1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Mallet

Arthur Murphy, in Life of David Garrick (1801) 246-48.



As soon as the damages done to his theatre were repaired [1763], [Garrick] brought forward the tragedy of Elvira, written by Mr. Mallet. The artifice, by which that gentleman ensured a favourable reception of his play, presents a very extraordinary anecdote. He made his approach to the manager, in a sly insinuating manner: knowing that his plays of Eurydice and Alfred had not added to his fame, he thought it necessary, on this occasion, to work by stratagem. It is well known that the Dutchess of Marlborough, by her will, left to Glover and Mallet, the sum of a thousand pounds, as a reward for writing the life of the duke, but not in verse. Glover renounced the legacy; Mallet received it, declaring his intention to execute the work. From that time he gave himself the air of being deeply engaged in his undertaking. He paid a visit to Garrick, and, in a piteous tone complained of the fatigue he underwent in preparing that important business. He talked much of his plan, and added, "I have found an opportunity to introduce you Mr. Garrick, in a way, that, I believe, you will not dislike." Introduce me, Sir, said Garrick: what room can there be for me in the history of so great a man? Leave that to me, replied Mallet: in my review of the arts and sciences that flourished in Queen Ann's reign, I have a nich in poet's corner for you. The author proceeded to observe, that he was overwhelmed with labour, and, to relieve his mind, amused himself with writing a tragedy. He then produced Elvira out of his pocket. Garrick received it with open arms, pleased with the idea of having a place in the temple of fame. The life of the Duke of Marlborough was universally expected. Mallet expressly says, that "Having found, by frequent experience, how much the mind is apt to flag under the same kind of employment, too long and too uniformly continued, he had an inclination to try whether a different sort of labour might not be, at the same time, a sort of relief. To this experiment only, the reader is indebted for the pleasure or distaste of Elvira." He continued on all occasions to propagate an account of his assiduity and constant labour in a work, which he said would crown the duke and himself with immortal fame. This vain boasting reached the ear of Dr. Warburton, and drew from him a severe remark. In his life of Lord Bacon, "Mallet forgot that that that extraordinary man was a philosopher; and probably, in his promised history, he will forget that the Duke of Marlborough was a great general officer." Mallet, in fact, did forget it; for it appeared after his death, which happened in April 1765, that after all his boasted labour, he had not writ a single line.