1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Davies

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 55 (May 1785) 404.



5. May. In Russel-str, Covent Garden, in his 75th year, Mr. Thomas Davies, bookseller; a man of uncommon strength of mind, and who prided himself in being through life "a companion of his superiors." In 1728 and 1729 he was at the university of Edinburgh, completing his education; and in 1736 we find him among the Dramatis Personae of Lillo's celebrated tragedy of "Fatal Curiosity," at the theatre in the Haymarket, where he was the original representator of Young Wilmot, under the management of Henry Fielding. He afterwards commenced bookseller in Duke's court, but met with misfortunes which induced him to return to the theatre. For several years he belonged to various companies at York, Dublin, and other places, at the first of which he married his wife, Miss Yarrow, daughter of a performer there, whose beauty was not more remarkable than her private character has ever been unsullied and irreproachable. About 1752 he returned to London, and with Mrs. Davies was engaged at Drury-lane, where they remained for several years in good estimation with the town, and played many characters, if not with great excellence, at least with propriety and decency. Churchill's indiscriminate satire has endeavoured to fix some degree of ridicule on Mr. Davies's performances; but the pen of a satirist is not entitled to implicit credit. Mr. D. exchanged the theatre for a shop in Russel-street about 1762; and we should have been happy could we have recorded that his efforts in trade had been crowned with the success which his abilities in his profession merited. In 1778 he became a bankrupt; when, such was the regard entertained for him by his friends, that they readily consented to his re-establishment; and "none of them," as he says himself, "were more active to serve him than those who had suffered most by his misfortunes. But all their efforts might possibly have been fruitless, if his great and good friend Dr. Johnson had nor exerted all his power on his behalf." He called upon all over whom he had any influence to assist Tom Davies; and "prevailed on Mr. Sheridan, patentee of Drury-lane theatre to let him have a benefit, which he granted on the most liberal terms." In 1780, by a well-timed publication, "The Life of Mr. Garrick," which has passed through four editions, (see vol. L. p. 330,) Mr. Davies acquired much fame, and some money. He has since published (see vol. LIV. pp. 281, 360,) "Dramatic Miscellanies," in 3 vols. of which a second edition appeared a few days only before the author's death, with the addition of a peevish P.S. which we could have wished had been totally suppressed. His other works are, "Some Memoirs of Mr. Henderson," "A Review of Lord Chesterfield's Character," "A Life of Massinger," "Lives of Dr. John Eachard, Sir John Davies, and Mr. Lillo," and fugitive pieces without number, in prose and verse, in the St. James's Chronicle, and almost all the public newspapers. The compiler of this article (who is not ashamed to say that he has been indebted for a great part of it to the European Mag. for March 1784) knew him well; and has passed many convivial hours in his company at a social meeting, where his lively sallies of pleasantry have been used to set the table in a roar of harmless merriment. The last time he visited them he wore the appearance of a spectre; and, sensible of his approaching end, took a solemn valediction. Poor ghost! how would it comfort thee to know, that at a subsequent meeting of thy sincere friends, the impression of thy last appearance was not eradicated; and that every breast heaved a sympathetic sigh, lamenting the loss of so excellent an associate! Mr. Davies was buried, by his own desire, in the vault of St. Paul, Covent-Garden, close by the side of his next-door neighbour the late Mr. Grignion, watch-maker. The following lines have been given in the newspapers as contributing to mark the man:

Here lies the author, actor, Thomas Davies:
Living he shone a very rara avis,
The scenes he play'd, life's audience must commend:
He honour'd Garrick — Johnson was his friend.