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"David Garrick as Richard III", by William Hogarth, 1745

How many authors also had connections with the wine trade? Chaucer’s father was a merchant who earned a prosperous living by exporting wool and importing wine, and a number of the poet’s other relatives were also involved in the wine trade. Chaucer himself was occasionally rewarded in wine for his service to the royal household. In 1374 Edward III granted him a gallon pitcher of wine every day for the rest of his life (a gift which was later exchanged for an annuity of 20 marks). It was followed by another such gift in 1397 when Richard II granted Chaucer a tun of wine (that is, 252 gallons) annually. But of what wine it was, we know nothing.

We know much more about David Garrick’s brief career as a wine merchant. Garrick’s uncle, also called David, had himself been a wine merchant, and under the terms of his will his nephew would inherit £1,000 on his 21st birthday. In 1738 Garrick reached his majority, and was able to abandon the career which up until then he had half-heartedly pursued, namely study of the law. Together with his brother Peter he decided to go into the wine trade. Peter would look after the business in Lichfield, while David would act as the London agent for the partnership and would try to place their wine in the coffee-houses of Covent Garden, as well as to private clients. They rented premises just off the Strand, and their stock included port, German wine, sweet wines from the Canaries, and a red wine which they claimed to be claret (the Garrick family had roots in Bordeaux) but which was probably something cheaper from Portugal.

Garrick’s early letters to his brother are confident and optimistic: “I have ye custom of ye Bedford Coffee house,” he writes gleefully in July 1740, “one of ye best in London.” But by September, a different note enters his correspondence: “I must desire you to send me up a Bill as soon as possible, for Cash is rather low & Brounker wants his Money, pray let me have it as soon as possible.” Garrick managed to stagger on for another year in the wine trade, but by October 1741 he had realised that his future lay elsewhere. The business was consuming his stock of capital at an alarming rate, as he explained to his brother:

I am now to tell You what I suppose You may have heard of before this, but before I let you into ye Affair tis proper to premise Some things that I may appear less culpable in yr Opinion than I might Otherwise do. I have made an Exact Estimate of my Stock of wine & what Money I have out at Interest & find that Since I have been a Wine Merchant I have run out near four hundred pounds & trade not encreasing I was very Sensible some way must be thought of to redeem it.

What Garrick proposed was simply to withdraw from the wine trade — “I am willing to agree any thing You shall propose about ye Wine, I will take a thorough Survey of ye Vaults & making what You have at Lichfield part of ye Stock will either send you your Share or any other way you shall propose.”

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