforded, and of the wit of the dialogue, they may be read with pleasure to this day. Foote's satire is direct and scathing. Much of it is directed against individuals, not seldom with no conceivable vindication, since Foote singled out those, such as Garrick, to whom he was under deepest obligations. During his lifetime and for some years subsequently Foote was known as the English Aristophanes. Without being deserved, the phrase is less of a misnomer than such terms ordinarily are. As an actor Foote seems to have attracted attention only in his own pieces. Tom Davies, who speaks with something not far from contempt of his general performances, praises his Bayes in the 'Rehearsal.' In this, however, Foote, like Garrick, used to introduce allusions to contemporary events. This, of course, was quite in Foote's line. The words of Davies are : 'Public transactions, the flying follies of the day, debates of grave assemblies, absurdities of play-writers, politicians, and players, all came under his cognisance, and all felt the force of his wit ; in short, he laid hold of everything and everybody that would furnish merriment for the evening. Foote could have written a new "Rehearsal" equal to the old' (Dram. Misc. iii. 304-5). What is this but an account of Foote's own entertainments ? Such success as he obtained as an actor in early life was due to an imitation, conscientious at first, but subsequently degenerating into buffoonery, of Colley Gibber. Even as a mimic Johnson disputed his capacity, saying, 'His imitations are not like. ... He goes out of himself without going into any other people.' As a conversationalist and wit he stood alone. Many of the jokes fathered upon him by his biographer Cooke are to be found in early collections, such as Taylor the Water Poet's 'Wit and Mirth.' More anecdotes concerning Foote are to be found among theatrical ana than are told of any half-dozen of his contemporaries or successors. The opinions expressed with regard to him by those who lived in his society or under his influence show a curious mixture of fear and admiration. Garrick was distinctly afraid of him, and, in spite of being his equal in wit and his superior in scholarship, sought at almost any cost to cajole him. His favourable utterances are accordingly to be taken with allowances. Johnson, who despised without fearing him, says : 'The first time I was in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow I was resolved not to be pleased, and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was so very comical that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back upon my chair, and fairly laugh it out No, sir, he was irresistible' (Boswell, Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 69, 70) . Fox told Rogers that, meeting Foote at Lord William Bentinck's, ie anticipated that the actor would prove a bore, and continued : 'We were mistaken ; whatever we talked about, whether fox-hunting, the turf, or any other subject, Foote instantly took the lead and delighted us all' (Rogers, Table Talk, ed. Dyce, pp. 101-2). Sir Joshua Reynolds is credited with having said that 'by Foote's buffoonery and broad-faced merriment, private friendship, public decency, and everything estimable among men were trod under foot' (Clark Russell, Representative Actors, p. 137). Tate Wilkinson declared that 'if any man possessed the gift of pleasing more than another Mr. Foote was the man,' and Colman the younger says Foote always made him laugh. Testimony of the kind may be indefinitely extended. He was short, fat, and flabby in appearance, his face intelligent, and his eye bright. He was a gourmand, an egotist, and a thoroughly selfish man, with a few redeeming traits, which the contrast with his general character gave almost the appearance of virtues. A portrait of Foote by Sir Joshua Reynolds is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. Another portrait by Zoffany in a scene from 'The Commissary' was given by the actor to Fitzherbert, and is now in the collection of the Earl of Carlisle. Zoffany also painted Foote as Sturgeon in the 'Mayor of Garratt,' and in other characters.

[The chief authorities for the life of Foote are the Memoirs of Samuel Foote, esq., with a Collection of his Genuine Bon Mots, Anecdotes, Opinions, &c., by William Cooke, 3 vols. 1805, and the Memoir prefixed to the Works of Samuel Foote, esq., by John Bee (Badcock), esq., 3 vols. 1830; Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Samuel Foote, esq., the English Aristophanes, &c., London (no date), 1777, is an anonymous and untrustworthy work; the Garrick Correspondence ; Walpole's Letters ; Forster's Historical and Biographical Essays ; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed.Dr. Birkbeck Hill ; Genest's Account of the Stage ; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs and Wandering Patentee and Davies's Life of Garrick overflow with information ; George Colman's Random Recollections ; Peake's Memoirs of the Colman Family; O'Keeffe's Recollections ; Boaden's Life of Siddons and Life of Bannister. The Life and Times of Frederic Reynolds, by himself, Notes and Queries, 2nd and 4th ser., and Dibdin's History of the Edinburgh Stage, 1888, may also be consulted, as may the Town and Country Magazine, and other periodicals of the last century. Lives of Foote appear in the Biographical Dictionaries of Chalmers and of Rose. Lowe's Bibliography of the Stage and Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 152-7, 1181-3, supply useful bibliographies. There are few books dealing with the stage from which particulars, frequently untrustworthy and contradictory, may not be gleaned.]

J. K.