On the west wall of Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey is a white and grey marble monument to the famous actor David Garrick. It consists of a standing figure of the actor who holds aside curtains, as if taking a bow after a performance, and on either side are seated the figures of Tragedy and Comedy. Above Garrick’s head is a medallion portrait inscribed ‘Shakspeare’. The sculptor was Henry Webber and the inscription, written by actor Samuel Jackson Pratt, reads:
“To the memory of David Garrick, who died in the year 1779, at the age of 63. To paint fair Nature, by divine command, her magic pencil in his glowing hand, a Shakspeare rose, then to expand his fame wide o’er this “breathing world”, a Garrick came. Though sunk in death the forms the poet drew, the actor’s genius bade them breathe anew; though, like the Bard himself, in night they lay, immortal Garrick call’d them back to day: and till eternity with power sublime, shall mark the mortal hour of hoary time, Shakspeare & Garrick like twin stars shall shine, and earth irradiate with a beam divine. S.J.Pratt. This monument, the tribute of a friend, was erected in 1797”.
The spelling of Shakespeare is in its 18th century form. The friend who erected the monument was Albany Charles Wallis (who is buried in the east cloister). Garrick is buried in front of Shakespeare’s statue together with his wife Eva. The inscription in brass letters on the gravestone reads:
“DAVID GARRICK BORN 20th FEBRUARY 1716 DIED 20th JANUARY 1779. EVA MARIA GARRICK BORN 29th FEBRUARY 1724 DIED 16th OCTOBER 1822.”
The date for his birth is given in Old-Style dating (now reckoned as 1717). Samuel Johnson is buried next to Garrick, with the graves of Sir Henry Irving and Laurence Olivier just to the south.
Garrick was born in Hereford, one of several children of Peter Garrick (d.1737) and his wife Arabella (Clough). His grandfather, David de la Garrique, was a Huguenot refugee who fled from France. Peter and his family lived in Lichfield and David was educated partly at Samuel Johnson’s school there. Johnson and Garrick left for London in 1737 to seek their fortunes. David wrote his first play in 1740 and his London debut was in Richard III the following year. He had immense success in both comic and tragic roles, producing many of Shakespeare’s dramas at Drury Lane theatre where he was actor-manager. On 22 June 1749 he married Eva Maria Veigel. She was born in Vienna and came to London as a dancer with the Italian Opera. They had no children. Garrick retired from the stage but survived for only a few more years. His funeral procession made its way from his house on Adelphi Terrace to the Abbey with crowds lining the streets. Eva survived him for many years and died aged 99.
A photograph of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Further reading for David and Eva
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
David Garrick. A critical biography, by George W.Stone and George Kahrl, (USA1979)
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