Biography of Samuel Foote

Samuel Foote (January 1720 – 21 October 1777) was a British dramatist, actor and theatre manager from Cornwall.

Born into a well-to-do family, Foote was baptized in Truro, Cornwall on 27 January 1720. His father, Samuel Foote, held several public positions, including mayor of Truro, Member of Parliament representing Tiverton and a commissioner in the Prize Office. His mother, née Eleanor Goodere, was the daughter of baronet Sir Edward Goodere of Hereford. Foote may have inherited his wit and sharp humour from her and her family which was described as "eccentric. ..whose peculiarities ranged from the harmless to the malevolent." About the time Foote came of age, he inherited his first fortune when one of his uncles, baronet Sir John Dineley Goodere, 2nd Baronet was murdered by another uncle, Captain Samuel Goodere. This murder was the subject of his first pamphlet, which he published around 1741.

Foote was educated at Truro Grammar School, the collegiate school at Worcester, and at Worcester College, Oxford, distinguishing himself in these places by mimicry and audacious pleasantries of all kinds. An undisciplined student, he frequently was absent from his Latin and Greek classes and subsequently, Oxford disenrolled him on 28 January 1740. Although he left Oxford without taking his degree, he acquired a classical training which afterwards enabled him to easily turn a classical quotation or allusion, and helped to give to his prose style a certain fluency and elegance.

Foote was destined for the law, but certainly not by nature. In his chambers at the Inner Temple, and in the Grecian Coffee-house nearby, he came to know something of lawyers if not of law, and was afterwards able to jest at the jargon and to mimic the mannerisms of the bar, and to satirize the Latitats of the other branch of the profession with particular success. Though he never applied himself to his studies at the Inner Temple, he well applied himself to spending money and living as a bon vivant which led to him quickly running out of funds.

After finding himself in debt, Foote married a certain Mary Hickes (or Hicks) on 10 January 1741. With his wife also came a sizable dowry. Contemporaries note that Foote mistreated his wife, deserting her when his financial situation improved and Hickes may have died an early death. But a stronger attraction drew him to the Bedford Coffee-house in Covent Garden, and to the theatrical world of which it was the social centre. His extravagant living soon forced him into debtor's prison in 1742, and friends encouraged Foote's going onto the stage to make a living.

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