1848 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Davies

John Forster, in Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith (1848; 1871) 1:283-85 &n.



THOMAS DAVIES, ex-performer of Drury-lane, and present publisher and bookseller of Russell-street, Covent-garden, had now (with his "very pretty wife") left the stage and taken wholly to bookselling, which he had recently, and for the second time, attempted to combine with acting. The Rosciad put a final extinguisher on his theatrical existence. He never afterwards mouthed a sentence in one of the kingly and heavy-parts he was in the habit of playing, that Churchill's image of his "gnawing a sentence as a cur a bone" did not confuse the sentence that followed; and his eye never fell upon any prominent figure in the front row of the pit, that he did not tremble to fancy it the brawny person of Churchill. What he thus lost in self-possession, Garrick meanwhile lost in temper; and matters came to a breach, in which Johnson, being appealed to, took part against Garrick, as he was seldom disinclined to do. Pretty Mrs. Davies may have helped his inclination here; for when seized with his old moody abstraction, as was not unusual, in the bookseller's parlour, and he began to blow, and "too-too," and mutter prayers to be delivered from temptation, Davies would whisper his wife with waggish humour, "You, my dear, are the cause of this." But be the cause what it might, the pompous little bibliopole never afterwards lost favour; and it became as natural for men interested in Johnson, or those who clustered round him, to repair to Davies's the bookseller in Russell-street, as for those who wanted to hear of George Selwyn, Lord March, or Lord Carlisle, to call at Betty's the fruiterer in St. James's-street.

A frequent visitor was Goldsmith; his thick, short, clumsy figure, and his awkward though genial manners, oddly contrasting with Mr. Percy's, precise, reserved, and stately. The highbred and courtly Beauclerc might deign to saunter in. Often would be seen there the broad fat face of Foote, with wicked humour flashing from the eye; and sometimes the mild long face of Bennet Langton, filled with humanity and gentleness. There had Goldsmith met a rarer visitor, the bland and gracious Reynolds, soon after his first introduction to him, a few months back, in Johnson's chambers; and there would even Warburton drive on some proud business of his own, in his equipage "besprinkled with mitres," after calling on Garrick in Southampton-street.

For Garrick himself, it was perhaps the only place of meeting he cared to avoid, in that neighbourhood which had so profited and been gladdened by his genius; in which his name was oftener resounded than that of any other human being; and throughout which, we are told, there was a fondness for him, that, as his sprightly figure passed along, "darted electrically from shop to shop." What the great actor indeed said some years later, he already seems to have fancied: that he believed most authors "who frequented Mr. Davies's shop met merely to abuse him." Encouraged, meanwhile, by the authors, Davies grew in amusing importance; set up for quite a patron of the players; affected the insides as well as outsides of books; became a critic, pronounced upon plays and actors, and discussed themes of scholarship inflicted upon every one his experiences of the Edinburgh university, which he had attended as a youth; and when George Steevens called one day to buy the Oxford Homer, which he had seen tossing about upon his shelves, was told by the modest bookseller that he had but one, and kept it for his own reading.*

*Steevens to Garrick, Correspondence, i. 608. In another letter (i. 597-8) Steevens protests to Garrick that the mighty Tom continues "to the full as much a king in his own shop as ever he was on your stage. When he was on the point of leaving the theatre he most certainly stole some copper diadem from a shelf and put it in his pocket. He has worn it ever since."