Samuel Foote, although he receives very little attention today, was one of the leading playwrights, actors, and theater managers in mid-eighteenth century England. Foote’s father was an attorney and magistrate who served as mayor in Truro, Cornwall, as Member of Parliament for Tiverton, as commissioner of the Prize Office, and receiver of fines. His mother was Eleanor Dinely Goodere, the daughter of baronet Sir Edward Goodere of Hereford.
Samuel was the youngest of three sons. The oldest son, Edward, was trained as a clergyman but was unable to support himself financially and depended on Samuel. There is very little recorded about the second son, John.
Foote attended Truro Grammar School and, in 1737, entered Worcester College, Oxford, whose founder, Sir Thomas Cookes, was related to the Foote family. During his tenure at Oxford, Foote is said to have become a competent Greek and Latin scholar. He was an undisciplined student, however, and his frequent unauthorized absences led the College to disenroll him on January 28, 1740.
After leaving Oxford, Foote entered London’s Inner Temple to study law, but he soon left to replenish his depleted fortune. On January 10, 1741, he married Mary Hicks, an old acquaintance from Truro. After spending her dowry, Foote neglected and deserted her. This marriage produced no children, but Foote’s will mentions two sons, Francis and George. Scholar Trefman suggests that these children were the result of a short-lived liaison between Foote and one of his servants.
Foote made his first appearance as a professional actor on February 6, 1744, at the Haymarket Theatre in the role of Othello. Foote’s forte, however, was not tragedy but comedy and impersonation. Foote mimicked many of the luminaries of his day, including Charles Macklin, Thomas Sheridan (father of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan), David Garrick, Arthur Murphy, and Henry Fielding. This comedic flair marked his private life as well, and he was a noted conversationalist. Even Samuel Johnson found Foote’s humor attractive, observing “He has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of imagery . . . he never lets truth stand between him and a jest, and he is sometimes mighty coarse.”
Foote had friends at court, including the duke of York, although these relationships often seemed to be troublesome rather than advantageous. His lifelong connection with wealthy, handsome, socialite Francis Blake Delaval, for example, did lead to many high times at Delaval’s family seat. However, when Delaval commissioned Foote to facilitate the marriage between a supposedly wealthy elderly widow, Lady Isabella Pawlett, and Delaval, the result was strikingly similar to a stage farce: legal battles, social scandal, and very little money for either Foote or Delaval—most of Lady Isabella’s wealth proving to be part of an irrevocable trust for her daughter. Another scheme—in which Foote and some demimondaines were to accompany Delaval and Sir Richard Atkins on a yacht trip to Corsica and help...
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