David Garrick: Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades

Scope and Content

Manuscript of David Garrick's first play, Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades. First performed on 15 April 1740 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Lethe was a two-act burlesque play based upon characters of Henry Fielding.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Garrick (1717-1779), actor, playwright and theatre manager, grew up and was educated in Lichfield, Staffordshire, under the tutelage of Samuel Johnson, who became a life-long friend and correspondent. In 1737 Garrick travelled to London with Dr Johnson in the hope of pursuing a legal career but he was drawn to the theatre. His first play, Lethe, was produced on 15 April 1740 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He joined a professional troupe of actors and appeared in various roles at Drury Lane from 1742 to 1745. After a successful season at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, Garrick returned to London and in 1747 he purchased a share of the lease of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and began a 27-year career as its actor-manager. Despite many setbacks the theatre flourished under his management.

Garrick wrote more than twenty plays and dramatic pieces, as well as adapting many more. The poem and song Heart of Oak was penned by him and he was a keen letter-writer, being an early member of Johnson's Literary Club. He was friends with many of the political and social elite of his day.

Source: Peter Thomson, 'Garrick, David (1717-1779)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/10408.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, from John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910), in July 1892.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, and John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on David Garrick.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 57).

Custodial History

The manuscript was formerly part of the Spencer Library at Althorp, Northamptonshire, which was largely assembled by George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834); then by descent to John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910). There was a personal connection between Garrick and the Spencer family as Garrick was a friend of John Spencer, the 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783), corresponding with him and even visiting Althorp. At Garrick's funeral the Earl Spencer was one of the pall bearers.

Related Material

The JRUL also holds a volume of miscellaneous verse, including Petition of the Fools to Jupiter supposedly written by Garrick (GB 133 Eng MS 662). The Joseph Mayer Collection includes a notebook containing calendars of plays performed at Covent Garden and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the 1740 and 1741 seasons, with notes on actors such as Garrick and miscellaneous information regarding the plays (GB 133 Eng MS 1111).