Thomas Davies - Actor and Bookseller

18th century engraving of Thomas Davies reproduced from Roger Ingpen's 1907 edition of The Life of Johnson

Thomas Davies

Born ca. 1712
Died 1785

Biography: 

Bookseller, actor and author in London. Married (1749/50) to actress Susanna Yarrow (1723-1801). Educated (1728-1729) at Edinburgh University. In 1736 he debuted as an actor at Haymarket, but soon gave it up for the bookselling business. This didn't work out either, so he returned to acting in 1746. Until 1762 he was a popular actor, appearing at Covent Garden, Edinburgh, Dublin and Drury Lane. In 1762 he gave up acting, apparently because of the following stanza from Churchill's Rosciad:

With him came mighty Davies. On my life
That Davies hath a very pretty wife!
Statesman all over - in plots famous grown
He mouths a sentence as curs mouth a bone

Soon afterwards he again tried his luck as a bookseller, this time with more success. His bookstore was on 8 Russell Street near Covent Garden. In 1778 he went bankrupt but was helphed out by Dr. Johnson as well as a performance to his benefit at Drury Lane Theatre. In his later years he wrote the popular Life of Garrick (1780) and Dramatic Miscellanies (1785).1

  • 1. Some information in this article is from Davies' entry in The Dictionary of National Biography (1921-22)

Life with Boswell: 

Boswell was introduced to Davies by Samuel Derrick during his 1760 visit to London. He visited his bookshop several times during 1762-3. On Christmas day, 1762 he met author-publisher Robert Dodsley and author Oliver Goldsmith in his shop. It was also in Davies' shop that Boswell met Samuel Johnson for the first time, on May 16, 1763. A plague commemorating the event was unveiled on the Grade II listed building (8 Russell Street) in 1984.  At some point (in 1989 at least) it was known as Boswell's Coffee House.

Boswell and Davies stayed friends for the years to come.

Literature: 

Thomas Davies published and/or edited several volumes, especially during the 1770s, most of them compilations of the works of authors and poets. These include The Poems of Sir John Davies (1773), the Lives of Elias Ashmole and William Lilly, written by themselves (1774), the Works of Massinger (1779) and The Life of Mr. Garrick (1780).