The news that Garrick was going to retire startled Europe in the spring of 1776. People who had never seen him, and still more people who had, hurried from all over the British Isles, and in parties from Paris, to attend at least one of his farewell performances. Only those who had failed to obtain admittance were disappointed. He was sixty, and his powers appeared unimpaired. For another two and a half years he was a familiar figure of the English social scene. His death, after a very short final illness, took all but a small circle by surprise.
He had been far more than Britain's first actor. Until six months before he ceased to perform, he had been also manager of Drury Lane Theatre. He had written twenty successful plays, re-written or adapted many more (including nine by Shakespeare); he had never ceased to produce poems, songs, prologues and epilogues. A biographer of large stature was required. The obvious choice was Samuel Johnson, who had instructed him in his schooldays, and had never lost touch with him. But after a year there appeared a two volume publication, Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick Esq, by Thomas Davies . It was dedicated to Sheridan, and made acknowledgements for encouragement and information to Johnson. Davies stated that Johnson had accepted the suggestion of many friends that he should write the life of Garrick but had said that Mrs Garrick must invite him. His message had been carried to the widow by Garrick's favourite nephew and namesake, but she had given no invitation or sign of approval. She had at this date a most possessive friend in close attendance. Miss Hannah More perfectly recollected the answer Garrick had made when she had asked him, hardly tactfully, "Why Johnson was so often harsh and unkind in his speeches, both to and of him?" Garrick, who was accused of vanity, had mildly replied, "It is very natural. Is it not to be . . .